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The GrillOut

The Animated History Of Treasure Island: Mel-O-Toons (1960) ★

A picture of an anthropomorphic grill above pictures from various animated versions of Treasure Island

Next on my quest to watch every animated adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island was the version made by New World Productions as part of its Mel-O-Toons series. Wait, you know Mel-O-Toons right? Those cartoons John Oliver referenced that one time that no one probably noticed?

All joking aside, New World Productions only existed a brief time — from 1958 to 1961 — and managed to create 104 episodes of Mel-O-Toons (and a seemingly lost series called King Algy's Knights of the Square Table). Sadly, most Mel-O-Toons episodes have been lost and even the titles for many have been forgotten entirely with only 53 available online. Which is a huge shame as these shorts were beloved when they were released. Just see this reaction to the episodes Rumplestiltskin and Waltz of the Flowers being aired in Toledo, Ohio. Fortunately for me, one of the surviving episodes of Mel-O-Toons was the adaptation of Treasure Island

A title card for an animation with the words Treasure Island

The neat thing about this one is it's hit the public domain at this point, so you can find it on YouTube to watch for free! With the company no longer in existence, no one is out there trying to take it, or any of the many compilations of episodes, down.

It's hard to say much about this particular version of Treasure Island since it can't even manage to be a full five minutes long. However, it does contain valuable insights into the story itself. If you only have five minutes to tell a story, what are the most important parts of it that should never be left out?

Mel-O-Toons decided to cut the entirety of the story's first portion and many other characters, focusing directly on Long John Silver and Jim Hawkin's relationship. In fact, Long John is the one setting up the ship to head out and get the treasure at all! While this seems insignificant, every adaptation to follow placed a deep emphasis on Jim and Long John's relationship. The episode shows the two happily spending time together with Jim saying, "Gee, I liked him right off!"

Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver laughing together.

One of the other important parts was the Apple Barrel scene. In every adaptation I've seen so far (and I only have three to go) not a single one of them has skipped this. Even in futuristic tellings, it's usually an Apple, or at least some kind of fruit in particular, in a barrel. This pivotal scene where Jim learns of Long John's betrayal is so important to the story that no one dares to deviate from how it was originally done. It too also plays into how important the relationship is between the two main characters, how Jim's heart is broken by a man he has come to trust. It's powerful even here in this short animation.

The other curious thing to focus on was the inclusion of Ben Gunn. His actual importance to the story has really depended on which adaptation you may choose to watch, but almost no one has chosen to ignore him (despite people especially hating his interpretation in Treasure Planet with complaints so rampant it's hard to wonder if it hurts the quality of the film.)

Other than that though, the loyal crew saves the day in the end and all is well! The thing that sticks out most about this version is it keeps a main part of the book intact. They have Jim saying they couldn't take all the treasure home with them as there was too much in the Mel-O-Toon, but in the book, it explains how there were potentially several marked places on the map. It has always been implied that there might be more on the island for a future adventure, even if Robert Louis Stevenson never wrote the sequel. Very few adaptations touch on this at all or really mention anything else other than generic sea adventures to come for Jim Hawkins, so it's nice to see.

Next time, we'll learn about a Treasure Island animated adaptation with way more historical significance than you might imagine — Mr. Magoo's Treasure Island.

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