Sometimes, creators get a particular idea that they think is so fantastic that they will cling to it for years, even decades. Treasure Planet is just such a story; directors Ron Clemens and John Musker had started pitching the concept of “Treasure Island in space!” to Disney since the production days of The Black Cauldron. The management at Disney wasn't interested, so the two directors worked on several other movies: The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin. When Clemens and Musker were asked to direct Hercules, they agreed only on the condition that they finally be allowed to make that space-ship movie they'd always wanted. And thus, in 2002 the world finally saw the realization of their vision: Treasure Planet.
So young Jim Hawkins is a misunderstood, lonely teenager who spends his days solar surfing and helping his mother run her inn. He has a tendency to get in trouble with the police, but he's a good kid at heart. One day a ship crashes near his home, and the dying pilot gives a golden ball that turns out to be a map to Treasure Planet, the hideout of the legendary pirate Captain Flint. Jim's friend Dr. Doppler decides it'll be a grand adventure for himself and Jim, and buys a ship and a crew headed by Captain Amelia to take them to wherever the map will lead. The cook, John Silver, takes Jim under his wing and becomes something of a father to him, even though he's secretly plotting rebellion. When the crew finally mutinies, Jim, the doctor and the captain escape successfully, but Amelia has been injured. Even with the help of the most singularly annoying robot on any planet, it's going to take a small miracle for this small group to regain the map and find Captain Flint's treasure.
So, Treasure Planet. What to say about this film? Clearly, it was something the directors believed in, for they promoted the idea for nearly two decades. But I wonder if their attachment to the story – or, I believe, to the visual experiences the story allowed – blinded them to many of the film's problems.
The biggest problem for me was the movie's concept of “ships in space”, which is very different from spaceships. An open deck galleon flying through the stars? Sure, it looks cool, but from a worldbuilding perspective it's very WTF??? How are the characters breathing in space without spacesuits? Why isn't the lack of gravity causing them to float off into the sky?
OK, to give credit where it's due, that does look pretty freakin' cool.
Then there's the classic science fiction problem: Why are there so many different aliens, but you rarely see more than one of each species? I can buy one lone alien amongst a group of, say, human colonists. I can buy two or three species living side-by-side or together. But ten or twenty singular representatives of their respective species living in a group? Naw, that doesn't work for me. Population settlement just doesn't work that way. But this is a small pet peeve that I have with most science fiction stories, including the famous ones like Star Wars, and I can't really fault Treasure Planet for following a convention of the genre.
So a dog alien, a human and a cat alien walk into a bar. Guess which two hook up?
The larger issue is that the movie simply isn't funny. Granted, movies don't have to be humorous but Treasure Planet is clearly trying to get a giggle from viewers and for the most part, it fails spectacularly. There was one line that made me laugh:
Dr. Doppler: Dang it, Jim. I'm an astronomer, not a doctor! I mean, I am a doctor, but I'm not that kind of doctor. I have a doctorate, it's not the same thing. You can't help people with a doctorate. You just sit there and you're useless!
...hee hee. But that's pretty much it. There's a character that speaks through fart noises – real classy. There's other one liners, but most of them fell flat. If that was all, I'd forgive the movie. The overall story is pretty strong (There is a reason Treasure Island has become such an iconic childrens' classic!) and in spite of Disney's attempts to screw it up with the transition to space it would work.
But then they introduce then robot B.E.N. He is a screeching, obnoxious, clinging bit of junkyard rubbish – voiced by Martin Short – that takes over every scene he's in through being loud and making every word sound not unlike nails scraping on a chalkboard. He makes my ears bleed and my brain hurt. He's also a bit frustrating in that when he stands next to one of the traditionally animated characters, like Jim, it's really obvious that he was animated using the computer. At least, I think that is what's going on. B.E.N.'s movements are far more fluid his coloring looks completely different. But his voice, his voice! It's a sharp stabbing pain to my soul.
Most annoying robot EVER. He makes C3PO seem cool.
I'm also disappointed by the music – there's only one song in the entire film, and while it's Johnny Rzeznik and I love me some Goo Goo Dolls, it's background noise to a montage sequence and it doesn't bring much to the film. I know that some people hate the song, but I like it, even though I don't like what its inclusion heralded for future Disney soundtracks. Gone were the days of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, where the songs were the heart and soul of the film. Thanks to artists like Phil Collins and Johnny Rzeznik, the music has simply become filler in the background.
Bonding over the sweet sound of Rzeznik's voice.
Treasure Planet, along with Atlantis and Lilo and Stitch were Disney's first attempts at crafting a science fiction movie. As far as I'm concerned, Lilo and Stitch was the only one that really worked, and the films' box office performance agrees with me. Save for Meet the Robinsons, Disney hasn't attempted any more sci-fi stories; instead, they've stopped chasing the elusive teen boy market and returned to their mainstays of cute animals and fairy tales. Thank goodness.
It's not a great movie, but it's a lot better than Atlantis.
Can you find the hidden Stitch?