Treasure of Matecumbe

Movie review by
Tracey Petherick, Common Sense Media
Treasure of Matecumbe Movie Poster Image
Old-school Disney adventure includes iffy racial subplots.
  • G
  • 1976
  • 117 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Perseverance, dreaming big, courage, value of friendship, loyalty are all prominent themes. One character tells the children, "Learning will set you free."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Miss Paxton stands out as strong and independent -- a feminist of her time. Davie and Thad are brave, determined, show great loyalty. Several characters are deceitful but either see the error of their ways or get their comeuppance. Ku Klux Klan are depicted. Some racial stereotyping: Black character is referred to as "the Black," Native Americans as being mysterious. Some sexist behavior, with female characters being patronized.

Violence

Guns are present throughout. Several gunfights, but none show graphic injury details. Character shot and killed while fleeing; no blood shown. A child fires a gun. Mild threat throughout as villains pursue, threaten main characters. Fistfighting includes an adult character hitting a child. One scene shows White character about to be hung from a tree by a group of Ku Klux Klan members but is then rescued. Group is scared away when they have flaming bottles thrown at them in a slapstick fashion --  though their clothes catch fire. Some action takes place in spooky burial ground. A dramatic thunderstorm provides some scares. 

Sex
Language

A Black character is called "the Black."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One scene with a character drinking from a brandy bottle.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Treasure of Matecumbe is a Disney adventure movie based on a 1961 novel, A Journey to Matecumbe, by Robert Lewis Taylor. There is a degree of threat throughout as main character Davie (Johnny Doran) and his friends are pursued by aggressive baddies. There are several gunfights -- including one death and a child firing a gun -- in the style of Western movies, but none show graphic injuries. Set in 1869, it includes some dated social concepts: A Black character is referred to as "the Black" while Native American characters are portrayed as mysterious and "otherly." The Ku Klux Klan try to hang a White man but are scared off when flaming bottles are thrown at them. There is some sexism in the form of patronizing behavior toward women, but the main female character, Miss Paxton (Joan Hackett), is feisty and self-assured. A creepy sacred burial ground and a dramatic thunderstorm scene might be scary to younger viewers. But there are positive themes of perseverance, courage, and friendship, and all is redeemed with the classic happy ending.

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What's the story?

Set in 1869, TREASURE OF MATECUMBE follows the adventures of Davie Burnie (Johnny Doran), a boy from Kentucky who is given a map to a treasure chest buried in the Florida Everglades by his late father. With his friend Thad (Billy Attmore), he embarks on a journey down the Mississippi, along the way encountering a runaway bride, a traveling medicine man, and Davie's roguish uncle -- all of whom have their own dubious agendas. Pursued by a no-good villain and his henchmen, this quirky cast of characters become firm friends, working together to overcome hazards and adversaries in their search for the treasure.

Is it any good?

A classic family adventure with mystery and peril at every turn, this movie is enjoyable if rather dated. The two boys embarking on this exciting treasure hunt are plucky and likable, but it's their adult friends who stand out. Peter Ustinov as the traveling medicine man is as charming a con artist as you're ever likely to meet, while Joan Hackett's feisty Miss Paxton blows hot and cold as we work out whether she's friend or foe. 

Treasure of Matecumbe touches upon issues that may require further conversation with younger viewers: the appearance of the Ku Klux Klan and the portrayal of and reference to certain ethnic groups. Kids will also notice the absence of CGI and modern green-screen technology (spot the same log floating off into the distance in several of the Mississippi River scenes) and will probably find the out-of-place stock wildlife footage hilarious. But among the old-school technology is a fun action-adventure with comedy, drama, and plenty of heart.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Davie and his friends demonstrate courage and loyalty in Treasure of Matecumbe. Why are these important character strengths? What other traits do they show?

  • Talk about the issue of race in the movie. How were the Native American characters portrayed? Did they feel like stereotypes to you? Why can stereotypes be problematic? Discuss the Ku Klux Klan in the context of racism and inequality in the 19th century. 

  • Discuss the violence in the movie. Did it feel extreme for a Disney movie? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • Talk about how filmmaking has changed. This movie was made without CGI or green-screen technology. Which scenes would be filmed differently if it was made now?

Movie details

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