Film / Popeye
Or is he?

A 1980 Musical Live-Action Adaptation starring Robin Williams as the eponymous character and directed by Robert Altman, with a song score by Harry Nilsson and a screenplay by Jules Feiffer.

The plot is an origin story of sorts — Popeye arrives in the town of Sweethaven searching for his long-lost pappy (Ray Walston) and winds up not only caught in a Love Triangle with Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall) and Bluto (Paul L. Smith), but also becoming an adoptive father to an abandoned baby he names Swee'Pea...

The movie grossed more than twice its enormous budget in the U.S. alone (it took two studios to mount it — Paramount and Disney), but received extremely mixed reviews from critics. It was also a Troubled Production; between that and its inability to live up to Paramount's high expectations, Robin Williams came to see it as something of an Old Shame and it derailed Altman's mainstream directorial career for well over a decade. It hasn't yet been outright Vindicated by History, but it does have its admirers.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear:
    • One minute, Popeye and his adopted kid are being congratulated by the entire town for getting rid of the hated tax collector. And suddenly, he realizes that somewhere in the crowd, Swee'Pea has disappeared.
    • In the climax, Swee'pea is confronted by an octopus that tries to bring him under. Olive starts freaking out and calls out to Pappy to save him, especially since she's unable to save him herself.
    • When the Oyls are given the rundown of their crushing debts, Cole hides his tears behind a newspaper. His family is ruined and he sees no way out.
  • All That Glitters: The treasure that everyone is hunting in the final act turns out to be...Pappy's mementos of his son, making for a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when he shows the items to Swee'Pea.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The entire town of Sweethaven. (You can remove the "Ambiguous" from Geezil.) It's worth noting that Bluto was played by Paul L. Smith, a Real Life Badass Israeli.note 
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Practically the entire town rejoices when Popeye takes down the tax collector.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Castor to Olive. This is a complete turn-around from the original Thimble Theater comic, where it was Olive who was the Annoying Younger Sibling to Castor.
  • Arranged Marriage: Between Olive and Bluto, initially.
  • Auteur License: Robert Altman, best-known at the time for iconoclastic comedies and dramas like M*A*S*H and Nashville, getting the reins to a family musical is a perfect example of this. Because the film wasn't as profitable as hoped and reviews were so mixed, he immediately lost it and while he did a lot of film and TV work over the rest of The '80s, none of it got mainstream attention until 1992's The Player, which triggered a Career Resurrection.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Swee'pea! Finding and taking care of him brings Popeye and Olive Oyl closer together.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: When Popeye undercuts Olive's parental authority, Olive calls him on it in bizarre mix of irritation and flirtation. She even ends with with a "Phooey," which (maybe accidentally, maybe not) brushes her lips against his, and walks off in a huff. Even Popeye seems confused about what the hell just happened.
  • Big Bad: Bluto does most of the work in running Sweethaven for the Commodore/Poopdeck Pappy, and even schemes to take Poopdeck Pappy's treasure for his own.
  • Big Eater: Wimpy, as per usual.
  • Briar Patching: An unintentional example, as Popeye doesn't even know that spinach will make him strong until Bluto forces it on him out of cruelty.
  • Broken Record: Cole Oyl when demanding an apology.
  • Call-Back: "It's Not Easy Being Me" has three: two to "He's Large", and one to "I'm Mean".
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Bluto. He even gets a whole song about how mean he is as he smashes up the Oyls' residence.
  • Catch-Phrase:
    • "I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam!" Even turned into a song.
    • Wimpy gets to say a few of his famous Catch Phrases over the course of the movie, such as "I'm buying, he's paying" and of course the classic "I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."
    • Geezil never misses an opportunity to tell Wimpy that he hates him — or tell other people that he hates Wimpy.
    • Popeye's signature "Phooey!" proves to be both hereditary and contagious, as Poopdeck Pappy and Olive Oyl both use it in his presence.
    • Cole Oyl is very prone to tell people that they owe him an apology.
    • "You're not thinking of doing [random activity], are you? Because there's a xx cent [same random activity] tax."
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Pappy delivers a "Cluster 'H.A.' " during the climactic rescue mission.
  • Composite Character: Swee'pea has taken on the "fortune-telling" traits of Eugene the Jeep, who was originally going to be in the movie; see What Could Have Been on the Trivia page.
