Treasure Island (1950)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/10/19
Cast: Bobby Driscoll, Robert Newton

Young Jim Hawkins (Bobby Driscoll) acquires a treasure map from a dying pirate, which inspires the brash and loud-mouthed Squire Trelawney to mount an expedition to recover Captain Flint's legendary loot. Unfortunately, most of the crew aboard the Hispaniola are pirates in the service of the ship's cook, Long John Silver (Robert Newton). The two-faced and scheming Silver constantly uses and manipulates people to meet his ends, but his affection towards Jim is genuine and true. After leading a mutiny and capturing Captain Smollet's ship, Silver betrays his fellow pirates to help the captain and his mates find the treasure. However, he manages to escape before he can be taken back to England in chains.

This was Walt Disney's first live action film, shot in the U.K. with assets that were frozen in the country due to post-war restrictions and regulations. It's a rousing coming of age adventure full of action, danger, and intrigue, and a reasonably faithful adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel. Bobby Driscoll does a wonderful job as the innocent and resourceful Jim Hawkins, but it's Robert Newton who steals the show with his iconic and charismatic portrayal of Long John Silver. His performance is so ingrained in pop culture that whenever you think of pirates, he immediately comes to mind (although younger generations may be more influenced by Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow).

It's a good looking and colorful production for the most part, but unconvincing matte paintings and ragged sky backdrops are a constant distraction. The primary cast is superb, but the supporting cast is a bit weak and uneven. The music score is overly whimsical, but common for the time. For a film of its age, the pacing is remarkably brisk and solid, and I found myself constantly engaged in what was going on. It's surprisingly violent for a Disney film, but it's appropriate for the material and still manages to maintain a family-friendly tone. It's interesting to note that there are absolutely no women in the film at all. Zero. There's only a passing mention of Jim's mother, who is never seen. I suppose that reflects both the source material and the times. Similarly, the entire cast is Caucasian, and almost entirely British. I find it fascinating that as a child I never noticed or paid attention to such things, while as an adult, it's painfully obvious. Regardless, despite its flaws, I found "Treasure Island" to be a charming and exciting piece of escapist fantasy that plays to the young boy that still lives in me.