The problem with The Mooncussers is that it manages to steal copiously from Treasure Island which isn’t really an awful thing to do since that was a great Disney movie and I’ve always said that if you’re going to steal, you should steal from pirates because it isn’t their crap to begin with.
It’s just that if you’re going to re-use the entire “pirate pretending to be good guy actually deep down has a soft spot for the kid” gimmick, your pirate should be convincing in being a pal to this kid and the kid probably shouldn’t be wearing a red silk shirt for a good portion of the movie.
Oscar Holmolka (I Remember Mama) plays the Long John Silver part of Urias Hawke and while he clearly has a really cool pirate name, he is such sleazy sea-dog that there’s no way you couldn’t look at him and not assume that he wasn’t up to no good. Somehow, he managed to make Long John Silver seem like a classy sophisticate.
The kid in this case was played by Kevin Corcoran (Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus) and his character was a wussed down TV version of Jim Hawkins. We all recall how Jim got stabbed, shot, dismembered, set on fire, poisoned and pile driven off the plank in Treasure Island, but also gave as good as he got.
In The Mooncussers, Kevin’s character Jonathan Feather says “gee willikers” an awful lot and whacks bad guys with rocks, clubs, and a hot poker, but it’s all accompanied by sound effects that almost turn it into comic relief.
These Mooncussers turn out to be the laziest kind of pirates. They hung out on the shores of New York in the 1840s and waited for a moonless night. On these really, really dark nights they would set up their own bogus lighthouse and shine the light at passing ships in an effort to get them to steer themselves aground. Then they would run out there and steal all the good stuff from the sinking ship. They were called Mooncussers because they cussed the moon when it came out since they liked to do their skullduggery in anonymity.
The owner of the shipping line that’s been particularly affected sends his son, Dan, to try and put a stop to the Mooncussers. I was a little bit iffy on this plan, but I figured that Dan would go into deep cover as a Mooncusser pledge and bust up the organization from the inside.
Nope. The first thing he does when he gets to Feather’s Wharf is to interrogate Johnny about the really sweet stuff his mom has in her inn and about what boat they all got this crap from while Johnny’s family watches. Then Johnny knocks him out while he’s snooping around in their basement. Was this really the only son the shipping tycoon could have sent?
Urias Hawke is the first mate from the boat that just went down at the beginning of the movie and he’s hanging around waiting for his pay to arrive from Dan’s daddy, but decides to hook up with the Mooncussers since they’re run by an old friend of his, some ugly fat guy name Wick who is using the local fishery as a front for his operations. Hawke spends much of the movie pretending to help Dan while simultaneously scheming with Wick and the other Mooncussers.
The Mooncussers decide their next caper will involve sinking a ship called the Portland that’s sailing by those parts. Dan and Johnny manage to thwart the Mooncussers in their efforts to sink the Portland which pretty much corresponds to part one of this two part movie from the Disneyland TV show.
Part II sees Dan’s dad dropping by to congratulate everyone for their fine work and it’s decided that in an effort to permanently deter the Mooncussers that every ten miles on the shore they’ll construct lighthouse stations which will be continuously manned to keep the ships safe.
Hawke gets himself this job (proving himself to be much more adept at not blowing his cover than Dan) and there’s a big horse race to decide who will work there as the messenger boy. Wick’s kid wants it so that there won’t be any problems for the Mooncussers, but Johnny wins it since he’s riding Ebony, Dan’s turbo-charged horse.
Predictably, Johnny finds out Hawke’s plan (What? You thought Dan was going to figure anything out by himself?), Johnny gets taken hostage, the Mooncussers want to waste Johnny so he won’t snitch, and suddenly Hawke becomes protective of Johnny even though he hasn’t shown the slightest interest in Johnny during the entire movie.
This felt completely fake and whereas there was some type of relationship established between Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins from the start in Treasure Island, there’s no foundation for Hawke’s feelings toward Johnny in this movie.
The finale of this movie wasn’t very imaginative and felt a bit slap dash. It’s like they didn’t want to be bothered to come up with an interesting ending and just decided on the old “bar room brawl” scenario only it was different because it was taking place in the fishery and people got whacked by fish occasionally. There’s lots of fighting going on and barrels and balcony railings get busted, but ultimately it felt like the final five minutes were just padding.
A rather wan and painless reworking of Treasure Island that won’t offend if you go in with minimal expectations.
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