Disney // 1950 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 19th, 2003
Aye, there be gold in them thar' island!
Up until 1950s, the Walt Disney Company was known primarily for its animated movies and short cartoons. With the emergence of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and the rest of their animated crew, the Mouse House created lasting works like 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. When 1950 rolled around Walt Disney decided to branch out into live action film with an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's timeless classic Treasure Island. Starring the late Bobby Driscoll (Peter Pan) and Robert Newton (Oliver Twist) as the infamous Long John Silver, Treasure Island comes aboard ye DVD player care of the swabs over at Walt Disney Home Entertainment.
Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island is one of, if not the, best known pirate tales ever. Come along as young master Jim Hawkins (Driscoll) sets sail for adventure when a map is given to him by a dying old man...and it leads to buried riches! With the help of Squire Trelawney (Walter Fitzgerald, Darby O'Gill and the Little People), Dr. Livesey (Dennis O'Dea, Sea Devils), and Captain Smollett (Basil Sydney, The 3 Worlds of Gulliver), Jim begins his adventure for fame and fortune aboard the creaky vessel Hispaniola. Also aboard is the shady Long John Silver (Newton), the one-legged pirate who has plans of his own for the map and its hidden treasures. When an uprising of the Hispaniola's crew creates havoc on the high sea, it's good vs. evil in a race to claim the rewards of the mysterious Treasure Island!
I don't think there's been one child who hasn't dreamed of being either A.) a fireman, B.) a cowboy or C.) a pirate when they grow up. For the sake of this review, we'll focus on option "C," seeing as this review concerns Disney's 1950 classic, Treasure Island.
When I think of the name Walt Disney, two things generally come to mind: animation and family friendly live action movies. Disney is mostly known for making kids smile with such hits as The Love Bug and The Parent Trap. Ah, but there's another type of Disney film available to the public, one that isn't always slathered in syrupy goodness -- the action adventure movie! Just because it's Disney doesn't mean we can't have a few swordfights and cannonballs flying, does it? I was a little shocked at how violent Treasure Island ended up being -- there were more killings in this movie than Friday the 13th Part 3! Okay, so they weren't as violent as that classic, but there was still a good deal of bloodshed. The film is filled with all kinds of scurvy dogs and heroic sailors battling it out with muskets and knives, making this flick every young boy's fantasy come true.
By today's standards the performances all seem hammy and overblown, but that's part of the fun. Robert Newton chews on the scenery, then proceeds to spit it back out, run over it with a lawnmower, then eats it up again with a side of dressing. His performance in Treasure Island is what makes the film really work -- with one eye always half open and the other looking like a ping pong ball shoved in his scraggly head, Newton exudes shiftiness. Every time Long John Silver makes a speech you feel captivated to listen, if only because you know he must be clinically insane (and that's half of his charm). Completing his physical performance is the old standbys of one missing leg (which isn't always very well hidden) and a parrot on his shoulder. Newton's performance here is nothing short of deliciously delirious.
I haven't read Stevenson's book, so I can't tell you if this is a faithful adaptation or not. If not, Disney has at least made sure that it's entertainingly goofy -- it's filled with lots of giant ships and sprawling scenery (and a few cheesy looking backdrops). Just don't go in expecting state-of-the-art effects/action; one scene, where a pirate gets shot square on in the face, appears to have been achieved with smoke and a ketchup packet. Then again, I think there would have been major mistake had the producers shown the man's brains all over the ship's deck.
The only issue kids might have with Treasure Island is that the dialogue is sometimes hard to follow. Claiming what I presume is a close stake to Stevenson's novel by the screenwriter, the cast often spouts out dialogue that sounds something like this:
"Avast ye dogs, thar I be without a lick of gold by mine hands."
So what's Long John Silver really saying there?
"Howdy folks, I'm here and I don't have squat."
Otherwise, this classic is worth checking out, possibly as a bookend with Disney's recent flop Treasure Planet. Come for the gold, stay for the overacting.
Treasure Island is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, uncut and in its original theatrical form. Disney has done a decent job of making sure that this transfer is clean and clear of any major defects or imperfections. Because of the age of the source materials, this transfer sports some inconsistencies and flaws -- mainly a few washed out colors and a small amount of grain every so often. Otherwise, this is a fine looking transfer to one of the most popular high seas adventures ever filmed.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. I wasn't quite as thrilled with the sound mix as I was the video portions -- though the dialogue, effects, and music were all clear and crisp, generally the 5.1 mix sounded a bit thin and staggered in certain scenes. There were a few moments of surround sound and directional effect, though overall this is a mostly front heavy mix (as well it should be, since the movie's over 50 years old). However, all things considered this mix is in fine shape. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Arrr! I be wantin' to slit a man from gullet to neck for not includin' even one extra feature on this disc! Treasure Island is a classic and she be deservin' much more than this bare bones treatment!
Treasure Island was the first Disney live action movie, and as such stands as a classic for that reason alone. I thoroughly enjoyed this flick -- the action scenes were fun (if a little violent for small children) and the performances endlessly enjoyable (I can't tell if Newton deserves an Oscar or a Razzie for his portrayal of Long John Silver). Disney buffs will definitely want to have this disc is their collection -- for the rest of you, it's an easy recommend as a rental.
If I locked up Treasure Island I'd never forgive myself...and neither would the fans! Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1950
MPAA Rating: Rated PG