popeye movie

“From a young child, I was already destined to make one movie,” director Genndy Tartakovsky once said. “And that movie was Popeye.” Unfortunately, that project has yet to materialize – but that might be about to change.

The filmmaker, who is behind things like the Hotel Transylvania trilogy, Samurai Jack, Dexter’s Laboratory, and The Powerpuff Girls, spent years working on a Popeye movie for Sony Pictures Animation, but that version ultimately fell apart back in 2015. Now a new report says Tartakovsky is once again developing an animated feature film take on the spinach-loving sailor, so he may get to fulfill his destiny after all.

According to the folks at Animation Magazine, Tartakovsky is teaming up with King Features, who hold the cinematic rights to Popeye, “to go back to the drawing board” on a movie version. It’s unclear if that drawing board comment is just a pun because this is an animated project, or if he’s literally throwing everything out and starting again from scratch.

Tartakovsky left the project five years ago, explaining that he found himself at odds with the studio over the direction of the movie. “They wanted to do Popeye for the brand recognition and I loved the character and grew up with it, so there was a tug of war,” he said in the fall of 2015. “They wanted it really updated, and I can only update it a little before it isn’t Popeye anymore.”

Sony first began developing a CG Popeye movie back in 2010, and after Tartakovsky left, the studio hired Ratchet & Clank writer T.J. Fixman to take a crack at the script. While this new report indicates that the project is back up and running, there are still lots of questions that need answers here. I assume Sony Pictures Animation is still involved, since Tartakovsky currently has an overall deal with that studio. (I’ve reached out to Sony for clarification.) But is Fixman’s draft still in play? Has the leadership changed enough at Sony where Tartakovsky can resume with his original take, or is he working on a totally different version? Will they keep the same character designs that they established for the previous iteration’s test reel, or radically reimagine the whole look of the film and its characters?

Update: We’ve heard that this will not be a Sony Pictures Animation project after all, so it seems as if the project might need to be reworked from the ground up.

Tartakovsky is a visual dynamo well-known as one of the best directors of action in all of animation. (He recently created a series for Adult Swim called Primal which strips away all verbal language and communicates its story mainly through visuals.) While I’m guessing plenty of modern audiences have no connection to Popeye, we’re hoping that Tartakovsky’s skills as a visual storyteller are enough to entice people to check this out…assuming this version makes it through the gauntlet, of course.

Take a look at Tartakovsky’s old Popeye animation test below.

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