10 April 2007

Ink Blots LIX - Treasure Planet

Treasure Island in Space got the go-ahead after Ron Clements and John Musker delivered the mega hits The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and the profitable Hercules. Greenlighting their baby Treasure Planet was fulfillment of a promise for their successful contributions to Disney. Honoring this promise would cost the House of the Mouse. As demonstrated by Atlantis, Final Fantasy, and even way back with Starchaser, the recipe of sci-fi + animation resulted in little audience appeal. Unfortunately, Sci-Fi films (even animated ones) aint cheap. Treasure Planets innovative combination of traditional animation with CG elements such as Silver's cybernetic arm, cost a lot to create. The film was a major flop. Costing $140 million, the film only recouped $38 million domestically (opening against Harry Potter 2 and The Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers wasn't wise either). Brother Bear and Home on the Range became the lame ducks of traditional animation at Disney, as Treasure Planet's failure ushered in the digital age of such classics as Chicken Little... (riiiiiight).

So, back in 2002 when Treasure Planet came out, I am sure the thoughts that went through my head were also in the heads of many other potential moviegoers, namely "why is it in space?" The space angle seemed like a gimmick and a very unDisney one at that. Though Disney had recent success with Lilo and Stitch, the company was better known for straight adaptations of classic fairy tales not sci-fi adventures. I went to Disneyland around the time of this film's release, and all of the advertising for Treasure Planet seemed so out of place. Maybe it was, or maybe Disney had just too narrowly defined its image in moviegoers minds. One other thing that bothered me a lot about promotions for the film was the design of the main character. His look must have been inspired by both Vanilla Ice and a young George Washington. His hair was shaved on the sides but he had a rattail at the bottom and also wore a shiny earring. The whole concept seemed bizarre and just lame.

The film introduces Jim Hawkins, your typical rebellious teenager (with atypical sense of style) out on his solar surf board - basically its like hoverboarding in Back to the Future 2. Jim keeps getting into trouble because he thinks his life is a dead end. Then, one stormy evening, a wounded alien gives him a map to a treasure planet and a warning to beware of the cyborg. Jim and his mother's friend set off on a quest to find the treasure. Luck would have it, that the ship chef happens to be a cyborg. Coincidence? Are all cyborgs evil? Do they find the treasure? Does Jim cut his hair? Watch Treasure Planet to find out.

This film had been around for a couple years when I finally watched it. While the idea of sailboats in space is admittedly a bit strange, the film is a lot better than I expected, and the "in space" aspect is actually a decent twist allowing for truly great animated sequences and diverse characters. The animation is top notch. At one point a pod of Orcus Galacticus, or space whales, fly past the ship. These creatures look fantastic. Questions of how they breathe in space or fly are forgotten as the image is so majestic. Also well done is the animation of the cyborg Silver. His CG arm, eye, and head gears blend surprisingly well with his traditionally animated body. The CG elements do not scream out that they do not belong as do some elements in other hybrid films. I also enjoyed the obligatory creature sidekick. This time, the creature is an alien named Morph who can (as you may guess) morph into any shape. He remains cute and a good visual gag without becoming super annoying. B.E.N. on the other hand, a crazy robot that Jim meets up with during the quest, does become a nuisance. He has literally lost part of his mind, and rambles on and on thanks to a performance by Martin Short. Another element of the film that was irritating was the nature of Silver. He switches roles as good guy and bad guy too many times, and it isn't just an act. Are we supposed to hate him, or love him? Someone in the story department needed to decide if he was going to be a hero or villain because he can't have it both ways. Overall though, the animation in this film is its real strength as it builds fantastically realized scenes upon the story of a classic novel. Treasure Planet may not ever join the top tier of Disney classics, but it certainly isn't at the bottom of the barrel either as I had once thought. Even with his bad hairdo, I give Jim and Silver a B.

Treasure Planet


j said...

I fell asleep watching this one once at someone's house. Haven't given it a second chance. Not ready to yet.

LadySparrow said...

This film always reminded me of Titan A.E. although, I haven't seen all of this one, so they could be very different.

n0s0ap said...

Being a fan of Treasure Island and Sci-Fi I was stoked when this movie came out. I too was a bit disappointed by the half-baked visual style of some of the elements. Overall I didn't hate it and it was moderately entertaining, but they did get a bit sappy with the whole Jim and Silver thing. I had hoped this movie would be as good as Titan A.E. but no dice. I loved that movie. Once again proof that story wins out.

Chip Chief said...

i agrees with both of you. this film is reminiscent of titan ae, though, as n0s0ap said, titan is the superior film.

actually i have a review coming for titan ae in a few weeks during a month themed by "post apocalyptic" films. stay tuned.