Saturday, March 14, 2015

TREASURE PLANET (2002)

RELEASE DATE: 27th November 2002

  
2002 was one of those rare years (along with 1940, 1942, 1977 and 2000) where the world was treated to more than one Disney movie. In the case of 2002, Lilo and Stitch was followed up by the long awaited Treasure Planet.

Directors John Musker and Ron Clements had always considered this their passion project. It was pitched to the Disney big-wigs at the same time as The Little Mermaid. "Treasure Island In Space" (as it was then known) was shelved to make way for Ariel and co. because apparently Jeffrey Katzenberg hated the idea.

Years later, Ron and John once again brought up the concept of "Treasure Island In Space," and they were cut a deal. If they would direct Hercules, they would be given the go-ahead for their sci-fi piratey adventure. They agreed, and the rest is history.

Unfortunately, Treasure Planet's legacy has become that of Disney's biggest flop. It tanked at the box office... really really hard. It didn't even come close to making its production costs back. Which is a real shame because, to my mind, it's up there with some of the best films Disney ever made. So what the heck went wrong...?

Well for starters, Disney made the stupid (STUPID!) mistake of thinking this movie would stand any kind of chance against the juggernaut that was Harry Potter. Treasure Planet was released within a week of the impossibly popular "Chamber of Secrets" film, and it was absolutely eclipsed by Harry, Ron and Hermione. (Treasure Planet made $110 million worldwide, while Harry Potter made $880 million, literally eight times more)

The other sad truth is that by 2002, animation tastes had changed. CGI was the cool thing now, and many children and parents viewed hand-drawn animation as something a bit old and daggy. Not to mention that the target demographic of a movie like this (young-to-teenage boys) were not into cartoons at this time. A few months later, Dreamworks learned the exact same lesson with their Sinbad movie, which also tanked at the box office.

The whole situation eventually resulted in hand-drawn animation being taken off the table completely, which is one of the greatest modern tragedies of cinema. But, looking on the bright side, at least Treasure Planet got made, it's available to watch right now, and it's great.


Treasure Planet is a loose adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's book "Treasure Island." The film begins with a bit of back-story. We hear of the vicious Captain Flint, who had amassed more treasure than anyone could imagine. Legend said that he stored all of his loot in a planet hidden far away from covetous eyes: Treasure Planet.


A three-dimensional holo-book about Treasure Planet is being read by a young child called Jim Hawkins. His mother tries to get him to go to sleep, but the lure of the pirate tale is too much for the young buccaneer wannabe.


Twelve years later, while Jim's mother struggles to run her inn alone, Jim has become a moody and rebellious teenager, constantly getting in trouble with the law.


One night, an old pirate named Billy Bones crashes his ship at the Hawkins' inn. Before dying, he hands a small sphere to Jim and tells him to "beware the cyborg!"


No sooner has Bones keeled over than the inn is invaded by pirates, intent on destruction. Jim and his mother manage to escape with their family friend Dr. Doppler just in time to see their home burned to the ground.


As they recover at Doppler's house, Jim manages to unlock the sphere, which proves to be a map leading the way directly to Treasure Planet! With some encouragement from Doppler, Jim convinces his mother to let him go on a voyage across the galaxy to find Captain Flint's trove.


After making their way to the spaceport, Jim and Doppler hire a ship and a crew. Captain Amelia and her first mate Mister Arrow do not think much of the crew that was hired for the job. The map is kept locked away and the mission's purpose kept secret.


Jim is given the job of being the cabin boy. He is to be working under the orders of the ship's cook, a cyborg known as John Silver. Silver has a shape-shifting little pet named Morph.


The adventurers set off into worlds unknown. No sooner have they left than the smart-mouthed Jim makes an enemy with Mister Scroop, a bully among the crew.


Silver keeps a close eye on Jim throughout the voyage, working him hard and teaching him new skills.


As the time passes, Jim and Silver develop a trusting friendship. Jim confides in Silver, telling him the sad story of his past and the father who abandoned him.


