Ad­ven­tures through the spy­ing glass

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IAn­i­mal Trea­sure Is­land, talk­ing an­i­mal pi­rates, not rated, dubbed in English, CCA Cin­e­math­eque, 3 chiles

While screen­ing the 1971 Ja­panese an­i­mated ad­ven­ture An­i­mal Trea­sure Is­land and pre­par­ing for my re­view, I de­cided to con­sult an ex­pert. I brought my 2-year-old son into the room with me and sat him on my lap. The film could have been a tough sell, with its prim­i­tive an­i­ma­tion by to­day’s stan­dards and even sub­ti­tles (the ver­sion that screens in Santa Fe will be dubbed). His re­sponse? He liked that he could rec­og­nize ev­ery­thing that was go­ing on, he laughed much of the time, and made me prom­ise to show it to him again to­mor­row.

So it gets a big thumbs-up from ju­nior, and a less en­thu­si­as­tic one from daddy. This is not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. Too many movies aim to please both par­ents and chil­dren, and in their at­tempts at of­fer­ing some­thing for every­one, they wind up of­fer­ing noth­ing for any­one. I en­joy a movie that’s geared to the whole clan (see Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox — no, se­ri­ously, see it), but it’s also nice to have some­thing that’s aimed squarely at a tod­dler, like a good tickle to the rib cage. CCA Cin­e­math­eque is pro­gram­ming An­i­mal Trea­sure Is­land ac­cord­ingly: when it opens onWed­nes­day, Dec. 23, it will only have morn­ing screen­ings.

The movie was di­rected by Hiroshi Ikeda and pro­duced by anime gi­ant Toei An­i­ma­tion, but it is rel­e­vant in film his­tory pri­mar­ily be­cause of the in­volve­ment of Hayao Miyazaki. The co-founder of Stu­dio Ghi­bli and cre­ator of films such as My Neigh­bor To­toro, Spir­ited Away, and Ponyo got one of his big breaks cre­at­ing con­cept art and han­dling an­i­ma­tion for An­i­mal Trea­sure Is­land. Devo­tees of Miyazaki will have to squint to find his in­flu­ence here— and, frankly, it’s not even as charm­ing as Miyazaki’s work on Panda! Go, Panda!— but the movie is in­no­cent and imag­i­na­tive enough that it fits nicely in the film­maker’s oeu­vre.

Based loosely on Robert Louis Steven­son’s Trea­sure Is­land, the story cen­ters on a boy named Jim, who ac­quires a trea­sure map from a peg-legged stranger. He sets out with his pet mouse, Rex, and the baby Ba­boo to find Capt. Flint’s loot, but along the way he is cap­tured by pi­rates. While im­pris­oned, Jim meets Kathy, Flint’s grand­daugh­ter— and a stylis­tic pre­de­ces­sor to Miyazaki’s Nau­si­caä (pro­tag­o­nist of his film by the same name)— and the two of them nav­i­gate mu­tinies, sea bat­tles, and storms, all lead­ing to a cli­max atop a vol­cano.

Ikeda doesn’t much stick to Steven­son’s map, in­stead whip­ping up a movie full of Ja­panese in-jokes (such as when Jim tries to trick the pi­rate crew into eat­ing tem­pura made from boots and base­ball gloves), slap­stick hu­mor, and Looney Tunes-style action. And, of course, aside from the two main char­ac­ters, most of the cast are an­i­mals. There’s a sea-cap­tain pig who may re­mind Miyazaki fans of Porco Rosso (an­other of his cre­ations) and an am­bi­tious, mon­o­cle-wear­ing coy­ote. The big­gest crowd-pleaser in this zoo is the kind­hearted wal­rus Otto, who be­comes Ba­boo’s guardian.

The an­i­ma­tion is gen­er­ally de­light­ful, with warm de­signs and vi­brant colors. It’s rem­i­nis­cent of Amer­i­can TV shows like the Rocky and Bull­win­kle car­toons and is or­ganic in that hand-drawn way. The action, from the epic sea bat­tle to the zany chase se­quence across the vol­cano’s ridge, plays with physics in the Chuck Jones tra­di­tion. The sound ef­fects en­hance the ex­pe­ri­ence, and the mu­sic by Naozumi Ya­mamoto gives the movie a jazzy flair. In one scene, Ikeda con­veys a long jour­ney across wa­ter by stag­ing it to a flashy, psy­che­delic, mu­si­cal mon­tage. It doesn’t look like any­thing else in the movie and serves as a col­or­ful in­ter­mis­sion be­fore the cli­max. They just don’t make se­quences like this any­more, and it’s a shame.

Will chil­dren take to a movie that’s noth­ing like any­thing in the­aters now? My ex­pe­ri­ence says yes. Adults may groan at outdated sen­si­bil­i­ties, but chil­dren are ar­guably anachro­nis­tic by na­ture when it comes to pop cul­ture. When I was a child, Star Wars was the big thing, but I watched TheWizard of Oz, Ab­bott and Costello Meet Franken­stein, and the 1930s se­rial Flash Gor­don as if they were con­tem­po­raries. To a kid, they’re all just dif­fer­ent top­pings on the same pizza.

An­i­mal Trea­sure Is­land cov­ers top­ics that speak di­rectly to chil­dren, such as ex­plo­ration, ad­ven­ture, and friend­ship. The film­mak­ers cut away just about any­thing that doesn’t re­late to those themes and present the cin­e­matic equiv­a­lent of set­ting sail for the hori­zon with your best bud­dies at your side and a spy­glass in hand. It’s a bit slight, but the film­mak­ers chop the movie up into clear chap­ters, so it’s easy for tod­dlers to float along, and it never gets too bor­ing for adults. It’s a short film, full of gen­tle silli­ness, and per­fect for the kid­dies over Christ­mas break. I don’t need to so­licit my son’s ad­vice to tell you that this will be a more pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence than Alvin and the Chip­munks: The Squeakquel.

Stop car­toon vi­o­lins:

An­i­mal Trea­sure Is­land

Shiver me tim­bers:

An­i­mal Trea­sure Is­land

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