Tentacolino (2004), or In Search of the Titanic, is the final instalment in the Italian-made animated trilogy about the sinking of the Titanic. This film is once again produced by MondoTV, and is a direct sequel to 1999’s The Legend of the Titanic. The second film in the series, Titanic: The Legend Goes On (2000), is a stand-alone picture that doesn’t really have anything to do with this film, other than the Titanic subject matter and it’s country of origin. I lump them all together because of the striking similarities the first two films share. Of the three, Tentacolino is easily the most bizarre, and quite possibly the worst children’s film I’ve ever seen – I have no idea what values or lessons kids are supposed to take away from this thing. You absolutely must see it for yourself, it’s one of my favourite bad movies of all time.
The film opens with a montage sequence that summarises the events of the first film, The Legend of the Titanic. The irony here is that Tentacolino contains so many continuity anarchisms that this ‘last-time-on-the-titanic’ sequence is absolutely pointless. The sequel contradicts the first film so much that it may as well be it’s own movie. Now, a big reason for that is obviously due to a poor English translation of the original Italian dialogue. I’d be willing to bet that the company responsible for recording the English dub didn’t know the first film existed; or if they did, they certainly didn’t care enough to consult the original to make sure they got everything right. Most significantly, the names and voices of several characters have radically changed. One of the protagonists, an all-american talking dog named Smile (Stefano Mondini) has a gravelly chain-smoker voice in Tentacolino. But in The Legend of the Titanic, the dog’s name was actually Smiley and he had a right-posh British accent. Ronnie (Sergio Luzi), the manly Brazilian mouse who aspired to hit on human women in the last film, now has a very feminine voice. And the octopus who saved the day by holding the titanic together used to go by Tentacles, but in this movie he is simply called Otty (Oughty? Aughty?) (Oliviero Dinelli). Now this is just sloppy. How hard could it be to just sit down and watch the first movie to make sure everything is accurate?
Oh wait. I can see how that might be difficult.
While these character inconsistencies come from oversight and poor fact-checking, there were also intentional character changes made that were completely unnecessary. In the first film, the villain was Maltravers, a grey haired mustached whaler with an eye patch who worked closely with sharks who do his bidding. Since no one died on the Titanic (according to the first film), Maltravers was still alive at the end of the first movie, so why not bring him back? Instead we get the Right Honourable Baron Vandertilt as a villain, a brown haired mustached whaler with an eye patch who works closely with sharks who do his bidding. Why bother introducing a new human villain if he’s going to be identical to the guy from the previous movie!? Other than the hair colour Vandertilt is just a younger version of Maltravers. The villainous sharks have changed in the same way. Before the shark leader Ice wore a striped prison hat and the number 1001, and now the evil shark leader Razorteeth (Paolo Buglioni) is identical, except he wears the number 2001. Why not bring back the villains from the first movie, rather than creating mirror images of them?
The credits do call him ‘Ice’ so this may be another translation issue, but why change the number he wears?
Now, on to the story. Three years after the sinking of the ‘mythical’ Titanic, survivors of the ship Don Juan (Fabio Boccanera) and Elizabeth (Jane Alexander) travel to the bottom of the ocean with their dog Smile and their mouse friends, Top Connors (Stefano Crescentini) and Ronnie, to find the wreck of the Titanic. They are lowered into the ocean inside a bathysphere, a submersible orb that allows them to explore depths of the sea. Some passing sharks take notice and destroy the cables connecting the bathysphere to the surface, cutting off their air supply. The sharks are led by Razorteeth, who justifies the attack because the submersible is yellow, and he hates ‘the colour of the sun,’ even though his stomach is yellow. After performing a rap-musical interlude about how evil he is, Razorteeth sinks the submersible, and then leaves to brush his teeth.
Along with some unintelligible clams, these floppy gimp fish represent his back-up singers.
Are you with me so far? Because these first twelve minutes represent the most logically sound moments of the film. So what could be crazier than rapping sharks who hate the colour yellow? Well it’s around this time the Atlanteans show up, riding on dinosaurs. Together with the octopus from the last film, Otty, they
kidnap rescue the unconscious crew inside the bathysphere and take them to Atlantis, which turns out to be a utopian nightmare.
Otty:“I swear, if something bad happens to my friends, I’ll rip every tooth out of that shark and make it into the most beautiful necklace you’ve ever seen!”
Atlantis is sinister and terrifying. First Don Juan, Smile, Elizabeth, Ronnie and Top Connors are carried unconscious into the legendary underwater city against their will. Then while they’re still passed out the Atlanteans subject them to some offscreen procedure they refer to as ‘the treatments.’ Usually something like that would require the consent of everyone involved. When they wake up from whatever surgical injustices they were subjected to, they are welcomed to Atlantis by the flamboyant Pingo (Roberto Del Giudice), a weird talking fish-toy on a spring.
Pingo explains their situation to them through another song. The treatment they received, he says, saved their lives because it allows them to breathe, speak and walk in the underwater city without dying. Sounds pretty awesome, except for the side effect. Now that they’ve taken the treatment, they’re stuck there. Forever. They are not allowed to leave. Some would call this abduction, but here’s how Pingo defines it:
Check out the vanishing dancer on the left side of the frame, 20 seconds in.
