FUNNY ANIMALS AND MORE
April 20, 2014 posted by Fred Patten

Animated “Treasure Islands” 1922 to 1980

Osamu Tezuka's first graphic novel "Shintaka Rajima" (1947)

Osamu Tezuka’s first graphic novel “Shintaka Rajima” (1947)

One of the things that the early C/FO in the late 1970s noted about anime was that the Japanese animation industry seemed to love Robert Louis Stevenson’s boys’ adventure novel Treasure Island (serialized in the Young Folks children’s magazine during 1881-’82, and published as a novel in May 1883). There were three recent anime versions that we knew of, two featuring funny-animal casts.

Firstly, there was the 1965 New Treasure Island (Shin Takara Jima) from Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Productions; a 52-minute TV New Year’s special, with all the characters as funny animals. Jim Hawkins was a bunny, John Silver a wolf, Dr. Livesey a stag, Squire Trelawney a pig, and so on. Secondly, there was the 1971 Animal Treasure Island (Dobutsu Takarajima) theatrical feature, made by Tōei Dōga to celebrate Tōei’s parent company’s twentieth anniversary. This had Jim Hawkins as a human boy and added Captain Flint’s granddaughter Kathy as a human playmate/romantic interest, but everyone else was a funny animal. John Silver was a boar, with both legs but only one hand.

These two had been Americanized by Titan Productions; the NYC voice crew of Cliff (Ray) Owens, Billie Lou Watt, and Gil Mack, who had dubbed Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion for Fred Ladd. Tezuka’s 1965 New Treasure Island was produced by Fred Ladd as Treasure Island Revisited; he hired Titan Productions as his subcontractors. Ladd says that he did not produce Tōei Dōga’s 1971 Animal Treasure Island; Ray Owens and his voice team must have been working for someone else – possibly American International Pictures directly. The two were available at the time as 16mm film rental movies, and Animal Treasure Island was also being shown on TV as just Treasure Island, a Saturday-afternoon children’s movie. So the C/FO rented and showed them. (The C/FO mostly showed video tapes, but occasionally we would borrow a Bell & Howell projector and take up a collection to rent an animated 16mm movie.) Thirdly, there was the then-current Treasure Island (Takarajima) TV anime series, 26 episodes by Tokyo Movie Shinsha, October 8, 1978 to April 1, 1979. This version kept everyone human, but gave a very young Jim Hawkins a pet leopard cub. This was not available in America; we only saw a couple of sample episodes.

The two movies were both very enjoyable. Tezuka’s 1965 New Treasure Island (also the title of the 1947 manga that started his reputation, though the plots are completely different) was produced in black-&-white, but Fred Ladd had it colorized in South Korea and retitled Treasure Island Revisited for the American 16mm non-theatrical rental market.

treasure-mushi-characters

The portrayal of the cast as funny animals is not just incidental. At the climax, when the treasure is revealed, the characters each let their animal instincts take them over and turn into unclothed wild animals. Most fan synopses of the film that I have seen say that the pirates are turned into feral animals by their greed, but the movie makes it clear that everyone is affected, Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelawney along with the rest. Only Jim Hawkins and the sympathetic Long John Silver have enough will power to struggle and hold on to their humanity (if that is the appropriate word for funny animals).

Tōei Dōga’s 1971 Animal Treasure Island is best-known among fans as being an early work by Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki has only a minor credit as a key animator and story consultant – the director was Hiroshi Ikeda, and the animation director was Tōei Dōga veteran Yasuji Mori – but the characters look and move as those in Miyazaki’s later Studio Ghibli features (especially Kathy as Miyazaki’s standard tomboyish heroine), and at the climax the treasure turns out to be hidden in a water-filled volcanic crater that has to be drained; a set-up that Miyazaki reused in his 1979 Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro.

The story is only very loosely based on Stevenson’s. In addition to the human Kathy, Jim’s best friend is the talking mouse, Gran (Rex in the American dub). Dr. Livesey and the other supporting characters do not appear; Silver is the completely villainous boar pirate captain; and the other standout animal pirates are all original: Otto (Wally), a friendly walrus; The Baron, a comedy-relief foppish fox; and Spider, a really nasty spider monkey. Silver has both legs but a hook for a left hand; the peg-legged character is Billy Bones (a cat), the seaman who comes to the Admiral Bembo (Benbow) Inn at the beginning of the adventure. In addition to searching for the treasure, a major subplot is the contest among the pirate captains to become the king of the pirates, which Captain Silver wants to use Flint’s treasure to win. American International Pictures licensed it, and released it to TV in 1972 simply titled Treasure Island. I saw it in Los Angeles as a Saturday-afternoon children’s matinee with Tom Hatton as the host, but I don’t remember if it was during 1972; it was shown on American TV throughout the 1970s. It was also available on the 16mm rental market during the 1970s and 1980s.