Suddenly the voyage hits a major snag. A nearby star explodes into a supernova, then quickly evolves into a black hole. All of the ship's crew have to use every ounce of skill and intellect to escape.


Jim's job is to make sure everyone's lifeline ropes are tied off, which he does. In the chaos, Mister Scroop cuts Mister Arrow's rope and the first mate falls helplessly into the black hole. This goes unnoticed as the ship blasts away, riding the wave of energy pulsating out of the darkness.


Captain Amelia turns her accusing eyes towards Jim, whose heart breaks at the thought of Mister Arrow dying because of him. He takes this burden personally. Silver is the only one who talks to him about it and tries to make him see a light in the future.


On a morning soon after, Jim - hiding in a barrel - overhears a horrible conversation. It turns out the crew were really pirates all along, planning on stealing all of the treasure. And Silver himself is their leader.


Before Jim even has a moment to consider what this means, the call comes from above. "Planet ho!" They have finally reached their destination: Captain Flint's Treasure Planet.


As Silver returns below deck to collect his spyglass, he spots Jim and realises that the boy now knows everything about their plan. Jim, Doppler and Amelia manage a close escape as the pirates claim the ship for themselves. The captain is injured in the escape.


After a crash landing on to the surface of the planet, Jim is sent to scout the area. He stumbles upon a crazy, defective robot called B.E.N. who has literally "lost his mind." B.E.N. was left on Treasure Planet after travelling there with Captain Flint himself, and over the years of solitude, is thrilled to see another person.
 

Silver, believing that Jim still has the map, attempts a friendly bargain, but it does not go well. Jim will not bargain with pirates, nor will he tell them that he actually left the map back on the ship!


Jim, B.E.N. and Morph attempt a midnight mission to recover the map. Back on the ship, they are ambushed by Mister Scroop, who almost brings their entire adventure to a halt. With the help of some artificial gravity, Scroop is jettisoned out into space and Jim returns back to the planet with the map.


Unfortunately, Silver learns about everything and takes Doppler and Amelia hostage. Since Jim is the only person who can make the map work, he is taken along to the destination, where they should find Flint's hoard. They find a gigantic portal that leads to the interior of the planet where all of the treasure is being held.
 
  
While Silver and his pirates bask in the glory of the riches they have discovered, Jim and B.E.N. sneak away to an old ship with the intention of making a quick escape. On the ship they find Captain Flint... or what remains of him anyway. B.E.N. has his memory restored and tells Jim that in coming through the portal they have tripped the alarm and the planet will self-destruct!


Everything begins to fall apart. The treasure is lost and the planet prepares for detonation.


Silver tries to take over Jim's escape ship, but Jim fights back. Eventually Jim is left hanging on for dear life and Silver has to make a choice, to save what's left of the treasure or save the cabin boy's life.


With no possible way to escape the planet before it explodes, Jim comes up with the idea to use the portal to transport them instantly back to their home system. In a frantic race against time, they manage to fly through just as Treasure Planet is blown to pieces.


Mister Silver, set for the gallows, tries to make a quick getaway. After thinking it through, Jim lets him go. He returns to his mother with only a little bit of treasure; enough to rebuild the inn.


Captain Amelia and Doctor Doppler - still fighting like cats and dogs - get married and have some adorable babies. Jim is accepted into the Academy and begins a new life where he plans to make something of himself, just like Silver promised he could.



One of the reasons I am constantly stumped as to why Treasure Planet sold such poor ticket numbers, is that in terms of story and character, it gets pretty much everything right. Let's start with the story, which is based on a well-loved book that has stood the test of time already. Sure, there's a lot of licence taken with it, but for the most part, I think this makes the film really fun. They could have just gone for the olden-days pirate tale straight from the novel, but setting it in space let the creators' imaginations run wild, and I love that about this movie.
 
