Top 10 Disney Supporting Characters #4 Captain Amelia

"I'm Captain Amelia. Late of a few run-ins with the Procyon Armada, nasty business, but I won't bore you with my scars."

“I’m Captain Amelia. Late of a few run-ins with the Procyon Armada, nasty business, but I won’t bore you with my scars.”

Oh, the best Disney movie that no one knows about!  Treasure Planet had the misfortune to be released alongside Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, so it went down in history as Disney’s biggest flop.  Which is unfortunate, because this steampunk, sci-fi retelling of a Robert Louis Stevenson classic is nothing short of terrific.

The characters and actors are all terrific, but in the end, for me anyway, the choice was obviously Captain Amelia.  This anthropomorphic feline is perceptive, can lead a crew through disaster, kick some serious butt, be romantic, be stern, and be a working mom.

And she’s voiced by Emma Thompson.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

We first meet her when she somersaults onto the ship deck and teases First Officer Arrow, then has her first conversation with Delbert (the canine doctor) and Jim.  She knows something is up with the crew, and doesn’t put up with any of Jim’s insubordinance– making him Silver’s cabin boy.  Fortunately for all their survival.  This initial meeting also establishes the belligerent romantic tension between her and Delbert– this provides a lot of comedy relief as well as some great moments of getting crap past the radar.  This makes it believable when she later tells Delbert he has wonderful eyes.

But she’s tough, too.  We see her guide the crew through a very dangerous encounter with a black hole.  Though they’re pirates, they applaud her when the ship has reached safety.  But she’s visibly saddened by the loss of Mr. Arrow.

She can handle herself in a gunfight.  Jim and Delbert are pretty useless with pistols, so their escape from the ship is mostly due to her.  Her getting badly injured by their crash landing is a blow to Jim and Delbert.  But this is where the romance begins in earnest, and it doesn’t seem like a screenwriter’s contrivance.  And though the injury bit is foggy and does mean she needs Delbert to carry her for a while, she recovers pretty quickly.  Well, rest is often the best medicine, so it still works.

At the movie’s epilogue, when the Benbow Inn has been rebuilt we see that Delbert and Amelia are married with a litter of… whatever species they are.  But she’s still in uniform, and he holds three of their offspring while she holds just one.  They then let Morph babysit them while Mom and Dad dance with the other party-goers.  This very strongly implies that she has not given up her career as a captain and will continue on to further adventures.  Undoubtedly with Delbert and the kids, once they’re old enough.  He’s adventurous, too.

I’d call Captain Amelia a feminist character.  No, Treasure Planet isn’t perfect and doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test (Jim’s mother and Captain Amelia never speak with each other, for instance), but the Captain is still a strong, independent character who is easily on par with any male in the movie.  She also doesn’t get shoehorned into the “mom” role, either.  Her comparable character in the book also gets married and has a family pretty much as soon as the adventure is over.  But unlike him, Captain Amelia, I’m sure, leaves the door open for more adventures in space.  How could she not, when she shares her name with Amelia Earhart?


The Last/Best Zombie Movie

plague-of-the-zombiesA zombie is a magically reanimated corpse.  Everybody knows that.  What they usually don’t know, is that they are deeply embedded in class.  Haitian slaves who acted as informers, or continued to work for their original master, after they’d been freed where known by a name similar to “zombie,” and, as you might guess, it was not a compliment.  Later the magic (usually voodoo) aspect was attached to the term, and once Hollywood got ahold of the concept, starting with 1932’s The White Zombie, the horse was out of the barn, and folklore was holding the door looking dazed.

Some zombie movies followed the slavery tradition, though.  The zombies were mindless drudges, performing slave labor for their evil sorcerer/master.  The White Zombie, in all its Pre-Code glory featured a graphic shot of a zombie falling into the sugar mill while his fellow slaves keep turning it, without missing a beat.  I Walked with a Zombie (1943) takes a critical look at class and racism in the Caribbean, but is more interested in retelling Jane Eyre.  And both of those movies had some serious plot problems, although they were by no means bad.

Probably the best zombie film to stay reasonably close to tradition comes from across the Atlantic at Hammer Studios… 1966’s The Plague of Zombies.  Given that Night of the Living Dead, which features “ghouls” that are now the popular zombie, it is probably the last of its kind.

The movie opens with Sir James Forbes, a doctor, receiving a letter from an old student, Thompson, who is at his wit’s end with a strange epidemic killing the locals in the village where he practices.  He and his daughter, Sylvia, go to visit the Thompsons, and find the village to be a very hostile, panic-stricken place.  Forbes and Thompson break into the cemetery late at night to perform secret autopsies on the victims, only to find all the coffins empty.  With the local constable now on their side, the men try to puzzle it all out, while Thompson’s wife, Anna, begins to get sick, and Sylvia is courted by Squire Hamilton.

A madman in jail talks of seeing the dead walk in the woods by Hamilton’s escape.  Anna dies, and Thompson has a truly frightening nightmare of meeting her and all his patients as zombies.  Forbes learns from the constable, that the squire had lived in Haiti for several years before returning to unsuccessfully reopen the unsafe tin mine his family owned.  Sylvia begins to sleepwalk– in the direction of the Hamilton estate.  Then the terror really kicks into high gear… and not only from the zombies.

The result is a clever, atmospheric, truly chilling piece that also, surprisingly, passes the Bechdel Test.  Admittedly, there is very little gore, but the violence is always effective.  Hammer Studios knew how handle action, and seeing the zombies that cannot be harmed by traditional weapons (a trick used to good effect in 1932) retains its power, despite the buckets of blood associated with George Romero and his ghouls.  If zombies had to change, or at least retire in favor of a new type of monster, at least they had an excellent movie to go out with.  Any fan of either horror, or zombies, should make a point to check out this classic.