So why is it so disliked? I believe a good deal has to do with the property. Even though the cartoons were still in wide circulation in 1980, Popeye was already passe - out of style - by the time the movie hit theaters, and remains so today.
Another reason why it might not be so fondly remembered is because of the style. The setting, tone and most of the characters are more EC Segar than Sagendorf. That is, when the comic strip came out, Popeye and company were more rough and tumble. When the strip was taken over by artist Bud Sagendorf upon Segar's death, it became watered down. It borrowed more from the cartoons. More spinach eating, more throw-away gags. And while the comic strip has had a long run in the newspapers, most everyone associates the sailor with his various cartoon appearances.
This movie is far from perfect, but it is far more enjoyable given credit. As mentioned before, Feiffer, a cartoonist himself, wrote the script with the original EC Segar creation in mind. It's in no way 100% faithful to the source material - how Popeye meets Olive Oyl, etc, is completely different from his comic strip introduction, for example. Apparently, much of the story was changed during the shoot by Robert Altman, but the the original 1929 character still shines through.
Also, the costumes are absolutely fantastic. They are incredibly authentic to the comic, without looking stagey. Over the top, of course, but they fit the aesthetics of the movie perfectly.
Robin Williams is the perfect person to play the sailor. He looks like him, he sounds like him, he moves like him. He's also oddly restrained. He could have played him far more broadly. Shelley Duvall, Paul Dooley and Ray Walston were inspired casting choices, as well.
The fault I find is in the way the movie was constructed. It's sometimes a little threadbare, and off the cuff, pieced together scene by scene.
The music is a little off most of the time. All of the songs were written by Harry Nillsson - it was one of the last projects he worked on before his death, and their quality was affected by his health. By that time in his career, he was pretty much washed up, and was brought in through the recommendation of Robin Williams. In my opinion, the songs are lyrically clever and a lot of fun, but most of them fizzle out, especially Popeye's big number "I Yam What I Yam." It's a bang-up tune that doesn't know how to end, so it just trails off.
The ending is pretty weak, but that's due in part, I understand, to there not being a real ending written to the movie. It just kind of ends in a fight between Bluto, Popeye and a rubber octopus. While weak, it's works well enough for it to end in the classic Popeye the Sailorman theme.
Again, not a perfect film. But, frankly, I don't care. It has buckets of charm, and it's pure Popeye.
Better than the last Airbender and Jem and the holograms
Popeye arrives in a small seaside town that is currently under the watch of Bluto. Popeye is looking for his long lost father and stays at an inn where Olive Oyl resides, Bluto's love interest. Olive isn't as smitten with Bluto as it seems and she becomes wrapped up in Popeye's adventure, especially when they find a baby. Bluto doesn't take too kindly to Olive's new adventure and throws himself into the fray.
"He'd always throw me in the air...but he wouldn't be there when I came down."
Robert Altman, director of Mash: The Movie, The Player, Gosford Park, Short Cuts, The Long Goodbye, Nashville, A Wedding, 3 Women, and Fool for Love, delivers Popeye. The storyline for this picture is classic Popeye and contains the perfect setting, wardrobe, and shenanigans. The acting was very entertaining and the cast includes Robin Williams, Shelley Duvalle, Ray Walston, Bill Irwin, and Donovan Scott.
"What type of name is Olive Oyl? Sounds like a lubricant."
I always adored this movie and randomly DVR'd it off cable to watch it again for the first time in a long time. I adored how the characters and settings were delivered. The feel of the movie had so much magic, and the actors delivered the characters so well, that I still loved every second of this movie. I strongly recommend seeing this at least once.
"I am what I am. I'm Popeye the Sailor Man."