Mako played characters of many national backgrounds over the years. Japanese, of course, but also, should you recognize the clear ethnicity of certain of the names, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tibetan, and of course Fire Nation. Finding him playing as a character who is, based on a little quick investigation, likely to be Inuit (he is called a term that is now considered offensive but that is generally used to cover more than one ethnic group) was considerably more surprising. While it is true that I can’t name any Inuit actors, that doesn’t mean that one couldn’t have been found in 1974. In LA, it might’ve been difficult, but you could maybe travel to Greenland or wherever they’d supposed to have acquired the character?
So yeah. Sir Anthony Ross (Donald Sinden) is one of those turn-of-the-last-century British noble industrialist types. He essentially kidnaps Professor Ivarsson (David Hartman), then hauls him off to France. There, they meet with Captain Brieux (Jacques Marin), who is building an airship called the Hyperion. This, they are going to fly north, to where Donald Ross (David Gwillim), Sir Anthony’s son, disappeared while looking for “the island where whales go to die.” To get there, they quite literally kidnap Oomiak (Mako), who was with Donald on that journey and who managed to return.
Oomiak is a problematic character even without the whole “played by Mako” aspect of things and “most people of that ethnicity consider the term an ethnic slur” aspect of things. He’s the kind of character who would have been played by someone like Stepin Fetchit or Mantan Moreland, were the character black and the movie made in the ‘30s or ‘40s. He gets very few lines and indeed spends most of the movie hanging out with the dog. He bills himself as being without fear, and in his native circumstances probably pretty much is. Let’s be real; what happens in the movie is extraordinary circumstances for anyone, and if he’s afraid, it only makes sense.
But this is your bog-standard Boys’ Adventure Novel, so you get Sir Anthony, Professor Ivarsson, and Donald standing casually as they’re being burned at the stake, side note absolutely something the Vikings are known to have done. Oomiak is not even allowed to be the Noble Savage Native Guide type; they kidnap him to make him a guide, but then he basically doesn’t do anything? They find the island without him. They know they’re in the right place because he runs away, but also they’re seeing whales from all over the place heading to one island, which seems like a pretty good clue to me.
Speaking of the whales, probably the worst moment in the movie as far as effects is when Oomiak, in his pretty much only moment of competence, has suggested they use pack ice as a raft. They’re being attacked by orcas, because that’s a thing that happens, and they’re rescued by someone shooting the orcas, and it’s the most ludicrous effects failure in a movie where the glaciers appear to be made out of cardboard. The effects here are at best uneven and make the movie look about twenty years older than it is. The Hyperion is a model, and surely Disney of all companies could’ve done better?
Honestly, it doesn’t feel much like a Disney film. It’s obviously trying to come across as a successor to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it’s much more along the lines of the Pat Boone version of Journey to the Center of the Earth or similar. Part of that is its Lost World nature, but it doesn’t even have the vague charm of In Search of the Castaways, which cast such lights as Hayley Mills and Maurice Chevalier. Aside from Mako, most of the cast here is boring. Agneta Eckemyr is pretty enough as Freyja, and Captain Brieux is fun, but everyone else kind of exists.
In fact, if I’d been Freyja, I’d seriously be reconsidering my life with Donald when he couldn’t understand what I was afraid of as I was leaving everyone and everything I’d ever known for him and moving into a world I’d always been taught was a wasteland of ice and snow. He’s not bad-looking, but that’s not enough to survive that belief. I’d hope for more sympathy out of him than she gets. Maybe I’d go off and chat up Oomiak for a while instead.
The worst part about the Mako situation is that they clearly went to Scandinavia to cast the people from the eponymous island. They’re not speaking Old Norse; they’re actually speaking their assorted native Scandinavian languages. (I’m not sure which one Ivarsson is supposedly speaking.) The roles are filled by people who acted in the Norse countries. Surely they could’ve stopped in Greenland or Northern Canada or somewhere on their way back and auditioned Inuit actors, while they were at it. It’s not that I have a problem with Mako. It’s that he was in two Disney movies, and in both cases I’d much rather see the show various of us imagine where he solves crimes with Columbo instead. Or even just more Avatar reruns.
This happened to be on Disney+ and catch my interest; keep that going for me when my subscription renews later this month by supporting my Patreon or Ko-fi! Also, I didn’t have the spoons today to write about our beloved Kevin Conroy, but you can learn my feelings about him by checking out my Celebrating the Living.