Friday, November 30, 2012

The Ramen Girl Movie Review

I enjoy foodie movies. They show a deep passion for food and cooking. My favorite is probably Julie & Julia.  I discovered The Ramen Girl (2008) while browsing around NetFlix. The thought of a movie about someone learning to make a traditional dish that was not from her own country interested me a great deal. But the actual movie fell short of its potential.
Abby (Brittany Murphy), four years out of college, an aimless child of privilege, follows her boyfriend to Tokyo, who then promptly leaves Abby and heads to Osaka for another job prospect. In hopes that her ex-boyfriend will return to Tokyo, Abby decides to stay. While there, she is miserable; she speaks little Japanese and has a dull job as a law-firm gopher. One evening she stumbles into the neighborhood ramen shop operated by the aging master chef Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida) and his wife Reiko (Kimiko Yo). His soup cheers Abby, so she decides to apprentice herself to him. He’s uninterested, but she is insistent. So he shouts at her and gives her all the cleaning to do. Weeks go by, and still she persists, not knowing if he will ever actually teach her to cook, or if she will ever have the requisite spirit for the job.
Brittany Murphy gained acting notoriety in one of her early films, Clueless, where she played the target in a teen girl make over movie. She’s also known for voicing Luanne Platter in the King of the Hill prime time animated sitcom. It seems she primarily played dim-witted young ladies for most of her career. Abby in The Ramen Girl wasn’t much different. She’s depicted as an air head, but the problems Abby is faced with aren’t all that eccentric given her situation. I’m sure anyone would react with such composure when stuck in a large city in the middle of a foreign country where they don’t speak the language. I felt like I was supposed to think Abby was simpleton, but I found her more relatable than the target stupid blond jokes.
The Ramen Girl was pretty tame. It felt about as bold and realistic as a Disney Channel original movie featuring Ashley Tisdale or Miley Cyrus; pretty, spoiled blond girl who has never worked a day in her life suddenly has to try to prove herself rather than sit around looking pretty. Unlike Disney’s TV-cinema abominations, The Ramen Girl does a half decent job with this story trope. Maybe I’m biased since I like foodie movies so much. I’ve seen plenty of other movies about self-actualization and personal fulfillment convey the theme a whole lot better, but this wasn’t bad. Julie & Julia did the same thing through cooking, but was so well done and inspiring that it prompted me to start this blog. I didn’t really feel like I needed to go live my dreams by the end of The Ramen Girl.
There’s also the classic master/student dynamic between Abby and Maezumi. The Ramen Girl is to ramen what The Karate Kid is to martial arts. The wise master puts the student through grueling training to teach them how to perfect a skill. One would not suppose that making soup would be all that grueling, but The Japanese are very proud of their traditional ramen dish, or at least they are depicted so in this movie. There are lots of scenes that accentuate the difference between American and Japanese culture, but none were very impressive. Lost in Translation did the same thing so much better.
The Ramen Girl is a nice, cute feel good movie, but is pretty bland and predictable. You can see everything this movie tries to achieve done better in other movies. Unlike characters in the Disney Channel movies mentioned above, Abby is a young adult woman, not a 15 year old girl. We see her drinking and smoking pretty regularly. That may be a red flag for any viewers who want to watch this with their young kids. Abby looks so much like the Disney Channel teen girls that impressionable kids may get the wrong impression about appropriate drinking or smoking ages. I’m glad I saw The Ramen Girl. It wasn’t too bad a movie, and it made me want to learn how to make authentic ramen soup rather than that those fifteen cent packages you can get at any grocery store. The Ramen Girl might be worth renting to see it once, but certainly not worth the money to own a copy.

