Treasure Planet (2002) – The 43rd Walt Disney Animated Feature – Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker – Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, David Hyde-Pierce, Emma Thompson, Martin Short, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Wincott, Roscoe Lee Browne, and Dane A. Davis.
I want to like TREASURE PLANET. I want to be able to applaud Disney for making a non-animal signing sci-fi flick, or hate it for utterly failing to deliver on the concept, but unfortunately TREASURE PLANET is just … so … mediocre that it’s hard to get worked up about it for good or bad.
Where PLANET fails is the story. The outline – kid gets a treasure map, goes looking for it on a ship full of disguised pirates, deals with daddy issues, gets betrayed by surrogate daddy figure, finds treasure, loses treasure, gains respect and friendship and purpose – is fine but there’s just no emotional impact to this story at all.
Jim Hawkins is a trouble-making teen who joyrides on a techno-windsurfing machine in restricted areas that get him arrested and dragged home by the cops to his embarrassed, frustrated mother. It’s hard to take Jim seriously because 1. his mom is busting her ass running her inn and he doesn’t appreciate her, and 2. he’s got a ridiculous haircut.
There are 3 things that always kill science-fiction movies by making them look silly and dated. They are as follows:
If you’re doing a futuristic sci-fi movie and you stray from what is a recognized classic look, your movie is going to have a distracting look. Just don’t do it. If you’ve got a scene set in a bar in the future and you fill it with stupid electronica songs, no one is ever going to believe it’s a real future because no one will ever believe electronica is awesome enough to play in a bar they want to be in.
Clothes are critically important. Give us something that looks like we want to wear it and we’re okay with it. Give us something that looks like “THE FUTURE” and we’re going to wonder why you’re an idiot. Think of Demolition Man, the 1993 Sandra Bullock-Denis Leary movie (Two if by Sea was the 1996 Sandra Bullock-Denis Leary movie for those confused), which illustrates both options. Remember the outfits there? Here’s a picture. Wesley Snipes’ outfit is some cross between shock armor and football pads. Sly’s outfit is a black t-shirt with a beret. Snipes’ outfit is ridiculous; Sly’s is classic.
Snipes and Sly also illustrate the importance of hair in futuristic sci-fi movies. Snipes has bright yellow hair cut in weird designs. Sly has the same hair he has in every other film he’s in.
Enter the haircut of TREASURE PLANET’S Jim Hawkins, which is stylish on top, shaved on the side, and has a tail in the back. Hair styles in a movie are like right tackles in football – you shouldn’t notice them, and if you do, it’s probably because they’re awful.
I don’t know what the designers were thinking with this cut, but I’m guessing they were old and unhip and should have been stopped.
The rest of the film wonderfully blends 18th-century Brit fashion and a cybernetic sci-fi future.
As the movie progresses, we find out Jim is a “troubled youth” because his dad was rarely around and then finally abandoned him. Without that male authority figure, Jim becomes increasingly uncontrollable for his mother, a single woman raising her kid and trying to run an inn all by herself. Her reward is that her inn gets burned to the ground by pirates.
Thanks, Jim! Frankly, the mom is a much more interesting character than her kid.
Anyway, a spaceship crashes and Jim helps the pilot into the inn, where he gets the treasure map (a gold puzzle ball), told to beware the cyborg, and then the inn gets destroyed by the pirates. Dr. Doppler convinces Jim’s mom to let the kid go hunting for treasure with him, and they board the RLS (get it?) Legacy, which is captained by Amelia and crewed by Long John Silver (the cyborg) and his pirates.
You know everything that’s going to happen (and not because you read Treasure Island, because you haven’t) and it unfolds with visual beauty and emotional flatness. Jim doesn’t trust Silver because he’s a cyborg, then bonds with him, then is betrayed him, then saved by him, blah blah blah. This is a story that tries to get by on its looks, but the vast array of weird-looking aliens can’t distract us from the dull script.
There’s no signing animals but Disney does still provide a few characters to fulfill those animal sidekick roles. Like the rest of the film, the results are uneven. There’s Morph, a small shape-shifting blob that’s actually quite amusing, but there’s also B.E.N., a robot castaway on Treasure Planet that’s insane and insipid and sounds like Martin Short voicing a character created for Robin Williams.
At times the story gets interesting enough to start building some momentum, but it can never sustain it. When Disney movies are at their best, they work at a level for kids and a separate one for adults, but TREASURE PLANET doesn’t offer this dual track. PLANET is a generic kid’s movie – nice to look at but incredibly simplistic. None of the characters really grab you, so you don’t care what happens to any of them (except for the mom, but she doesn’t get to come along for the ride). You know the good guys are going to win and the bad guys are going to lose. Even Long John Silver, wrapped as he is in varying shades of grey behavior, just comes off as inconsistent more than conflicted.
There are some good things to the movie. It might not be a gripping story but it moves along fast enough that it keeps you entertained if not engaged. If I ever have kids, I’d buy this movie to keep on the shelf to watch with them.
But probably not without them.