Movie 43: Treasure Planet

posterGuys 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!

The Production-

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

steampunk fashion


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).

treasure-planet-large-pictureFor 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 .

lava2In 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-

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.

treasure_planet_characters_by_SilversGalleyFrom there things basically follow the book but on space in ships.  Oh and the parrot on Silver is a blob called morph that can change shapes.

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.

Movie Review/Conclusion-

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

47 thoughts on “Movie 43: Treasure Planet

  1. I have seen a lot of complains levelled against Treasure Island…some dislike the Steampunk elements, other don’t like that Long John Silver got watered down…but never ever anyone claimed to have fallen asleep during the movie. Are you sure that you weren’t simply very tired?

    Thus said…a PC is NOT the right place to watch this one. It needs a proper screen to really appreciate the scales, especially during the action scenes.

    And one would think that setting the story in space is a well enough twist to make it feel “new”. As someone who LOVES Treasure Island and has watched every adaptation I ever could get my hands on (and that’s a lot), this is one of the few stand-out ones which do work, despite the changes they did (and I am normally very protective of Long John Silver, my favourite Book-Villain ever).

      1. I guess I am a one of a kind. :). I thought he was fun and Martin Short is so gifted with voices and characters they could have done more with him.

    1. I wasn’t watching on my laptop but had it open taking notes. I’m certain I wasn’t just tired because I watched several other programs without any fatigue.

      The setting feels new for a few minutes but then I get used to it and it is the Treasure Island story with the characters and plot of Treasure Island. The examples I gave like the mouse in Cinderella introduce new characters that are not in other versions of the story. I guess I’m not as big a fan of Treasure Island as you are. I respect that .

      I like steampunk a lot actually. For me that was the strongest part of the movie was the style; although some of the CGI didn’t age well.

      Honestly I would rather watch the Muppetts Treasure Island because it has more humor and Tim Curry is a lot of fun, which helps the story not feel so dry. To me that was more unpredictable because I didn’t know what the next joke was going to be; yet, the story is basically the same as this movie.

      But that’s ok. I can see why others enjoy it and I didn’t give it a D so some things I liked. I can’t pretend the movie gripped me when it didn’t. I felt the same way when I saw it back in 2002 so it hasn’t really changed in the years since despite my becoming a steampunk fan.

      So love the steampunk but it just didn’t engage me.

      1. Well, perhaps we are lucky and the Hullabaloo project will take off, now that they got their funding for the basics five time over.

      2. Cool. I hadn’t heard of that but just looked it up. Looks pretty great! Thanks for letting me know and for reading my silly thoughts even when you disagree. I appreciate it.

      3. I wrote about it a month or so ago because I thought a little bit advertising wouldn’t be amiss. It sounds awesome, imho.

        You know, Treasure Island is one of the movies I discussed at length in my “Music and Lyrics” blog, and I also wrote about Captain Amelia.

      4. Cool. Treasure Island or Treasure Planet? I liked Amelia and kind of wish they had done more with her, but she’s a very good character. I like that her being a woman isn’t really a factor. That feels very steampunkish to me. And I always like Emma Thompson.

      5. Neat. I will read it.
        For me Treasure Planet is kind of like Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby. Yes, the costuming and the hip hop music make Gatsby look and sound different than other versions but it’s a story I know so well that it feels predictable and drags quickly. That’s the best way I can think to explain it.

      6. Fair enough. I didn’t see it that way but can see your perspective.

      7. the gender bending totally seems steampunk with the suffragettes being a big Victorian thing. So, that was a fun choice. (And a species bending! I like the babies are girl cats and boy dog at the end).

        I think a lot of the side characters could have been used more. Because we all know what’s going to happen with Silver from the book and other movies.

        Somehow I didn’t feel like I got to know most of them well. I think Captain Kermit and Jim in Muppetts have more conversations than Amelia and Jim (they don’t really talk with each other much). It’s a shame the series never happened and we could have seen more from these characters because they have potential.

        Anyway, that was my honest response to it.

      8. Ah I love Muppets. Perhaps even more than animation. Oh well. I guess that shows how different people can see things

      9. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like the muppets so I guess we are all being introduced to new types through blogging 😉

      10. I don’t dislike them either…I just don’t feel the nostalgia a lot of people connect to them because I never really watched them as a child. It’s a little bit a cultural matter. And the take on Treasure Island…well, it is more a Muppet movie than a treasure Island adaptation, if you get my drift. The same way “Mickey and the Beanstalk” is more a Mickey movie.
        The song is very memorable, though.