  • Continuity Nod: A lot of them. The movie was criticized for not being very faithful to the cartoons, but it actually has a lot in common with the original Thimble Theater comic.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Bluto is less than pleased when he sees Olive with Popeye and carrying Swee'pea.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Bluto in "He's Large".
  • Damsel in Distress: Olive Oyl in the final stretch.
  • Defeat Equals Friendship: The diner toughs, after a fashion. They all are (understandably) uncomfortable when they next see Popeye (at the engagement party), but when he exiles the tax man, the jubilantly carry him aloft. Later when he goes to have it out with the commodore, they shout encouragement to him.
  • Defrosting the Ice Queen: Olive is rather snooty at the beginning of the film — especially towards Popeye. She starts to mellow out and warm up to him after they find Swee'pea.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Pressed to find good things to say about Bluto, Olive keeps coming back to "He's large" while singing "He's Large"!
    "He's tall... good lookin'... and he's large... he's large... large... tall... large..."
  • Diner Brawl: Popeye first springs into action at the aptly named Rough House. (As the gang taunts him in the leadup to the brawl, note that the workers are setting up gates/barracades, suggesting that this trope is a common occurrence there!)
  • Dissonant Serenity: Almost all of the diner patrons, and even some of the staff, start to freak out when it's obvious a brawl is imminent. However, Roughhouse doesn't even look up from his solitaire game.
    • Likewise, Bluto only glances at the carnage with passing curiosity, not even stopping his meal.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Popeye does not like spinach. No, really!
  • Driven to Suicide: Popeye over losing Swee'Pea, in a scene that was cut because it was considered too dark.
  • The Dragon: The Taxman of Sweethaven.
  • Especially Zoidberg: A sign on the wall at Rough House's:
    Positively NO credit! Especially you, Wimpy!
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Oxblood Oxheart very clearly loves his mother.
  • Evil Debt Collector: The Tax Man will come up with all sorts of frivolous charges to get arbitrary amounts of tax. And he demands exact change.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: A subverted example: Bluto is played by Paul L. Smith, but his deep baritone singing voice is provided by "Big" John Wallace. Bluto's "I'm Mean" song shows a prime example of his baritone voice.
  • Funny Background Event: All over the place. From the first scenes we see all the extra background characters and main characters doing something at any given moment throughout, such as the hairy, bearded hobo who is seen taking a random swim in one scene, and Popeye ripping off the helm of the Commodore's boat trying to steer it.
    • When the diner toughs come into The Rough House Cafe, Mort snatches a chair up from under Ham Gravy. However, Ham remains aloft as if the chair is still under him. In the background, you see that he's still aloft like this for five or more minutes!
  • Generation Xerox: Popeye and Pappy are practically identical save for a thirty-year age difference. They even get into two arguments that are actually the same argument with the speakers reversed.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • The "house of ill re-pukes" that Wimpy takes Swee'pea to in order to bet on horses is not only a place of gambling but clearly also a brothel. It's never directly stated, but the following dialogue as Popeye and the Oyls enter the place make very little room for doubt:
    Popeye: What is this, a house of ill re-pukes? Ooh, who'd bring me infink to this den o' immoraliky? (to Olive) Don't touch nothin', you might get a venerable disease.
    Lady of "ill re-pukes": Oooh, is that a bed pole you got in your pocket, handsome?
    • The entire reason Bluto goes sideways on seeing Popeye, Olive, and Swee'pea together is that he thinks that she had sex with Popeye and produced a child with him!
    • When he first arrives at the Oyls, Popeye's seabag keeps bumping Nana Oyl's boobs, to the point where she starts covering them every time he turns.
    • Upon arriving in Sweet Haven, Popeye sees La Verne the Waitress straightening her stockings. Popeye mutters "Nice lookin' knees... that does it for me!"
    • Alarmed at Swee'Pea's rattle, Olive jumps into Popeye's arms her legs emphatically around him. Popeye notes "We should at least have dinner first!"
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: It's clear from Popeye's stories from his childhood that his pap was not a good father, even before he abandoned him. It's all Played for Laughs, since Popeye seems to either be in denial or trying to make excuses for his father.
