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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Treasure Island (1950)

As previously noted, I had my sixth-graders read Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island. There have been dozens of adaptations, but the one that most people remember is the 1950 version by Walt Disney, with Robert Newton as Long John Silver. If Stevenson created most of the pirate cliches we know today, Newton embodied them. He even says, "arrgh!"

Treasure Island was Disney's first live-action feature, and the first adaptation of the book done in color, which is lovely, by Freddie Young (who would go on to do Laurence of Arabia). It is fairly faithful to the book, emphasizing the duality of Silver, who starts as a good guy, turns really bad, but young Jim Hawkins can't help but help him escape at the end. Even the good Doctor Livesey tells Jim he had secretly hoped he would escape.

Much of the early scenes of the book are condensed or completely cut, such as the arrival of Billy Bones at the Admiral Benbow Inn, and Pew's death being trampled by horses. But the best scene in the book--Jim's fight with Israel Hands--is completely told here, and done quite well. What I think works both here and in the book for young people is somewhat disconcerting--that adults can't be trusted.

Also in the cast were Bobby Driscoll as Jim, who was one of the child stars who did not have a happy life, dying of alcoholism before he was 31. He's very good in the film, capturing the spirit of adventure but also the terror of getting into a fight with pirates. The film was directed by Byron Haskin, who also directed The War of the Worlds.

I'm afraid this kind of thing doesn't appeal to kids today. I showed it to my sixth-graders, and very few of them actually watched it. I asked them what movie they would like to watch and most said Deadpool. Sometimes there's nothing sadder than showing a kid something you expect them to like and they are completely bored by it.

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