      11. That’s fair. I like Tim Currry though as Silver and the barebones plot is there. Kind of like with their Christmas Carol which I also loved.
        I guess in the end it’s hard to quantify why a film grips you and others dont. You can to a point but just like with certain dates that should be a match on paper but no spark. Treasure Planet was like a fine date but a little dry and boring and probably not worthy of date 2. 😉

  2. I guess in fairness most steampunk movies are terrible so this gets brownie points for being as good as it is.

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      He’s certainly in the film a lot less than Jar Jar Binks. In fact, I’m surprised they got enough of him to be so annoyed. I was partly saying that Martin Short with his talent of doing voices could have been more of a character than he was. It seems strange for such a big named star voice actor to be asked to do so little. It’s kind of like Dom Deluise in Oliver in Company. He’s such a gifted voice actor and they do nothing with him. I like Roger Ebert said “He would be obnoxious unless you liked creatures like him, which I do”. So not alone in my strange opinion on BEN. 🙂 (I actually agree with much of Eberts review on this one.

      David Hyde Pearce is very good as Doppler. I liked that character. Like I said, I didn’t give it a D. I just thought it dragged in the middle and I think the visuals can only keep me excited for so long and then the story and pacing has to.

      And again I gave it a C not a D or an F so there are certainly things I like about it.

      I’m surprised I didn’t like it more too. Seriously. I like steampunk. I like action adventure stories but I guess maybe Treasure Island isn’t my favorite story. Come to think of it I’m not that big of a pirate movie fan. Who knew!

      But for me it doesn’t matter if everyone is annoyed by a certain character or feels a certain way. If I’m taking the time to write what I feel it has to be what I feel not worrying about what is popular. And for the record plenty of people including top critics were also bored by the movie despite its striking visuals.

    2. Although I like Pirates: Band of Misfits and Muppets Treasure Island so I like pirate comedies (talk about a specified genre!).
      Any subject can grab my interest. This one did in some ways visually but the story and writing overall did not.

    1. Oh good. I’m glad I’m not only blogger. It’s not like I thought it was terrible like Dinosaur. Just lagged a little bit storywise for me and dragged, which is easy to do with a story I’ve read and/or seen so many times. More style over substance.

      1. It defniitely dragged a lot at times for me too. I have never watched any other Treasure Planet adaption, but from what I have read, it is almost the exact same as the other adaptions. I thought I would dislike it more than I did.

  3. Aw sad. I haven`t seen this in forever but I remember really liking it. Now I don`t know if I will rewatch it.
    Also have you seen the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? I haven`t. But now that I know it is steampunk I am intrigued. I ilke the whole idea of steampunk ever since we saw that steampunk Peter Pan.

    1. It’s not terrible like Brother Bear or Home on the Range so I don’t think I’d say to not see it. Just drags a bit. Has weaknesses that bored me. As you can see from the comments a lot of other people love it so you never know. Different tastes. I’m not the biggest Treasure Island fan to start with so that’s part of it.

    2. I haven’t seen League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but I remember hearing Roger Ebert talk about how it has a big chase scene in Venice. There are no streets in Venice. Ha. Steampunk has had a rough road in Hollywood.

  4. Sorry, but I give this one an A-, though I gave it a B or C 10 years ago. I watched it in December 2012 and I felt it was definitely better than I remembered. Even though I can’t relate to Jim that much, Dr. Doppler I probably could and I thought it was a very creative film. Strangely, I liked this better than Atlantis (which for me was vice versa 10 years ago). Also, I thought the characters were better developed than the ones in say Atlantis, the bond with Jim and Silver was unique, and I almost cry towards the end when Jim and Silver say their goodbyes. Overall, I thought there were also good emotions in this one. Again, I respect your opinion though.

    1. Don’t need to apologize. Just opinions. I didn’t hate this but yeah I liked Atlantis better but I can totally see how that would be reversed. I guess Atlantis is an original story/land/language/characters that it held my attention more than the Treasure Planet story/characters which I’ve heard since I was little (albeit in different costumes and settings). I totally see how you could feel differently.
      I agree the characters of Jim and Silver are more developed than any in Atlantis but I guess because the one’s in Atlantis were new to me it was more fun. But I’m definitely in the minority on the Atlantis love. 😉
      Never apologize for appreciating art or music or having an opinion.
      So I didn’t hate it. Just thought it was a little dry. Definitely has a cool look and love the Steampunk! Thanks for commmeting.

      1. Of course. Well, just so you know, I gave Atlantis a B+ (see comment on Atlantis review). So at least I have them similar good grades. Oh, by the way, Roger Ebert only gave this film a 2 1/2 out of 4 stars saying that, and I quote, “While not completely writing off the film, be felt that a more traditional take would have been more exciting and less gimmicky.” Just curious, would you agree or disagree?

      2. Realized I didn’t answer your question. Ebert and I have very similar opinions on Treasure Planet. It has its strengths but pacing and a lack of character development hurt it. You can make the world as amazing as can be but if I know exactly the story and I dont feel bonded to the characters it’s not going to work. It’s not terrible but I agree with Ebert and 2 1/2 stars (or a C in my grading)

  5. Hey, I’m just curious, am I the only one who thinks this film might have done better at the box office if say it had not been released around the same time as say Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets, Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, etc., but instead had been released maybe at a later time when it was not going up against two many other block busters (not to mention the fact that this came out only 5 months after Lilo & Stitch)?

