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Treasure Planet

Treasure Planet

What She said:

She

There was this period of time that I call “the dark days of Disney,” which I believe was marked by a downward spiral in the quality and inventiveness of the studio’s animated film productions.  Some may challenge me on this and simply say Disney never faltered, but I think the evidence is in the box office numbers for films like the one we’re reviewing here today, Treasure Planet.

So let’s talk a little bit about Treasure Planet directly.  It’s a hybrid of hand-drawn Disney animation melded with CGI to create an “out-of-this-world” adventure experience.  It’s theoretically based on the story of Treasure Island.  I’ll be honest, I’ve never read Treasure Island or seen that old live-action movie version, but I’ve heard it’s some sort of pirate/buried treasure adventure.  I’ll take the public’s word on it.  When Disney made Treasure Planet they must’ve assumed that kids would want something bigger and better than a traditional pirate story, so they sort of blew things up and made it a pirate adventure/space odyssey with a somewhat odd Steampunk feel.  I’m talking hydraulically powered laser guns.  Bizarre, but interesting nonetheless.

Anyway, I’ll move on to the plot.  The movie is about a teenage boy, Jim, who lives with his innkeeper mother but is always getting into trouble.  He doesn’t seem like a bad kid, but he craves excitement, and this creates problems.  One day, Jim witnesses a spaceship crash near the inn, and the dying pilot gives him a mysterious sphere.  Jim doesn’t know what the sphere is for, but it becomes clear that it holds some sort of significance when pirates show up and burn down the inn, essentially forcing Jim and his mother into ruins.  Jim learns that the sphere is actually a projector that reveals a treasure map.  With nothing else going for them, Jim’s mother gives Jim and family friend Dr. Delbert Doppler permission to pursue Treasure Planet and whatever riches it holds. 

The two soon find themselves on a ship called the RLS Legacy, commanded by the hard-nosed Captain Amelia and first mate Mr. Arrow.  Jim gets put on kitchen duty with the cook John Silver.  Silver is somewhat suspicious, but he and Jim start up an unlikely friendship.  Of course, Jim’s bad feelings about Silver prove correct, and he leads a mutiny against the captain.  Jim escapes with Dr. Doppler and Captain Amelia, but the chase is on to get to be the first to get to Treasure Planet and certain fortune.

Treasure Planet

While the characters and plot of this story are not fleshed out quite as much as I would have hoped, they’re adequate to sustain Treasure Planet as an adventure movie.  It certainly does not hold a candle to the true mega-classics, and this film is very light on the musical element.  I enjoyed the basic concepts of this movie, but did not feel connected with many of its characters.  I felt that the bond between Dr. Doppler and Captain Amelia was cute, but it was also superficial.  Jim is, of course, the character that we get to know the most, but this is done quite briefly in the beginning of the film via a flashback.  We don’t have the opportunity to really see him grow as a person.  Silver actually does have some depth to him, as he struggles between genuinely caring for Jim and being motivated by greed.  And then there’s this robot character named B.E.N. who is inconsequential and who I wished would just go away.

Visually, the film has its ups and downs.  I think that at the time it could have been heralded as a masterpiece.  We were still fairly early in the days of CGI, and so while we have plenty of it in this movie, it’s not of the high caliber that we see today.  The computer generated sequences in Treasure Planet feel very much like a 1990s video game, and that is somewhat visually shocking.  But the hand-drawn elements of this movie are well done, as are the sweeping starscapes that we see depicted onscreen. 

Actually, I’d like to see a version of this movie that is more “island” and less “planet,” true to the classic roots of the story.  I don’t think the out-of-this-world take on this story was really necessary, and in many ways it took away from the plot and characters that we’re presented with.  The Steampunk cultural element was interesting.  I’ll say that I did like that—a sort of creative twist. 

Overall, this movie isn’t bad, but it’s not great.  I would expect better from Disney and it’s nice to see that they have returned to fine form with their more recent releases.

Thumbs half up.

Treasure Planet

What He said:

He

Little Jim Hawkins loves reading stories about space pirates and the mythical Treasure Planet. He’s not unlike many other little boys who long for adventure, but he just can’t seem to get enough.