The two leads, Jim Hawkins and John Silver, are probably my favourite part about this film. Voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brian Murray respectively, these characters have a genuine depth.  Jim is a character that SHOULDN'T be very likeable or appealing. He's a moody teen who gets himself into trouble and broods over everything. But somehow the writers and performers manage to make him sympathetic. From the start, the audience can see that he has greatness in him; they can see that he's intelligent and full of potential. All he needs is the right opportunity.
 

As for Silver, he is one of the most complex characters in animated Disney history. Is he hero? Is he villain? He's really both. And it's fantastic seeing his moral compass wavering throughout the story. He really does like Jim, and wants to see him succeed. But when the boy gets in the way of his dream, he immediately goes on the offensive. The scene between these two characters after Mister Arrow's death is one of the most heart-warming scenes in any Disney movie, and most of what's being said isn't actually told with words. Jim, a boy desperately in need of a father-figure, idolises Silver and genuinely wants to be a part of his life. This makes it all the more heart-breaking when he hears of how Silver has been acting a role the entire time. Have a look at the amazing subtlety in the acting of these two characters in a scene just before the black hole sequence.


 
My other favourite character is Captain Amelia, who is obviously a new character for this version, since women weren't allowed on pirate ships back-in-the-day! Deliciously voiced by Emma Thompson, Amelia is a tough, no-nonsense leader who gets things done.
 
  
Doctor Doppler (David Hyde-Pierce) borders very close to the boundaries of "annoying," but I think he stays just on the right side of it. He just seems to be playing up to the camera a bit too much, but mostly he's fairly harmless.

The one character that I DON'T like in Treasure Planet is B.E.N., who is played by Martin Short. While I fully understand that B.E.N. is based on an original character from the book, Short (predictably) takes everything too far and tries way too hard to be funny. The problem is, almost all of his comedy in this film falls flat. I wonder if the character might have been easier to watch with another actor doing the dialogue... At any rate, B.E.N. doesn't even come into the story until the third act, and I've found on repeat viewings I don't mind him as much, so it's not a deal-breaker.



There's no denying that Treasure Planet is a stunning-looking movie. Overall, the picture is given a very warm colour palate which gives it a wooden, piratey feel. The art direction is inspired, when you consider how it could have been fully Star Wars-type spaceships and such, but instead the decision was to make real ships fly through space. Nothing in this film makes real scientific sense, but that's the point.

The character designs are mostly great, although some of the aliens are a bit generic-looking. The tour de force though, is Mister Silver himself. Animated by disney legend Glen Keane, Silver is literally a merging of hand-drawn and computer animation. While Silver's face and torso were animated by hand, his cyborg arm, eye and leg were made entirely in the computer, allowing for some very cool effects. The best part is, the final product is seamless. The two artforms work in perfect unity with each other. This took a lot of work to make happen, but it was definitely worth the effort. This would also be (to date) the last time Keane would work as a supervising animator. After this he would make an attempt at being a director on Rapunzel, but that didn't work out. More on that another time...


I think Treasure Planet is one of the most visually appealing films Disney has ever released. Definitely two thumbs up from me for the visuals!


In the style of the era, Treasure Planet is not a musical. None of the characters sing. There is a main song in the middle of the film called "I'm Still Here," sung by Goo Goo Dolls front-man John Rzeznik. He also sings a song over the credits called "Always Know Where You Are." Even though these are basically montage songs, they suit the vibe of the story really well, expressing Jim's point-of-view without having the character actually sing about it.
 
 
The score is composed by James Newton Howard, who had previously scored Atlantis. While there are actually a number of similarities between the two scores, I prefer Treasure Planet for its piratey themes as well as a bit of rock and roll guitar for Jim's solar-surfing scenes.


Treasure Planet is a fantastic film. It has brilliant visuals, a stellar cast and best of all - memorable and meaningful characters. I think this would definitely have to be the most underrated movie in the entire Disney catalogue. There are rumours of conspiracy, asking why Disney would release Treasure Planet alongside Harry Potter. It even had a direct-to-video sequel already in production, as well as upcoming theme park attractions, but they were all very quickly killed off once the box office numbers came in.

