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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.

The plot is an origin story of sorts — Popeye arrives in the town of Sweetwater searching for his long lost pappy (Ray Walston) and winds up caught in a Love Triangle with Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall) and Bluto (Paul L. Smith).

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.


The Popeye 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 disappeared.
  • All That Glitters: The treasure that everyone is hunting in the final act turns out to be Pappy's mementos, 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.)
  • 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 Eighties, none of it got mainstream attention until 1992's The Player, which triggered a Career Resurrection.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Swee'pea!
  • Big Eater: Wimpy.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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, who 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. While the movie was criticized for not being very faithful to the original cartoons, it actually has a lot in common with the original Thimble Theater comic.
  • Cut Song: "Din' We" didn't make it into the final film, though it did make it onto the soundtrack album. "I'm Mean" and "Kids" are missing from European cuts (likely because they contain swear words and Disney, which had only started releasing PG movies the previous year, handled the European release).
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Bluto in "He's Large".
  • Defrosting the Ice Queen: Olive is rather snooty at the beginning of the film — especially towards Popeye.
  • 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 occurance there!)
  • Distressed Damsel: Olive Oyl in the final stretch.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Popeye does not like spinach. No, really! (Not until the very last scene, anyway.) Not as farfetched as it sounds: When the character first debuted, way back in 1919 in Thimble Theater, he found out about spinach the same way.
  • Driven to Suicide: Popeye over losing Swee'Pea, in a scene that was cut because it was considered too dark.
  • 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.
  • Follow the Leader: Paramount Pictures wasn't able to get the film rights to Annie, an extremely popular musical adapted from a comic strip — so a comic strip/cartoon character they did own the movie rights to had a musical built around him instead.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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..."
  • "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".
  • 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!"
  • Literal Metaphor: "Look at Bluto! He's gone yellow!"
  • Mad Magazine: Parodied this as "Flopeye". (See the YMMV page for details.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Number One 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", Popeye's baby rattle, his baby booties, and other sentimental mementos of Popeye's childhood.
  • 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.
  • 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. See below.
  • 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".
  • Speech Impediment: Another thing Popeye's got... is a senske of humiligration.
  • Strange Salute: While the Sweethaven civic (?) anthem plays before the boxing match, the townspeople hold their hands over their heads.
  • 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.
  • Villain Song: Bluto has "I'm Mean" and his part of "It's Not Easy Being Me".

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