Paramount Pictures | Release Date: December 12, 1980 CRITIC SCORE DISTRIBUTION
Generally favorable reviews based on 14 Critics
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A charming, adult-oriented saga of the famous cartoon character that comes alive only when Popeye finds his baby, Swee'pea. [19 Dec 1980, p.10]
Boston GlobeBruce McCabe
One of the major problems facing Hollywood today is the lack of will and energy to make movies that can charm youngsters without boring their parents. Popeye is an important contribution toward the solution. It's not a sophisticated film. But it's a gratifyingly engaging one. [12 Dec 1980, p.1]
Washington PostJudith Martin
Considering how firmly the image of Popeye is fixed in the minds of all spinach-bred Americans, it's daring of the film to open by showing the character in its familiar cartoon form. But Robin Williams so utterly captures the Popeye idea as to justify this, and Shelley Duvall is such a perfect Olive Oyl that it will always be difficult to imagine her impersonating a human being. [19 Dec 1980, p.20]
The picture doesn't come together and much of it is cluttered, squawky, and eerily unfunny. But there are lovely moments --especially when Olive is loping along or singing, and when she and Popeye are gazing adoringly at the foundling Swee'Pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt).
This is high-risk chemistry, and the results are bizarre. The bulging forearms and corncob pipe are in place, but this Popeye hates spinach. The plot hinges on his Oedipal search for his Pappy (Ray Walston), the songs and minimal dances are designed for singers who can't sing and dancers who can't dance, and this gruff icon of pug nacious, all-American goodness has been set adrift on an abstract isle that can perhaps best be described as backlot Ionesco. Popeye's air of alienated whimsy makes for an odd family movie indeed. [22 Dec 1980, p.72]
A shamelessly commercial and determinedly vulgar director, such as Flash Gordon's Mike Hodges, might have made the film work; it might have succeeded on one level instead of failing on many. [13 Dec 1980, p.E7]