Meanwhile, TMS’ 1978-’79 Treasure Island, the 26-episode serialization, was directed by Osamu Dezaki (1943-2011) and showcases Dezaki’s PRETTY animation with lots of sparkle glitter. Jim looks so young (officially 13, but he looks about 8 or 9), and Benbow, his pet leopard cub is so cute, that it’s hard to take this version as an exciting adventure. Also, Dezaki played down Jim in favor of Long John Silver as the incredibly handsome, charismatic main character. Jim clearly hero-worshipped him, and the audience was supposed to, too.

tms-treasure-island

So early anime fans considered animated versions of Treasure Island to be a Japanese specialty. In the late 1970s, they pretty much were. Since then, though, there have been enough animated versions of it from America and Australia and Britain and Ukraine to fill a column. One of the points of interest to me has been seeing how Jim Hawkins is treated in the different versions, from a young child to an adult just out of his teens.


I was surprised to find how much earlier than the 1970s the animated versions of Treasure Island go, and how many there are. I found my job made easy for me by discovering the online “The Robert Louis Stevenson Archive – Film Versions of Treasure Island”. This lists many live-action and animated versions of Treasure Island, theatrically and on TV, from 1908 to the present (announced as coming in 2014). Separating the animation from the live-action, we get:

1. Colonel Heeza Liar’s Treasure Island
. Director: Vernon George Stallings.
 Production: Bray Productions. 
Animation: Walter Lantz. The first animated film version, a short in the “Colonel Heeza Liar” series (1922-24). John Randolph Bray made two series of “Colonel Heeza Liar” cartoons; the first from 1913 to 1917 when Bray’s studio was pretty much just himself, and the second from 1922 to 1924 when he hired Vernon Stallings to write them and a very young Walter Lantz to produce them. Colonel Heeza Liar’s Treasure Island, released on December 17, 1922, was the first of this second batch and the 32nd in the series. No prints are known to exist; it is a lost film. It does not even have an IMDb entry. Assuming that it was like the other “Colonel Heeza Liar” cartoons, it was likely a one-reeler of about 6 minutes.

2. Treasure Island. Director: Brian White. Production: Raycol Films. 1934. This one is really obscure. Raycol Films was a British studio that existed from about 1928 to about 1934; nobody seems to be quite sure. It is known today mostly for an experimental Raycol two-color film process invented in 1928. Obviously it did not catch on. I assume that Raycol’s “Treasure Island” was a short cartoon, and that it is lost today.

There does not seem to be any Treasure Island animation from 1934 to 1959. The next was:

3. Treasure Island. 1960. A Mel-O-Toons RCA Victor Bluebird Children’s Record. 6 minutes.

In 1959, New World Productions produced a series of 104 six-minute Mel-O-Toons cartoons in very limited animation for TV syndication by United Artists during 1960. The sound tracks were also released as six-minute RCA Victor children’s records. Contrariwise, some were existing six-minute children’s records licensed by New World, which produced the animation to go with them; but Treasure Island looks like one of their original productions. At only six minutes, the plot is necessarily extremely simplified and condensed. Silver remains with the pirates instead of befriending Jim Hawkins, and he and the pirates are all captured by the authorities in the treasure cave.

4. Mr. Magoo’s Treasure Island. Part 1, September 26, 1964. Part 2, October 3, 1964. Director: Abe Levitow. Production: United Productions of America (UPA). 30 minutes each.

This was part of NBC’s 1964-’65 The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, a half-hour series in which the famous nearsighted Mr. Magoo portrayed an actor playing the un-nearsighted protagonists of such literary classics as Moby Dick, Robin Hood and Don Quixote. In Treasure Island, he is Long John Silver.

Mushi’s 1965 New Treasure Island (#5), Toei Doga’s 1971 Animal Treasure Island (#7), and TMS’ 1978-’79 Treasure Island TV serialization (#10) go here.