Do you have a favorite "foodie" movie? What is it and why do you like it so much? Comment below and let me know!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Help Movie Review

I enjoy watching movies of simpler times, and of romanticized decades of the early-to-mid-1900s. Occasionally I let myself daydream of living in such times. Then I see a movie like The Help (2011) which makes me realize that these “simpler times” were rife with their own sets of problems. These problems are often downplayed or even ignored in movies for the sake of depicting a sense of nostalgia.
During Civil Rights era Mississippi, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) is a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer. She gets a job writing a cleaning column for her home town’s newspaper, and seeks the advice from one of the local African-American maids. Between observing how the wealthy white families treat their hired help and being told that the nanny who basically raised Skeeter spontaneously moved to Chicago without notice, Skeeter sets out to write a book about the perspective of the black maids and nannies that are so obviously mistreated. She gains the trust of Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and later Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), a nanny and a maid respectively, and sets about anonymously writing their stories and opinions about working for white people. Skeeter’s perspective on things change and before the story is even sent to the publishers, the whole town has a thing or two to say as they become unwittingly, even unwillingly, caught up in the changing times. The town’s racist, snooty social ringleader Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is bent on stopping the stories from becoming public knowledge for the sake of her own reputation and to keep the hired help where she believes their place is.
I’ve reviewed a couple of movies that are set in the 1960’s; Hairspray and X-Men: First Class both depict a fun and exciting vision of the 1960’s. Even Panic in Year Zero had an innocent, Leave It to Beaver sort of quality to it. On one hand, The Help reminds us of the civil rights movement as well as the gross inequality and injustice that were prevalent in the day. But on the other hand, The Help also seems to downplay the pain and widespread suffering of the day, similar to how Hairspray did. The Help is a story about pain, but it seems to avoid actually being painful. Really, we don’t typically go to the movies to see abrasive truths, we like feel-good movies. The Help certainly is a feel good movie with intermittent moments of uncomfortable reality. Still, it takes place in racially segregated Mississippi.
The feel-good quality of The Help doesn’t make it a bad movie, though. It’s well written, and very well acted! The characters were either generic or unique. Hilly isn’t very different from Hairspray’s Velma Von Tussle, and Skeeter is another single girl trying to make it big just like CoyoteUgly’s Violet Sanford. Where the movie really shines is in Aibileen and Minny’s characters. I can’t think of another character that is as downtrodden in quiet sorrow and still shows genuine love for the children under her care like Aibileen. I also can’t think of another character that is as amusingly vindictive and even vengeful towards her own oppressors while still trying to help and teach them the way Minny is. Both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer stole the show in any scene they happened to be in. They were great!
I couldn’t help but get caught up in the story and become invested in the characters. It was well written and well acted. The sets and costumes were spot on. There was a brief scene in a grocery store. Even it looked like it was taken out of the 1960’s with all the products in 60’s style packaging and everything illuminated with a dull glow from the halogen fixtures above. There was lots of loving detail that went into The Help.
Even though it was a lengthy film at two hours and twenty six minutes, it’s still good. There are some shocking scenes, some funny scenes, touching scenes, and sad scenes. The movie isn’t going to appeal to everyone. You probably won’t enjoy it if you don’t like dramas in general. In spite of good intentions, I felt like some of the characters had subtle bits of racial stereotyping woven in from time to time. It’s subtle, so I didn’t find it terribly offensive. At any rate, I enjoyed The Help. It’s worth seeing if you don’t mind long drama films. It may even be worth buying a copy of should you find it to be entertaining enough. I might do that.

What's your favorite historical movie? Not necessarily a drama; X-Men: First Class was an action movie, after all. Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Clerks Movie Review