    "One thing I remember about me pap was that he always used to throw me up in the air. Yeah, heh heh... but he'd never be there when I come down, you know. Heh heh heh. Boy, he had a sensek'a humor, didn't he? Yeah, that was me pap. I remember the time he gave me a electric eel as a toy. Hah hah hah — eep! Hah, yeah, that was fun. Or, or he'd rock me cradle real, real, real hard and I'd lose me formula. And then he'd say 'One day, you'll be a sailor.' Heh heh heh, that's... that's what I yam today, yeah. Hm. Yeah. Sometimes he'd bounce me on his knee. Heh heh, most o' the time he'd miss, though, 'cos he couldn't see too well with one eye.... heh heh heh, oh, me pap, yeah..."
  • Hong Kong Dub: Whenever Swee'Pea talks, it's obviously not really the baby talking.
  • "I Am" Song: Along with "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man", which serves as the film's finale, Popeye gets "I Yam What I Yam".
  • I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham: Until the last scene, anyway. Seems he never really gave it a chance. This is not as farfetched as it sounds: When the character first debuted, way back in 1929 in Thimble Theater, he found out about spinach the same way.
  • I Have No Son: When Popeye meets his father, the latter refuses to acknowledge him as his son at first.
  • I Own This Town: The Commodore/Poopdeck Pappy pretty much owns everything important in Sweethaven. When Bluto suggests using Swee'Pea's gift to make a bundle at the gambling hall, Pappy scoffs, saying he owns the gambling hall.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Poopdeck Pappy comes across as a genuine Jerkass at first, but towards the end proves to have had a heart all along.
  • Just for Pun: "A place of ill re-puke!"
  • Karma Houdini: Wimpy causes a lot of complications for Popeye and The Oyls, yet he never really seems to pay for any of it.
  • Kick the Dog: Bluto tries to pull this with Popeye at the end of the film. It backfires on him rather emphatically.
  • Literal Metaphor:
    • "Look at Bluto! He's gone yellow!"
    • When Bluto spots Olive with Popeye and Swee'Pea, he sees red.
  • Logo Joke: As the Retraux opening recreates the opening credits of the Fleischer Bros.-era Popeye cartoons Paramount distributed (see below), the 1930s-era Paramount logo used for those substitutes for the then-current one.
  • Loves Me Not: Bluto does a variation on this, going from "She loves me" to "She'll marry me". Everyone at the party is on edge, fearing his rage if he gets a "She won't marry me".
  • Mickey Mousing: All the fighting is choreographed like elaborate dance sequences, just like one of the old Popeye shorts where he'd line 'em up and knock 'em down.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • At Olive and Bluto's engagement party a man can be heard complaining about Olive getting married. This man is Ham Gravy, who was Olive's fiance in the original Thimble Theater comic strip before he was Put on a Bus and Popeye took his place.
    • Swee'pea's introduction in the movie is a big Shout-Out to the way he was introduced in the comic strip. note 
    • When Rough House asks who's going pay for the burger Wimpy replies "I'm buying, he's paying." This was one of his Catch Phrases in the original comic strip.
    • All the Roughhouse roughnecks — Spike, Mort, Gozo, Bolo, Slug and Butch — are all named after various thug villains Popeye encountered (and defeated) in the Thimble Theater comic strips. About half of them were henchmen for The Sea Hag.
  • Mugging the Monster: When several of thugs at Rough House start harassing Popeye as he tries to talk to Wimpy. Popeye keeps his fuse in check until they physically try to attack him. Naturally, he wipes the floor with them.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Only Bluto could be so stupid as to force Popeye to eat his spinach, and get the mega-knuckle sandwich he so deserves because of that.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Castor Oyl vs. Oxblood Oxheart ("The Dirtiest Fighter Alive").
  • Not So Different / Like Father, Like Son: Both Popeye and Pappy have empty picture frames with "Me Pappy" and "Me Son", respectively, scribbled where a picture should be.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Just imagine what Bluto thought when he saw Olive carrying Swee'pea and walking with Popeye.
  • #1 Dime: One of Bluto's motivations for villainy (other than "I'm mean, if you know what I mean") is getting his hands on Poopdeck Pappy's treasure. When the treasure is finally revealed, it turns out to be things like pictures of Popeye (Pappy's son) as an "infink", his baby rattle, baby booties, and other sentimental mementos of childhood.
  • Ordered Apology: In the lead-up to the brawl at Rough House's, Popeye demands an apology from the thugs who mocked his pappy. They respond by seizing the hash houses's other patrons and forcing an apology out of each. This is just for fun, as they obviously intend to throw down with Popeye one way or another.
  • Origin Story: As with many movies that have launched superhero franchises, this is a tale of how Popeye gets started.
  • Papa Wolf: Popeye to Swee'pea.