It's a crying shame that the name "Treasure Planet" is now associated with unparalleled failure, because the film works really well on almost every level, and its creators clearly loved the movie they were working on. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend you find a copy. You won't be disappointed!
 
 
MERRYWEATHER: For this viewing, we had 3 first-timers and 4 veterans.


MALEFICENT: I love the original Treasure Island story and I was really interested to see how they could put the story in space, and they did such a great job.

 
SHENZI: Morph is so cute!

 
MERRYWEATHER: I want one!

 
SHENZI: There are so many Star Wars references!

 
IRVYNE: ... Really...? Name one.

 
SHENZI: Jim uses a pod-racer.

 
IRVYNE: That's a bit of a stretch, but go on.

 
MERRYWEATHER: They go to the swamp and find Yoda!

 
IRVYNE: I think you guys are just seeing what you want to see. Sure, it's space-based sci-fi, but I don't see much Star Wars at all in this.

 
MALEFICENT: Do you know what I love? (And this would really irritate a lot of my sciency friends) I love that space is just like the sky. There's air, there's wind, and you can sail boats through it! It's not a scientific version of space whatsoever, but I really enjoy that creativity.

 
SHENZI: Did anyone else feel like there was a scene missing when Jim takes Ben back to the ship to get the map back?


IRVYNE: Definitely. "How are we going to get there?" "On that..." "Oh look, we're here."



HAKU: The problem with that is that we all noticed it. It actually feels like scenes have been cut out of the film.

 
IRVYNE: I wonder if it was just for running time.

 
HAKU: Apart from that, it all moves along at a good pace. There's no boring bits.

 
MERRYWEATHER: It's very educational, because we learn how to speak Flatula!

 
SHENZI: Flatula is awesome!

 
PASCAL: He studied it for two years in high school! Hahaha!

 
IRVYNE: I think there might be lots of boys who study Flatula in high school!


WENDY: Captain Amelia is way too verbose. She uses so many big words that little kids would never understand.

 
IRVYNE: But that's fun! I love the line: "To muse and blabber about a treasure map in front of this particular crew, demonstrates a level of ineptitude that borders on the imbecilic!" She's such an awesome character. Emma Thompson is the perfect voice for her.

 
SHENZI: I love how British she is, even after she's been injured. "Cup of tea, I'll be right as rain."

 
IRVYNE: For me, the absolute heart of this film - its core - is the relationship between Jim and Silver. I think it is beautifully done. I think both of those characters are believable, likeable and interesting. The creators COULD have taken it too far and gone ultra-schmaltzy, but they didn't.
 
   
HAKU: They hit the balance really well, in that the audience is always guessing whether Silver is a good guy or a bad guy. If you don't know the Treasure Island story beforehand, you'd have no idea how it's going to end.

 
IRVYNE: We were talking recently about the lack of a defined "villain" in Lilo and Stitch, and this movie is the same. Silver is the antagonist towards Jim for part of the movie, but you wouldn't call him the villain. Mister Scroop is certainly a bad guy, but he doesn't even make it into the final act of the story. He's not "the" villain.

 
MALEFICENT: He's more of an evil henchman really. I love Mister Silver. What a fantastic character! I love his amazing cyborg arm that can become whatever he needs it to be.

 
WENDY: Did you notice the name of the ship? R.L.S. Legacy... as in, Robert Louis Stevenson's Legacy.

 
IRVYNE: Really? You serious? I had never noticed that before! That's fantastic!

 
SHENZI: A quick little "Pirates of the Caribbean" reference in there as well, as sung by B.E.N. "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!"


IRVYNE: I'm interested to see what people think about B.E.N.

 
WENDY: I think he has the potential to be more annoying than he actually is.

 
HAKU: And Martin Short has the potential to be REALLY annoying.

