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Treasure Island (1950)
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there is much PG-worthy violence in this Disney outing, including fatal shootings and stabbings, and some of the pirates, when threatening the life of young Jim Hawkins, might seem truly nightmarish to very little viewers. Jim himself has to kill one. Later theatrical and TV re-releases of Treasure Island excised the worst of it to get a "G," but the video version restores it. You'll see much drinking as well, but it's not glorified.
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What's the story?
Bobby Driscoll plays Jim Hawkins, a fatherless boy managing his mother's English inn, whose residents include a sickly, hard-drinking ex-pirate named Billy Bones (Finlay Currie). When Billy's menacing former shipmates track him down, Bones lives just long enough to give Jim his secret map pointing the way to treasure buried by a fearsome pirate called Flint. Jim takes the map to the foppish local squire and his doctor friend, who decide that it would be grand adventure to fit out a ship and get the treasure themselves. At the docks they hook up with a salty, one-legged cook called Long John Silver (Robert Newton), who promises to find them an experienced crew. Jim Hawkins goes along as a cabin boy when the ship sets sail, and he becomes quite a friend of the colorful Long John. Only by chance does Jim overhear the truth -- that Silver was quartermaster under the late Captain Flint, and the crew he hand-picked are actually Flint's old gang of cutthroats, reassembled and preparing to kill Jim and the few non-pirates aboard once the treasure (or at least the map) is in their hands.
Is it any good?
For modern viewers used to the faster action and ghoulish fantasy tinges of Disney's later Pirates of the Caribbean features, the action here is relatively mild and a little stagy at times. But it's still an immortal moment when a homicidal swab climbs the rigging after Jim, or when Long John Silver asserts his command over the unruly pirates. The timeless Stevenson plot has the good guys trying to think one step ahead of the mutineers (who outnumber them), with the slippery Long John repeatedly putting himself in the middle -- he's willing to deal with any side that's winning -- and staying close to innocent Jim at all times. Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate classic had been filmed several times already, most notably as a black-and-white "talkie" in 1934. This 1950 version added lush color and lovingly detailed sailing ships and costumes (plus grand vistas of 18th-century sailing ports that are actually lifelike paintings), and a most seaworthy cast.
The question always remains: Does Long John really have a soft spot for the boy, or is he just using Jim as a hostage and pawn? The characters' relationship makes Long John one of the most interesting of the many villains in Disney annals. Actor Robert Newton's eye-rolling, teeth-gritting portrayal made the role his very own. He also played a much-less sympathetic lead in Blackbeard the Pirate and encored as Long John Silver in a short-lived TV series and a non-Disney sequel to Treasure Island, found on video as Long John Silver. Practically every time somebody does a pirate impersonation heavy on the "Arrrs!" they're unknowingly imitating Newton's mannerisms, and an actor (or a pirate) can't do better than that for a legacy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Long John Silver, especially compared to other classic Disney villains; he's a murderous cutthroat, and yet almost a surrogate father to Jim, even as he uses the boy as hostage and bait. Is a villain more effective if he's somehow likeable? You could compare the movie with the book Treasure Island and ask if the filmmakers captured the spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson's plot and characters (especially Long John) or made them "Disney-fied."
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