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Film Review: Disney's Treasure Island
In 1950, Byron Haskin released Treasure Island, based on the 1883 novel of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson, as Disney's first completely live-action film. Starring Bobby Driscoll, Robert Newton, Basil Sydney, Walter Fitzgerald, Denis O’Dea, Finlay Currie, Ralph Truman, and Geoffrey Wilkinson, the film had an unknown gross at the box office.
Young Jim Hawkins discovers a treasure map among the personal items of a deceased resitdent at his family’s inn. He shows it to a noble and a doctor, who charter a ship to search for the treasure. However, the man they hired to be their cook, a sailor turned tavern owner named Long John Silver, was a well-known pirate.
Treasure Island may not have been Disney’s first foray out of animation into live-action, but it was the first film the company put out that was completely non-animated and regardless of it bein departure from its usual products, the film is pretty good, keeping much of the characterization and story intact in its transferal from page to screen. There are some really great moments, like where Jim meets Ben for the first time, and the former really is trying to stop himself from completely freaking out while this madman who won’t shut up is in front of him. There’s also when the pirates take control of the ship. It’s kind of funny seeing the two guys the captain left to guard the ship be outsmarted because they completely forgot to keep the side hatch guarded. As a whole, it is a nice coming of age story about Jim who goes from a naïve child who wants adventure to a boy who understands and sees every aspect of humanity found within Long John Silver.
The characters are also pretty interesting as well. Silver is a fascinating person and character. He may be a scummy and unapologetic pirate, he’s actually living somewhat of a respectable life as an innkeeper at the beginning of the story. Yet, he is immediately willing to join an adventure at the promise of the gold and treasure that slipped by him so long ago. This gives the character a bit of realism as most would enjoy a second chance to find what they once lost. Furthermore, Silver has standards and won’t let Jim die, even when it comes to risking death by crossing the symbol of the Black Spot. That’s also notable with the whole crew. They might all be be bloodthirsty and evil pirates, but even they know that ripping a page out of the Bible to create a Black Spot is a bad idea.
Ben Gunn is also done well, presenting a mad pirate marooned on the island and delivering well. He won’t shut up and goes off on the strangest of tangents, while promising his loyalty for the oddest of reasons. At the same time, he not only knows where the treasure is, but leads the characters to it too. He’s possibly the best part of the film and there’s unfortunately not enough of him in the final product.
That's just one of the problems the film has though. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it's just that it really lacks and it isn't paced very well. Many scenes, especially those before setting sail, really drag on. Furthermore, Ben may be the best part of the film, but everyone just seems to innately trust him, despite him being part of Flint’s original crew. It could be they thought that three years stranded was punishment enough, but it doesn't come off that way.
It also just kind of ends abruptly. The end of the novel says that Jim still has nightmares about the journey and notes that he still hears the voice of Captain Flint ringing in his ears. This is not present at all in the film. Here, the story just kind of ends. Jim and the others just watch Silver row off with part of the treasure and it fades to black. While a return journey might not be a great idea to show, at least having a resolution for Jim and the other protagonists would have been welcome.
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