 
WENDY: Yes, in many films. But as an animated character, I'm totally fine with him.

 
HAKU: Probably because they have the power to edit him.

 
IRVYNE: I understand that he has a role to play in the story, but I can distinctly remember the first time I saw this film, that character was the only thing I didn't like. I felt a bit more comfortable with his inclusion when I realised he's a character taken directly out of Treasure Island.
  
  
MALEFICENT: I think a robot who's lost his memory chip is a perfect sci-fi version of a crazy old man.
  

MERRYWEATHER: He's the comic relief.

 
SHENZI: He's C-3PO!

 
IRVYNE: Not more Star Wars references!

 
HAKU: He could probably have been given a bit more purpose in the plot. All he really does is  give the heroes a place to hide and shout that the planet's about to explode.

 
IRVYNE: He certainly has more plot purpose than say, Olaf. It's more that Martin Short can take things way too far, and I think most of B.E.N.'s comedy misses the mark.
  
  
MERRYWEATHER: There are a lot of strange-looking intergalactic aliens in this film. I wonder how many of them were picked up from the cutting room floor of Lilo and Stitch.

 
IRVYNE: Yes, they let themselves go crazy with the alien designs!

 
WENDY: I love it though. They're all individual.

IRVYNE: What did we think of the film's look?

 
MALEFICENT: I loved the comic-book style in Atlantis, but I love the art style in Treasure Planet even more. It is beautiful.


IRVYNE: It's definitely following in the more "detailed and lush" design of Hunchback of Notre Dame and Tarzan, as opposed to the more cartoony look of Emperor's New Groove or Lilo and Stitch. And it's got really nice integration of hand-drawn and computer-generated animation.

  
HAKU: This movie is full of shots where it's like, "Hey, look at us. We can do 3D backgrounds."
 
 
WENDY: Yeah, but I enjoy that. It looks wonderful.

 
HAKU: Oh definitely, but I felt like they were showing off a bit.

 
IRVYNE: The 3D backgrounds were an adaptation of the Deep Canvas system they built for Tarzan. There's only one shot that I find jarring, and that's when Jim goes down into the dining area of the ship, and suddenly it becomes a first-person point-of-view shot. That single shot has always stood out to me as oddly mechanical and ill-fitting. I love the rest of the backgrounds.

 
SHENZI: Treasure Planet is much better than I remember. I'd rank it above most of the ones that came just before it.


HAKU: Yeah, I'm the same.

 
IRVYNE: It's most commonly compared to is Atlantis, because they were only a couple of years apart, and they're both sci-fi.

 
HAKU: Oh, this is better than Atlantis.

 
SHENZI: MUCH better than Atlantis!

 
IRVYNE: And yet Atlantis made about twice as much at the box office.

 
PASCAL: It's waaaay better than Dinosaur!

 
SHENZI: Not even on the same scale!

 
WENDY: It doesn't rank higher than the Golden Age period though!

 
HAKU: I dunno, I would rather watch Treasure Planet than Cinderella.

 
SHENZI: Of course. You're a boy.

 
IRVYNE: This is a very boy-ish movie.

 
HAKU: Well, so be it.

 
WENDY: I'm a girl. I love pirates and I love space, so I'm very happy!

 
IRVYNE: I think this is one of Disney's better films overall, but the big tragedy is that they decided to release it alongside Harry Potter and just before Lord of the Rings. I can remember the end of 2002, those two juggernaut film franchises were EVERYWHERE. There's no way a sci-fi Disney film could have found a decent sized audience amongst that.

 
MALEFICENT: Disney should have known that they're never going to compete with Harry Potter.

 
IRVYNE: Apparently the release date was set in concrete the year before, and all of the merchandising and advertising couldn't be changed. Perhaps in the middle of 2001 Disney underestimated how huge the Potter movies were going to be, since the first movie hadn't been released yet. Once it proved to be a phenomenon it was too late to change Treasure Planet's date.

