Published in 1719, Daniel Defoe’s chronicle of a shipwreck survivor who lives alone on an island for 28 years, is a beautifully crafted study of solitude, resourcefulness and British imperialism.
The gnawed bones of the book are still visible in Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen’s computer-animated retelling, but this Robinson Crusoe is a resolutely child-friendly edition, told from the perspective of birds and animals which befriend the title character during his tropical isolation.
Cuteness and gentle humour trump sophisticated storytelling and harsh realism throughout. The feathered and furred critters speak to each other and trade one-liners - although Robinson can’t understand their grunts, growls, purrs and squawks.
Robinson (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal) heads to sea with his shaggy dog Aynsley (Doug Stone) and quickly falls foul of the ship’s gnarly cats, May (Debi Tinsley) and Mal (Doucette again).
A violent storm shipwrecks Robinson on an island, which is home to a macaw called Mak (David Howard) and his friends: a chameleon called Carmello (Colin Metzger), a feisty kingfisher called Kiki (Lindsay Torrance), an echidna called Epi (Sandy Fox), a pangolin called Pango (Jeff Doucette), a tapir called Rosie (Laila Berzins) and a doddering old goat called Scrubby (Joey Camen).
Mak has always been a dreamer and believes the glittering treasures, which sometimes wash up on the sun-kissed idyll, indicate a brighter future over the horizon.
The other denizens of the island reject the bird’s fantasies.
“My dear macaw, you must wake up and smell the papaya,” wearily intones Carmello.
Robinson’s unexpected arrival adds fuel to Mak’s suspicions that the world doesn’t begin and end on the island. The animals are initially wary of the human interloper, but eventually live in harmony with the gangly shipwreck survivor in a makeshift tree house.
Unfortunately, Machiavellian moggies May and Mal also avoid a watery grave and they plot revenge from nearby Curse Island, flanked by their army of hungry kittens.
Robinson Crusoe is a simplistic and sporadically entertaining journey of self-discovery. The colourful animation pops, but vocal performances are flat and some of the gags misfire, although early scenes are a rich source of humour as the island’s denizens study a human for the first time. “He’s stripped off his skin!” shrieks Kiki as Robinson removes a jacket.
Co-directors Kesteloot and Stassen choreograph energetic action sequences to take advantage of the 3D format. This eye-popping extra dimension is used smartly in one breathless chase along a network of irrigation pipes.
The camera careens along the precariously constructed flumes, occasionally swooping along vertiginous rock faces.
It’s a long way down.
No swearing, no sex and no violence, so this is an easy watch for parents and children.