#291. Treasure Island

Like many of the classics of literature created over the centuries, Treasure Island has seen a number of different film adaptations over the years. This adventure, written by Robert Louis Stevenson in the late 19th Century, is the basis of much of our fictional understanding of pirates. We likely wouldn’t have X-marked treasure maps or one-legged sailors with parrots were it not for this novel. What’s interesting is the differing variety of film adaptations of this work. They have come in many varieties and interpretations including animated films, films with puppets, and science fiction retellings. The story itself has also transcended international boundaries, having been adapted in Russian, Japanese, French, and Italian. This week’s two films look at some unique adaptations of the classic tale of Treasure Island.

Muppet Treasure IslandMuppet Treasure Island
Year: 1996
Rating: G
Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours

Those who are familiar with the Muppets know that these comedic puppets often represent real animals. From Fozzie Bear to Kermit the Frog to Miss Piggy, each of these animals has their own personality and characterizations. However, Muppet Treasure Island (1996) was not the first adaptation of this story to feature animals as some of the characters. The Japanese animated film, Animal Treasure Island (1971) pre-dates the Muppet film by a few decades. They can’t even claim a mixture of live-action and another medium (like puppetry or animation), because the two-part Russian version of Treasure Island (1988) interspersed live-action sequences with animated ones (albeit, not as well as other films have done) to tell the tale of mutiny on the high seas. Still, having a version of the story done by the Muppets gives a comedic look at this treasure-hunting adventure.

Upon receiving a treasure map from his friend, Billy Bones (Billy Connolly), Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) and his friends Gonzo and Rizzo set out to find the treasure. Unfortunately, once they are able to board a ship that will take them there, a mutiny breaks out amongst the pirates of the crew. Bones had warned Jim of a man named “Long John Silver” (Tim Curry), who was the cook of the ship until he took over as captain during the mutiny. Silver and Jim had already developed some semblance of a friendship, so his treachery makes Jim unable to trust the former cook. Once on the island, the pirates finally discover the hiding place of the treasure using the map, only to learn that the locals, led by Benjamina Gunn (Miss Piggy) have taken the treasure somewhere else. With the crew able to defeat the pirates and re-commandeer the ship, Silver is left alone on a desert island while Jim becomes a naval captain.

Treasure PlanetTreasure Planet
Year: 2002
Rating: PG
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

Disney has been no stranger to the story of Treasure Island. In fact, their very first, completely live-action film was none other than Treasure Island (1950). This version even holds the distinction of being the first adaptation of the story made in color. If we include the aforementioned Muppet version of Treasure Island with this 1950 version, Disney has done three different adaptations of the same story. While the genre-crossing, sci-fi adaptation of Treasure Planet (2002) is certainly a new way of telling Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, it wasn’t even the first time it had been done. Treasure Island in Outer Space (1987) (or Il Pianeta Del Tesoro in its original Italian) sets the classic tale in the year 2300 in outer space. While this Italian version had Anthony Quinn portraying Long John Silver, something about the unlimited capability of animation made Treasure Planet much more the visual spectacle.

As a child, Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was inspired by the tales of Captain Flint, a pirate who was rumored to arrive and depart almost instantaneously from the ships he ransacked. Now a teenager being raised by his single mother, Jim finds a crashed spaceship near their inn and is given a holo-orb by the pilot of the ship, Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan), along with a warning to watch out for a cyborg. Recognizing the orb is a map to Flint’s “Treasure Planet”, Jim boards the RLS Legacy and is sent to work in the galley with the half-robot cook, John Silver (Brian Murray). Silver is revealed to be the “cyborg” mentioned earlier by Bones as he leads the crew to mutiny. This forces Jim to use the orb, which is revealed to open portals to anywhere in the universe, including the center of Treasure Planet, where the booby-trapped treasure horde is now set to explode.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Treasure Island tales

