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We’ve arrived at the last live-action Disney film with Dick Van Dyke that I haven’t reviewed yet (until Mary Poppins Returns is released).
Loosely based on the Daniel Defoe novel, Robinson Crusoe, Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. isn’t a well-known Disney film, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Read on to find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film begins with Lt. Robin Crusoe, played by Dick Van Dyke, dressed in clothes made of “island material”. He has just been rescued by the Navy and begins to tell his story a la flashback via letter to his fiancée whom he hasn’t seen in over a year.
The flashback takes us to a scene wherein we see Lt. Crusoe ejecting from a Navy jet during an emergency. He lands safely into the ocean below with only a life raft, emergency supplies, and a survival manual to keep him alive until help comes for him. After (presumably) days of not being found and days of dealing with challenges such as sharks and lack of water, Lt. Crusoe washes ashore on a supposedly uninhabited Pacific island. He quickly figures out how to use the island’s resources (such as fish, coconuts, reeds, stalks, etc.) to survive.
He also explores the island and discovers a beached Japanese submarine. Assuming it to be unmanned, he enters and finds many useful things such as tools and supplies, but then realizes that he’s not alone. In the submarine, there is an “astrochimp” named Floyd. Apparently Floyd was one of the monkeys sent into outer space by NASA years ago and when returning to Earth, Floyd got stuck on this island and hasn’t been rescued since.
The two quickly become friends (as you do when a monkey is the only other being you encounter) and Lt. Crusoe builds a Japanese pavilion for the two of them to reside under.
The next day, Lt. Crusoe discovers that there is another human being on the island. It’s an island girl whom he names Wednesday, played by Nancy Kwan. Wednesday speaks English, although in that broken Pacific Islander way that Hollywood movies always portray, and explains that she escaped to this island to flee her angry chieftain father who was going to kill her after she refused to marry a guy whom her father was forcing her to. Lt. Crusoe tells her how wrong it is for her father to force her to marry and that where he comes from, women have rights. Wednesday likes this idea of “women’s rights” and stays with Lt. Crusoe on the island.
Not long after, a bunch of her female cousins have also fled to the island fearing the chieftain. They convince Lt. Crusoe to train them to fight against the chieftain and his men as they are on their way to this island as well.
Lt. Crusoe finds out that the chief, Tanamashu, played by Akim Tamiroff, tricks his people into thinking he can communicate with a giant Easter Island-type figurehead on the island. So, Lt. Crusoe plays a trick on Tanamashu when he arrives by equipping the figurehead with speakers, microphones, hoses, pyrotechnics, etc. to make it seem that it’s alive and condemning of Tanamashu.
Tanamashu suspects a trick is going on, but the figurehead is about to explode before he can do anything about it. After the figurehead is destroyed, Tanamushu, surprisingly quickly accepts “women’s rights”, and becomes friends with Lt. Crusoe. As everyone begins to celebrate, Wednesday has made it clear that she wants Lt. Crusoe to be her husband, but Lt. Crusoe angers her when he explains that he has a fiancée at home already.
As he runs away from her, a Navy helicopter nears the island and picks up him and Floyd. When they arrive on the Navy ship, Lt. Crusoe is anxious to tell his story, but everyone seems more interested about Floyd. This brings us back to where the film began.
And that was Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. Honestly, I see now that there is a good reason why this film isn’t more well-known. It’s incredibly slow and boring in the first half and just plain uninteresting in the second half. Dick Van Dyke does try his best to be funny, but the script gives him nothing to work with.
Nancy Kwan and Akim Tamiroff gives performances that literally anybody else could have. The monkey was trained well, but honestly didn’t seem like a necessary character. Some of the matte paintings by Peter Ellenshaw were pretty, but many backgrounds just looked fake. And I’m honestly not fond of the trope of having “savages” speak broken English or having white people “liberate” said “savages” by introducing them to certain rights or whatnot.
All in all, it’s one of the worst live-action Disney films, but more so because it’s boring and pointless rather than frustratingly bad.
So, the final score for this film is 13/35 = 37.14% (F) !
The next review will be posted on July 17, 2018.