To get myself through college, I worked several menial jobs. I went through several second jobs which varied in terms of agreeableness. The primary job that I stuck with for four and a half years was at a Taco Bell. Oh, the stories I could tell about that. I related an experience to a friend about being berated by a customer because the tacos I gave her didn’t look as good as the ones pictured on the menu, and my friend told me I needed to watch Clerks (1994). It was almost like reliving my years at Taco Bell.
Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran) works at a local convenience store in New Jersey. On this particular Saturday Morning, he gets called in on his day off. Once there, he must deal with multiple problems. The shutters outside won’t open. His ex-girlfriend Catlin (Lisa Spoonhauer), with  whom he is still in love, is getting married. His current girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) pressures him to return to college and mentions some intimate relationship she’s had before Dante. His boss hasn’t come in to take his place. He has a scheduled hockey game at two o’clock. Another ex-girlfriend has died, and today’s the last day he can go to her wake. He has to deal with customers who aren’t so intelligent or rational. His friend Randal (Jeff Anderson), a clerk at the video store next door, is even less dedicated to his job then Dante is to his own, and is always bothering Dante’s customers. And the biggest problem of them all: Dante’s not even supposed to be there today!
Between crude sexual discussions from coworkers, customers who were incapable of deciding or articulating what they want, inane drama between employees (and sometimes customers) resulting from who is sleeping with whom, the insultingly demeaning and repetitive work, and condescending managers with holier-than-thou attitudes, Clerks reminded me way too much of my experience working at Taco Bell. To be fair, the Store Manager I worked with was one of the few competent individuals working there, and possibly the best boss I’ve ever had. But I think that’s what makes Clerks so successful as a film; it’s unnervingly realistic in its absurdity. Anyone who’s ever worked fast food, at a convenience store, or at any other menial job will be able to empathize with the characters in Clerks.
Kevin Smith directed Clerks with a very modest budget of $27,575. He shot the whole thing at the Quick Stop where he worked while the store was closed. He had several family members and childhood friends act in the movie. The film was shot in black-and-white with what appears to be a convenience store security camera. This made the film look more realistic; as if it were real events haphazardly caught on film during a normal work day. Most of the movie takes place in the store itself, and the space constraints probably should have posed a problem, but Smith used some very creative shots in this dialogue-driven movie. In one scene Dante and Veronica are cuddled up on the floor behind the counter while he paints her nails as they talk, and to get some privacy. Dante leaves some change on the counter and a sign that reads, “Please leave money on the counter. Take change when applicable. Be honest.”
Clerks has a pretty weird sense of humor; it’s satirical, bleak, and sarcastic. I found myself rolling my eyes and muttering “ain’t that the truth” more than I was laughing at it. The fact that the store’s antics are so verisimilar is what makes them funny. Reality is funnier than fiction, it seems. At the same time it’s a remarkably crude movie. It was originally rated NC-17 based purely on the movie’s explicit sexual dialogue since it contains no violence or nudity. But Miramax films (Clerks distributor) set their lawyers upon MPAA and persuaded them to re-rate the film with a more commercially viable “R” rating. There were times the dialogue was just gross, but it really is the kind of thing I would hear coworkers talk about at Taco Bell; I kind of built up immunity to such discussions.
Clerks was well directed and well executed as a film. It’s a cult classic, and Kevin Smith has gone on to write and direct other successful films. It’s almost uncanny in its verisimilitude; therefore it will find an audience among clerks, menial labor workers, or anyone who has had such a job. I’m glad I saw it since it kind of put a humorous perspective on my past experiences, but I don’t intend to watch it again. I may have become tolerant of offensive dialogue, but it’s still offensive and I don’t really want to hear it any more than I must. That’s entirely a matter of personal preference, though. If you aren’t bothered by raunchy dialogue, or even enjoy it, you’ll probably love Clerks and may even consider getting a copy. Like I said, it’s a well written, directed, and executed movie.

What's the worst job you've ever had? What made it so lousy? Comment below and tell me all about it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Soul Surfer Movie Review