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#233. Best Animated Feature

In the almost 90 years that the Academy Awards have been held, most of the categories have been established early in its history. By 1950, the Oscar categories that we’ve come to know were pretty well established. Since then, only two categories have been added. Best Makeup and Hairstyling made its appearance in 1981, but the most recent award for Best Animated Feature has only been around for a mere fifteen years. That’s not to say that there haven’t been great animated films before 2001, it’s just that there wasn’t much competition. A few won special, technical Oscars for their efforts, but Disney’s animated films would have won many of the previous years’ Oscars just by default if the Award existed before the 21st century. This week’s two films look at some winners in the up-and-coming Best Animated Feature Oscar category.

ShrekShrek
Year: 2001
Rating: PG
Length: 90 minutes / 1.5 hours

As I’ve written about before, DreamWorks was able to make the first dent in the monolithic Disney animation empire. Partly because they provided some competition in a very narrow and difficult field of film, DreamWorks essentially made it so the Best Animated Feature Oscar could be possible. Almost in recognition of this feat, four years after their first feature film, DreamWorks would walk home with the very first Best Animated Feature Oscar for Shrek (2001). Up until this point, only Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), and Toy Story (1995) had even been given any Oscars for their animated efforts, and only because they had been trailblazers of the craft. Still, Shrek set the stage to show that technology had advanced to a point where animated feature films could be produced in a much shorter timeframe, thus giving Disney a run for its money.

It is almost fitting that Shrek was able to win Best Animated Feature, considering how many Disney films it parodied by placing all of fairy tale-dom in a single universe (much like what Disney has since done with the TV show, Once Upon a Time). While there are references to Peter Pan, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, and Pinocchio, the main thrust of the film is a classic adventure of a damsel in distress. However, the “knight in shining armor” is that of the eponymous Shrek (Michael Myers), an ogre trying his best to keep his life in an isolated swamp in a state of status quo. While Shrek and the now-rescued Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) couldn’t be any more different, a secret event that happens to Fiona at night threatens to reveal that they might in fact be more similar than initially thought.

UpUp
Year: 2009
Rating: PG
Length: 96 minutes / 1.6 hours

One of the qualms that many critics have with this new Oscar category is that it essentially hamstrings the film nominated for Best Animated Feature from winning Best Picture overall. Now, an animated film being nominated for the top award is exceedingly rare, but it had happened before the Animated Feature category was even established. In 1991, ten years before Shrek won the unprecedented award, Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture, losing out to The Silence of the Lambs (1991). However, when the nomination procedures for Best Picture changed in 2009, we suddenly saw an addition to the nominee list: an animated film. With ten movies now able to be in the running, Up (2009) was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature, only managing to win the latter. A year later, Toy Story 3 (2010) would repeat this feat to the same result.

Following a beautiful, touching, and speechless segment detailing the lives of Ellie and Carl Fredricksen (Edward Asner), we find the elderly widower planted firmly in the way of a new construction project. In a final, last-ditch effort to accomplish the goal to live next to Paradise Falls, Carl outfits his house with a plethora of colorful helium balloons, lifting it away to South America. Unfortunately, an accidental stowaway by the name of Russell (Jordan Nagai) is taken along for the ride. The young child just wanted to help Carl so he could earn his last Wilderness Explorer badge: assisting the elderly. When the house lands, the two of them soon realize they have nearly made it to Paradise Falls. As they take the house to its final resting place, they must deal with a strange bird and the former hero who has been trying to catch it.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Academy awarded animations

#036. Dreamworks vs. Disney

Anyone from an economics background could tell you that a monopoly does not induce a spirit of creativity. If one group controls the entirety of an output, what motivation do they have to be innovative? Disney has been the epitome of feature-length animated features for almost a century. Other animations studios may have come and gone, but Disney remained. This monopoly over the animated film market was finally challenged in 1998, when the fledgling studio known as Dreamworks released its first full-length animated feature, Antz. This was a firm stand against Pixar (a Disney subsidiary) and it’s 1998 film A Bug’s Life. Now that computers have made it easier to do feature-length animated films, more studios have stepped up to try and take on the Disney giant. While Dreamworks has seen varying levels of success, they have held their own against the Disney empire and still continue to release films to this day. This week’s two films highlight some representative works of both sides of this animation battle.

