Treasure Planet is one of those forgotten Disney films, lost among the Lion Kings and Pirates of the Caribbean. It originally came out in 2002 and during that year it had some fierce competition in Lilo & Stitch as well as Studio Ghibli’s most famous film, Spirited Away. This steep competition say it buried and didn’t even fully make back its entire budget sadly. It’s still lost among the Disney library and often not brought up as many consider it to merely be an adaptation of Disney’s original Treasure Island, which was an adaptation of the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. Does Treasure Planet deserve to be a part of the forgotten Disney library, tossed away like many of its direct to video sequels?
Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dreams of sailing space and blazing a trail for himself. Being told of stories about the infamous Nathanial Drake’s treasure hidden on the mystical Treasure Planet fueled his ambitions until one day he was thrust into the very legends he read. Jim must now travel through the stars aboard a vessel with its cyborg chef, John Silver (Brian Murray) who is not at all what he seems to be. This is a classic tale that has been told time and time again, this time it is told with various twists on the original material. Primarily the biggest change is obvious, this time its setting is in space where the dangers of the stars are their bread and butter rather than the seas.
This can allow for a lot of beautiful setting designs particularly the Montressor space port, which is a crescent moon that the closer you look at it you can see the expansive and bustling metropolis it has built on it. There is a lot of hit and miss with the setting though as the final section of the film is aptly placed on Treasure Planet and this mechanical planet with green growing over it. As final settings and a main focus of the film both were underwhelming in design as when they pulled back from Treasure Planet itself it looked terrible with its CGI and like a giant glob of gold glue. The mechanical planet was like mixing the Death Star from Star Wars with some random jungle planet and hoping it would be interesting, instead it looks like some jungle planet that is hard to define. The setting was really hit and miss with how creative and mesmerizing it could be and the same goes with the animation.
The major problem comes with the animation which already was losing out to two big titans during that time. Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away and its imaginative world unfortunately can imagine circles around the imagery used in Treasure Planet, as well as Pixar pulling out far better 3D CGI in previous efforts like Toy Story. The fusion of the two comes off as more of an attempt in Treasure Planet, when easily having it all drawn rather than CGI would have made for a smoother visual appearance for its time and would have been less criticized and compared to other such titans. It makes the film’s visuals more forgettable fair than most other Disney films and that’s sad since there is some intricate detail from the CGI rendered scenes of Silver walking in his kitchen down to the heart-pounding action sequences.
Now this isn’t bad animation, in fact I would say some moments are downright breathtaking like the mixture of CGI and traditional 2D animation during the montage sequence through the middle of the film was fabulous. Besides the kinetic action sequences done really well, the film lacked the ability to have an effective mixture of CGI and 2D animation outside of the action sequences. It’s really noticeable how jarring the two paired together can be. Then we come to the designs of the aliens…and they are fine…ish. I like the designs of Captain Amelia, John Silver and his comforting robust exterior, Delbert was okay. The rest were ranging from meh to…”oh my goodness why?” One alien in the beginning in particular Mrs. Dunwoody who is just appalling as a design let alone the way she moves for such a simple design. Mr. Arrow is another that could’ve been a more interesting design instead of being literally a stone face. I just feel like there were missed opportunities for some of that vibrant imagination that brought us the space port.
The characters and dialogue on the other hand are really top notch, from the little nods to the original to even the newer lines that just captivate you. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jim Hawkins is okay, it’s nothing to be excited about in regards to the performances yet I feel like it adds the right amount of emotion in the important moments to bounce well off of Brian Murray’s John Silver. Long John Silver is obviously the villain of this story as aptly told by the beginning, yet there is this charisma that exudes from him that makes you want to get to know him. You want to see his talks with Jim Hawkins and to see their relationship grow and how it changes them both. The banter between Jim and Silver is just too good, every bit of dialogue builds towards something. That montage sequence is just one of the best ways of explaining their growth as not only companions but as two people who seem to have a hole in their hearts that needs to be filled. This leads to one of my favourite lines in the film that should be a tagline for other Disney films.
“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.”
– John Silver
Now the supporting cast is no slouch either as Captain Amelia is the quick witted leader of the expedition and a great female character who has very fun and demanding lines to play. Some great scenes of silent character building and some great moments of taking charge. While Mr. Arrow harkens back to the original Treasure Island and its time period. I love the way they complement each other and Captain Amelia’s dialogue is so fun to listen to and so quick that you are either smiling or laughing almost every time she is on screen. David Hyde Smith as Delbert Doppler is also a charming character that is quite charming with some fine lines of comic relief sprinkled in. Even in the beginning of the story he has some profound moments to him so we see multiple sides of him merely from his voice work alone.
The mother is too understated and though she is quite fun in the opening scene, never truly was able to bring what I think she was capable of to the table even though the relationship is very well done between her and Jim in such a small time. Scroop was a spider lobster creature that was intimidating, but ultimately that is all he was merely a plot point to be moved along. B.E.N. is one of the worst elements of the film to me reminding me of such illustrious characters as Bill Murray in Osmosis Jones or Jar Jar Binks. Okay, not as bad but certainly up there and that is depressing since I love comedian Martin Short. Always nice having Canadian content in films.
The pacing of the story never seems like it drags, often seeing the scenes between Silver and Jim taking the most time in order to build their relationship. That is the primary focus of the film, an adventure story where two people overcome their differences in life to create bond worth remembering. Though my main problem with Treasure Planet is that they are adhering to a template and it creates a very predictable plot to the already initiated. People who have watched the original Treasure Island may see this as merely an imposter or a flimsy carbon copy, though to the uninitiated…you can travel the stars with some of its scenes. I loved its emotional moments between the characters, how it focused on the journey rather than the destination yet it makes the film looser because of it. There are checkpoints along the way, because they are running off a template, but I feel that the characters and the dialogue sells it time and time again as rewatchable Disney fare with not much thought process needed. The story never seems to desire to be more than a vehicle for its characters to grow opting for a more point A to point B approach with not a lot of importance held on the actual plot.
Treasure Planet is a fun adventure, with witty dialogue and wonderful characters to experience the events with. Even if the events themselves were not the most important, and the design schemes never really paid off too often. The film focuses too much at times to be cool with the surfing sequence in the beginning, but never delves too far into the abyss of appealing to a teenage fanbase of the times (the edginess never overwhelms). It ultimately creates a very relatable story between its characters and almost every single one of them really feels fleshed out through the smallest details to the biggest parts of their personalities. I adore the characters, yet feel as if this is not exactly the best vehicle for them often relying too heavily on a template rather than on its own merit. If swashbuckling space adventure be your destination, Treasure Planet will certainly be an adventure worth experiencing.
I am very passionate about this film, its one of the Disney films I remember vividly from my childhood so come to my surprise that I found it not as good as I remember. Ah nostalgia goggles…how I wish you were always in my life! So have you ever watched Treasure Planet? How do you think it fairs to the original? Please leave a comment down below and have yourself a great day!