5. Mushi’s Shin Takara Jima/New Treasure Island was a New Year’s Day 1965 Japanese TV special (actually January 3rd). Here is a synopsis of New Treasure Island, a.k.a. Treasure Island Revisited, from the Anime Vice website:

“Jack the wolf sea-pirate dies in a harbor inn. The innkeeper’s rabbit son, Jim, finds a treasure map on the old sea-wolf and sets out to find the booty, berthing on a ship crewed by other animals, chartered by the deer Dr. Livesey and financed by the pig Squire Trelawney. He befriends Silver, another wolf, who is revealed as the leader of the pirates when they seize control of the ship. Eventually, the pirates find the island on the map and go in search of buried treasure. The anime then deviates from Robert Louis Stevenson’s original 1881 story, in a style that not only contains elements of creator Osamu Tezuka’s occasional heavy-handed moralizing, but also his genius. As the animals near the treasure, they lose their anthropomorphic characteristics, devolving back to a feral state and running off into the jungle. Eventually, only Silver and Jack are left, and Silver struggles between the two states. Reasoning that no treasure is worth losing one’s ‘humanity’ to animal greed, Silver and Jack leave the treasure behind.

This anthropomorphic adaptation should not be confused with Shichima Sakai and Osamu Tezuka’s 1947 manga Shin Takarajima, which shares the title but not the concept. Some sources list this as the first-ever anime ‘TV special,’ a somewhat pointless distinction since it was not the first one-shot anime to be broadcast – see Instant History. The U.S. release was colorized for Fred Ladd by animators in Seoul, who ensured that it was the South Korean flag, not the Japanese one, that the animals accidentally raise in a throwaway visual gag.”

(A brief gag is that when the Hispaniola is about to sail from England, it momentarily hoists the Japanese flag, immediately lowers it, and runs up the correct English flag. The South Korean colorizers replaced the Japanese flag with the South Korean flag.)

These three are interrupted by:

6. Treasure Island. 
Director: Z. Janzic. 
1970. 45 minutes.

Apparently this was a 45 minute or one hour TV special in Australia. Nothing is known about Z. Janzic. BUT –

treasure-small8. Treasure Island. Director: Zoran Janjic. Production: Air Programs International Productions (API). November 28, 1971. 47 minutes.

This was also a TV program, part of CBS’ Family Classic Tales TV specials around Thanksgiving. API was one of the largest animation studios in Australia during the 1960s and ‘70s, producing animation for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and for all of the American TV networks. Presumably it is a straightforward dramatization. Is Zoran Janjic the same as Z. Janzic? Was this broadcast in Australia the year before it appeared on American TV? Are 6. and 8. the same film? Probably.

This version was released on DVD by Genius Entertainment as “A Storybook Classic” on March 15, 2005.

9. Treasure Island. Director: Hal Sutherland. Production: Filmation Associates. 1972? 75/86 minutes.

This was Filmation’s first theatrical feature, distributed by Warner Bros., but it is usually mistaken for a direct-to-video release. The confusion includes the release date – The Big Cartoon Database says that it was “Originally released in 1972 (Estimate)’; other reference sources say 1973. The BCD also says both that it was “Originally released theatrically” and “Originally aired on NBC-TV (USA)”. If Warner Bros. ever distributed it theatrically, the company no longer has any records to give the dates (or claims that it does not). The online references all say that it was a 75-minute movie, but the YouTube video of it is 86 minutes.

It appears to be a straightforward adaptation of the novel, allowing for breaking the action with frequent songs like “Find That Boy”, “I’m the Captain!”, and “Sailor Talk”; comedy-relief pratfalls and burlesque jokes; and adding Hiccup, a piratically-dressed drunken anthropomorphized mouse who is introduced as Billy Bones’ pet and becomes Jim Hawkins’ after Bones’ death. Amusingly considering that the song “Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of Rum” includes lyrics about the murdered sailors being thrown overboard “to rest with Davy Jones”, the actor Davy Jones provides Jim Hawkins’ voice. I am sorry that the only online copy appears to be subtitled in Norwegian.

10. Takara Jima/Treasure Island. Director: Osamu Dezaki. Production: Tokyo Movie Shinsha. 26 half-hour episodes, October 8, 1978-April 1, 1979.

See above. In 1987 TMS produced an 84-minute movie condensation of the TV series:

Next week: Animated Treasure Islands, 1980-present.

16 Comments

  • The Japanese sure seemed to have a soft spot for Treasure Island. There was even a video game developed by Nintendo called “New Treasure Island” to catch local interest, even though it has nothing to do with the story–just some kids on and island with hidden treasure to keep it from being false advertising. Not even any pirates. Despite this branding (and being a Nintendo game), they never bothered to release it overseas.

