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Popeye’s home …in Malta

If you think of Popeye, you probably have fond childhood memories of the spinach-guzzling cartoon character but you probably don’t remember the Popeye movie from the Eighties. If you’ve seen the movie you most likely didn’t think twice about where it was filmed as it looks like a sleepy Canadian fishing village. But, in actual fact, the movie was shot on the Mediterranean island of Malta where imported timber and eight tons of nails were used to recreate a “northern village” without a palm tree in sight.

View of the Popeye Village in Malta

From cartoon character to movie
The Popeye cartoon character was originally created in 1929 by Elzie Segar but it wasn’t until 1980 that work began on a movie based on the popular sailor, directed by Robert Altman. And, after much searching for a location, he decided Malta’s stunning Anchor Bay with its sheer limestone cliffs, jagged rocky coastline and azure waters was the perfect spot. There was just one problem: the film set needed to resemble a sleepy Northern Canadian-style village so there could be no palm trees or tropical landscape in sight. Work began to import timber from Holland and wood shingles from Canada to make the houses and rooftops look as authentic as possible. It took eight tons of nails and 2,000 gallons of paint to complete this huge construction project.

Robin Williams – who at this stage was not the Hollywood star he is today – took on the role of Popeye and Shelley Duvall played a convincing Olive Oyl. In the movie, Popeye comes to Sweethaven Village to find his father where he bumps into Olive Oyl who is set to marry Captain Bluto. Romance with Olive blossoms and the two adopt an abandoned baby Swee’ Pea. I won’t tell you the end of the story in case you want to watch the movie!

A tourist magnet
Tucked away in Anchor Bay on the northwest coast of Malta, Sweethaven Village, as it was known during the filming, is today “Popeye Village”  where the film set has been preserved as a tourist attraction instead of being knocked to the ground. Yes, it is touristy but it’s also a great experience for adults and toddlers alike. (My 28-year-old sister even went so far as to call it the highlight of her trip to Malta!) It’s probably a good idea to watch the movie first but they do have a small cinema where they show clippings from the production of the movie and scenes from it. And yes, there are the usual touristy magnets – a gift shop, café/restaurant and plenty of souvenirs to splash out on if you’re a fan. For thirsty adults, there’s also a wine tasting room where you can sample rosé, red and white wines from a local winery.

Meet the real life Popeye and Olive Oyl
Wandering around the village, you’ll probably bump into real-life actors dressed up as Popeye and his entourage. The Olive Oyl I met with her long skinny arms and legs and quirky personality was a perfect copy of Olive, while the Mediterranean-style Popeye with his pipe may have looked like a Latino version of Popeye but he certainly cast his charm on the audience!

If you are looking for the Black Pearl schooner which appeared in the movie, you won’t find her here. After sinking in a storm after the movie, the Black Pearl was moved to the Ta ‘Xbiex marina (on the eastern side of the island) where she was lovingly restored and turned into a bar and restaurant in 1987.

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