How to Train Your Dragon
Year: 2010
Rating: PG
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours

Being the new kids on the block, Dreamworks took a while to really find what works in an animated film. While Disney and Pixar focused on story and plot, Dreamworks tended toward gags and franchising. Their first real hit came in 2001 with Shrek, which took Best Animated Picture in the Oscars, heralding their arrival as an animation studio. Even though Dreamworks tends to rely on sequels (generally going out to 4 films) and high profile voice actors, it wasn’t until 2010 and their release of How to Train Your Dragon that they really were able to get down to the root of a great film: story. Even though Dreamworks hasn’t really done many classically animated films (for which Disney is well known), they came in on the ground floor of the fledgling computer generated imaging (CGI) animated films, which really gave Disney a run for its money.

How to Train Your Dragon is definitely a departure from the standard Dreamworks fare, which saw a definite shift in 2008 with Kung-Fu Panda. It seemed that in 2008, they finally grasped what computer animated features could be capable of, and fully utilized that to provide a very action packed film. With 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon, the action and spectacular visuals were there, but fused with a great story; which comes as no surprise as it was directed by the same duo that gave us Disney’s Lilo and Stitch. Themes such as “Brain over Brawn” and “Anti-discrimination” were definitely deeper than the simplistic plots that seemed to dominate the Dreamworks landscape. As Dreamworks continues to grow and mature, I look forward to the films they’ll create to compete with Disney and Pixar.

Aladdin
Year: 1992
Rating: G
Length: 90 minutes / 1.5 hours

Even though Disney initially used Pixar as their CGI powerhouse, they’ve gradually been able to make these types of films, for which this year’s Wreck-it Ralph looks like a pure Disney classic. And yet, if there’s one thing that Disney has been known for, it’s the classically animated films of the 20th Century. These feature-length films were certainly impressive when you come to think about what goes into making 90 minutes of animation, all drawn by hand. And yet, with 50 animated films, Disney has seen various levels of success over the years, which helps to evolve the studio to match changes in society, while still holding to a high standard of quality.

Aladdin is definitely in the short list for my favorite Disney films (along with Tangled and Sleeping Beauty). I think this is partly due to the protagonist and main focus being on a guy, instead of a princess, for which Disney set the standard. In fact, Aladdin flipped that format on its head by having the street-rat pursuing the princess Jasmine, with whom he had fallen in love, instead of focusing on the princess longing for true love and waiting for her prince to appear. This also provides an interesting twist to the prince/princess formula, since it enforced the importance of riches and background instead of true love, which shouldn’t be restricted by such societal boundaries. Aside from its non-traditional Disney approach, Aladdin is still a fun film filled with action, adventure, comedy, love, and magic. All the elements that have made Disney successful in the past.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 animation powerhouses

#003. Mixing Mediums

The realm of animated films is certainly a world unto itself. While live-action films usually have to obey the laws of physics, animated films have free reign in a lot of aspects. When both live-action and animation are used together, the differences are made evident. And yet, in movies where there is a crossover between these worlds, the worlds still remain separate. Films like Space Jam take the actors from the live-action realm and put them in a world where anything is possible; whereas this week’s films force toons and Disney princesses alike into a world that is harsh and unforgiving: the real world.

Enchanted
Year: 2007
Rating: PG
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

The country of Andalasia is much like any other realm created for Disney princesses to find their true love. With the increase of CGI animated films, Enchanted takes its animation from its roots and introduces characters that fit the stereotypes of its predecessors. You have the naive prince and princess, the conniving villain, bumbling minions and talking animals. These stereotypes do well within their own world, but when forced to adjust to the reality of New York City, one can see that their street smarts are seriously lacking.

