THROWBACK REVIEW: Treasure Planet (2002)

When pirates explore the final frontier…

As a child, it is accurate to say that I had a bit of a pirate phase. You know, we all have those weird phases where things are just so cool, and they couldn’t in any way be bad. You know, then you grow up and realize that pirates were criminals who did some of the lowest of the low acts out there, and still do it to this day. But “Arrrgh”, am I right? Regardless, as a kid, when I needed a little pirate adventure in me, there was really only one place to go: the classic Treasure Island tale. This story was EVERYWHERE in my life. I watched it repeatedly. I owned Muppet Treasure Island, a 1987 Burbank Films Australia animated special of the story, I’d seen the 1950 Disney adaptation, I even saw a Wishbone episode of the story. And I’m sure I’m missing a few other adaptations I saw!

What’s the story, Wishbone?

Really, the story was an absolute classic. If my child self needed an adventure, there was no better place for me for the longest time than on the high seas with Treasure Island. You might say that I looked up to Jim Hawkins in a lot of ways. I wanted to break out as he did, I wanted to go on his adventures, I wanted to be in his shoes, and he made me so very happy a lot of the time. So with all this Treasure Island stuff in my life, it was only natural that eventually, I’d find myself watching the 2002 Disney steam-punk adaptation of the same story in Treasure Planet. Needless to say that I absolutely loved it back then, and love it now.

The film opens up with Judge Claude Frollo narrating a holo-book about the notorious Captain Flint, who would loot ships for that precious pirate booty, and we get introduced to young Jim Hawkins, who is absolutely adorable as a child. A few years later, we see him grown up into probably one of my only big problems of the film. I do kinda scoff at how they very much make Jim Hawkins a bit of a bad boy here. I mean, granted, it makes some sense in context with the story, keyword being some, but it still very much feels like a trophy move that never really feels earned. But I guess they gotta show us some of that sweet sweet animation, and making him a Marty McFly Tony Hawk hybrid gives them an opportunity to do just that.

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?

Unsurprisingly, Hawkins has grown up in this state and has a reputation of being a bit of a delinquent. And it’s because of a change in the story that I actually really kinda like. In the original stories of Treasure Island, Jim Hawkins lives with his mother in an inn. No different here. But in the classic, his father has been dead a few years. Here, Jim’s dad is still alive, but Jim has no idea really where he is, or even who he was, since he left at a young age, never came back, and this has had an impact on Jim’s life. While again, I kinda scoff at the bad boy aspect that results in this change, it opens the door for some character development of the character that is honestly, pretty absent in the original tale. But we’ll eat there soon.

If you know the story, you’ll know that a stranger appears at the inn, a fellow by the name of Billy Bones, and how this movie approaches it admittedly makes me scratch my head. The other stories give us some time to get to know Billy Bones. We see him interact quite a bit with Jim Hawkins and we eat some backstory into who he is and why he’s in hiding. Here… he’s barely alive five minutes. Granted, Billy Bones dies in every story, but not nearly this quick. This makes his reveal of him having a map to Flint’s treasure, and his warning of Long John Silver feel not nearly as impactful in the long run. Billy Bones here feels more like a footnote, when he feels like an actual character in pretty much every other rendition of this story I can think of.

Billy Bones might not be much of a character, but they do a wonderful job fleshing out pretty much everybody else.

Oh well, we know where this goes, Jim gets a map (or golden orb here and by some sort of luck, he eats it open to reveal said map), and he and his friend Dr. Doppler fund an expedition to see out the legendary titular Treasure Planet that the map supposedly reveals. And it’s here where I gotta praise a couple things. Firstly, I gotta praise the designs of this crew. Just look at some of these crew members and you can tell that there was a lot of fun in creating these guys. It’s this movie, and movies like Lilo and Stitc that pretty much have me convinced that Disney knows how to have fun with their alien designs, and with some of the Star Wars suf I’ve seen in their new movies, I don’t think they’ve lost their touch.

A positively trustworthy crew.