    • It’s actually called “Marvelous: Another Treasure Island” and it was the first game that Eiji Aonuma of Wind Waker fame had ever worked on. There is a translation patch made, but isn’t finished. Here’s Hardcore Gaming 101′s article:
      http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/marvelous/marvelous.htm

    • Funny you should mention Wind Waker–that one had an even greater Treasure Island influence with more active seafaring and the actual presence of pirates. I wouldn’t doubt Eiji Aonuma is a big fan of Treasure Island type stories and settings.

  • Out of your precinct, but I remember a filmed marionette version turning up on TV, probably in the 60s. It was something less than Supermarionation; I remember a closeup of a puppet with a non-functional mouth speaking lines.

    There was a matching version of “Rip Van Winkle” — A series, perhaps?

  • Though you didn’t have a clip from Mushi Pro’s New Treasure Island to show, here’s a three minute clip at least… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BEwbCtNoY0

    Love to have seen that colorized version one day. Saw some sort of Korean movie poster for it though.

    I believe TMS’ Treasure Island did air in the US as a Spanish dub on Univision in it’s early days.

    • To add to what I said before, here’s a Korean page that talks of their redrawn Treasure island feature that saw a release there in 1969.
      http://myhobbystory.tistory.com/337

  • Regarding Zoran Janjic, he was an animator who had worked at Zagreb studio before moving to Australia. He went to work at Air Programs, where among other things, he directed films that were jobbed out by Hanna-Barbera. Later, when H&B raided API to start their own Australian studio, Janjic was hired to direct.

  • I saw it in Los Angeles as a Saturday-afternoon children’s matinee with Tom Hatton as the host, but I don’t remember if it was during 1972; it was shown on American TV throughout the 1970s. It was also available on the 16mm rental market during the 1970s and 1980s.

    Thanks to a pal of mine, I see the film saw an airing in my town on February, 25th in 1972, so not bad at all it saw quite an early release just after it’s Japanese theatrical debut.
    http://www.vintagetoledotv.com/print-ads-wdho/wdho-tv-24-print-ads/13411899

  • Don’t forget the Soviet “Остров сокровищ” (Ostrov sokrovishch) from 1988. It strings together live-action and animated segments with a very entertaining animation style. See YouTube and Wikipedia for more information.

    • It is already in next week’s column.

  • Here is one those little bits that is not long enough for a column and does not fit in anywhere, but since I have mentioned Air Programs International in Sydney, I will put it here.

    In the late 1970s, someone in Australian fandom (John Ryan?) wrote me that around 1972, Air Programs International had just gotten a refusal from Arthur C. Clarke to make his novel “Rendezvous With Rama” into a theatrical animated feature. He offered to send me API’s theatrical trailer that they had made to impress Clarke. Clarke had not been impressed. I answered that I was surely anxious to see it.

    It was a little 16 m.m. snippet with the Eastmancolor faded to almost solid red. It had professional-quality narration and music, but API could not really afford to animate it (I assume that if Clarke had agreed, API would have looked for some funding for a little actual animation), so it was mostly a slide show of swiftly changing images. What was striking was that it was in a surrealistic futuristic semi-realistic art style, somewhat like the realistic portions of Disney’s Tomorrowland TV “Mars and Beyond”, or Joe Mugnaini’s illustrations in Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”, “The Illustrated Man”, “Fahrenheit 451″, and other 1950s books.

    I can see why Clarke rejected the proposal, but it would have been a very interesting feature. It is also interesting proof that API tried to make some theatrical animated features, not just TV specials.

    • At least it sounds like they were trying their best to break out of the TV mold they were stuck in.

      Reading of the climax in Tezuka’s “New Treasure Island”, that is quite challenging a concept to try I bet, having your anthropomorphic characters turn feral like that. Somehow I’d like to see how that turned out if I can ever watch this someday. That sort of de-evolution is kinda fascinating when you noticing how the transformation occurs with our characters becoming the very animals they had came from. The classic Disney short “Three Little Pigs” kinda gives us such a scenario for the Big Bad Wolf who started out basically being a “funny animal” dressed in beat-up slacks held by suspenders before losing those while trying to blow down the third pig’s house, and not until being scolded by boiling turpentine does he finally run on all fours, thereby becoming a wolf again through the process. That moment always appealed to me for some reason out of simply seeing this character go from a human-like appearance to being fully a wolf again. We’ve seen something like this in literature before. Beatrix Potter’s familiar Peter Rabbit or Tom Kitten involved characters that had to wear clothes and follow the same civilize posture imposed by their mothers only to lose both their clothes and their anthro-qualities when they come back from their adventures. It’s quite a contrast seeing how these stories make us forget we’re dealing with animals that are trying to maintain a sense of human-like behavior and decorum when in fact, it’s a hard habit to suppress such instinctual mannerisms from their ancestral past.

