Karl May wrote numerous books on Old Shatterhand and Winnetou at the beginning of the 21st century. Winnetou is such a famous novelist that people are undoubtedly surprised that this Indian did not really exist. The popularity of Karl May’s adventure novels extended far beyond Germany’s borders, making the author one of the best-selling German writers ever. After many (German) film adaptations and a few TV series, the classic hero gets a modern (re) make-over in 2009: animated film “Winnetoons – The Treasure of the Wild West” (“WinneToons – Die Legende vom Schatz im Silbersee”).
Winnetou is not the main character in this animation film, however. That role is reserved for the poor boy Bobby. At the beginning of the story, the street bastard is still full of bravado and dreams and tells his peers the story about the treasure of Montezuma. When it was stolen by a Spanish general, Montezuma’s warriors tracked down this thief and hid the treasure in a hidden temple. A dangerous feathered snake was supposed to protect the treasure. Bobby’s seriously ill father is in possession of the map leading to the treasure. Just before he dies, he hands Bobby the map and informs him that the underground vault can be opened with the words water, wind, earth and fire. Bobby refuses to live in an orphanage and flees with his best friend, the Winchester rat. With the police on his heels, he just manages to catch the train that takes him to Arizona. Off to the wild west!
Parallel to Bobby’s story is the story of Winnetou, his sister Nsho-tshi, Old Shatterhand and Colonel Brinkley’s gang. Winnetou has a lot to do with his sister. Instead of female tasks such as cooking and sewing, she prefers to hunt. In addition, Winnetou and Old Shatterhand now finally want to make short work of the trail of destruction that the crook gang is leaving behind. Colonel Brinkley is a master of train raiding and plans to make a big deal: a gold transport takes place. Let that just be the train Bobby is on! A coincidence of events brings Nsho-tshi (or is it Disney’s Pocahontas?) And Bobby together and they must fight with Winnetou and Old Shatterhand to keep the Silver Lake treasure out of Colonel Brinkley’s hands.
Makers of “Winnetoons – The Wild West’s Treasure” are also the ones who made the cartoon series “Winnetoons” (a hit on German television). Gerhard Ludewig’s ASL Animation Studio has been around since 1967. The studio uses CGI, but does not lose sight of the atmosphere of the hand-drawn 2d animation films. The film looks very neat, there is a great eye for detail. “Winnetoons” stands head and shoulders above recent animated films such as the run-down “Space Chimps 2” or “Boss in your own forest 3”. Where things are not going so well is the story. Bobby’s story feels a bit out of place in a Wild West adventure movie. It is understandable why this was chosen: the Charles Dickens-like boy must ensure that children can identify more with the story, but it does not really work. In any case, adult viewers will not be drawn into the film by the somewhat flat characters. The events in the cave where the treasure is hidden – the film already starts with it – contrast sharply with the rest of the film. The high “Indiana Jones” content of these scenes adds tension, but not heart and soul to the animation film.
That does not alter the fact that “Winnetoons – The Wild West’s Treasure” is fine show food for young, tough boys and girls. The Wild West and the associated cowboys and Indians still appeal to pre-schoolers and slightly older children and this target group will certainly be entertained by this at times very exciting animation film.