I think easily my favorite of the crew has to be little Morph who doesn’t have much of a role, but goddammit, the little glob of cute makes me laugh almost every time he’s onscreen. What a brilliant idea for ‘Long’ John Silver’s pet. The shapeshifting mimicking glob is just… perfect. They could have easily given Silver just some bird-alien pet Resembling a parrot, complete with the mimicking trait, but can you tell me it would be anywhere as charming as this pink glob??? The answer is no. No it wouldn’t. Not even close.

Legit one of the funniest moments of the movie.

Also holy shit, I cannot go on anymore without praising this animation. It doesn’t take long for it to establish itself as something absolutely awesome in this department, and you can probably thank the steampunk aesthetic of the film for that. I’m normally not one to really fall head over heals for this kind of story or setting, but goddamn does this story absolutely sell itself, and make it absolutely hard not to just get drawn in by literally everything going on in this story. Everything from the fun ship designs, to the animation of the characters, to the action out in space, to ‘Long’ John Silver’s cybernetics is animated in a way that just makes me wanna shout “WHOAH!” It can be breathtaking at times.

JUST LOOK AT THIS ANIMATION!

Granted there are a few things in the animation department that I particularly don’t care for, but then again, it falls more under just things I personally don’t care for. The ‘gross’ factor if you wanna call it that is kinda here, and I don’t care for it. Thankfully, it’s not a huge presence in the film, but it’s still kinda distracting. The two instances that kinda come to mind are a few instances where they animate drool, not exactly something I ever really liked, and an alien that communicates literally with flatulence. Because fart sounds I guess. I don’t wanna spend anymore time talking about this.

I’ve heard some people say they really don’t care for the steampunk aesthetic of the film, and if you’re gonna Neil deGrasse Tyson the film, then yeah, you might need to skip this one since they throw space physics out the window the entire film. I mean granted, there are a few times they have fun with gravity and whatnot, but I mean, there’s no air dome, so everyone just breathes in space pretty much. No explanation really, but it’s just one of those things you don’t really question. Like space whales (which are also present in this film…. and contribute to the gross factor).

Okay, seriously, who can NOT be wowed by these visuals?!

This film does a great job of really having us get to know these characters. As much as I love films like Muppet Treasure Island, and other Treasure Island adaptations, I cannot deny that they really struggle with getting me to care about anyone other than Jim Hawkins. You really don’t get to know or care about the other characters in these movies like Captain Smollett, Mr. Arrow, Ben Gunn, etc… They always feel like they’re in the background. Even ‘Long’ John Silver (who will get his own paragraph) never really felt like a huge character in these adaptations. This movie remedies this in so many ways. Each character feels impactful to the story, and you care about what becomes of them. Granted, it’s not perfect, and I mean… obvious baddies are obvious baddies, but you can tell that they really tried to bring each and every character here to life.

For instance, Captain Amelia and Doppler, they develop a bit of a relationship, and while it isn’t flawlessly executed, I still care about them both far more than I would any other character in an adaptation. Kermit the Frog plays a good Captain Smollett, but he’s still Kermit the Frog in a captain’s outfit. Ben Gunn here might be a bit over the top and even a title annoying, but he’s more memorable than any other iteration of the character I can remember. Mr. Arrow… good God this character is great, and he’s actually a bit of a drastic turn from other renditions of the character. In the original, he really doesn’t contribute much of anything to the story, and is killed off rather quickly after Silver gets him drunk and throws him overboard. Here, Mr. Arrow feels competent, and feels like an actual first officer. And when he is eventually killed in a scene that actually REALLY disturbed me when I first saw it, it feels that much more impactful. I cannot thank this film enough for giving me a reason to care about any of these people!

Seriously, who WOULDN’T find this disturbing?

And then there’s ‘Long’ John Silver. Good God, where do I begin?

While always a major character of the story, ‘Long’ John Silver really never felt as fully developed as he should have likely been in this story. This ranges to pretty much every Treasure Island adaptation I have ever seen. His transition from leading a group of bloodthirsty pirates on a mutiny against the crew, to suddenly saving Jim from their hands always felt like it came out of nowhere. And this is finally rectified here, and it’s the fact that this film chose to have Jim’s father leave at an early age that makes the relationship between Hawkins and Silver work so damn well. While you can tell that Hawkins is at first very wary of Silver, due to the fact that he was warned about an unnamed cyborg, like Hawkins is warned of the sailor with a missing leg, the time the two spend together really develops into something special, and I love how this film shows us just how much of a struggle it is for Silver, who is walking this fine line between leading a group of bloodthirsty pirates, and being a straight up father-figure for Jim. Some of the dialogue exchanges these two have will leave me warm inside each and every time.

