The Legend of the Titanic (1999)
“It hits you like a thousand knives stabbing all over your body. You can’t breathe, you can’t think, at least not about anything but the pain.”
Jack might as well have been describing the experience of watching The Legend of the Titanic.
In case you haven’t seen the many review videos on YouTube, there are in fact three Italian animated family films, based around the Titanic. The Legend of the Titanic is the first of these – it also has a sequel named Tentocolino, but as that one is apparently more about Atlantis and mermaids and stuff than the Titanic, I feel safe in excluding it from Titanic Month. (Also, there is only so much suffering I can take in quick succession.) So, how do you end up producing a family-friendly film with talking animals, inspired by a disaster that killed over 1500 people? Either the people responsible just didn’t care, or they saw James Cameron’s film and somehow didn’t realise that it was based on a true story.
And believe me, they definitely saw Cameron’s film. For starters, the film begins in the present day with an old Titanic survivor relating their experiences. There is one notable difference here, however: the survivor in question, Connors, is a talking mouse. Once we flash back to the Titanic itself, we then see a few cars containing wealthy passengers driving up to the ship – then our main female protagonist, Elizabeth, appears, with the viewer seeing her hand first as she is assisted out of the car. Oh, and did I mention her parent is pressuring her into an arranged marriage to an evil rich guy?
The animation in this film is awful, particularly with regards to faces – sometimes there are shots of people just standing in place, making slight movements and random noises. And it’s very poorly edited, moving haphazardly from one order of business to the next. But such problems are nothing when compared with the actual script.
Our villain, Everard Maltravers – who wears an eyepatch in case children don’t otherwise cotton on that he’s evil – plans to marry Elizabeth so her father, a duke, can grant him worldwide whaling rights (because apparently this one duke has that kind of monopoly on the seas). He delivers his lines in a manner reminiscent of Seto Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh: “There’s nothing in the world that counts besides money and power! Everything else is simply there to be used to achieve those objectives!” Thinking about it, Maltravers would fit quite comfortably into the 1943 film.
For a while, the film is simply bad, with its one-note human characters and occasional appearances from talking mice. But then comes the scene where I start thinking “What the hell is this?!” As Elizabeth goes out on deck and weeps at her predicament, some sort of magic occurs involving her tears and moonbeams, and she suddenly gains the ability to talk to dolphins and other animals. From this point onwards, we’re sinking to depths greater than the wreck of the Titanic itself. Elizabeth tells her father she won’t marry Maltravers, which he is suddenly perfectly fine with; and after she meets up with her real love, a Spanish guy named Juan, they indulge in a painfully long dance sequence surrounded by happy little animals.
Maltravers, meanwhile, turns to Plan B, which involves coercing the duke into signing over the whaling rights, then sinking the Titanic in order to get him out of the picture. Sinking an entire ocean liner to cover up the death of one man feels a tad unnecessary, but there you go. So how does Maltravers arrange this? By enlisting a gang of talking sharks, whom he contacts with a magic whistle, to trick a giant octopus into throwing an iceberg (one just sitting around at the bottom of the sea instead of floating) into the Titanic’s path.
Yes, that’s the kind of film we’ve got here.
Escaping in a lifeboat with his partners in crime, Maltravers realises too late how little he thought this through, as they get lost at sea and presumably die horribly. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Juan find themselves balancing on the stern of the Titanic as it goes under, then sucked underwater – which, again, seems awfully familiar. Luckily, they still survive – and apparently, so does everybody else onboard. The aforementioned giant octopus, wrapping his tentacles around the sinking Titanic like the Kraken, somehow ensures that everybody is saved, though the film doesn’t go into such unnecessary details as where all those people went if not the lifeboats. Fairies did it, I guess.
For the close, we return to old Connors telling the story, as he delivers a moral about the evil of hunting whales, rather than the usual Titanic message about hubris or complacency. His wife then informs their grandchildren, “Like all sailors, you shouldn’t take him too seriously,” suggesting that just maybe the whole thing was the deluded ramblings of a senile old mouse, which would be the closest this movie comes to sense.
So, is the other animated film – Titanic: The Legend Goes On – just as painful and in just as abysmally poor taste? I’ll let you know next blog post!