Director/Screenplay/Producer – Paul Williams, Music/Lyrics – Kevin Hocking, Animation – Steven French, Maggie Geddes, Gus McLaren, Steven Robinson & Paul Williams. Production Company – Fable Films/Phantom Treehouse Ltd
Brian Hannan, Beate Harrison, Jason Sole, Ross Williams, Carole-Anne Aylett, Terry Gill, Debby Cumming, Hamish Hewes)
Young Tom goes searching for Lucy, the girl next door. Accompanied by his dog Rags, he follows her trail to a treehouse and falls through a trapdoor. There he finds himself in a magical land. Lucy has been abducted by the evil pirate Black Jack MacGregor who is certain that she is Princess Diana of nearby Bongo Island and is determined to marry her to his son Snivelpuss. Aided by a bunyip that is trying to escape from Black Jack’s attempts to make bunyip stew out of it and the eccentric inventor Professor Crankwhistle, Tom sets out to rescue Lucy from Black Jack’s clutches.
Paul Williams – no relation to the singer/actor from The Phantom of the Paradise (1974) – is an Australian animator. Williams has made three feature-length animated films, of which The Phantom Treehouse was the second. His other films are The Black Planet (1982) and The Steam-Driven Adventures of Riverboat Bill (1986). None of these films have a particularly high profile, although they did attain theatrical screenings (despite the fact that the IMDB insisting that The Phantom Treehouse was a tv movie).
Cartoons would seem the least likely of films to have their imagination blunted by lack of budget but this proves to be the case with The Phantom Treehouse, which must have kept its budget within all of four figures. The action has been designed with the minimum degree of animation required – every shot is almost completely static. The swordfights, for instance, take place with each combatant standing still and the swords crossing back and forward between two fixed points on the screen every few seconds.
Certainly, the film has a lively mix of elements – pirates, an eccentric inventor and his airship, a bunyip, an eccentric queen (not at all modelled on HRH QEII) who likes to paint. There are all the elements there – the child’s wild adventures with all manner of fanciful characters on a desert island – that mean that The Phantom Treehouse could have been something akin to another Peter Pan (1953) or a Pufnstuf (1970), even something akin to another Where the Wild Things Are (1963). The girl of the show comes with a refreshing feistiness, standing up against the pirates (she comes in even more marked contrast when you compare her to the wallflowers that were still inhabiting Disney films of the era). The scene with the pirates firing cannonballs against Bongo Island and the professor towing their ship away with an anchor from his airship has a madcap enjoyability. If only the quality of the animation had been up to sufficient par, this could have been quite enjoyable.