What was I writing it for?: I’d intended Treasure Planet to be a follow-up piece to the wasted film that was Titan A.E. I wanted to show how a film, similarly premised on space exploration, although with different goals, could be not only good, but so good that it warrants multiple viewings and pestering friends to watch it.
Why did I stop writing it?: That’s a good question. My activity had declined a little having moved back home after University and hadn’t as yet moved all my stuff back from my accommodation, but I always intended it to be the first thing I reviewed once I was back up and running. I even promised to review Treasure Planet, Cross of Honour (i.e.: Into the White) and Ratchet and Clank in July, but you can see how that turned out.
At that time I was at a bit of a low so I probably didn’t want to review Treasure Planet. Instead of doing something I felt I couldn’t do justice to at the time, I reviewed The Bell Jar which, for a multitude of reasons which made sense then and still do a bit now, was something I felt capable of at the time and still feel quite proud I did it.
After then I only did reviews I felt obligated to do, e.g.: Ratchet and Clank (an intended series that still remains at one). With all that going on, reviewing wasn’t my top priority so I left it pretty much until September, aside from the odd review, when I found my lust for writing again.
But now we can move on from there because, at long last, it is time for Treasure Planet’s moment among the stars as we make our intrepid, interstellar voyage to that doubloon filled planet that all travellers, raiders and chroniclers alike know as “The Obligatory Overview”.
Taking place in some unspecified time in the future, Jim Hawkins (Austin Majors) is a five year old who learns about the legendary Captain Flint in a children’s storybook, who appears out of nowhere, steals the booty and vanishes, supposedly hiding all his loot on the mysterious Treasure Planet.
Twelve years on, Jim (now voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a teenager seemingly in constant trouble with the law due to his sky surfing and, when not chased by the police, reluctantly helping his mum Sarah (Laurie Metcalf) run the Benbow Inn.
After being apprehended again, and Sarah voicing her concerns about Jim to their anthropomorphic dog friend Dr Delbert Doppler (David Hyde Pierce), Jim sees a spacecraft crash and rushes to help the pilot. Helping him into the inn, the dying pilot (Patrick McGoohan) gives Jim a mysterious sphere and tells Jim to “Beware the Cyborg”.
Soon after the inn is raided and burned down and, having escaped, Jim discovers the sphere is a map to Treasure Planet. Excited, Doppler commissions a ship and he, Jim along with the anthropomorphic cat Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson) and the cyborg cook John Silver (Brian Murray) and the crew, head out to the vast emptiness of space to find that hidden trove of gold.
Well if you haven’t seen that this is an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island then you must have either never heard of the adventure tale or have suffered some sort of brain haemorrhage. Either or really. While Treasure Planet takes a few liberties from the original story, a space going schooner being the least of them, yet to the main aspects of the novel Disney remain surprisingly faithful while adding some extra elements, the first of which being John Silver.
The name Long John Silver is one of those names, like Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and even Stevenson’s own Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, have reverberated throughout history and have remained part of the public conscious one hundred and twenty-two years after the words were first put to print. Even if we have not read those texts, we still know those names so intimately and what those names mean and who they are s characters.
With Long John Silver, Disney remained surprising true to his characterisation as, while we are not surprised that it is Silver is in charge of the eventual mutiny, Disney do get the character’s duality spot on. Although getting his name shortened to John Silver (Brian Murray), he remains an opportunistic cutthroat pirate and the one hand while also being a wise father-figure to Jim, whom he affectionately calling him “lad” or “Jimbo”. He becomes a really complex character that, for a children’s film, is quite intriguing. While Disney usually go for the villains who wear their despicableness on their chest e.g.: Jaffar, Hades, Mufasa, and so on and so on. While Treasure Planet does have this character in the form of Scroop (Michael Wincott), John Silver is a much more complicated character which is quite refreshing.
Also due credit must be given to Brian Murray who makes Silver unforgettable as, while I have no idea what Murray had been in aside from this film, he has an absolutely brilliant voice for the imposing and compassionate pirate. Ranging from the menacing threats to the comical gestures, he makes the cyborg Silver the version of the legendary captain the version I think of first, even before Tim Curry in Muppet Treasure Island, and that’s saying something.
Speaking of Silver being a father-figure, this lends onto something about Jim that I found quite surprising for A Disney film. Jim’s father left him and his mum. Usually you expect absent parents to be either dead or away in a Disney film, but for Jim’s dad to up and leave his family, and for us to see it is very surprising. While Jim’s character is nothing new, being a teenager in a coming-of-age journey, with Gordon-Levitt’s vocal talent being spot on for the character and with this back story, we as the audience are able to latch onto Jim and makes us hope for Jim and Silver’s father-son relationship to blossom.
Another set of characters that have become inextricably linked to my mind when I think of this film is that of Dr Doppler and Captain Ameila. While clearly the slapstick and romantic subplot characters, they are really fun to watch and add that special something to the film. Thompson and Hyde Pierce have great vocal ability with Thompson providing that distinct British superiority in tone and Hyde Pierce a certain bumbling warmth which transforms into a beautiful chemistry that rivals Jim and Silver’s. While some secondary characters are forgotten in the shadow of the main character, Doppler and Amelia remain prominently in your mind long after the film ends.
But not every character is a hit and, while minor characters like Mr Arrow (Roscoe Lee Browne) and Michael Wincott as Scroop provide memorable vocal talent in honourable and dastardly characters alike, Treasure Planet will be forever slightly tainted by Martin Short and his character B.E.N.
Now I know this may split some people but while I don’t think Martin Short is terrible, far from it I think his inclusion is quite funny, but compared to the rest of the film he seems slightly askew from the rest of it. Treasure Planet isn’t above humour, with Morph being a prime example of it, but Morph is a visual sort of humour whereas B.E.N is loud and very much in your face. It seems as if it went from epic voyage with some humour and emotion, to “HEY LOOK AT ME!” in the third act. It does irk a bit, but not enough to detract from the film.
Enough about characters now, let’s get onto the animation. It’s beautiful. Need I say more? Well they used the 70/30 law, 70% traditional animation to 30% sci-fi and it pays huge dividends. It is absolutely gorgeous to look at, having the delightful hand-drawn characters and settings, and computer generated space makes for a delightful setting that creates a clear distinction between the characters and the cosmos, yet blending in so well when it needs to. Also the sound effects were done of the same principle, with Mix reporting that in order to create the sounds for Silver’s cyborg arm, they “scoured hobby shops and junk stores for antique windup toys and old spinning mechanisms” in order to avoid “sounding slick or sci-fi”. All this, as well as the mixing of antiquity and modernity in the film’s style, i.e.: wooden ships with rocket boosters, makes for an engaging and unique experience which that one can hardly forget or have any negative feelings about.
Finally, while there were no hits to speak of, the music all feels very well integrated into the film. Unlike Titan A.E. where the music felt plopped in because they could, the music adds to the ambiance of the film and gives the scenes extra depth than it otherwise may have had. Although not the most memorable, probably because it wasn’t sung by the characters, when you hear it in the film, it all makes sense, especially the song I’m Still Here (Jim’s Theme) by John Rzeznik, that really hit the mark perfectly.
Treasure Planet, while a box office bomb, should never have suffered than dishonour that led to many studios going towards computer animation as their salvation at the expense of traditional animation. The story is a brilliant adaptation from the novel, the characters are very memorable whether you love or hate them, and it feels like it is adult enough without trying to preach any certain message. It’s an adventure beyond the stars that tugs on the heartstrings for all the right reasons.
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