The powerful thirst of the Italian children's movie marketplace for animated Titanic features was not slaked at one, nor even two. That is why, five years after the batshit crazy The Legend of the Titanic and four years after that film's gruesome rip-off Titanic: The Legend Goes On..., the world finally received a proper sequel to the earlier movie in the form of 2004's In Search of the Titanic, known in its native Italian as Tentacolino. Neither title is accurate: the RMS Titanic is only being actively searched for in the very beginning, after which point the plot shifts over to be about something else entirely while Tentacolino - the juvenile giant octopus named "Tentacles" in the English dub of The Legend of the Titanic, and generally referred to as "Octy" here - gets no more screentime in this installment, and has a less direct impact on the plot. Maybe Tentacolino toys were a huge seller or something, I don't know.

Instead being about the Titanic, or about Tentacles/Tentacolino/"Octy", The Legend of the Titanic is about the next most natural thing for a Titanic sequel: a rebellion trying to overthrow the rightful leadership of the kingdom of Atlantis. And, okay, why the hell not? If you're going to do something stupid, you might as make sure it's all the way stupid. Especially when the goal is to one-up a preceding film that had already played the "shark gangsters throw an iceberg at the Titanic to help defraud the heiress to a whaling company" card. Also, it's comforting territory for SEK Studios, whose bread and butter was ripping-off Disney, even financially unsuccessful and critically unloved Disney like 2001's Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

The specifics of the plot pick up in 1915, with all our favorites from the last movie in a bathysphere, hunting for the Titanic: Elizabeth, Don Juan (who has been revised from Romani to Anadalusian prince), his dog Smile, and the mice Top Connors and Ronny. How this is meant to follow logically from where the preceding film left off is clearly not the point: it's just about cramming together the characters that somebody at Mondo TV thought were recognisable enough to please the first movie's fanbase. Which I presume must have existed, given that they made this movie, though the one thing we know about of the fans of The Legend of the Titanic is that they're not picky.

The bathysphere has gotten a little bit too close to the territory of the shark gang from the last movie, and have angered the head shark Ice, who hates things that are yellow, and as a result has sent his legions to trashy the bathysphere. This being accomplished, he sings a rap song with back-up vocals provided by a clam bed, and then uses some of the clams to construct a telegraph keyboard to communicate with the evil Baron von Tilt, who appears to be the same as the villain from last time, though that wasn't his name at the time, and the last time we saw him he was about to drown in the North Atlantic. Regardless, he's never going to have anything to do with the plot, so it doesn't matter that Ice calls him; but we got a hell of a weird musical number out of it.

The bathysphere gets trapped in a crevasse, and it looks like our heroes are going to  have a lingering, horrible death, but fortunately, they're rescued by a team of Atlantean warriors, who are designed in the day-glo colors and variable body shapes of characters from an '80s cartoon designed to sell toys. With no other choice, the Atlanteans take them back to Atlantis, where the king - a fellow in a green robe that covers his face - decides that they have to drink from the elixir that will allowo them to breathe underwater, but they must also remain in Atlantis the rest of their lives. However, as we learn in another musical number, staged by the toys that have fallen out of the various ships traveling over Atlantis and thereupon gaining sentience, Atlantis is so extremely great that anybody would be thrilled to live there forever. And this is something the main characters agree with pretty much instantaneously, considering  that having an all-powerful authoritarian leader decide on their behalf that this is the best place for them to live is pretty neat-o keen. Incidentally, In Search of the Titanic, like The Legend of the Titanic, was a co-production with North Korea. Which is possibly also why the film's plot consists substantially of Connors and Ronny's attempts to infiltrate a conspiracy of rats who want to steal Atlantis's magical elixir so they can escape from the kingdom, as though anybody who isn't evil would want to leave Atlantis.

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. Once again, it's hard not to spend the whole running time - 90 minutes this time, ambling and comfy compared to its predecessor - gawking in disbelief and dismay at whatever the hell is going on in front of us. I must confess, however, to finding In Search of the Titanic disappointingly less utterly horrible than either The Legend of the Titanic or The Legend Goes On, largely because the animation is actually functional this time around, something true of neither of those films. It's not good; it's just not so mystifyingly, inexplicably bad that it feels worth commenting upon it. It's merely cheap digitally-composited hand-drawn animation of the most banal sort. The only thing that gives it much interest is what it's depicting.

And that, at least is not banal at all. Given that it's not insulting the memory of a major tragedy, none of what happens in In Search of the Titanic has the sheer jaw-dropping effrontery of most of The Legend of the Titanic, but 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. The question of who on God's earth this was for, and how in God's name anybody thought this was a remotely appropriate or coherent story to tell about the Titanic, of all things, remains fresh and pulsating, and while it less astounding in its sheer hostile awfulness than the other animated Titanics, make no mistake: it is plenty hostile, and twice as astounding, and it makes for a fine end point to the very, very peculiar cycle of Italian Titanic cartoons that are, all of them, among the very top tier of so-bad-they're-good movies of the last 25 years.

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