Thursday, August 12, 2010

Treasure Planet (2002)

Voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson, Martin Short
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Adventure/ Science Fiction
Rated PG: Action Peril
Adapted from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson


The last time I spoke an animated film from Walt Disney Pictures, I spoke of “The Black Cauldron”, a horrible mess filled with wasted opportunities and that was best buried by the sands of time. In order to make up for that wreck of a film, I will now review another animated Disney that has largely gone unnoticed and deserves far more attention and better recognition.

What went wrong with this movie simply boils down to marketing. It was coming off the heels of the perplexingly popular "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" and was released a mere week before the latest installments of two other juggernaut frachises; Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. A film like this with such an eye-rolling premise didn’t stand a chance. The movie caved under the competition and the low income was deemed responsible for the eventually shutting down of Disney’s hand drawn animation studios. So when Disney was looking to revive the medium with “The Princess and the Frog”, they got these two directors again. Wait what? Well, actually it does make such given how Ron Clements and John Musker were responsible for the animation renaissance, making movies like “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”, the later of which we shall see a substantial influence especially with the rebellious orphan male hero with his sidekicks, flying around an exploding cave of gold on his flying board.


The film shares the same writers as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and continues the blend of maritime action and humor, particular when it comes to the characters. Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, once again playing a teenager from outer space) is portrayed as moody teen with a lot of potential but no direction. He is taken under the wing of a rough old cyborg sailor named John Silver (Brian Murray), who teaches him the ropes, even giving him “The Destiny Speech”. (Unlike “Astro Boy”, the word “destiny” is never used in the speech, and is used to effectively guide Jim out of his funk and spark a change in his character for the better. Also the corniness of the trope is referenced by another character.) Doctor Delbert Doppler (David Hyde Pierce), is our primary comic relief, frequently stumbleing over his tongue, especially in the presence of the beautiful, yet stern Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson). The two remaining characters of note are the two “Disney sidekick” characters intended to become breakout stars and help sell toys; the shape shifting Morph, and the bipolar robot B.E.N. (Martin Short) These two are feel reminiscent of the various sidekicks from “Aladdin”. Morph’s faux-English and ability to fall into trouble is much like that of Abu, while B.E.N. spontaneous outbursts feel like leftovers from The Genie, and may have been less irritating had they come from the mouth of Robin Williams. Together, they’re off in search of riches and adventure IN SPACE!!!!


The surrogate father-son relationship between Jim and Silver is at the forefront of the film and is easily its strongest part, and reminds me of why this makes for a better adaptation than say “Muppet Treasure Island”, where there is a similar mix of the classic story with various anachronisms and several strange creatures. In that film, the relationship between Jim and Silver was mismatched by the child actors low key performance and Tim Curry as Silver being his usual over-the-top self, so that they only thing left to focus on is the weirdos in the background. Here the weirdos in the background serve as flavoring for the story and help establish the world they inhabit.

The setting of “Treasure Planet” is a rather unique one. The film employs and mixture of both traditional hand drawn animation and three dimensional computer animation. Anything made of skin or having an organic feel is done traditionally, while anything mechanical is rendered by computer animation. This creates an incredibly interesting effect on John Silver, who is half man and half machine. The environment of the film seems to have taken this same approach, mixing the book’s original setting during the Second Industrial Revolution with more contemporary science fiction, effectively combining Steam Punk with Cyber Punk creating what I shall dub as “Solar Punk”. The look of the film borrows heavily from the style of artist, N.C. Wyeth who illustrated the original “Treasure Island”. As an illustrator myself, this is going to gain it some extra points in my book. This also makes for serving some engaging sight gags to further one of the film’s themes that “Not everything is what it seems”, such as moments we see what appear to be quaint wooden building, only to get closer and see that they are made out of rivets and gears. Despite being close to a decade old, the computer animatied portions still hold up well, and being a Disney film, the traditional animation is second to none

Action Packed, Astoundingly Animated, Humorous, and ultimately moving (Kudos to the music by James Newton Howard) This one is a winner.

Final Score:

4 out of 5. Highly Recommended.

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