  • Parental Bonus: The town drunk is named Barnacle Bill, a reference to a Bawdy Song from the early 20th century. "Beware of Barnacle Bill" was even the name of an early Popeye cartoon, which contains a cleaned-up version of the song (and with Bluto in the role of Barnacle Bill). Behold!
  • Pop-Star Composer: All of the songs, save the cartoon's theme song "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man", are written by Harry Nilsson.
  • Precision F-Strike: There's a precision D strike in "I'm Mean". Popeye also jumps off a ship shouting "Oh, shee-yit!" near the end.
  • Re-Cut: In the North American cut, Swee'Pea says "Popeye" just before it cuts to Popeye singing "Swee'Pea's Lullaby". In the European cut, Swee'Pea's "Popeye" is moved to the Iris Out after the song.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: When Bluto sees Olive with Popeye and the newly found Swee'Pea when she arrives late for their engagement party, he gets the wrong idea and his eyes glow red with anger, complete with a POV shot.
  • Retraux: The opening credits start with a hand-drawn throwback to the original Max and Dave Fleischer Popeye cartoons made during The Golden Age of Animation, albeit with the animation being outsourced to Hanna-Barbera (which was making new Popeye cartoons for TV at the time). The town of Sweethaven, for that matter, is a veritable Anachronism Stew of driftwood buildings and Retraux artifacts.
  • Setting Introduction Song: "Sweethaven — An Anthem".
  • Something Only They Would Say: When Popeye is trying to prove to Pappy that he's his son, Pappy tells him there's only one way he can be convinced. "Eat the spinach." Once Popeye refuses to eat it, whining like a baby, Pappy is convinced that he's his son.
  • Sound-Effect Bleep:
    • Pappy, during "Kids".
    • Bluto in his "I'm Mean" character song:
    Bluto (singing): I'm mean, I'm mean, I'm mean, you know what I mean, (he's mean, he's mean), you know what I say (he says he's mean), you know what I mean (he's mean, he's mean), mean! (he's mean, he's mean), you know what I mean (he's mean, he's mean). I'm meaner than *steam whistle* (so true, so true), I mean what I say (he do, he do). I'm so mean, I had a dream of beating myself up; I broke my nose, I broke my hand, I wrestled myself to the ground and then I choked myself to death and broke the choke and woke up, aargh! I'm mean, you know what I mean, if you know what I mean, I'm mean! (he's mean, he's mean) meaner than *scream*, I sure am mean, yeah me!
  • Speech Impediment: Another thing Popeye's got... is a senske of humiligration.
  • Stealth Pun: All the Wallflower sisters are named after flowers.
  • Strange Salute: While the Sweethaven civic (?) anthem plays before the boxing match, the townspeople hold their hands over their heads.
  • The Strategist: Amazingly enough, Bluto comes across this way for the first half of the movie. He keeps Popeye under scrutiny, from afar. He seems to be sizing him up before actually confronting him. Of course he takes a much more hands-on approach after he sees his fiancee with Popeye, holding a baby.
  • Stylistic Suck: Bluto's red eyes POV shot is just Popeye, Olive and Swee'Pea dressed in red in front of a red background. A similar Visual Pun comes at the end of the movie when Bluto "turns yellow" — i.e. he's dressed in yellow as he swims away.
  • Super Mode: Popeye finally transforms into his famous Spinach Mode at the end after being force fed spinach by Bluto. However, you only get to see his enlarged arms uppercutting Bluto from underwater.
  • Talk Like a Pirate: During his "I'm Mean" number, Bluto does a pirate growl at one point.
  • Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty: Popeye is generally amiable with his foe in the Oxblood Oxheart boxing match. Until Oxblood hits him from behind. Popeye doesn't take that very well at all.
  • Ungrateful Townsfolk: From the moment Popeye enters in Sweethaven, everyone, except for the Oyls, and Wimpy, either ignore him, or treat him with hostility. Once he gets rid of the tax collector however, everyone instantly loves him.
  • Villain Song: Bluto has "I'm Mean" and his part of "It's Not Easy Being Me".
  • Villainous Breakdown: Bluto has one while impatiently waiting for Olive at their engagement party. He gets so angry that he destroys the house and attacks some of the guests.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Wimpy and Geezil seem to be this by the end of the movie — even dancing together. (In the strip, Geezil loathed Wimpy even more than shown in this movie, and Wimpy largely ignored him.)