    1. I know Swanpride agrees with that theory. I think it’s a tough sell regardless. If it was released now where the steampunk style is more accepted it could be more of a hit but at the time it was too different to be a huge hit. They spent way too much on it as it was a passion project for the creators.

      My problem is I’m not that big of a Treasure Island fan to begin with and it is sort of like a Baz Lerman film. The style in a movie like Great Gatsby can only get you so far. The pacing, performances and script have to be there. Same thing with Treasure Planet. It’s not terrible but I just find it slow.

      They also dont do a good iob explaining the limitations of this world. I know what the stakes are in a storm at sea but a storm in space with regular boats I dont know so the scene while pretty has no tension.

      I personally only think you can blame release date so far. The films are in theaters for 6 to 8 weeks so while opening weekend may be hurt by a strong competitor the overall box office is less impacted. That’s just my hunch but I could be wrong.

  6. My friend sent my the blu-ray of “Treasure Planet” a while ago, and I watched it for the first time not too long ago. And, it’s good; not great and not an instant fave but good. For a film that looks very visually striking with it’s steampunk style and unique combination of maritime and futuristic technology, it was surprisingly faithful to the original book. I was worried that the style would be too weird for me to get into, but the writing was clever enough to support continued investment. It was interesting to see the Deep Canvas technique previously employed in Tarzan for more diverse effect, you can certainly see where the budget went!

    At first I wasn’t really enjoying Jim Hawkins as a character because he was so closed in and hard to like (like most teenagers are), but it wasn’t until he started to interact with Long John Silver that I started to root for him; his relationship was Silver was the highlight of the film for me, and even the action scenes were pretty well done for early 2000s Disney. I’m glad I saw it, and perhaps my somewhat muted expectations kept me from feeling disappointed, and I can see why it has the strong fanbase that it does. But in the end, I’m more of an “Atlantis” guy myself.

    1. I’m more of an Atlantis girl too! I guess I’m not that big on Treasure Island and some of the unique settings in this I find distracting even if beautiful. I want to like this more but I always find it kind of dull

      1. I wasn’t really “distracted” by the visuals myself, I actually found them quite fun to look at. Ironically the more liberties they took with the story the more interesting I found it, like making Silver a little nicer than he usually is was a good twist, as well as Emma Thompson as the Captain among other changes.

        Fun fact, a good friend of mine at University compared one of my other friends to B.E.N from this film, and myself to the robot WALL-E. This was because he had made a visual diagram that depicted our classmates “recast” as characters from major Disney movies to match our real life personalities, and he was Jim Hawkins!

      2. That is funny! I’m one of few people who didnt find BEN super annoying. What I mean by distracting is like in the space storm sequence I dont know what the rules for traditional ships in a space storm so the tension is lost. That’s what makes it distracting from the tension that would be there if it was just traditional ships in the ocean

  7. Another first time viewing for me in my Disney Canon marathon and I must say I really like this one! i’d even say it’s the best post-renaissance Disney movie I’ve seen so far. It’s funny how some previous knowledge seem to affect our experiences though.

    For instance, I had no idea a “Treasure Island” story even existed until I read this review (probably because I’m not American?). So for me it was all new, and I loved the twist with the villain being a father-figure to the main character and then redeeming himself in the end. I don’t know, in hindsight, it’s a Disney movie and it’s kind of predictable that he would turn out to be a good guy in the end, but for most of the movie I was expecting him to be all evil after finding the tresure and then dying to pay the price, or something like that.

    Some of your complains are curious to me, though. Like the not knowing what damage a supernova does. I mean, do we really need specifics? It’s a star exploding, that’s a huge deal. The problem I had with the scene was… well, not only was that star really tiny, the whole supernova process was incredibly fast (these things take a long time, especially if they form a black hole). But hey, I don’t really care about the sciency stuff because it’s fantasy. Just thought it was a bit silly.

    As for the “planet being easy to find”… Well, finding planets is REALLY HARD. Just the other day NASA announced they found 7 Earth-like planets at a fairly small distance (in astronomical scale) of 40 light-years away from us. And they already knew 3 of those planets from previous observations! It took a long time to find the other 4, and they KNEW where to look. Imagine having no idea where the Treasure Planet is. I’d say it’s almost impossible to find it without having any sort of clue. The universe is a pretty big place, and planets are very small and dark, almost impossble to see. I’d say an underground city is hundreds, if not thousands of times easier to discover. Even if it is hard lol

    Wow ok I wrote too much nitpicking about your nitpicks. It’s just that I really like astronomy and steampunk and. now, this movie haha

    Great review though, loved the bits about the production. It’s a shame it didn’t make a lot of money. That was a really weird era for Disney, huh?

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