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!

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