Guys I have a confession to make. Today after work I put on Treasure Planet ready to take notes for my review and about 20 minutes in I fell asleep. It wasn’t for long and I eventually plied my face off my keyboard and rewound back to my last point awake but it is kind of emblematic of my response to Treasure Planet.
That’s not to say it is a total failure like Dinosaur (which I just must have been more rested that day because that was rough going!). In fact, I’m a little surprised I didn’t love Treasure Planet because I really like Steampunk and adventure stories so it seems like a good fit. I’m probably the only person on the planet who liked Atlantis but didn’t care for Treasure Planet. Oh well!
Treasure Planet was the brainchild of Disney greats Ron Clements and John Musker going way back to 1987 when the Disney team met with Jeffrey Katzenberg to brainstorm ideas. For some reason Clements and Musker wanted to put Treasure Island in space and it was even considered as an early option but The Little Mermaid was the choice (how different would things have gone…). Eventually it got to Hercules in 1997 and Clements and Musker made a deal with Disney to direct the film if Treasure Planet could get greenlit.
I’m not up on my steampunk trivia but it seems like 2002 was still early on in the movements popularity; although artists like the Disney team my have been more invested in it earlier than the average person (it certainly existed for many years but in last 5 it has grown more popular and mainstream).
If you don’t know, steampunk is when we combine victorian and futuristic elements together in a stylized way. They have heavy influences from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne and others. Atlantis had many steampunk elements in particular the design of the ship. Treasure Planet has steampunk pretty much everywhere you look. Here is a photo of steampunk fashion and I think you can see it’s influence on the film
Treasure Planet is probably the most steampunk movie ever made (most of the others have been huge flops like Wild, Wild West or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).
For some people having Victorian era technology flying through space is a distraction. It wasn’t for me most of the time. The only time it was a little unclear was when they were facing a storm or super nova because in the scene the characters are racing around but I don’t know what a super nova does. I understand water. In the world of this movie where they have anti-gravity Victorian ships what damage can a super nova do? I don’t know. Since they start with an impossible setting they need to explain a little bit or the tension is lost .
In Atlantis the steampunk elements are more window dressing and add color but don’t factor that much into the story. Treasure Planet they are huge with characters dying in storms on the ships and other key moments. Atlantis has tons of plotholes but none that kept me from understanding what was actually happening,.
The other problem is Atlantis was an original story I had never heard of before about a place Disney animators basically invented through combining various lores and cultures. They even created a new language; whereas, Treasure Planet tries to take a story most of us know and present it in this new way. So in the end, despite the imagery, the story feels predictable.
In a way I feel bad for Clements and Musker because they finally get to make their dream project and it isn’t received well. The budget was 140 million and it made 109…Yikes.
They do get a nice voice cast with Joseph Gordon Leavitt, Martin Short (who is used too little), David Hyde Pearce, Laurie Metcalf, Brian Murray and Emma Thompson (who is fabulous as always).
The music is by James Newton Howard with 2 songs by GooGooDolls frontman John Rzeznik. Some people hate his modern song but I actually liked it given the mashup the movie was. It worked. I think there could have been more songs from him.
They also used a technique for layering hand drawn animation on top of CGI and sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t hold up as well. The planet on the paper moon is the white washed CGI city I’ve seen in a million other movies (I realize not back then but other movies art holds up so can’t give this movie an excuse).
The story is what we all know from school. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. A young boy named Jim is reckless and desires to make his mark on the world.
Jim is arrested and ends up burning down his Mother’s inn. His father has left them and he wants to know why and figure out his life goals.
So he finds a map that looks like a globe and learns he can rebuild his mother’s inn with the treasure from Treasure Planet. (If a whole planet is treasured wouldn’t that have been found by someone? I mean Atlantis was way deep down under water and caves which is a little harder to miss than a giant planet?
Nevertheless Jim gets to the ship and we meet our Smarmy crew, captain and Long John Silver.
There is a supernova they have to fly through which is exciting, if a little bit confusing
Jim and Silver have a nice bond just like in the book, which makes him a complex villain. He is tough on him at first but a warm mentor.
That’s where we get our one song and I really liked it.
In particular, they have a discussion which feels genuine and is very well written:
All of this bonding makes the betrayal of Silver quite devastating, like his father leaving all over again.
Eventually they get to Treasure Planet and they meet BEN the robot voiced by Martin Short. It seemed odd to me to introduce such a big star voiced character so late in the movie but he’s fun. They find a portal to guide them to the treasure and I do not think the CGI on the scene has aged well.
Silver and Jim battle with their respective teams to get the treasure until Silver must decide whether to pick his friend or the money. Then through some quick thinking and bravery Jim and the ship escape out the port and head back home.
Just as in the book Silver is able to escape in a nice scene between him and Jim and they return home with enough treasure to rebuild Jim’s Mother’s inn.
It may sound strange to say a movie that looks this inventive could be predictable but because they chose such an oft-filmed novel as the base it does. After a few minutes I have accepted the steampunk look and so it doesn’t really surprise me after that and the story is standard.
It’s kind of like if a Baz Luhrmann film where he has all this inventive costumes and look but the story is pretty obvious. Great Gatsby, for instance, is based on a classic novel but it looks and sounds different; however, it didn’t work because the story and pacing was slow and the same Gatsby we all know from high school. The new look on a classic can only get you so far. A story so well done like Great Gatsby or Treasure Island feels predictable and slow very quickly.
The voices are good. The artistry for the most part is good. Some of the CGI does not age well and there are a few times when I didn’t really understand what the stakes were in this steampunk world. I was supposed to feel tension but since I didn’t know what a supernova in space does to Victorian technology it took away the tension.
The characters are good. The appearance is different than typical Treasure Island movies but the personalities are basically the same.
Every other time Disney has done a traditional fairytale or popular story they have injected something new and different into the story (not just the design). For instance, Cinderella has the mice and songs to differentiate it from other Cinderellas. Aladdin has the character of the Genie in a whole new way (not just appearance) to make it feel new.
Treasure Planet thought if they could draw it in a new way it would have the same effect but it didnt. To me it felt tedious, but I admire what they were trying to do.
Overall Grade- C