Movie Review for Treasure Planet
Treasure Planet is something of a cinematic anomaly. A re-telling of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, Treasure Island (which I reviewed elsewhere), this Disney vehicle re-imagines the story in a space ship laden future but keeps many of the pirate and seafaring conventions which so strongly colored the original version. A mix of genres, it was also ettin-like in its approach to animation, utilizing both traditional artwork blended with computer generated effects.
Coming out in 2002, it was a good seven years past the apex of Disney’s success with The Lion King and, like most of the movies post Lion King, the story-telling and animation seemed to lack the same charm and energy that engendered Disney’s comeback in the early 1990’s when, much like Pixar of the 2000’s, it seemed that the studio could do no wrong. Treasure Planet was basically a box office dud, but that is not to say that the movie was without its merits.
First among those would be the quality of its animation. At times this is a simply gorgeous movie. One wonders if it were made today and the artists had not been shackled by all that traditional animation what a feast for the eyes this might have been. Not that the hand drawn parts are terrible. It’s just that they don’t hold up well against the gorgeous three dimensional backdrops and effects.
While we’re on the topic of the animation it is worth noting that the choice to make almost every single character in this movie a different species of alien which would outwardly represent the character’s basic personality was a rather unfortunate one. It ends up feeling less like a multi-species world a la Star Wars and more like a goofy ploy by the animators. Jim Hawkins (the main character), his mother, and John Silver are the only humans involved. Why the animators felt the need to make everyone else some bizarre alien race is beyond knowing, but it really made it difficult to identify much with the secondary characters—the Doctor and the Captain being the only possible exceptions.
The voice acting is another plus, particularly the performances of the Captain, the Doctor, and John Silver. Silver is given many of the best lines and he pulls them off with a throaty, piratey swagger that is spot on. Much like Stevenson’s character in the book version, Silver comes across as alternately charming and devious, sometimes both at the same time.
One of the best things the movie did was to personalize Jim’s struggles a bit by giving him something of a more rebellious nature than the character from the books. This allows him to be more easily drawn under the tutelage of the resourceful Silver. As a young man whose own father abandoned him and is looking for someone to fill that void in his life, it makes a lot of sense.
The story has more emotional depth than the book for this reason. It also gives rise to some wonderful exchanges between Hawkins and Silver. Of all these, my favorite is when Silver consoles Hawkins after he has made what he thinks is terrible mistake.
Now, you listen to me, James Hawkins. You got the makings of greatness in you, but you got to take the helm and chart your own course. Stick to it, no matter the squalls! And when the time comes you get the chance to really test the cut of your sails, and show what you’re made of…well, I hope I’m there, catching some of the light coming off you that day.
At times the writing really sparkles. Disney animation or no, this movie occasionally rises above its quirky hybrid animation and soars towards the Pleiades. If you’re at all partial to old-fashioned adventure or a good science fiction yarn, you’ll probably find much to like in this film.
Ultimately, the movie fails to soar as high as it might have. Its unsuccessful attempt at cross-breeding sci-fi space opera and pirate adventure, its quirky aliens, and its cute, but somewhat forced attempts at humor combined to take some of the wind out of its sails.
Had the film been done in full CGI or had they done a traditionally animated film of Treasure Island set in the eighteenth century and stuck more to the actual story Stevenson penned I think the film might have been better as a work of art. As it stands, it is still a visually compelling, at times stirring, and certainly unusual attempt at taking a classic tale of adventure and re-imagining it in a different setting. And if the effort did not exactly “rattle the stars” the way its creators intended, it’s still a movie worth watching.