The last four years have been torture. Studios have been attempting to pump out film versions of characters completely unsuitable for the big screen. First it was Speed Racer, then Yogi Bear, and we can’t forget the forgettable Smurfs.
Now, Sony Animation is feeling Popeye needs to be brought to the big screen, this time in animation (Robin Williams starred in 1980’s awful live-action film Popeye). There are few circumstances under which I will accept Sony’s Popeye. Either, a), Genndy Tartakovsky, the appointed director, brings back, from the original 1930’s comics, Hamgravy, Castor Oyl, the Sea Hag, King Blozo, etc., or b) this movie doesn’t get made.
I hate to be so critical of this Tartakovsky project, because in terms of pure entertaiment, Dexter’s Laboratory has always been one of my favorites, but I can’t take any more of these reboots. Ever since Fantagraphics released the original E.C. Segar comics in six book-form volumes, I’ve become a dedicated Popeye comic-strip fan. Segar’s original comics were the greatest adventure stories ever written. I’d go so far as to say they were the first true superhero stories. He took on every setting from the old west to foreign countries, and even stretched his stories into the boxing ring on Sundays. True comic fans also know that Popeye actually rarely ate spinach, and only took on Bluto but a few times in print.
The problem with a Popeye film is the roots upon which the writers will draw. He was a cartoon genius, but Max Fleischer’s Popeye is not E.C. Segar’s Popeye. It’s like comparing McDonald’s and Wendy’s: they’re selling the same product, but one is just so much better than the other. I would feel reassured if I knew Tartakovsky would base his Popeye off of Segar’s, but that just will not happen. In an interview with Fred Topel of Crave Online, Tartakovksy stated, “You don’t want to put Popeye in a baseball hat and sunglasses and gym shoes, but at the same time he can’t be a pipe smoking sailor.” I guess that’s reassuring that we won’t be seeing Popeye in “a baseball hat and sunglasses and gym shoes,” but that honestly should be a given. The problem I have is that in the second part of that quote, he indicates that Popeye will have to lose his iconic pipe. The pipe in both Segar’s comics and Fleischer’s cartoons was an absolute must. It is as much a part of Popeye as his one eye or his over-inflated forearms!
It’s the loss of things like his pipe that reveals to me there will be no Hamgravy, no King Blozo, and no Sea Hag. We’ll just end up seeing a rehash of the Fleischer spinach-eating, Bluto beating, mumbling Popeye. And if Tartakovsky strays even from that, I don’t think I’ll be able to hold down lunch. My advice: Skip the movie ticket and buy a Popeye Fantagraphic Collection book instead.