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Friday, July 13, 2012

Disneyear: Treasure Planet (2002)

For a while now, Disney has been trying to be more adult with their films. Combining traditional animation with some computer rendering, these films try to look cool with some sci-fi elements, but for the most part, the general reaction was never so kind. Most of these films like  Atlantis bombed at the box office and with critics. And while today's film, Treasure Planet, had lukewarm critical success, it performed poorly in the United States box office, costing $140 million to create while earning $38 million in the United States and Canada and just shy of $110 million worldwide. Ever since, it has remained mostly forgotten despite being released rather recently. To be honest, Treasure Planet isn't as bad as it's reputation would suggest, but just say that name out loud... sounds kind of silly, doesn't it? Based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, it's Treasure Island... in space. And I won't lie, that's sort of the major problem with the film. But does it stick to the story of Treasure Island or is this another case of style over substance?  

A long time ago, yet somehow in the future, a young Jim Hawkins learns about the s legendary treasure buried within a planet in the far off galaxy. Years go by and Hawkins (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) is now a delinquent, constantly getting in trouble with his mother (Laurie Metcalf) and upset that his father left him (Wow, was that in a Disney film?). One day, Hawkins bumps into an alien pirate named Billy Bones who holds possession of a sphere that some bandits want. Hawkins opens it later and finds it's a computer map that leads to Treasure Planet, thus proving the legend was real. He meets a friend of the family's who's a dog-man named Dr. Doppler (David Hyde Pierce) and says they should charter a ship to go there. Jim's mother bizarrely agrees to this and so, Hawkins and Doppler set off for adventure. They meet the captain of the ship Doppler chartered, a cat-woman named Amelia (Emma Thompson) who suggests Hawkins work with the ship's cook, John Silver (Brian Murray) ad his flying Ditto parrot named Morph. They sort of resent each other at first but grow a strong bond as time goes by. After clearing various obstacles, Silver and most of the crew have a mutiny. Feeling a bit betrayed, Hawkins, Doppler, Amelia, and Morph escape the ship to land coincidentally on Treasure Planet but leave the map behind by accident. They find shelter and Hawkins bumps into an bio electronic navigator named B.E.N. (Martin Short) who claims he knew the captain who buried the treasure in the planet. Silver and Hawkins reunite and find the treasure within the planet. They accidentally set off a booby trap that the previous captain made and have to rush to get out of the planet before it self-destructs. They make it out fine thanks to a portal system in the planet with the map. Silver and Hawkins make up and part ways. Silver gives Hawkins a bit of the treasure he saved as well as Morph as a token of their friendship. Hawkins helps his mother reopen  her inn and we get our happy ending.

It's only fair if I mention the good stuff first because there actually are some good things about this film. First off, it gets down what I think any film needs to get down first: the relationships between the characters. For example, the relationship between Hawkins and his mother is good. The relationship between Hawkins and Silver is great. The relationship between Doppler and Amelia is good. And the reason why these relationships are good is because the characters themselves are pretty good too. Hawkins is your typical rebellious youth but the film leaves it open for people to have an impression on him. He will absorb what people tell him and that's always a good trait for a character to have. Amelia is great too: she's dignified but also a fast talker and a bit of a show off. Hawkins' mother was nice too. Supportive but she has her limits. Silver is great, as the character should be. He's diabolical but shows he has a soft side for Hawkins. Doppler has a good line every now and then but can come off as annoying. And the less I say about the Martin Short robot, the better. But he's not in the film that long, thank heavenly Disney. So I'll share with you guys my favorite scene in the whole film to prove my point.

So far so good, right? It sounds like it has the book down to a tee and has some strong, interesting characters. So what's wrong with it? Like I said earlier, it's the setting. Why is this set in the future? Okay, you can set it in the future, that's fine. but go all out! Have some cool futuristic spaceships so something! But we get boats.. in space. We see futuristic para-sailing in the sky but most of the characters are dressed in 19th century attire. It works at times, like all the mechanics on Silver. He has a mechanical leg, arm and eye and it's really advanced. I just wish the rest of the film took it that far. It seems like it's trying to mix what was popular back when this film was released with what was true at the time when the book was written instead of creating their own creative, Steam-punk world where all of this makes some sense. To be honest, it's a cluttered mess that's really distracting. There are some moments is trying to be forcefully cool and hip. For example, the film opens on sky surfing. Really? We get neat angles and camerawork on that scene, but it kind of feels like a commercial. I guess I just wanted to see Disney tell Treasure Island with no gimmicks or forced hipness, just tell the story of Treasure Island!

Look kids: he's sky-surfing! In the future! Coo! Rad!
He also gets in trouble with his mom who dresses like this! Wait, wha?
So Treasure Planet is a bit of a mixed bag. It's great when it's tells the story of Treasure Island, but kind of lame when it tries to be cool and hip. Some of the sci-fi designs are kind of neat but it's a distraction when mixed with all these 19th century elements. But I am glad I saw it. So if you can look at some of the visuals and they don't distract you, you'll really love this film. With that said, give it a watch sometime because like I said: when the movie tells the story of Treasure Island without trying to be cool, it's worth your time.


Devin Hassay said...

Just wanted to say that I've been keeping up with, and enjoying your Disney reviews. I've been anxious for you to get to this one because its one of my favorites despite being one of Disney's biggest failures. Glad you also (kind of) enjoyed Treasure Planet! ^_^

Justin Smith said...

Hi Devin. Thanks so much for reading these. Hope you'll be around even near the end.

And I'm happy to see you enjoy this film. Even with the biggest bomb, there's always at least one thing to like in a Disney film. This is definitely isn't a style-over-substance film. I was pretty surprised that it followed the book this well too.

Chris Sig said...

I'm not ashamed to admit that I have a soft sport for this Disney flick. I rather like how they admitted of wanting to try something new with the original story, while still paying homage, than doing a straight-out adaptation.

The technology of combining traditional and CGI animation is impressive for its time; and the crew did wonders with making the two blend seamlessly in my eyes. You'd never would have thought that B.E.N, the robot, wasn't hand-drawn until you actually see the behind-the-scenes features.

Talking of which, I couldn't help but feel that B.E.N would have been another role made for Robin Williams...that's what I think anyway :P