Like I said in my Ride the Wild Surf movie review, I like to think I was a surfer dude in another life. I think surfing is amazing to watch and more specifically that surf photography is beautiful. Actual narrative surf movies typically aren’t all that different from any other sports movie. Then along came a Christian independent film called Soul Surfer (2011) which was more of a story about a struggle with faith than beating competition.
13-year-old Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a dedicated surfer who was born to be in the water. But after a fun night out surfing and what should be a fun day in the water, she is attacked by a shark and loses her left arm. As Bethany is rushed to the hospital, she remains calm, and maintains her faith in God. Refusing to play the role of a victim, Bethany has to relearn how to do everything with only one arm, including how to surf. With the help of her friends, Alana (Lorraine Nicholson) and Holt (Kevin Sorbo), her parents (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt), and her Christian faith, Bethany tries to find a way to get back into the water, if that is what she is meant to do.
Possibly the most interesting aspect of this film is that it’s all based on true events. Bethany Hamilton is a champion surfer who nearly died from a shark attack that took her arm. In less than a month she was back on a surfboard and has since won several championships. She’s now 22 (as of writing this) and is a professional surfer. All of these are remarkable facts, and are remarkable feats for anyone to accomplish. However, in spite of Soul Surfer’s good intentions, the story just didn’t seem as dramatic as the real events.
The major flaw in the storytelling is that it doesn’t make Bethany easy to identify with; everything just seemed far too easy for Bethany. As a character in this movie, Bethany seems almost eerie in her optimism. Not once is her faith shaken or brought into question. She has a huge community who offer aid and support, her family bends over backwards to help her though this trying time in her life, she is sent huge bundles of mail from all over the country showing their support and sympathy. Everything just seems too happy and easy such that it doesn’t feel very natural.
Bethany is even offered a free arm from a prosthetics company which no doubt is seeking publicity, but the arm seems no more useful than the arm she rips off her Barbie doll earlier that day in a rare moment of depression. It was a bit uncomfortable to watch Bethany try to adjust, initially pretending nothing has changed. But she can’t even slice a tomato to help her loving family prepare dinner together. The whole recovery from this trauma seems over simplified.
Light at the end of the tunnel.
Similar to the shot used in Soul Surfer.
The surf photography was really incredible! It was gorgeous to look at and really captivated the feel of being on the waves. It made me want to hit the surf myself (and I tend to swim like a brick). In an extraordinarily creative bit of cinematography, Bethany has reached the hospital after losing lots of blood and she sees herself surfing through a tunnel created by wave with the sun visible at the end; she’s seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s almost poetic as a depiction of near-death for a soul surfer.
The Christian faith theme of the film seemed a bit dry to me. It seemed the depth of these characters’ faith was limited to quoting a scripture and wondering what God’s plan was amidst tragedy. Certainly that is a reasonable thing for a religious individual to wonder. But rather than showing us Bethany praying, seeking answers in the Bible, or relying on God to help her through her trials, the character is shown exercising self-determination, confidence, and seeking strength within herself. That’s fine and indeed makes for a strong character, but it makes me wonder why religiosity was included in the film at all.
Possibly my favorite religious scene is when Bethany is feeling hopeless (such as it is, given her unwavering happy optimism), and mentions the Bible verse Philippians 4:13 which reads, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” She ponders about how she is supposed to be able to do all things, such as surfing, through Christ when God’s plan apparently intended for her to lose an arm which makes surfing nigh impossible. We never get a conclusive answer to this, but it was interesting scene.
Soul Surfer was not a bad film. More than anything I loved the surf photography and how the film captured surf culture. I felt that the religious aspect seemed to flounder a bit. It seemed to me more like a simple, family-friendly drama then a faith-building tale. The low production value is brazenly obvious and sets the movie up for some sarcastic jabs from the audience. Soul Surfer is an innocent inspirational parable more than it is a harrowing story of personal tragedy. It’s a fun surf movie, a mediocre Christian film, and a sub-par drama. I’m glad I saw it, though. I enjoyed it, though I don’t think I’d bother seeing it again; it’s a renter. I’d recommend seeing it if you enjoy Christian films or surf movies. If you don’t fall into either of those categories, you probably won’t enjoy it.

Have you seen a particularly impressive faith-building movie? What was it, and what was so impressive about it? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bugsy Malone Movie Review

