“I’m fluent in “flatula”, Jim. Took two years of it in high school.” – Dilbert Doppler
Treasure Planet seems like is should be just another film in Disney history, but it actually has a lot of importance if you take a look at it. A personal project of directors Ron Clements and John Musker (directors of such films as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin), the idea had its first incarnation around the time of The Black Cauldron, but continued to be pushed back in favor of other projects. The film, obviously, did end up being made, and was released in 2002. It became one of the biggest financial losses in Disney Animation History, and was one of the main causes for the announcement that the traditionally animated films would soon be phased out.
Treasure Planet is the classic story of Treasure Island, transplanted into a science fiction setting. A young but bright troublemaker named Jim Hawkins longs to seek out adventure, much to the chagrin of his mother and family friend Dr. Delbert Doppler. He gets that opportunity when a pirate crash lands on the planet, and hands them the map to Treasure Planet, also warning Jim to “Beware the Cyborg” before he passes on. Through Delbert, a crew is secured, including Captain Amelia and First Mate Mr. Arrow. Jim is assigned to the position of Cabin Boy, and is mentored by cook and cyborg John Silver. The two grow closer as the crew battles exploding stars and asteroids on their way. However, when a mutiny splits the crew, finding the treasure of Treasure Planet becomes a race to the finish.
The visual design in this movie is awesome. There’s just no other way to put it. There is a lot that can go wrong when melding a old pirate tale and the vast technological world of science fiction, but Treasure Planet does it beautifully, and perfectly. The merging of pirates with aliens, spaceships with pirate ships, and ocean storms with exploding stars just works. In the animation and design, nothing ever feels out of place or sticks out sorely. While the design tilts a bit toward the traditional pirate side, neither side ever feels like it is overtaking the other, which is an extremely positive strength. I find it an extremely creative adaptation of the work, and the visual design alone is enough to watch this movie.
When watching Treasure Planet, you can tell that a lot of effort was put into building the relationship between John Silver and Jim Hawkins, and it payed off for them. You can really feel Jim’s desire for a father figure and John’s seeing of himself in Jim, and the two characters play off each other extremely well. A lot of credit should be given to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brian Murphy for great and emotional voice acting performances.
Even on their own terms, Jim Hawkins and John Silver are effective and good characters. It is important for the film to build some sympathy for John Silver, and they do a good job at that, making him likable enough so that even after his mutiny, you want him to go back to Jim. Adding a layer of depth to Jim’s character, making him more than just a brilliant young mind, also helps his characters, and makes him a great protagonist.
This film also has one of the strongest mixings of traditional and computer animation in the entire Disney canon. John Silver’s cyborg parts are all computer generated, and work extremely well. Much of the film is enhanced by these mixings, and one of the reasons it works is that it very much fits with the story’s design and tone.
Finally, the action sequences are memorable and exciting. Making full use of both parts of the influence, these sections are wonderfully choreographed and engaging. The “storm” and the escape from Treasure Planet are the highlights of the action. These sequences are extremely rewatchable and even suspenseful at times.
While the visual design does such a fantastic job at mixing the old pirate world with science fiction, the script unfortunately undermines this. The film works best when the script works with the visual design to create a timeless feel (the storm sequence being the first to come to mind), but too often the film’s humor moves into a more modern tone that not only fails to fit within the film, but also actually takes me out of the world of the story. I mean, there is an entire character whose entire joke is that fact that his alien language sounds like flatulence. Seriously. And he even is a recurring character! Things like that just don’t mesh with the film, and it can be hard to get into the story when this modernist feeling gets into it.
This feeling of not fitting in also spills over onto some of the characters, the most painfully obvious being B.E.N., a robot found on Treasure Planet. This character is adapted from the book, and is necessary for the story, but the loud mouth, stupid, Martin Short-voiced characterization of B.E.N. is neither what the film needs at that point nor what the film should have. B.E.N. just seems out-of-place when he is with the rest of the case, especially Jim and John, and feels like one of those characters where the writers were trying so hard to make a character funny that he ends up being not so funny at all. It’s fine that B.E.N. is a robot, but he needed to be written more in tune with the rest of the cast. His antics are a nuisance to the film’s second half.
The feeling of out-of-place humor also spills into the character of Dilbert Doppler, and I would argue that it hurts the character more than it hurts B.E.N. because Dilbert actually has some moments of fitting in. The character is built in this mixture manner that the film has so well to start, but these flashes of flatulence jokes and hip hop referencing are so out-of-character that it can completely take him out of the world of the story, which is a problem considering he is a main character.
Dilbert claims one half of the film’s romantic relationship, the other half of it belonging to Captain Amelia. I will admit that the relationship is logical for the film, and has a good beginning and end, but it just happens without any real lead up. It feels like there is a scene missing in the middle where the two of them have their first moment of respecting each other. It’s so close to rounding up the film’s relationships as all-around good, but it just happens to quickly.
Also, we get it, Treasure Planet, Dilbert’s design is influenced by dogs and Amelia’s by cats. We get the joke. You don’t need to push it in our faces by giving them random traits of these animals. Seriously, we get it.
BEST MOMENT AND SONG
I think the film’s stongest moment is in fact the Exploding Star Storm sequence in the middle of the film. I think that it is a great example of the film’s two style mixings, and is a very memorable sequence.
The best song is “I’m Still Here,” written by Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik. It plays over the bonding of John Silver and Jim Hawkins, and it certainly doesn’t hinder the sequence.
Treasure Planet is a beautiful film, and is a creative and interesting retelling of the classic tale in a completely new way. It is worth checking out for its visual design and its two main characters, which are nailed out of the ballpark. However, don’t be surprised when you see those moments and characters that seem just a bit out of place in this world. Taking us out of the world of the film is enough to push this film into the 40 spot.