The Legend of the Titanic (1999)

LotT1Still better CGI than The Phantom Menace.

The Legend of the Titanic was produced by the Italian animation studio MondoTV in attempt to capitalize from the success of James Cameron’s Titanic. In remaking this tragic love story as a children’s cartoon, the filmmakers have effectively removed the brutality of the actual event by replacing horrific, torturous death sequences with cute talking mice and a repetitive eight-bar musical theme. There’s just nothing more admirable than profiting from a disaster that claimed the lives of over 1,500 people. And this is only the first of a trilogy of Italian-made, Titanic-themed animated features. That’s right, there are three of these things.

This film opens on an exciting day as both mice and men prepare to board a legendary ship: the RMS Titanic (or S.S. Titanic, according to the life boats later in the film). We see the world through the eyes of a mouse named Top Connors (Sean Patrick Lovett), who witnesses the struggle of a human woman, Elizabeth (Jane Alexander). Plagued with turmoil, Elizabeth’s father expects her to marry Everard Maltravers (Gregory Snegoff), a selfish, corrupt whaler. Before Elizabeth boards the ship, her true soulmate, the Spanish prince Don Juan (Francis Pardeilhan), catches her eye. It’s love at first sight for these star-crossed lovers, separated by different social classes on the historically doomed ocean liner. Does this sound familiar yet?

Top Connors and his Brazilian soccer-playing mouse friend Ronnie (Anna Mazzotti) both want to help Elizabeth, but they can’t do anything since they don’t speak English (they can understand it though?). Top Connors wants to help her out because he’s a good guy, and Ronnie only lends an assist so he can score with Elizabeth.

LotT10 In fact, Top Connors is called ‘racist’ for telling Ronnie that his creepy mouse-crush on Elizabeth is weird.

Fortunately, Top Connors and Ronnie can intervene once Elizabeth is suddenly granted the ability to speak to animals. How does she acquire this skill? Does it matter? This is a cartoon remember, and people speaking to animals is a common enough convention in animated films that it really doesn’t need an explanation. Look at Tarzan, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and The Jungle Book, for example. But this film feels the need to justify the talking-animal concept.

So here’s how it happens. While standing at the bow of the ship, weeping, Elizabeth’s tears fall from her face into the ocean below. Instead of landing in the water, they hover and glow above a dolphin’s nose.

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Don’t tell the filmmakers, but dolphins are supposed to be grey.

A moment later, Elizabeth can hear the dolphins speaking to her! “Now I’ll explain,” the dolphin says. “You can understand us thanks to a net of magic moon beams that caught your tears as they fell into the water. We added a little magic of our own and voila! The spell was cast!”

. . . WHAT!? Why bother with an explanation at all, if it’s just pointless nonsense?! Magic moon beams? Added a little magic of their own? What does that mean? Next time just say ‘she can hear the mice, and that’s how this world works,’ and that will be enough. Disbelief suspended. There are a lot of things wrong with this movie that could have used an explanation, and talking animals was not one of them.

Now that she can speak to creatures, Top Connors and Ronnie introduce themselves and give her the courage to stand up to her father. The man is very understanding, and calls off her wedding to Maltravers right away, leaving her free to pursue Don Juan.

Since Maltravers was only marrying Elizabeth to get whaling rights from her father, letting her slip away shouldn’t be a big loss. But in classic villain fashion, Maltravers doesn’t take the rejection very well and sets out to get revenge. His plan is to hold her father hostage and get his signature on the whaling documents he needs while the ship is sinking.

But how does he get the ship to sink? Why, by enlisting the help of evil sharks, of course! So Maltravers can talk to sharks, and he asks them to sink the ship for him so he get the rights to hunt and kill whales. I guess he also cried into the ocean at some point, so that the moon beams could make the animals hear him? In all his excitement, he somehow fails to realize that the vessel he’s putting in danger is the very same ship he is currently a passenger on.

I bet the eye patch is from when he hired evil raccoons to crash the car he was driving.

In order to sink the ship, the sharks challenge Tentacles (Angelica Mermet), a giant octopus, to an iceberg throwing contest. The sharks trick the kid, knowing that Tentacles is stronger than they are and can throw a large enough iceberg at the boat to sink it. Tentacles doesn’t know any better, so he agrees. And so kids, according to this movie, the Titanic sank because a whaler made a deal with sharks, who in turn tricked an octopus. That’s how it really happened.

LotT12Why the number and the hat? Did he break out of shark prison?

That’s the biggest travesty committed by this film; the way it essentially undermines the tragedy of the Titanic by rewriting history so that no one dies. No one. Even Maltravers and his henchmen escape in a lifeboat and are never officially proclaimed to be dead; instead they’re merely ‘lost at sea.’ In this version of the story, the people on board are all rescued by whales. Even the captain, who was set on going down with the ship, is saved at the last moment by Tentacles. After realizing the danger he put the Titanic in, the giant octopus holds the boat together to buy everyone on board more time to escape.

Tentacles holds his breath underwater here, even though we’ve seen him speaking and breathing underwater multiple times by now.

Even when characters do die, on-screen, they aren’t really dead. One of Top Connors’ expendable mouse friends sacrifices himself so the humans can send an SOS. Since the wires on the telegraph machine had been chewed through by other mice, our sacrificial hero uses his mustache to bridge the gap and connect the wires so the rescue ships can be called in. He is seemingly electrocuted to death. Tentacles’ ship-saving endeavor also proves costly when he sinks to the bottom of the ocean, crushed by the Titanic.

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Christ-like sacrifices.

But wait, kids! Even the people who died are still alive! Somehow, despite being explicitly shown their dead bodies, the red-shirt mouse and Tentacles survive, returning just in time to celebrate Elizabeth and Don Juan’s wedding with all their friends! It’s not clear how or why, but they all remain among the living. Perhaps, instead of spending so much time justifying the talking animals, the film could have explained how this is possible.

LotT9 LotT13
Psych! Still kickin’!

Now this is just a kid’s movie, and a happy ending is justified, to a degree. Kids would be traumatized to see all the death and destruction that really took place on that terrible night. The producers could have given the boat in their movie any name though, and they still would have ended up making the same film. It’s blatantly obvious that they’re relying on the Titanic brand after the success of James Cameron’s film in order to make as much money as possible.

And frankly, their business strategy probably worked. I bet I wouldn’t know anything about this film if not for the word ‘Titanic’ in the title. The problem is that this is a film that teaches children that every soul on that boat survived. It’s demeaning and insulting to those who died. But then again, I suppose you can’t really have anyone dying since this is a children’s film.

LotT4That is, I think it’s a children’s film…


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