Why this cartoonish 1980s film set is a must-see when visiting Malta
It has been nearly a century since Popeye the Sailor rose to beefy-armed, spinach-guzzling fame in EC Segar’s Thimble Theatre comic strip. Since then, the one-eyed mariner has marched jauntily across television cartoons, arcade games, advertising campaigns and candy cigarette boxes. He had to wait 50 years before he was picked up by Hollywood, though. Robin Williams took the lead as the pipe-puffing sailor in the 1980s blockbuster musical. It was set in Malta’s beautiful Anchor Bay, in what is now a fun park known as Popeye Village.
This remote slice of the island, two miles from the sleepy village of Mellieħa in the northwest, was selected for its extraordinarily photogenic setting. Carved into a cliff face overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean, it was an ideal location upon which to construct Sweethaven Village, where Popeye lands on a quest to find his father and instead meets the lovely Olive Oyl and her peevish fiancé Captain Bluto. The cheery set of 20 cartoonish wooden structures took seven months to construct in 1979, and 30 years later, has successfully transformed into one of Malta’s leading family-friendly attractions.
Head inside to explore Popeye’s Cabin – complete with the sailor’s original ‘hammock bed’—and the Nautical School where the Popeye The Sailor Man theme tune is played pretty much on repeat. Along the way, you’ll bump into an enthusiastic Popeye and Olive, who bring with them a surprisingly sophisticated level of character-led, tongue-in-cheek humour. A busy crew of camera technicians and animators work tirelessly to recreate the Hollywood experience, projecting onto a big screen up-beat interactive choreographies (no visitor is spared) of Popeye’s catchy I Yam What I Yam. There’s also nautical-themed mini golf and face-painting – in-keeping with Popeye Village’s strictly no digital policy – and a museum of charming vintage Popeye paraphernalia.
After all of the adventure, cool off with a swim down at the beach. While the set was being built, a breakwater was constructed across the bay to protect it from the high seas during filming. This makes the shores of Popeye Village fun park the most tranquil on the island. There’s plenty for the energetic and adventurous, from water trampolines to 20-minute boat rides across the bay, while sunseekers can stretch out on the deck or take a dip in the Splash Pool.
Cursory snacks and ice creams are available from Seafarers Snack Bar, but Tipsy and Son’s Winery puts on a more indulgent spread. Situated on Sweethaven’s main street, choose a table on the sunny deck overlooking the bay. Sip on a glass of crisp local white wine, Kinnie for the younger visitors, and enjoy the views. That is, until Captain Bluto disrupts the peace with his signature roar of fury.