Friday, May 1, 2015

Defending Treasure Planet

I was sitting in a movie theater in 2002 - probably watching Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones - when a preview came on the screen. It was all CGI, and the shot of a crescent moon with ships coming in and out of it, and a voice saying "Treasure Planet." And all I could say at the time was "UGH."

I was not impressed at the time with a movie taking the iconic Treasure Island story and making it Disney-fied and futuristic. I had no intention of seeing the movie, and neither did many other people who probably had the same feelings about it than I did. The movie bombed, and it was just another nail in Disney's hand-drawn animation "failures" that people point to nowadays.

But then something weird happened. In 2006 I was flipping the channels and Treasure Planet was on The Disney Channel. I decided I had nothing better to do, so I would watch it.

And I loved it!

I began to tell others how fun the movie was, and none of them took me seriously. But lo and behold, a few months back my little brother posts on Facebook that Treasure Planet is actually a pretty great movie. And I talked to ladies today that also said it was a great movie!

If you haven't given yourself the chance to watch Treasure Planet, I suggest you find it in your library's DVD section and give it a watch. You'll only be disappointed if you're seeking out a faithful adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel. Otherwise, you'll enjoy it as much as I did. Here are some reasons why:

The Father-Figure Angle

Most Disney movies deal with a girl and a guy, and how the girl gets the guy (or vice versa). Those plots pretty much sum up my childhood of movie watching. But occasionally a movie comes along that takes a different route, and this was one of them. It really hit me how well this movie deals with the Father-Figure Angle, probably because it's such a different angle than I was used to.

The story of Jim Hawkins puts him in a bad path at the start of the movie due to the absence of his father (it is explained later in the movie that he left Jim and his mother years earlier). The cops report one more mishap could land him in juvie.

As Jim joins the financier for the trip (named here Doctor Doppler), the captain assigns him as cabin boy so the ornery crew doesn't figure out that he knows about the treasure map. While he meets Long John Silver there, Silver is welcoming but also demanding - something that Jim initially despises thanks to his reckless past. Eventually, though, Jim realizes Silver isn't being mean, but being the father Jim always craved.

During a music-montage (not sung by the main characters), Jim is reminded of his father's abrupt departure when Silver takes a motorized longboat and sails away, leaving Jim on the ship. But then Silver comes back for Jim, and the two of them go off on a sailing excursion through the stars.

While this relationship is greatly tested later, the story is so well-written between these two characters that it's really difficult for the viewer to declare Silver "the bad guy" because you're hoping he and Jim can keep that Father-Figure Angle going on for a long time.

Steampunk at its Disney best

It's hard to imagine the tale of Treasure Island with space ships or galaxies, but it's easier to imagine if you keep the great ships of the past and just throw in a few spacey elements.

There is a ton of futuristic elements here (the guns shoot lasers, the masts absorb solar power and convert it to move the ship), but the core of the story is still the same. The English garb remains for much of the cast, and the decks of the ships still need swabbing. You won't find any 1950s-style steel spacecrafts or astronaut spacesuits - save the very Steampunk version worn by Doctor Dobbler near the beginning.

Enough of that Revolutionary-style is retained to keep it grounded, while the otherworldy aspects are seamlessly woven in so well that it's hard to tell where one starts and the other stops.

The directors

Like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin? The same two men - Ron Clements and John Musker - that put those two films together for Disney Animation, as well as The Princess and the Frog and Hercules (which I love) were the directors for this film as well.

Once you figure out that these films all have the same directors, you can see very similar filmmaking ideas in all the movies. Stopping a scene with some gag featuring tiny versions of the main characters doing obnoxious actions on the shoulders of the actual main characters? I could be talking about the Genie from Aladdin or Morph from Treasure Planet.

I like these men's style, and I like many of their films, too.

The visuals

This was a film that used a lot of 2D animation with 3D CGI backgrounds. Those backgrounds are absolutely stunning. It's hard to look away at points - especially during the scene where a star is collapsing or the aforementioned Treasure Planet is having some issues.

While the 2D suffers at times from lazy animation, the CGI really makes up for it.

The bizzarre characters

A story like Treasure Island is probably going to have little or no women involved at all. So it was pleasing that the Captain was made a woman in Treasure Planet - and a feline with a smart mouth to boot. Though she doesn't do much for the second half of the film, Captain Amelia is treated like a captain, and not like a woman, by the crew. It's a welcome change.

As for the crew, they aren't just a pile of overweight, muscle-strapped dudes. Instead, they're aliens! It's a chance for the characters to reflect their inner selves a bit more. The stranded Ben even gets turned into an android (B.E.N.) who goes crazy because he can't remember a thing! (His memory drive has been removed by Captain Flint.)

It reminds kids of great literature

Kids should not just take this movie as Treasure Island. There are many additional characters and plot points in the book that just wouldn't fit in this movie. But it still is a great reminder that this is classic fiction, and it can be read right in a book - no DVD players required.



Hopefully I've given you more reasons to give this movie a shot. It is criminally underrated thanks to scheduling its release during a Disney Animation Dead Zone, but hopefully it will gain the fans that it so rightly deserves!

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