A Norwegian novel comes to great life in this overlooked Disney adventure from the director of the original Pathfinder.
Teenage Haakon has been waiting for his father to come back from sea. When his father returns, he learns his father was injured during his time and was saved by his friend Jens. However, the injury has resulted in the family being unable to pay a debt to save their farm. Just prior to learning of the refusal to extend their debt, Haakon’s father has invited his son to get his first taste of being a shipboy for an upcoming expedition. Haakon decides to make a deal with the debtor that if he goes to sea, he will be able to pay off the debt.
Along with Jens, Haakon boards the ship and at first, things don’t look good. However, with Jens’ help and motivation from the Captain, Haakon eventually gains the respect of the veteran sailors. When the ship is set to sail for Calcutta, they have learned that there may be pirates en route and have invited an expert to avoid the pirates. The expert, Lt. John Merrick, is actually a notorious pirate who seeks to use the ship to find his treasure. In addition, Mary, a young girl, has stowed away and yet, befriends Haakon and Jens. When Merrick’s identity is revealed, a hurricane forces the ship and Haakon to an uninhabited island. Only Haakon isn’t alone.
Inspired by the classic Robinson Crusoe, O.V. Falck-Ytter wrote the novel Haakon Hakonsen, revolving around a young Norwegian teen who is stuck at sea and ends up on an island. While the book was released in 1873, Disney has had its share of stories as it pertains to people stuck on islands after adventures at sea, one of its most famous being Swiss Family Robinson. For this film, Disney hired Nils Gaup, who gained international acclaim for his directorial debut Pathfinder just three years prior.
The film would make the only acting appearance of star Stian Smestad, who does quite well in the role of Haakon, the teen who does what it takes to save his family’s farm. He undergoes a radical change in the film, going from a kid who’s bullied by the debtor’s son to becoming an unlikely hero when he finds himself taking charge in an adventure against pirates. Trond Peter Stasmo Munch provides a big brother role as Jens, Haakon’s father’s best friend who was responsible for saving his father and helps Haakon become more confident in his role as a shipboy while Louisa Haigh provides a sort of puppy love interest as stowaway Mary.
The villain is slyly played by Hollywood veteran Gabriel Byrne. As Merrick, his introduction never reveals his true identity, but he takes the identity of the captain who captured him as he sought revenge. Once that is done, he has only thing in mind and will use any means necessary to get it and that is to get his hands on his treasure that he hid on an uninhabited island. The third act, which Haakon learns he is not alone takes a page that looks like it could come out of Home Alone and yet, both films were released in 1990, so it’s not much of a comparison as to who influenced who, but more of the setting as we see Haakon booby trap the island to stop the pirates once and for all and uses some traps as a means of escape when necessary.
Shipwrecked is a fun Disney adventure in the classic Norwegian style thanks in part to Stian Smestad in his only film appearance (he would later become a documentary filmmaker) and Gabriel Byrne as the head pirate. It is truly a wild ride.
WFG RATING: A-
A Walt Disney Pictures Production. Director: Nils Gaup. Producer: John M. Jacobsen. Writers: Nils Gaup, Bob Foss, Greg Dinner, and Nick Thiel; based on the novel “Haakon Hakonsen” by O.V. Falck-Ytter. Cinematography: Erling Thurmann-Andersen. Editing: Nils Pagh Andersen.
Cast: Stian Smestad, Trond-Peter Stasmo Munch, Louisa Haigh, Gabriel Byrne, Bjorn Sundquist, Eva von Hanno, Kjell Stormoen, Karl Sundby, Knut Walle, Harald Brenna, John Sigurd Kristensen, Geo von Krogh, Joachim Rafaelsen.