Genndy Tartakovsky’s Popeye Movie Story, Explained

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It’s impressive how recognizable Popeye remains in the pop culture consciousness despite the fact that the character hasn’t done anything major in years. Just say the words “I yam what I yam” or open some spinach, and people of all ages are bound to invoke Popeye’s name. At some point, however, the modern perception of the character was to get a huge boost thanks to a new animated feature from the director. Genndy Tartakovsky. This project, originally set up at Sony Pictures Animation, never saw the light of day, though it has often shown a sense of resilience on par with its titular sailor.


When did development of the Popeye movie begin?

The saga of this popeye The film begins a few years before Tartakovsky takes on this project. In March 2010, Sony announced that an upcoming project from its Sony Pictures Animation division would be a popeye film. Avi Arad was attached as a producer at this point. Although his name may not be familiar to all moviegoers, Arad is the producer of all Spider Man movies, including offshoots like Venom and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Being a constant presence in this franchise has put Arad in Sony’s good graces and it’s no surprise they want him to oversee another comic book adaptation for the studio.

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However, popeye would soon be driven by another person who had put himself on Sony’s good side. In the summer of 2012, Genndy Tartakovsky finished Hotel Transylvania, which will not be released until September. After years of failed starts with other filmmakers, Hotel Transylvania to the finish line thanks to Tarkovsky’s work, which felt like a momentous feat even before the feature became a smash hit. Clearly Sony/Columbia Pictures would both like to keep this guy and give him a modern take. popeye.

Tartakovsky’s attachment to Popeye wasn’t just a way to please Sony Brass

Speaking to MTV in 2012, this filmmaker revealed that Popeye and other comic book characters were responsible for inspiring his lifelong love of animation. He also expressed enthusiasm for making a great animated film where the comedy would come from sight gags and physics rather than tongue-in-cheek one-liners or pop culture references. At the time, he mentioned that his biggest challenge was figuring out how to make a classic character like Popeye work for contemporary audiences, an issue that would continue to crop up as the feature moved further and further into production.

End 2012, popeye was in good enough shape to warrant a September 2014 release date, which was quickly moved to an unspecified 2015 slot. That much, Hotel Transylvania was clearly a box office hit and Sony Pictures Animation was looking to make it a franchise. Initially, this sequel had no director attached, but in early 2014 it was revealed that Tarkovsky would be directing. Hotel Transylvania 2 in addition to leading popeyewhich was again bumped down in 2016. Sony Pictures Animation hoped that Tarkovsky’s experience juggling multiple episodes of a TV show at once on the small screen would mean he would be able to pull off multiple hits. box office potential for this studio.

In September 2014, the general public got a glimpse of Tarkovsky’s ambitions for Popeye through a test animation that was dropped on YouTube. Fast video, using Tom Kenny and Gray DeLisle as Popeye and Olive Oyl, respectively, gave an immediate idea of ​​how Tarkovsky would translate the goofy physicality of this classic character into CG animation. In order to get people excited for a new version of this sailor, he did his job and more. This new take on Popeye seemed loaded with potential, even just as a vehicle for sight gags.

Good vibes for Popeye wouldn’t last long

In March 2015, Tartakovsky left popeye. In an interview with Cartoon Brew six months later, Tartakovsky went into the details of why Popeye failed to move on. While a screening of a rough cut of the film went well, afterwards no Sony executive really spoke to Tartakovsky about popeye. eventually, the filmmaker reached out to former Sony Pictures executive, Amy Pascal, for clarity on what was going on. This is where Pascal made it clear that the studio just wasn’t interested in the character of Popeye, or at least not in how Tartakovsky wanted to explore the character.

The director also noted that the film’s first screening happened around the same time as the Sony hack in the final months of 2014, which left the studio in a vulnerable space. It would not be surprising if the demise of this incarnation of popeye was in part because Sony didn’t want to take major risks while anything related to the Sony name came under intense scrutiny. Subsequently, occasional news would emerge on the idea that Sony Pictures Animation continues to pursue a new vision of popeye with a new creative team, but nothing ever came of it.

King Features Syndicate regained the rights to Popeye in 2020

In 2020 it turned out that a miracle had happened to Tartakovsky popeye with the news that King Features Syndicate (which owns the rights to Popeye as a comic book character) now controlled the sailor’s film rights. With this development, the company wanted this director to lead a popeye movie once again. It was a glorious moment, but it wouldn’t mean much in the long run. Tartakovsky confirmed in July 2022 that his popeye had again died in the water for unspecified reasons.

The struggles that Genndy Tartakovsky faced in even trying to get his film Popeye off the ground reflect the issues that plague so many artists trying to reinvent a property close to their hearts. Movie studios and the executives who run them love familiar characters, but they often love the qualities that made them so famous in the first place. Trying to make a popeye a film faithful both to the character’s roots and to Tartakovsky’s vision, this director came up against Sony’s brass who indulged in this same paradox. Popeye remains an incredibly recognizable fictional character, but it can be difficult to convey to people with money and power why and how he achieved this level of visibility.

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