Dec 4, 2020

Popeye: Finding a Non-Traditional Family

Critics panned the 1980 movie musical Popeye, starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall, but I loved it.

I loved the world of Sweethaven, a tiny, cramped, desolate seaport, cut off from the rest of the world, where everyone is trapped, like the castaways in Lost or Gilligan's Island:

Sweet Sweethaven
God must love us
Why else would He have stranded us here.

It's the heart of the Depression.  People have no jobs; they must wear second-hand clothes and live in decrepit houses.  They spend their days drinking bootleg liquor, boxing, "horse racing" (without horses), and philosophizing on the futility of life: one day you're alive, full of hope for the future, and the next, you're food.

Everything is food, food, food

To make matters worse, the town is ruled by a Big Man (literally), Bluto (Paul L. Smith, top photo, bear-hugging Bruce Lee).  He levies arbitrary taxes, forecloses on houses, and beats up people at random.

He is engaged to Olive Oyl (Shelley Duval), whose parents run the local boarding house, but she really had no choice in the matter.  She tries in vain to think of a reason to like him:

He's tall...goodlooking...and large.

"Large" would actually be a plus for me.  Extra-large, even moreso.

Into this lost, shipwrecked world comes the one-eyed sailor Popeye (Robin Williams), not the sophomoric star of 1960s cartoons, but the ultimate individualist from the E.C. Seegar comics of the 1930s, whose mantra was remixed by Gloria Gaynor and became a gay anthem:

What am I?
I am what I am!

At first reluctant to get emotionally involved, Popeye befriends Olive Oyl and her family and decides to help out.

 He wins a boxing tournament to forestall foreclosure, and trounces both Bluto and a giant octopus.  On the way he adopts a founding child and re-unites with his long-lost father.

And there's a gay connection: there's no indication, anywhere in the movie, that Popeye and Olive Oyl have fallen in love.  Olive Oyl is ecstatic to finally find someone who "needs me," but Popeye, similarly, sings "Everybody needs somebodys," to his son Swee'Pea.

They work together to raise a child that neither has had a biological role in producing.  They are a non-traditional family.

 The movie is about finding a family, finding a home, not necessarily in a heterosexual embrace, but among people who care about you.


  1. "Popeye" has a perfect cast and fabulous sets and costumes- not if they just cut those dreadful songs that stop the action


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