While reading an excellent book called Fast Food Nation, a section was commenting on the large percentage of teenage workers that McDonald’s has and compared a typical work day to a scene in a movie called Bugsy Malone (1974). I’d never heard of this movie before, and the idea of an all-child cast intrigued me. I finally got hold of a copy to watch and I have to admit I was impressed.
Bugsy Malone is loosely based on gangster rivalries in Chicago from the early 1920’s to 1931 during the Prohibition Era. At Fat Sam’s speakeasy which serves sarsaparilla, there is much dancing and singing, but Crime Boss Fat Sam (John Cassisi) is worried that his rival Danny Dan (Martin Lev) will come to the speakeasy to take over. Blousey Brown (Florrie Dugger) is an aspiring singer who goes to Fat Sam’s for an audition, but Sam is too distracted. On her way out, she meets smooth talking Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) who is smitten and flirts with her. Later, Danny Dan’s men attack the place with a new weapon; rapid-fire custard-shooting “splurge guns.” Fat Sam only has cream pies to retaliate with, and can’t compete. Bugsy promises to help Blousey get to Hollywood, but the only way he is able to come up with cash is by working as Fat Sam’s hired hand. Things become more complicated as Fat Sam’s girlfriend, Tallulah (Jodie Foster), takes a shine to Bugsy, causing Blousey to become jealous and mistrusting. As Fat Sam’s empire continues to fall at the hands of Danny Dan, Bugsy enlists the aid of some down-and-out workers at the soup kitchen to take on Danny Dan and earn the needed money to help the gal of his dreams.
Bugsy Malone is easily one of the most original films I’ve seen in ages. There’s been nothing like it before, and to my knowledge, nothing like it since. Even though it’s a musical gangster movie featuring an all-child cast with a well deserved G rating, I don’t think it was intended as a kid’s movie so much as a cheerful commentary on childlike values and behavior. Prohibition isn’t prohibiting alcohol, but rather sarsaparilla sodas. In Al Capone’s day the new weapon was machine guns, in Bugsy Malone it’s custard guns; the old fashioned custard pies are useless in a one-on-one situation. The gangsters in Bugsy Malone drive “pedal cars,” 1920’s style vehicles that are powered like a bicycle; kids can’t drive cars, after all. No one dies in this movie, there’s no cursing, no one is thrown off a building; everything is full of childlike innocence. It’s a gangster drama, without any hint of badness about it.
I expect that if kids see this all-child cast they won’t think a thing of it, but as adults it’s so out of the ordinary it’s almost shocking. But it’s such a creative idea. The sets were scaled down to kid-size, the costumes were spot on for its era, and the many musical numbers had a definitive 1920’s feel to them. 13-year-old Jodie Foster was particularly impressive. She plays a hard-bitten nightclub singer who does a torch song with every bit as much skill as other women who have played similar roles. Her performance, and indeed the whole child casted film, depends a lot on the tone in which it is presented. If you put kids in these situations and direct them in the slightest of wrong ways, the movie would become offensive. But Bugsy Malone isn’t offensive, it’s cute!
Child actors don’t always do exceptionally well due to a lack of experience, but the cast in Bugsy Malone did a pretty good job. Most of the actors, apart from Jodie Foster, had never acted before. But I think that because they had nothing but other kids to act with, they did better as a whole. When kids play, it’s real. They can turn cardboard boxes into spaceships and backyards into uncharted jungles. The kids in Bugsy Malone don’t act as if the whole thing is a farce. For them it’s real, especially the indignity of a pie in the face. I think it has more insight into kids than it does into gangsters.
Bugsy Malone was a delightfully fun movie. It has fun songs, decent acting, fantastic set designs, incredibly witty dialogue, plenty of humor, and a familiar gangster story presented in a highly creative way. The pacing gets a little choppy and the songs are obviously dubbed over with adult singers, but that’s the worst I can say about it. Unlike some G-rated kid movies, Bugsy Malone isn’t sickly sweet and sugary. Still, it may not appeal to viewers who don’t appreciate the tameness of kid-friendly films. I’ve never seen anything quite like this before, and I liked it. It was fun to revel in its slapstick silliness and appreciate the film for what it was. This is worth seeing, and possibly owning if you have kids.

Here's the movie trailer for Bugsy Malone. Yes, that really is Jodie Foster.

What's your favorite kid movie? Like, a movie with predominantly kid characters? Comment below and let me know!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Real Steel Movie Review

