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Villain or Father Figure?: Treasure Island vs. Treasure Planet

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Cruella De Vil, Captain Hook, Jafar, the wicked stepmother, Hades, Scar - the trope of the unreasonably evil villain is prevalent in the vast majority of Disney stories. So why, in Treasure Planet, a sci-fi adaptation of Treasure Island, was Long John Silver not turned into a similarly evil character? Instead, Long John Silver was turned into a father figure and even a hero for Jim Hawkins, despite his flaws. This paper will examine the extent to which Long John Silver was a father figure in Treasure Island versus in Treasure Planet, and why he was portrayed this way.

In the beginning of Treasure Island, Billy Bones warns Jim to beware of a one-legged man. When Jim first hears about the one-legged Long John Silver, he is cautious and wary, but when he actually meets Long John, all of his worries dissipate almost instantly. Other than the obvious change of Long John being a cyborg instead of a one-legged man in Treasure Planet, Jim’s initial reaction to him is also quite different. Even after first meeting Long John and talking to him, Jim still does not trust him and heeds Billy Bones’ advice. This is important, because it requires Long John to put forth effort and time in order to build up Jim’s trust in him. When he eventually saves Jim from Scroop, a spider that is seconds away from killing him, the two soon begin to bond and trust one another. By having this slow build-up, the trust created between the two characters has much more depth and is much stronger as well. In Treasure Island, Jim simply likes Long John because he seems like a trustworthy guy. There is not any significant reason why he actually trusts him. Thus, although Jim is a bit hurt when he overhears Long John and the planned mutiny, his primary concern is to inform Captain Flint of the mutiny. However, in Treasure Planet, the planned mutiny primarily serves to hurt Jim’s feelings and break his trust in Long John Silver. Scroop confronts Long John and claims he has a soft spot for Jim, which Long John violently denies. This scene makes clear the extent to which Jim trusted him and how hurt he feels after overhearing the conversation. Almost immediately after this, Jim and Long John try to attack each other and the planned mutiny begins.

Treasure Planet further casts Long John Silver as a father figure by having him and Jim eventually rebuild trust between one another, whereas in the novel, almost no trust is ever rebuilt post-mutiny. Soon after the mutiny begins, Long John has a clear shot at Jim, who is carrying the map, and could easily kill him, but he does not pull the trigger. Although Jim may not be aware of this, it shows the audience that Long John does still have a soft spot for Jim although he denied it earlier. Later on, Long John goes even further and actually saves Jim’s life. He sees Jim struggling to hold on to a cliff and has to pick between saving him and saving some treasure. Long John, with almost no hesitation, rescues Jim and saves his life. Meanwhile, in Treasure Island, Long John saves Jim in an odd sort of way by talking his fellow pirates out of killing him, but in exchange for Jim promising to help Long John avoid hanging when they return home. When they finally arrive back, Long John runs off with a small bag of treasure. It is clear that Long John only cares about himself and has no further concern for Jim or the ship. To contrast this, Treasure Planet ends with Long John giving Jim his small shape-shifting companion, Morph, as well as some treasure to help fix his mother’s inn. The two then lovingly part ways, and the audience gets the feeling that unlike Jim’s father, who abandoned the family, Long John will always be around to watch over Jim, just as a father should be. He prioritizes Jim’s life over his treasure and seems to truly care about him.

Treasure Planet casted Long John Silver as a father figure to Jim instead of casting him as a typical Disney villain. Despite his shortcomings, he is portrayed as a likeable and kind character who is there for Jim when he most needs it. In Treasure Island, Long John is never completely trustworthy and the reader always feels a bit suspicious of him. Although at times he could be viewed as a father figure to Jim, in the end of the novel, he runs off with his treasure to avoid prison. Disney could have turned him into one of the stereotypical villains that are so often portrayed in their movies, and yet they instead chose to romanticize and lighten his character. In Treasure Island, Long John’s personality was often confusing and could be interpreted in many different ways. At times, he seemed trustworthy and kind, and at others he seemed selfish and uncaring. If Disney were to portray him as a stereotypical evil villain, they would be forced to ignore and significantly alter the plot of Treasure Island. Long John’s character had too much depth and importance in the plot for such a large alteration. Furthermore, Treasure Planet seems to be intended solely for a children’s audience, while Treasure Island, although generally labeled as a children’s book, often seems too confusing and even violent for young readers. The book was also written in the late 19th century, while the movie came out in 2002. As time has gone on, children (especially American children, whom the movie was intended for) have become more sheltered from violence at a young age. Thus, it was much easier for Disney to lighten up and simplify Long John Silver instead of turning him into a true villain.