Treasure Island–Disney’s 1950 ‘boys’ movie
True story, Disney was a little worried that they were going to lose the little boy market with all these princesses and effeminate dragons (black, fire-breathing sea dragons excluded), so they worked on Treasure Island along with Cinderella; producing both in 1950.
It was also Disney’s first fully live-action movie, so that was kind of a big deal. They had toyed with the idea of making other films like So Dear to my Heart and Song of the South fully live-action, but were concerned that audiences wouldn’t like Disney fare sans animation.
The Book and the Movie
Treasure Island is an adventure novel first published in book form in 1883. It follows young Jim Hawkins (Bobby Discoll, yes him again) as he learns life lessons, loses his innocence, and matures a bit. The fancy name for this type of story is bildungsroman. Now you know.
Since it first captured the minds of young readers, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic has had a profound cultural impact on how pirateness is viewed. The book popularized ideas such as: treasure maps, “X” marks the spot on the map, adventures to tropical locales to find said treasure, the black spot, and rum-imbibing, one-legged pirates with a parrot on their shoulder to name a few.
The movie is a fairly close adaptation of Stevenson’s original, with little variance in characters, plot, or mood.
Jim Hawkins is a little boy who helps his family (in the book, his parents, in the movie, his mother) run the Admiral Benbow Inn. One of the inn’s guests, Billy Bones, is a pirate with a treasure map originally belonging to one Cap’n Flint.
Other pirates, knowing he has knowledge of the treasure, seek him with the aim to secure the treasure by any means necessary. He’s given the black spot, with “until dark” inscribed on the back. So, Bones is dead by night. Jim shows Dr. Livesy and Squire Trelawney the treasure map. The squire charters a ship and blabs everywhere he goes about the aim of their journey. Dr. Livesy and Jim were afraid of this. They come across a tavern keeper in the town by the name of Long John Silver, an ex-sailor. He, too, had heard of Trelawney’s quest for treasure. Silver builds trust with the group, especially with young Hawkins, and offers to help get together a crew for them; he knowing many a good sailor out of work but able and willing. Silver and the others are in fact pirates who knew Billy Bones and Cap’n Flint and are eager to obtain Flint’s treasure.
The captain of the ship, Captain Smollett, is not impressed by the crew and almost doesn’t let them leave port. Livesy mediates a verbal altercation between Smollett and Trelawney, suggesting provisions that put the captain at ease enough for them to set sail. Having accidentally fallen into an apple barrel, Jim overhears Silver and the crew planning their mutiny and tells Livesy, Trelawney, and Smollett.
They reach the island. There are lots of altercations. Many of the pirates die. Jim meets a crazy, emaciated old man named Ben Gunn who was marooned on the island by Cap’n Flint years before. Too bad they didn’t find Ben-Hur on the island, cuz that would have been kind of fun. They find the treasure. Silver tries to out smart them and take some of the treasure and the ship and leave them there. But in the end Jim, Livesy, Trelawney, Captain Smollett, and a couple of the non-pirate crew head for home in the ship with the treasure. Silver is left with a rowboat and his parrot.
“The Spy-glass” Tavern vs. Long John Silver’s
They are the same in that they’re restaurants, but today’s Long John Silver’s are kind of disappointing. They don’t offer rum, nor do they give you a pipe after your meal. We understand barring the cooks from having parrots on their shoulders in the cooking facilities, but still, it detracts from the authenticity. Maybe the newer Long John Silver’s could have “BRAWK! Pieces of eight!” piped through their restaurants at intervals.
The Man–Squire Trelawney
In Treasure Island, the pirates are, in the most simplistic terms, the ‘bad guys’. But we would like to raise a little criticized character, Squire Trelawney. Trelawney is an upstanding citizen, a good Englishman, and a total douche. Both Stevenson’s original work and Disney’s 1950 adaptation portray him as a generally good character with his main faults being that he is too trusting and is unable to contain his excitement about the treasure map and thus tells too many people. This isn’t the half of it. For one thing, he says ‘tittle-tattle.’ Seriously, who says that? In the story, Jim Hawkins is assured by the squire that he’ll get to share in the treasure. What? Jim is the one who found the map. And why should Jim believe him? For all his inability to keep their pending quest for riches on the dl, Trelawney is vigilant in keeping his servants out of the loop. So what makes this poor kid think he’s going to get a scrap of that treasure? It’s more Jim’s map than Trelawney’s and yet he tells Jim that he’ll let Jim share in the treasure. What a jerk. And what gives Trelawney anymore right to that treasure than the pirates? Perhaps the pirate who hid it is still alive? He doesn’t know. Nor does he care. He’s a squire damnit, and he’s going to get that treasure and it will belong to him fair and square. He’s also just kind of a jerk. No particular supporting quotation here, just a vibe.
And because we’re hopelessly immature…
An immensely entertaining way to read Stevenson’s original work is to giggle at (and possibly somehow demarcate) every reference that seems suggestive. Aside from the obvious terms like ‘seamen,’ the thorough reader will catch other bits like “one of the cocks of his hat having fallen down, he let it hang from that day forth, though it was a great annoyance when it blew.” Somehow this phrase didn’t make it into Disney’s 1950 adaptation.
Random Memorable Quote
Captain Smollett: I own myself an ass.
You sure do. You sure do.
To counter the frou-frouiness of Cinderella, Disney made sure Treasure Island was gritty and intense. We’re not joking here. For a kid’s movie from the ’50s, it’s pretty full on. The gun fights are about on par with lots of fight scenes from the era. Toward the end of the movie, Jim lad is chased up a mast by a pirate, who then tosses a dagger into young Hawkins’s arm. The kid then ends up shooting this guy squarely in the face. No lie.
- May be responsible for the popularization of phrase, “Jim Lad.”
Rating versus Joe versus the Volcano: Thumbs down.
Rating versus Joe versus the Volcano: Thumbs down.