When I reviewed Battleship I mentioned a few other toy products that would make fairly ridiculous movies. I didn’t really think of the “Rock’em Sock’em Robot” toys which features two plastic robot boxers mechanically manipulated by the players as movie material. However, boxing robots trying to knock each other’s heads off is pretty much the whole idea behind Real Steel (2011).
In the near future people became uninterested in boxing and similar sports, so a new sport was created; Robot Boxing features robots battling each other while being controlled by someone. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a former boxer who’s trying to make it in the new sport, not only doesn’t do well, he’s deeply in the red from all his losses. When he learns that his ex-wife, mother of his son Max (Dakota Goyo), has died, Charlie goes to figure out what to do with his estranged son. Max's wealthy aunt Debra (Hope Davis) and uncle Marvin (James Rebhorn) want full custody, so Charlie asks Marvin for money so he can buy a new robot in exchange for turning Max over to them. Charlie reluctantly takes Max for the summer and together they build and train a champion contending robot with the help of Charlie’s child hood mechanic friend, Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly). As the stakes in the brutal, no-holds-barred arena are raised, Charlie and Max against all odds, get one last shot at a comeback.
Real Steel was a corny amalgamation of cliché storytelling tropes. You’ve got the underdog sports player seeking self respect, who miraculously gets a shot at the championship title as seen in Rocky; powerful mechanical robots that fight with each other, very similar to those in Transformers; a weird sport in which the whole world is unanimously invested, like you would see in Pokémon or even The Hunger Games, and all the cheesiness you’ll find in every father-son bonding story. Technically, each of these aren’t bad, but they can be presented in such a way that makes your eyes roll when they exceed credibility or try to emphasize more drama than can be milked from such a concept. Real Steel didn’t manage to make any of it credible and it just comes across as cheesy. You’ll probably laugh at the movie more because it’s hard to take seriously rather than at the sparse moments of the comic relief.
More often than not kid characters are put in a movie to appeal to younger audiences, and they serve no other purpose than that. Truly illogical kid characters will be able to outwit adults who have years more experience and knowledge, have skills that even a child prodigy couldn’t realistically have without a couple of years of post-secondary schooling, and have keen insight to things far beyond their limited experience. For all that these characters can do, why not just have them be a young adult who has that kind of knowledge base and experience? Do movie producers genuinely think that kids will only enjoy movies that feature other kids in it?
That has to be the reasoning behind Max’s character being a kid. At age eleven he can speak fluent Japanese, understands complex fighting techniques, and how to program and construct advanced mechanical automatons. Max also gives useful advice to Charlie, who has been in robot boxing circles for years before Max was born. And get this; he knows how to do all this because he plays video games. Seriously!? I’ve been playing video games for well over 20 years and I can’t do any of that stuff! That really makes the script writer sound like an old fogey who believes that all these crazy newfangled video game and technology things somehow unlock hidden powers and knowledge in young people. This isn’t just a vague excuse to justify a child character who should more reasonably be an adult; it’s just bad writing.
The fighting robots were unabashedly fun, fortunately. The handful of robot boxing matches that the movie actually featured were engaging and exciting. The combination of real robots and CGI animation was seamless. The robots were well designed so no two looked the same, and they moved in such a way that felt like they actually had weight and mass to them. The fights were well choreographed so that it was evident who was winning, who had the upper hand, and why. The robot boxing matches were probably the only really good part of Real Steel; the characters certainly didn’t carry the story well.
Reel Steel is by no means an original film in terms of its base story. It’s so full of clichés, there is no way you haven’t seen this story before. At best it’s all the brainless fun of Rock’em Sock’em Robots while also flailing around to achieve the heart and drama of Rocky. Although the cast usually did a good job in their roles, they had some pretty lame material to work with. I hate seeing Hugh Jackman in such a corny role as this. It reminded me more of the “BattleBots” TV show from about 12 years ago. Personally, I don’t think Real Steel is worth watching but I could see it appealing to teen and preteen boys, Max’s irrationally implausible character aside. Even if you really want to see robots fighting, I’d try to borrow this from someone; I don’t think it is even worth the cost of a movie rental.

What’s your favorite fictional sports movie? The Hunger Games? Quidditch from Harry Potter? Podracing from Star Wars? Can you think of others? Comment below and tell me why you like these fictional sports!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Treasure Planet Movie Review

