Friday, 22 April 2011

どうぶつ宝島 / Doubutsu Takarajima / Animal Treasure Island

Here is another chance to see Toei in its golden age, making wholesome family entertainment, and also to see the young Miyazaki cutting his teeth back in '71 as adapter and key animator. This is childish fare, an adaptation of Treasure Island, simplified, made into a slapstick adventure and with all the characters except for the central kids made into loveable animals. The Disney influence is strong, with musical numbers (albeit not actually sung by the characters) and a totally superfluous animal sidekick who is little more than an extension of Jim’s psyche, only slightly more irritating. Often these Ghibli prototype films - and indeed those by Ghibli when it was formed - have cutesy characters that turn out to have a lot of personality and become fascinating in and of themselves, but that is not the case here.

However, this is an excellent example of a kids’ animation film and has some real moments of that Toei genius. Long John Silver is a pig (one of the more obvious of Miyazaki’s fingerprints) and while he is capable of being cruel, even murderous, he is also presented in a humorous style, the butt of jokes and certainly not too formidable to have pratfalls. There is never much seriousness in the action, and lots of amusing visual jokes. Crowd scenes are extremely detailed and inventive, and a lot of the action setpieces towards the end are both silly and clever, much like the frenetic sequences Pixar garner praise for several decades later.

Jim and Cathy are flimsy characters but likeable ones, and though she is the damsel in distress occasionally, Cathy is strong and cool and is probably in distress only as much as Jim is, and their roles are somewhat interchangeable. Both look very young, which is perhaps fitting for the target audience.

On occasion the animation standard slips, like when Silver and Jim are tumbling down a cliff and Jim is essentially a static object turning on an axis, or when you can see an error where a log keeps poking onto the screen right at the end, but in general there is a lot of complexity here, and the art is bold but not so simple that the animation becomes unimpressive. It is not as fun or idiosyncratic as Puss in Boots, and certainly not as clever or intriguing as Gauche the Cellist, but it is great entertainment from a studio at its prime.

(originally written 9.10.08)

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