      In addition to the human Kathy

      Don’t forget Jim’s baby brother Bob (or Baboo in the Japanese version), though his involvement is pretty non-consequential in this film anyway, though I kinda dig Otto/Wally being a babysitter to him for the duration.

    • The baby Bob or Baboo that follows Jim in “Animal Treasure Island” was a Toei addition (pointless, in my opinion), and the plot synopses leave it vague as to whether the baby is Jim’s brother, or the infant son of the offstage Admiral Benbow’s innkeeper whom Jim is babysitting.

      The anthropomorphic animals reverting into feral animals in Tezuka’s “New Treasure Island” reminded me of H. G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, where Dr. Moreau humanizes the animals through painful vivisection that has to be maintained. After Moreau is killed and the vivisection stops, the animal-men all devolve back into their feral states. I very vaguely recall some s-f pulp story (from “Weird Tales” in the 1930s or ’40s? I read a lot of “Weird Tales” back issues in my teens) about a Mad Scientist master who had made a lot of animal-men slaves who had to be regularly “renewed”. He kept them subservient by threatening to stop renewing their humanity if they got out of line. Supposedly all of the animals felt that slavery was worth the artificial humanity. My experience with dogs, cats, & horses is that they are perfectly happy being animals and don’t want to be humans. (Some dogs, maybe.) A recent scientific study of housecats says that cats think of humans as big cats who are too stupid and clumsy to do their own hunting, which is why many cats bring “their humans” gifts of mice, gophers, lizards, etc.

    • “The baby Bob or Baboo that follows Jim in “Animal Treasure Island” was a Toei addition (pointless, in my opinion), and the plot synopses leave it vague as to whether the baby is Jim’s brother, or the infant son of the offstage Admiral Benbow’s innkeeper whom Jim is babysitting.”

      That’s true. This film certainly didn’t need anymore kids than it has already. Kathy was already a very good addition to this film herself and what they could get out in the writing that made it work.

      “I very vaguely recall some s-f pulp story (from “Weird Tales” in the 1930s or ’40s? I read a lot of “Weird Tales” back issues in my teens) about a Mad Scientist master who had made a lot of animal-men slaves who had to be regularly “renewed”. He kept them subservient by threatening to stop renewing their humanity if they got out of line. Supposedly all of the animals felt that slavery was worth the artificial humanity. My experience with dogs, cats, & horses is that they are perfectly happy being animals and don’t want to be humans. (Some dogs, maybe.) A recent scientific study of housecats says that cats think of humans as big cats who are too stupid and clumsy to do their own hunting, which is why many cats bring “their humans” gifts of mice, gophers, lizards, etc.”

      Quite fascinating stuff Fred! Learned something new today.

  • American International Pictures licensed it, and released it to TV in 1972 simply titled Treasure Island.

    The film was also part of the same set that included several other Toei animated features mainly from the late 60′s including “Jack and The Witch” (1967), “The Little Norse Prince” (1968) and “The Wonderful World of Puss ‘n Boots” (1969) (not counting of course AIP’s previous release of “Alakazam The Great”).

    Of an unrelated note, several Toei features of the 70′s were bundled together in a package offered by Turner Program Services in the 80′s, these included “Panda’s Adventures” (1973), “Puss ‘n Boots Travels Around The World” (1976), “The Wild Swans” (1977) “Taro The Dragon Boy (1979), “Twelve Months (1980), “Aesop’s Fables” (1984) and one odd non-Toei entity (yet credited to them because I guess it was part of the licensing deal) called “Noel’s Fantastic Trip” (1983). These editions were dubbed by Peter Fernandez through a company called August Films.

    Outside of that, you had the odd double English releases of “Swan Lake” (1981) and “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1982) that came out through different distributors, one version often seen on home video (either Media or Hi-Topps labels) and another on TV that was handled by Samuel Goldwyn Television with different voice casts (and often continues to air to this day through MGM’s acquisition of the library).

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