 
MALEFICENT: Well I hope they learned their lesson. When the "Fantastic Beasts" films come out, Disney should just avoid those dates at all costs.


IRVYNE: I live in hope that in the years to come, Treasure Planet will find its audience and become a cult hit. After all, Alice In Wonderland proved that you can have success long after your original release window!
 

 

3 comments:

  1. I find it funny how this review says that "animation tastes had changed", because mine never did. Although I too had gotten into CG movies like Shrek at the time, I still loved the art of hand-drawn animation most of all, especially from Disney, so I was always outraged at the studio the very minute I learned that they were throwing it away back in 2005, and I NEVER approved of them wanting to make their own CG movies. Fact of the matter is, I sincerely believe that the very existence of other CG competitors like DreamWorks and Blue Sky making the scene is what ruined the animation industry in cinema. It was their influence that turned Disney away from their own true art form. They had no reason to do so when Pixar was the one CG studio that was making their movies for Disney. Why should they? It was Pixar's competitors that were corrupting the industry by filling it with CGI and never should have existed in the first place, if not Pixar from the start. Unfortunately I had to finally learn this for myself much too late. They've already done their damage to the industry, and they're still doing it.

    That said, Treasure Planet is one of my favorite Disney films from the early 2000's before CG movies began ruining Disney animation. It's definitely underrated, and it deserved better at the time it was released.

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    1. Hi Nick. I'm just trying to figure out what your angle is... Are you an out-of-work 2D animator? What has made you so angry...?

      I too am a huge lover of hand-drawn animation and I sincerely hope that Disney will release some more 2D classics in the future. But all of this hatred you're spouting... Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6: these are all excellent movies. If you dismiss them purely based on the fact that they were animated in a computer, you're fooling no one but yourself.

      You say that Treasure Planet was a favourite of yours, but look a bit closer. A pretty large portion of Treasure Planet is CG. Heck, half of John Silver's character model is CG! So would you have them remove all of his gears and just hand-draw something that wouldn't look as effective?

      I said that "animation tastes had changed," simply because they had. Not yours or mine specifically, but on the whole, people just weren't going to see hand-drawn movies anymore. Yeah, that sucks, but that's just the way it was.

      I hope that one day Disney will acknowledge that hand-drawn and CG are both viable artforms and they'll release both kinds simultaneously. It's like in the games industry: for a while, the entire industry had abandoned the 2D style of game, simply because they could do 3D and it was new and cool. But after a while, they began to realise that 2D games, even though a bit old-school, were still a lot of fun and there were still people who wanted to play them.

      But making a big noise about how really good movies are worthless isn't going to make any progress.

      Just sayin'.

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    2. "You say that Treasure Planet was a favourite of yours, but look a bit closer. A pretty large portion of Treasure Planet is CG. Heck, half of John Silver's character model is CG! So would you have them remove all of his gears and just hand-draw something that wouldn't look as effective?"

      Except here's the thing: For Disney animated features in the 90's and early 2000's, CGI was a tool to ENHANCE the art of hand-drawn animation, not REPLACE it. Therefore the CG elements of Silver were just enhancements to a hand-drawn character, and the CG environments were meant to enhance the 2D world they lived in, as opposed to taking the hand-drawn art completely out of the characters and overall movie by making every aspect of it ENTIRELY CGI, because then it's no longer a hand-drawn movie but a CG one.

      When Disney used CGI for the ballroom dance in Beauty and the Beast or for the detailed pattern on the carpet in Aladdin, it was being used to enhance hand-drawn animation. Look at the way Disney's making their movies now and you'll see that it's quite the opposite, and what was once their true form of art is now regulated to character pencil test animation you won't see in the final film cause it's all CGI, and it's only being used with the idea of trying to make THOSE kind of movies "better" and feel "more like traditional animation" in movement, just so CGI can STILL take the place of hand-drawn art.

      Sorry for the late reply, BTW. It's hard to remember how to find this blog.

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