Similar to the plight in Cowboys & Aliens, do we really need to throw sci-fi elements into a movie to get us to watch it? Disney’s Treasure Planet (2002) is a sci-fi adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure novel Treasure Island. While it boasts some fantastic animation and a creative setting, I can’t help but wonder why Disney didn’t just make an animated version of Treasure Island. I thought I suppose, the cultural interest in classic pirates hadn’t really started until Disney made Pirates of the Caribbean a few years later.
If you’re familiar at all with Stevenson’s classic novel, you already know what Treasure Planet is all about. Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt ) is a troubled teen who grew up hearing tales of pirates and adventure. Now, he regularly gets into trouble with law enforcement. One night a dying alien happens upon the inn that he and his mother run and before passing, the alien gives Jim a map with the warning, “Beware the cyborg.” Under examination, Jim discovers that the map charts the way to Treasure Planet, a distant world where hundreds of space pirates have stashed their loot. Certain this is the adventure he’s been dreaming of, Jim and Dr. Doppler (David Hyde Pierce), a family friend and financier of the voyage, joins the crew of the spaceship R.L.S. Legacy under the command of Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson). Jim is assigned to work with John Silver (Brian Murray), the ship’s cyborg cook. Jim suspects this is the same cyborg he was warned of when he hears rumors of mutiny. Despite his growing friendship with Silver, Jim refuses to take part in the mutiny and find himself attempting to defend law and order against a spaceship full of reckless pirates.
Treasure Planet starts off with young Jim looking at a book. Instead of its pages filled with old-fashioned words, holographic pop-up moving images and narration appear. I don’t know if this was intended by the writers and director or not, but this communicated to me that the following story would be leaving the pages Treasure Island far behind and showing us instead some flashy images. That’s a pretty accurate interpretation. The visuals in Treasure Planet were fascinating to watch, but it felt as though its roots in the original story were lost somehow.
I really liked the mash-up of the mid-1700’s and the futuristic sci-fi. It was highly creative, intriguing, and fun, and thankfully wasn’t trying to be steampunk. It’s a bit odd that Jim and his mother are the only humans in the whole movie, but the diverse cast of aliens is also pretty neat to see. Seeing eighteenth century galleons and pirate ships go sailing through the stars really is neat, but still doesn’t seem right. It raises questions like how deep space is breathable, and why swashbuckling is still popular in an era of laser beams or ray guns. You really need to try to ignore questions like that and enjoy the movie for what it is; a fantasy sci-fi story.
The animation was both fantastic and awkward. It coupled some very detailed 2D animation with usually 3D backgrounds. Each style of animation looked good on its own, but when overlapped it looked awkward; almost like some moving paper dolls were set in a 3D environment. Sometimes it looked okay but more often than not it just didn’t look quite right. The 2D animation is pretty impressive; it’s full of subtleties and detail. John Silver was my favorite character; he has a mechanical arm that has an endless supply of gadgets and gizmos tucked away in it which he uses with such nonchalance to make it look natural. He’s a fun character to watch as he moves. Here’s a clip from John Silver’s character introduction that really illustrates how intricate and subtle the animation is:

Disney alternates between “girl movies” and “boy movies,” and that depends a lot upon the gender of the main character. The “girl movies” tend to feature Disney’s princesses trying to find their prince, and “boy movies” tend to feature boys going out on big adventures. These tendencies perpetuate gender stereotyping. Recently, with films like Tangled and The Princess and the Frog, we’re shown some strong female protagonists going out on adventures, but I don’t see a “boy movie” by Disney ever showing us a prince in search of a princess. Treasure Planet is definitely a “boy movie.” Jim doesn’t even have a potential love interest; it’s all about the adventure, and becoming a man through hardships and mentoring. That’s not to say it’s bad, it just reinforces gender roles.
Treasure Planet wasn’t all that great of a movie. It lacked heart that some lasting Disney classics have. I felt like it was a promotion for a video game more than a tale about adventure. It seemed to want to showcase some creative animation and setting more than to tell a story about interesting characters. The sci-fi element was very interesting, but kind of a flashy distraction. At best, Treasure Planet might encourage some young viewers to read Stevenson’s classic novel. It will appeal to young boys who enjoy an action movie that is suited for their age level; that is what Treasure Planet is, in a nutshell. It may be worth buying if you have little boys in your home who are into that sort of thing. Otherwise, I’d rent it once just to see the neat animation. In the end, it’s a pretty forgettable movie.

Can you think of a retelling or updated version of a classic story with a very different setting that was good? I thought She’s the Man was a vaguely amusing retelling of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. What do you think? Comment below and tell me all about it!