Since princess stories have a small amount of real-world “rule-breaking”, the transition from Andalasia to New York removes their animated styling and applies the rules of our world. Well, most of our rules, at any rate. While a song sung by a native of the animated world seems to have the magical quality to congregate animals, gather crowds, and immediately give everyone an understanding of all the lyrics and choreography, this gift cannot protect the singer from realizing that not everything in life goes according to a formulaic plan.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Year: 1988
Rating: PG
Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours

Now, consider if you will, a world that is fully integrated with that of animated characters. In this world, even if the toons are not in their own world, they still obey all the rules (or lack thereof) of their native format. The charm of this film is the groundbreaking visual effects involved with infusing animated characters into a live-action world. While this practice is pretty common today, in 1988, it was years ahead of its time (and won the film at least one of its many Oscars [Best Visual Effects]). Similarly, this is perhaps the only film to ever feature the iconic animated characters from both the Disney and Warner Brothers animation studios.

At its base, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a story of segregation and racism, although it’s a little difficult to take seriously when the animated characters are the ones being discriminated against. In fact, those who have seen the 1974 noir classic, Chinatown can see where some of this film’s Los Angeles sleuthing themes may have originally come from. In this film, Detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is trying to figure out who really killed a big studio executive, even if all the clues initially point to animated goofball, Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer). This ends up being a challenge for Valiant, due to his prejudice against toons, which he has to overcome in order to arrive at the truth and the key to cracking the entire case.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 mediums, 2 styles of integration

#002. Self-Aware

In the span of about 100 years, movies have been categorized due to their content. Sometimes this can be difficult, and can lead to the emergence of new genres, but most of the time movies can be portioned off into subsets based on common themes and motifs. Since this trend of categorizing movies has gone on for so long, it was only a matter of time before the movies became self-aware. The term “self-aware” (which is a phrase I coined myself), is used to describe a movie that realizes what genre it is in and uses this realization to poke fun at the genre. Ironically enough, these movies were released in the same year, which just goes to show the state of the movie industry at the time.

Shoot ’em Up
Year: 2007
Rating: R
Length: 86 minutes / 1.43 hours

Action movies have a notorious tendency to be light on plot, heavy on explosions. The entirety of the genre relies on high octane action sequences in order to make bank. Shoot ‘em Up is no exception. There’s enough plot to incur multiple gunfights and creative uses for carrots as weapons, but not much past that.

Clive Owen plays a man by the name of Smith who happens to get caught up in a national conspiracy involving babies raised for their inherent medical properties. In order to protect one of the babies, Smith calls on the services of Donna Quintano (Moncia Bellucci) as they run from Hertz (Paul Giamatti), a hitman who is in charge of cleaning up this mess. Throughout the film, Shoot ‘em Up adheres to the action movie stereotype of the hero always hitting his mark (while the bad guys constantly miss), corny lines and ridiculous setups. However, it is able to do this while at the same time making the fun of the whole genre by being as campy as possible.

Enchanted
Year: 2007
Rating: PG
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

For decades, Disney has been cashing in on the “Princess” movie market. Such titles as Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950) and Sleeping Beauty (1959) tell the story of a damsel in distress and the Prince Charming who comes to save her. Enchanted takes this concept and pokes fun at it while at the same time falling into it.

This movie starts out as a classically animated story where Giselle (portrayed by Amy Adams), who sings of true love’s kiss, falls in love with Prince Edward (James Marsden) at first sight. Enchanted then shifts into the real world when Prince Edward’s evil mother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) sends Giselle to New York. It’s in this backdrop in which the absurd customs of cleaning animals, spontaneous singing and utter naiveté are brought to life. In the end, Enchanted relies on its storybook ending to poke fun at the “happily ever after” genre.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 cool for their own genre