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Has Popeye gone cold turkey? Sony has released a short “animation test” for its upcoming Popeye feature, which shows off new designs for the squinty sailor; his true love, Olive Oyl; their burly nemesis Bluto; and the magical animal Eugene the Jeep. In an introduction to the video, director Genndy Tartakovsky emphasizes that this footage is not a clip from the film – but a demonstration of what the filmmakers plan to do with the animated feature. Lively and beautifully colored, the footage is nonetheless missing three accessories that have traditionally defined Popeye: his corncob pipe, anchor tattoos, and ever-handy can of spinach.
It’s no shock that Popeye has ditched the pipe, even though its primary purpose in the cartoons never seemed to be for tobacco; it was mainly a conduit for spinach, and the instrument to provide the “toot-toot” for his “Popeye the Sailor Man” theme song. Nevertheless, the public’s attitude towards smoking in children’s entertainment has changed dramatically since 1933, when the first Popeye cartoon made its debut. Tattoos, on the other hand, have gone extremely mainstream, which makes the absence of those anchors on his forearms a bit surprising.
And then there’s Popeye’s other addiction, spinach, to which the character owes eighty years of superhuman strength and agility. Perhaps that’s become dated, too, since today’s vegetable lovers are unlikely to eat their greens from a can (and would probably prefer kale, given the option). Even so, it seems impossible that the final film will exclude Popeye’s signature snack.
Popeye is a passion project for Tartakovsky, the animator behind such well-regarded TV series as Dexter’s Laboratory and Star Wars: Clone Wars — he says he fell in love with the mid-century TV cartoons after his family emigrated from Russia to the United States. The 3D animated feature, set for 2016, will be the sailor’s first big-screen appearance since Robert Altman’s live-action film Popeye (above) in 1980. A musical comedy, Popeye opened to mixed reviews but good box office, outgrossing The Shining and Caddyshack in theaters. More importantly, it featured the first major film performance from Robin Williams in the title role.