When he grows up to become a teenager, that spirit of adventure still lives inside of him. You see, Jim (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been known to get into trouble. Nothing major, mostly “solar surfing” (surfboard with solar-powered sail) in places he shouldn’t be and other minor misdemeanors, but he is sill in trouble with the law on a regular basis and on the wrong track. He’s also aloof when his mother (voiced by Laurie Metcalf) confronts him on his troubles and he often alienates himself from her and others.

Well Jim’s hopes and dreams for a little adventure are answered when a space pirate crashes his ship not too far from his mother’s inn. He mumbles something about a cyborg, treasure, and thrusts a sphere shaped object into Jim’s hands before dying. Before Jim can process what just happened, a group of space pirates break down the door in attempt to retrieve the object the dead pirate stole apparently from them. They burn the place down, but Jim, his mother, and one of her regular customers, a scientist named Dr. Delbert Doppler (David Hyde Pierce) escape with nothing more than their lives.

Devastated over the fact that her livelihood was just burned to the ground, Sarah (Jim’s mom) is at a loss over what to do next. Jim says that he should try to go to Treasure Planet and find the secret treasure of Captain Flint (the guy from the stories he read as a kid). She thinks Jim is living in a fantasy world, but after investigating the sphere, they discover it’s actually a map. After some convincing from Delbert, she agrees to let Jim go along with him on a trip to Treasure planet.

Treasure Planet

Delbert hires Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson), the captain of the RLS Legacy to take them across the galaxy to retrieve the buried treasure. Amelia is working with a crew she’s not familiar with and she’s not comfortable with that. She thinks they are nothing but a bunch of pirates (she’s more of a naval gal) and requests that Jim and Delbert keep any and all talk of treasure to themselves. She thinks the crew would turn on them if given the opportunity.

One of the crew is the cook, John Silver (Brian Murray). Jim gets assigned galley duty and that means he’s working for Silver. One thing that Jim notices is that John has a robotic eye and arm (hello cyborg). He’s immediately suspicious of Silver; thinking that is who the pirate who died in his arms was talking about.

So Jim and Delbert are trying to find a secret treasure on a planet that may or may not exist, but have to keep it a secret from most of the crew (the captain knows what their mission is) out of fear they might steal the map and kill them.
I haven’t mentioned it yet, but probably should. Treasure Planet is a reimagining of the classic tale, Treasure Island. Instead of taking place on the open seas, the story takes place in outer space. There’s elements of science fiction and even some steampunk thrown in to replace the original setting. This movie has some respectable reviews. It didn’t get universal praise, but has mostly positive ratings. Some of the more common criticisms was that they didn’t think the new setting and environment were not necessary; that they felt the story could have been told in its traditional setting. While I don’t think it is necessary to change the story from past to future (and in space) that didn’t bother me. The whole point of a reimagining is to provide a different take on a classic story.

What did bother me was that the movie was a little flat at times. I thought it started off pretty good. I was definitely feeling that sense of adventure that the Jim character did. But once they started the journey, it was kind of bland. That and I didn’t love some of the characters. Emma Thompson’s character was completely forgettable. I think she was supposed to be this noble military gal that we’re supposed to be impressed by, but she did nothing for me at all. I also didn’t care for Martin Short’s character (he shows up later in the movie) at all. He’s the kind of guy that some people hate. I don’t. I think he’s funny sometimes, but I can understand why some people don’t like his type of humor. He was one of those sidekick characters who are forced and in your face; and often defeats the purpose of the role. I think kids would find him funny, but adults annoying.

The movie wasn’t terrible though. It was decent enough. I liked the beginning of the movie. I thought it was fine up until they left to go look for treasure planet. I also thought Treasure Planet itself was kind of cool. It just dragged a little in the middle. I think kids will like this movie, and adults certainly won’t want to pull their hair out while watching it with their kids, but there are certain aspects of the movie that hold it back from being one of Disney’s better movies.

Rating: Thumbs half up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on April 19, 2014.

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