Instead of being horrified, they actually take this news pretty well. They immediately accept that they’re never going to see their friends or family again; they’ll never even breach the surface of the water for as long as they live. Next they meet the king of Atlantis, a man wrapped in green bandages who has no face. Seriously, he’s terrifying, but for some reason they aren’t phased by his faceless hollow existence. The king asks them to drink from the elixir of life, which will grant them eternal life. This means not only are they trapped there, they are stuck for all eternity. So here’s my biggest problem with this: the first movie, The Legend of the Titanic is bookended with an old Top Connors telling the story of the Titanic to his grandchildren. According to the last film, Top Connors married Ronnie’s sister and they grew old together. But in this movie, they drink an elixir that grants them eternal life and guarantees they will stay young forever in Atlantis. Top Connors doesn’t hesitate for a moment before drinking the elixir; there’s no mention of the wife he’ll never see again before he commits to staying trapped in the underwater city. Instead they agree to Don Juan’s creepy Stockholm syndrome logic, “if they wanted to harm us they wouldn’t have saved us. And besides, this elixir is such a pretty colour. Come on, drink!”
That’s right kids! If a stranger gives you a liquid and you don’t know what it is, calm down and drink it all ready.
Stockholm syndrome elements aside, the creep factor is really highlighted by the way dialogue is delivered. The characters actually do occasionally express concern for their situation, and even question the ethical morality of the Atlanteans’ behavior, but every time they acknowledge the danger of their circumstance the lines are read with a strangely positive inflection. For example, in an early scene, Top Connors joyously proclaims, “there is something definitely wrong here, and we’re in trouble! Trust me, it’s really big!” He says this as if it’s the best news he’s ever heard. Who was directing this recording session? No one in the room had the sense to say, ‘hey, uh… I think that you should sound scared with that line… Instead of reading it like a kid on Christmas morning, let’s try a take where you’re terrified of the sharks coming to eat you.’ The dialogue is given this creepy, dark edge thanks to English-speaking voice actors who fail to interpret the tone of a language they are, arguably, trained to dramatically perform. It’s the same sense you get when horror movies use kids voices, singing those slow-tempo lullabies in a soft, hushed voice.
The creatures and character design for all the living beings in Atlantis is just nutty. As well as Pingo and King Faceless, there are giant talking toys, an otter with a lightning bolt emblazoned on its chest, a pink talking dolphin and a dinosaur-riding squadron of mermen and mermaids. The character I feel the most sorry for though is the rock chair guy. The king of Atlantis is a complete dick to him.
Bad enough he has the king’s ass resting on his face all day, this just adds insult to injury.
Once they’ve drank the kool-aid and joined the cult, the mice Ronnie and Top Connors are free to explore Atlantis in a brainwashed stupor. They are approached by two villainous rats, one being an extremely racist stereotype, who invite our two heroes to join them at a gathering of all the rats in the city. They lead Ronnie and Top Connors to what turns out to be a rebellious outreach, and I must say, the ‘villains’ make some fair points at their call to arms. The leader of the rats argues that they are prisoners in Atlantis, that they were brought in against their will. The rats lay out their plan to team up with Razorteeth and the Right Honorable Baron Vandertilt to escape from the city, stealing the elixir of life along the way.
Of course, Ronnie and Top Connors fail to see the logic in their arguments and immediately tell King No-Face about the rebellion. The king launches an elaborate and ultimately useless scheme to switch out the elixir of life with a bottle of water. The rats take the fake elixir, using the attack on the city by the sharks and the humans as a distraction. Our heroes take arms in the confusing battle that follows.
“Watch what you’re doing Smile! His Majesty gave the order to be careful and not to hit anyone!”
Why give him a gun then?
In the end, the sharks and humans are defeated when the Atlanteans launch otter-guided torpedoes at them. Now usually torpedoes are intended to hit their target and explode, but that would be too straightforward for this movie. Instead the torpedoes stop dead n the water and shoot lasers at their targets. Lasers that don’t do any physical damage, but instead simply erase people’s memories. So if Atlanteans have this technology, it’s no wonder they can get people to join their cult so easily.
During the fray, Pingo is especially terrified of the enemy getting their hands on a screwdriver and disassembling him with it. The pink dolphin reassures him that he doesn’t have anything to worry about though, since screwdrivers are banned in Atlantis. Despite his fear of the tool, Pingo suddenly becomes best friends with a talking screwdriver named Screwy near the end of the film, with no explanation of where Screwy came from or even what narrative purpose he serves.
That may have been the weirdest paragraph I’ve ever written.
In the end, the Atlanteans defeat their attackers and can return to life as it was. As a reward for their help in the battle, the King plans a surprise for his newest citizens. He has his merpeople clean out the wreck of the Titanic until it is as pristine as the day of its maiden voyage. Then a giant stingray helps Otty lift the Titanic up from the depths of the sea. They carry the great ship, now fully operational and in one piece, to a secret island unreachable by the rest of humanity. This isolated island paradise is where Don Juan, Smile, Elizabeth, Top Connors and Ronnie will spend the rest of eternity.
I take it back. That was the weirdest paragraph I’ve ever written.
And so, congrats to you if you made it this far. This movie is easily one of the most bizarre, terrifying and hilarious motion pictures I’ve ever seen. There are countless great one-liners that still make me laugh uproariously at just how quirky and odd they are. There’s little to no coherence in this movie, a film that claims to be about the Titanic, even though the ship itself is only visible during the last five minutes of the film.
In terms of sensitivity for the actual tragedy of the RMS Titanic, this movie somehow manages to be even more insulting than the last one was. Where The Legend of the Titanic makes the claim that no one died on the ship, Tentacolino claims the Titanic never even existed at all. The whole reason Don Juan and his friends are looking for the ship in the first place is because no one believes the ship exists and they want to prove it to the world. The Right Honourable Barron Vandertilt hears a radio broadcast that refers to the Titanic as a ‘mythical’ ship. Mythical, as if it were never real.
I think there’s a lot more to this movie than what’s on the surface. Sure it’s funny, but there’s also a much more sinister subtext that needs to be addressed. Find the Tentacolino theories in Part Two.