Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is a recognised literary classic, which remains in print 140 years after its initial publication as a serial in children’s magazine Young Folks in 1881. Even if you weren’t encouraged/forced to read it at school, there’s a 50/50 chance your ideas about pirates came straight out of Stevenson’s brain, inspired by the motley bunch he met around the streets of Edinburgh and the stories he heard abroad.
With this in mind, it’s unsurprising that Treasure Island has been adapted over 50 times in the century following its release – everyone from the Soviets to the Muppets had a go at producing their own spin on it. Ahead of our show (premiering in August), we thought it was worth rounding up the adaptations of the classic that you really shouldn’t miss. For, um, different reasons.
1) Treasure Island – Walt Disney Corporation (1950)
This is Disney’s first ever fully live action film and the first ever version of the story to be filmed entirely in colour. It was met with acclaim for its photography and production values, and remained very popular with both American and British audiences of the time.
2) Treasure Planet – Walt Disney Animations (2002)
For anyone curious, this was one of the first few films I ever saw in the cinema. It takes the concept of the novel and puts in in space, with a feline captain (played by Emma Thompson) and a robotic Long John Silver (in case you thought what was missing from the original was more lasers). It had…mixed reviews. In fact, it somewhat sunk the studio for several years until Tangled was released, but it’s bloomin good fun, especially if you like your classic literature with more space cannons than sense.
3) Between God, the Devil and a Winchester – Spaghetti Western (1968)
You have no idea how gutted I am that I can’t find out more about this film. All I can determine is that it’s Treasure Island with cowboys, made in Italy with lots of famous American actors of the 1960s. I can only assume it’s wildly unfaithful to the book and incredibly cool. The title alone earns it a spot on this list.
4) Treasure Island – British/American TV production (1990)
The really fascinating thing about this film is the sheer amount of famous people in it. This was one of the films that gave Christian Bale his start, but also starred Peter Postlethwaite, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed, Julian Glover and Charlton Heston as Long John Silver (opinions seemed to wildly diverge on whether this was a good decision). It’s faithful to the book to a fault, including the many more gory scenes that occur, but it’s worth a watch to see Spartacus, Saruman and Batman stuck on a ship together in a rather budget set. As a bonus for fans of other pirate films, they were sailing round on the Bounty II, the second model made for the rather poorly received Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando in 1962 (the ship was later sunk by Hurricane Katrina in 2005).
• Alvin and the Chipmunks had a crack at an adaptation in an episode in 1988
• The Royal National Theatre produced a superb stage adaption in 2014, continuing a tradition of casting Jim Hawkins as a girl (in this case, Patsy Ferran)
• Orson Welles actually made two adaptations, one for radio in 1938 and another on film in 1972
• The Soviet Union made three different adaptations: 1938’s “loose” adaptation, a Lithuanian release in 1971 and a three part film in 1982 which was described as almost “entirely faithful” to the novel. If the Soviet versions of JRR Tolkien’s works are anything to go by, expect some odd puppets and some even odder dialogue.
5) Muppet Treasure Island – Walt Disney Company, 1996
Well, what else were you expecting? Hot off the success of The Muppet Christmas Carol, the company decided to delve into pirates with remarkable success. Kevin Bishop, Tim Curry, Jennifer Saunders and Billy Connolly join the Muppets for a relatively faithful version of the tale – the only major new additions are an unexpected love story and some scuba diving rats. A must-see, it’s what Robert Louise Stevenson would have wanted.
If you’ve got to the end of this list and you still need more pirates, tickets are available for our Edinburgh Fringe Show Hunt for Treasure Island (if you’re thinking it sounds like Hunt for Red October, you’re right but we’re cooler and there are more spelling related puzzles, something the original was missing). We’d love to see you there.