Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thirty Days of Disney Movies, Day Ten - Favorite Foreign Film

So, ye come seekin' adventure and
salty old pirates, eh?
Out of the blue, my 4-year old granddaughter announced today that she wants to be a pirate. I suspect she might have caught a Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides commercial on TV.

I fully support her ambition. It'll save us a fortune in princess and pixie gear.

Before I immerse her in the oeuvre of Captain Jack Sparrow, however, I think I might first introduce her to young Jim Hawkins and the mutinous brigands aboard Captain Smollett's ship, the Hispaniola, and especially to the ship's highly suspicious sea cook, Long John Silver. Together, we'll set a course for adventure and sail to Treasure Island, my favorite Disney foreign film.

Hey, it is a foreign film. It was shot entirely in England by Disney after Great Britain froze foreign assets following World War II. It became Disney's first completely live action film and a whiz-bang high seas adventure that influenced decades-worth of pirate films.

For that you can largely credit the charismatic character actor Robert Newton, who imbued Long John Silver with the speech patterns and tics we've come to accept as "normal" for a stereotypical movie pirate. His throaty "arrrrrrrgh, matey" became a pop culture touchstone that launched a million imitations and parodies. In Disney's modern day Pirates films, Geoffrey Rush's Hector Barbossa character, with his snarly voice and affinity for apples, can draw a direct line to Newton's Long John. International Talk Like a Pirate Day would not exist but for Robert Newton.

Long John Silver (Robert Newton)
and Jim Hawkins (Bobby Driscoll)
in a publicity shot from Treasure Island
Knowing what we know now about how pirates are "supposed to" sound, it's easy to make fun of Newton's performance. The fact is his interpretation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic character is every bit as innovative, original and fun as Johnny Depp's first take on Captain Jack in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Hobbling on one leg, with the ever-present parrot on his shoulder, Newton commands each moment he's on the screen--you can't take your eyes off of him. And for all his theatrical gestures and bravado, he still exhibits a softer side when it comes to Jim Hawkins (Bobby Driscoll), the plucky young boy he develops a genuine respect for even as he manipulates him to take over the Hispaniola and claim the hidden treasure for himself.

On the day when the fourth Captain Jack Sparrow epic, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has its gala premiere at Disneyland, it's appropriate to pay tribute to Treasure Island, the pirate film that made all others possible.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go out and buy my granddaughter a pirate sword....and a hat....oooh, and a cool pirate jacket....and a fake hook. Gotta have a hook.

And a PARROT! She'll love a parrot!

ARRRRRRGH! This be part ten of my 30-day Disney movie challenge. When next we sail, we be partakin' in Disney's best film for the little ones. He didn't make as many as ye be thinkin'.

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