The First Movie I Ever Hated

popeyeLast weekend the missus and I bought two new sleep sacks for the wee lad. One was orange with the word, “pumpkin” stenciled across the bottom. The other was green with the words “sweet pea”. 

“That’s a bit girly,” I thought. And to those of you instantly judging me for buying into gender roles, I can only say, “suck it.”

“Oh, wait,” I remembered. “Popeye‘s son was called Swee’pea. So I guess it’s ok.”

And that took me back to my childhood and the utter disappointment in the motion picture adaptation of the classic cartoon character.

As a kid, I was in a no way a precocious film snob. I enjoyed pretty much anything so long as it was funny and/or had special effects and/or was animated. I liked Superman more than Star Wars, even if I objected to Marlon Brando’s Jor-El. I liked things like Walt Disney’s take on Robin Hood as well. I wasn’t a hard kid to entertain.

So when I heard that one of my favourite actors was going to play Popeye, I was excited. I had no particular attachment to the title character. I just thought it was cool that they were going to do a live-action adaptation of an animated character. Or, as I called it back then, with “real people”.

There is only one interesting thing about Popeye: Upon emptying into his mouth the contents of a can of spinach, he becomes super-strong at crucial times. To see Mork from Ork doing that seemed like a no-lose proposition. 

So it was a strange experience to sit in a theatre and see this rambling musical about a guy who hates spinach. I guess Superman is to blame for this idea that filmmakers have that, when adapting a cartoon character to fim, what audiences really want is to wait 45 minutes before the hero shows up. Popeye took this idea and stretched it out to the very end of the film when Popeye eats his spinach and gets his strength. Like Superman, it was an origin film. Unlike Superman, it was terrible.

Despite being directed by Robert Altman, written by Jules Pfeiffer, with music by Harry Nillsen, it was clear, even to a nine year old (who was unaware of any of these things), that this was a mess. But it was interesting to learn that when adapting cartoon characters, some filmmakers simply don’t trust the source material and that this was going to be a problem for the next twenty years.

I think the next movie I saw after that was Arthur. Oh, that lovable drunk!

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