The Warped History of Some Strange Italian Animated Movies
The above image–depicting an animated, kaiju-sized octopus’s heroic attempt to delay the sinking of the RMS Titanic–is from a real movie, Orlando Corradi and Kim J. Ok’s 1999 animated feature The Legend of the Titanic. Somehow, somewhen, someone thought that the sinking of the Titanic, a disaster that killed at least 1,400 people and played a key role in shaping the 20th century, would provide the perfect source material for an all-ages adventure/romance/talking animal movie.
Or, less charitably, someone looked at the staggering box office haul of James Cameron’s 1997 disaster/romance/tragedy epic Titanic and saw a quick way to make a cheap buck by mockbusting it. And then decided to line their pockets further still by ripping off the works of Amblin, Disney and Don Bluth at the same time as they traced over Cameron’s zeitgeist-snatcher. And then got really, really high on weapons-grade hallucinogens.
The Legend of the Titanic is, simply put, one of the most flummoxing movies I’ve ever seenn, matched only by its 2004 sequel In Search of the Titanic (also known as Tentacolino) and its 1999 competitor/knock-off Titanic: The Legend Goes On, which infamously and inexplicably features a rapping dog. Each of these movies is, in their own way, utterly baffling. And together or alone, they’re a great example of the way movies can present and/or warp history.
Movies Out Of Time
If cinema is, per Andrei Tarkovsky, an art built on “sculpting in time,” it’s also an art of sculpting time itself. In the case of films set in the past, a filmmaker needs to focus on the time and place as much as the events they’re depicting. They need to make the time depicted feel real, which helps the story build verisimilitude. Cameron’s creative team took particular care to recreate not only period dress but the furnishings and particularities of the Titanic herself. That gives the movie an authentic feel despite the corny romantic subplot.
But history can become warped and callous if creators fictionalize recklessly. In Cameron’s Titanic, First Officer William Murdoch (portrayed by Ewan Stewart) accidentally shoots two people and then turns the gun on himself out of grief. In real life, people last saw Murdoch heroically trying to launch one of the ship’s collapsible lifeboats.
Done without care, the fictionalization of history can do genuine harm. Consider the critiques of Green Book’s portrayal of Don Shirley and its depiction of black life and American racism.Bohemian Rhapsody also got into trouble for the way it presented Freddie Mercury’s life and sexuality.
The Italian animated Titanic movies, particularly Legend, are, to put it mildly, a blatant example of a story based on actual history being told with little to no regard for that history. Even if the filmmakers had stripped Legend of every sinister whaler, talking animal, mouse-version-of-human-society and giant, talking, dog-faced cephalopod, it’s still a movie about the sinking of the Titanic where no one dies. The ship itself ultimately sinks, but the characters completely avert tragedy, the key part of most stories about the Titanic.
It’s not a story about the horrific consequences of systemic failure and overconfidence, it’s about the triumph of all-caps GOOD over all-caps EVIL. In The Legend of the Titanic’s telling, the Titanic doesn’t sink because it strikes an iceberg in a way that causes its much-vaunted safety features to fail catastrophically. The iceberg still does that damage, but it’s not the reason.
No, the Titanic sinks because a sinister whaling magnate wants to murder a minor English nobleman (who controls EVERY OCEAN ON EARTH) for his whaling rights. He needs a way to cover his tracks. So the magnate attempts to cover up one murder with 2,211 other murders. To do this, he hires a gang of talking sharks (wearing old-fashioned black-and-white prison uniforms) to coax the octopus from its resting place underwater. The octopus then throws the iceberg into the Titanic’s path.
The heroes, a pair of young lovers who Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio would be within their rights to sue, thwart him with the help of a talking dog, a talking orca, a pod of flying, talking dolphins, a band of aggressively ethnically-stereotyped talking mice and the redemption-seeking octopus. Barring the implicit demise of the villains, last seen stranded in a stolen lifeboat and possibly suffering hypothermia, everyone lives, even the two characters who had apparently died (the octopus and an extremely French mouse) during the course of the rescue.
The Titanic Goes To Atlantis
The Legend of the Titanic takes a historical disaster and replaces it with aggressively saccharine nonsense. Its sequel In Search of the Titanic doesn’t maul history nearly as badly, mainly because it’s a direct sequel to a movie about the sinking of the Titanic. Search is more about a war for control of Atlantis (sorely missing Patrick Wilson’s Ocean Master) and how great all-powerful, semi-divine dictators are (yes, really) than about anything that happened in the previous movie. But it does manage to warp the Titanic’s history here and there.
The story begins with the first film’s heroes using a bathysphere far more advanced than anything that would have existed in the nineteen-teens to look for the wreck. Excavators wouldn’t find the actual Titanic until 1985. In Search’s denouement, the King of Atlantis presents the heroes with a restored Titanic that has submarine capability. In real life, the ship ripped in half during the sinking, and its stern imploded so thoroughly that any attempt at salvage would cause it to disintegrate.
The animated Titanic movies are, to quote the title of a classic film guide book “Incredibly Strange Films.” They’re baffling, clueless and utterly fascinating. And they’re a grade-A example of how not to approach history as a filmmaker.