APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IN SEARCH OF THE TITANIC (2004)

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Tentacolino

DIRECTED BY: Kim Jun-Ok

FEATURING THE VOICES OF: Jane Alexander (not that one), Anna Mazzotti, Francis Pardeilham, Gregory Snegoff

PLOT: Attacked while on an undersea exploration to find the wreckage of the Titanic (which evidently suffered no casualties following its run-in with an iceberg thanks to the intervention of an enormous doe-eyed squid), survivors Elizabeth and Don Juan, talking dog Smile and incorrigible talking rats Ronnie and Top Connors are rescued by the denizens of Atlantis, who ally with them in a battle against an army of rebellious rats, a group of shark inmates, and the evil human Lord Vandertilt, who wants the valuable shipwreck all to himself.

Still from In Search of the Titanic (2004)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: What ought to be a simple quick-buck exploitation to lure in dumb kids and their undiscerning parents by ripping off such entertainments as The Little Mermaid, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and ’s Titanic swims proudly into its own realm of insanity. Impossible to dismiss as merely incompetent, the unfolding story contains enough deliberate intentions to force its consideration as art. The choices are almost painfully strange, forcing you to question the very fabric of reality. It’s like if a Penrose triangle were a movie.

COMMENTS: If you decided to turn off In Search of the Titanic after two minutes (a reasonable desire)—having only watched the opening credits consisting of scene snips from this film’s predecessor in which a man dances with a dog, an enormous octopus forces the two broken halves of the Titanic back together, and a blue whale catches a couple after they have fallen from the mighty ship’s deck—you could still make a solid case for it as one of the weirdest movies ever made. Having taken this hiatus from the film, you might then take a moment to dig into the history of its animation studio, which is based in North Korea and which has handled outsourced work for The Simpsons Movie and Avatar: The Last Airbender, at which point you might feel as though you were losing your grip and start doing that thing where you try to read a book because supposedly you can’t read in your dreams. But at this critical juncture, let me encourage you to head back to the film. Stick around. Ride this out. Watch the whole movie. Because believe me, your descent into madness is just getting started. Go with it. Let the insanity rain down upon you like mighty waters.

Because even after you meet the talking dog and the sharks who work on an underwater chain gang and the CGI that came from a 1990s DVD menu, it still hasn’t gotten amazing yet. You see, you haven’t met the leader of the sharks. You haven’t seen him wearing the dress-whites of the Titanic’s captain. You definitely haven’t heard him start to rap. And you certainly haven’t heard his backup chorus of clams who also double as a telegraph machine. Only when you’ve gotten this far can you even begin to imagine the scale of the mountain you are about to climb. Because even having reached this milestone—and I can’t emphasize this enough—you’re only 6 minutes in.

I can’t even conceive what went on in the mind of the Italian producers and North Korean animators that would lead to the series of choices that comprise this film. The cast of characters alone make this worthy of a couple tabs of acid: a toy fish on a spring doing an impression of Ed Wynn. The king of Atlantis, who is a faceless hood. A living throne of rock who resembles an unholy mix of Chairy from Pee Wee’s Playhouse and an evil enchanted tiki mug.

But all these oddballs would just be décor if the plot wasn’t willing to match it weird-for-weird. After Pingo the Springy Toy Fish informs our protagonists through a techno dance number that they are trapped beneath the seas, the rats stumble onto a plot by a mob of pirates (including a deeply uncomfortable Asian stereotype) to steal Atlantis’ elixir of eternal life and plot a mass escape. This is the prelude to an alliance with the aforementioned shark convicts, which will precipitate all-out war against the Atlanteans, who are defended by a Scottish brigade led by a bagpipe-tooting soldier doll who begs for battle despite having been dressed up by a little girl in a panoply of gender confusion. And that still leaves time for Smile the Dog to swoon over another canine like Davy Jones on The Monkees, complete with a romantic swimming interlude. I don’t even remember when Screwy the Talking Screwdriver showed up, but it was definitely around the time that a thousand-foot manta ray carried the hull of the Titanic to a secret island where our heroes can watch the world above on a magic thought-powered wall-sized TV.

Look, I know the arguments for why In Search of the Titanic isn’t as weird as it seems: It’s animated. It’s cheap. It’s for kids. It’s foreign. It’s fantasy. All true, but there’s something special going on in Titanic. It seems certain that this is absolutely the movie they intended to make. They throw everything against the wall, none of it sticks, and they heedlessly plow ahead. And as the oddities pile up, the sheer tonnage of unexpected turns and inexplicable choices achieves a kind of weirdness singularity. In Search of the Titanic is a terrible movie, but it’s terrible in the most remarkable ways. Once we close with a waltz that is somehow much worse than the shark rap, we the viewers have learned that truly anything is possible. We went in search of the Titanic, but we found the indomitable human spirit.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The sheer ludicrous pileup of nonsense is enough to keep this firmly within the wheelhouse of the other animated Titanic pictures: it starts out ludicrous and only gets weirder as it goes… the utter nonchalance with which the characters accept everything that happens to them, from the dance routine staged by a broken jack-in-the-box to the underwater laser battle with the sharks, helps to make sure that it remains firmly in the realm of the inexplicable and bizarre.” – Tim Brayton, Alternate Ending

(This movie was nominated for review by Algus Underdunk, who observes, “It’s genuinely stupefying to watch this movie, much less explain the plot,” but also correctly notes the usefulness of screaming lines of dialogue such as “I’m dead and you’re taking me to doggy hell!” in random situations. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

Where to watch In Search of the Titanic

3 thoughts on “APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IN SEARCH OF THE TITANIC (2004)”

  1. I don’t know what you would consider the worst movie to be put on/considered being put on the list, but this should at least be in the top 5.

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