Legacy Content

Toon Talk:
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by Kirby Holt (archives)
May 19, 2003
Kirby reviews two new DVD releases, Treasure Planet and the live-action classic Treasure Island.

Toon Talk
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

(c) Disney
Treasure Island and Treasure Planet DVDs
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Treasure Planet DVD
Treasure Island DVD

Walt Disney’s first foray into live action filmmaking was brought about not so much by a yearning to stretch the capabilities of the studio, but more out of necessity. Following World War II, England enforced strict currency regulations that basically stated that all money made in England would be spent in England. So all the profits earned by Disney films in England during that time were ‘blocked’ from exportation. Walt decided that he would just make his own movies, in England, with that money. But instead of trying to find animators for the studio’s usual output, he decided that this would be a perfect opportunity to branch out into live action.

For the first of an eventual four films to be produced abroad due to these circumstances, Walt chose the classic boyhood adventure tale, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The story included all the right elements for a great film … in fact, it had already been adapted for the screen five times already. But this version had a lot going for it: a lush production design, a likeable young actor as Jim Hawkins (Bobby Driscoll, the only American in the cast) and, as the double-dealing anti-hero Long John Silver, Robert Newton, who easily steals the film out from under the lot of his dull fellow countrymen/cast members. If you think you’ve seen the likes of his blustering, “by thunder? performance in every other over-acted pirate movie you’ve ever seen, remember: they all copied it from Newton, the master buccaneer, who did it here first.

Disney returned to the story of Jim, Silver, et al with last year’s under-rated, under-performing animated epic Treasure Planet. In an over-crowded movie marketplace, Planet was truly lost in the holiday shuffle, and is reportedly the least profitable Disney animated feature yet released. But thanks to home video, Treasure Planet has finally found its own level of success, and, believe it or not, the film actually plays better on the home screen. Devoid of big screen expectations, the intimate scenes between Jim and Silver play stronger, and the character development (especially of Jim, who on my first viewing came off as a moody brat) and animation acting are more vividly apparent, and the film’s weaknesses (the Saturday morning cartoon reject Morph, the hyper-active automaton B.E.N.) are less strident. (Click here for the original Toon Talk review of Treasure Planet.)

Both Treasures, Island and Planet, have recently made their DVD debuts, and although both films look and sound great in this format, the Disney Home Video department has unfortunately only granted them half-hearted editions. Most likely victims of the box office failure of Planet, these two titles have apparently been rushed out onto DVD without much thought.

The Island disc especially seems like little more then an afterthought, with no supplementary features at all, piggy-backed on the Planet DVD release. And while the film was produced prior to the Disneyland television series, and thus there is less likely to be much, if any, footage on the making of the film available, there could have at least been some effort made to document its creation, especially considering its historical context as Disney’s first live action film. If any title deserves a Vault Disney-style treatment, it’s Treasure Island. (And although it doesn’t appear on the Island disc, the original theatrical trailer for Treasure Island does appear on the Treasure Planet DVD.)

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