Notes on “The Island at the Top of the World”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


There is little build-up to the adventure story presented in the 1974 “The Island at the Top of the World.” Almost immediately after their initial meeting, an aristocrat and an archaeologist set out for the Arctic and a hidden isle, where the former hopes to find his missing son. The picture has a flat, TV look, which works against the fancifulness required to adequately present a Verne-style adventure. Fortunately, the special effects offer partial compensation. Matte paintings and optical effects abound, some of which are successful in spite of (or perhaps because of) their obviousness. The scene depicting various species of whale swimming towards the cetacean graveyard is one that children are likely to remember long after they’ve forgotten the movie’s shortcomings. And there are some lovely images: the explorers’ airship emerging from a barn as children tend sheep in the foreground; the airship, wounded in a collision, slowly careening off into the clouds; the explorers, in a faux distance shot, picking their way through an enormous underground ice cavern; the interior of a Viking hall decorated with huge fire-lit statues. The climactic fight against killer whales is novel but something of a letdown. Why not give our heroes a real sea monster to battle? Director Robert Stevenson and his Disney team are smart enough to keep the incidents flowing; the action never grows tiresome– not even after it’s revealed that the inhabitants of the much-sought-after island are movie-lot Vikings with silly beards. You can see what drew Disney to David Hartman: He has the puppy quality required of the studio’s leading men of this period. But it’s disappointing that the screenplay doesn’t give him more to do. Mostly, he provides “archaeological” background details. Disney would have done well to allow his character to develop an attraction to Agneta Eckemyr’s luscious Norse maiden. Then you might feel something when he’s forced to remain in the land of the Vikings. Instead, you think, “Good, stay there.”

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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2 Responses to Notes on “The Island at the Top of the World”

  1. Faze says:

    I watched it. There are things to enjoy in Island at the Top of the World, especially, as you note, the brisk storytelling. The grand pictorialism, though achieved with obvious economy, is satisfying, and I for one am perfectly happy to accept visible brush strokes in the matte paintings, especially in a Disney film.

    Those attacking killer whales are direct precursors and near relations of the monster shark that appeared only a year later in Speilberg’s “Jaws”. The crimson-walled temple is very much like Speilberg’s 1984 “Temple of Doom”. The Frenchman’s lighter-than-air craft reappears in a somewhat different form as the ship in Disney’s excellent 2002 “Treasure Planet”.

    Thanks for bringing this film to my attention – I’d missed it altogether.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Warren Sikes says:

    Excellent review of a movie I have a lot of affection for. I associate it with our families first VCR and the rise of (wonderfully grungy) Mom and Pop video rental stores.


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