I don’t think there’s a better father-son relationship shown in any Disney movie.

And it’s this wonderful development between the two that makes the conflicts the two have with each other that much better throughout the film! When Hawkins overhears their plans to mutiny, you can telll there’s genuine hurt in his face when just a scene or two ago, Silver was offering him genuine comfort over the death of Mr. Arrow when he was blaming himself over the incident! You can tell when Hawkins and the others are escaping the ship during the mutiny, that there is genuine conflict in Silver when he has a CLEAR SHOT that he could have taken at Hawkins. There is actual emotion being put in play between both of these characters and it just elevates this film to new levels. Each time they have a conflict, it feels real, and I care about both characters. Beforehand, ‘Long’ John SIlver was just a cool character in my eyes because he was a pirate, and kid me loved pirates.

It’s this bond the two share that I feel really glues this entire story together, and it is this bond the two of them share that makes me wonder just what the hell people watched back in 2002 that made them describe this movie as a film with weaker characterizations than usual. What the hell were you watching??? The only thing, and I mean the ONLY thing that they do with this that I really don’t care about is that they use a pretty forgettable song to kinda help illustrate how Hawkins lacked a father figure in his life, and the song plays in a montage of the two growing closer in this retrospect. I just find it kinda silly that they used that approach to flesh out the characters. It’s one of the reasons I personally don’t care too much for the film Titan A.E., due to its constant barrage of 90’s pop/rock selections. Thankfully, this film limits itself to just one of these musical selections.

As far as the adventure itself is concerned, it’s still a lot of fun. While again, there are a few things that might rub off the wrong way for me personally, such as Ben Gunn’s personality, and whatnot, by the time things really get rolling in this film, it is impossible to be bored or not invested. You can tell that the people behind this had a whole lot of fun with each and every sequence shown in this movie, from the supernova storm, to the mutiny, to hunting, and locating Flint’s Trove of Treasure. And they do this without losing a beat of making us care about each character here. Not only with Hawkins and Silver, but with Doppler and Amelia, who develop a very fun relationship with one another after she’s severely injured.

We even get an awesome Star Trek reference.

I’m not sure how much I enjoy the action packed climax of the story, but I suppose it’s fun enough, even if I find Jim’s hurry-rigged hoverboard a bit of a stretch. I do really find the use of the map in the scene in finding the loot, and escaping the self-destruction of the planet to be a whole lot of fun. And again… it just really amplifies the bond between both Silver and Hawkins. And not to be too spoiler-y, but it makes their separation that much better of a scene.

Seeing the conclusion of their bond really hits home every time. Not only is it heartwarming to see Hawkins willingly let Silver escape when it’s likely that Silver will face charges when they return to port, but seeing Silver look at Hawkins the way a father would to any child of theirs is just…. oh it gets you right in the feels.

Right in the goddamn feels…

When all is said and done, Treasure Planet doesn’t get nearly enough love that it deserves as far as Treasure Island adaptations are concerned, but I am happy to see that lately, the trend has gone in its favor. However, I cannot help but disagree when I hear some say that this one should get a live-action remake. Not only do I feel like the steampunk setting would dramatically lose its charm in a live-action medium, but it honestly doesn’t feel like it’s in dire need of one. In a world that is absolutely full of Treasure Island adaptations, making this unique entry in that a live-action I feel takes away the charm it offers to the story. That and you know they’d focus more on the pretty setting than the actual character development… This is one I really think they need to leave alone.

Treasure Planet is far from perfect. It offers some sequences I find pretty dumb, its action at times maybe feels a bit tacked on, and its musical score really leaves much more to be desired, but I’d be lying if I said that this isn’t a personal favorite adaptation of the classic story. Not only for the reasons I’ve talked about but so much more. It makes me laugh, it touches the heart, this film wins me over every time I put it on no matter what. Even though I have fully moved on from pirates. I don’t know if I jus watched it at the right time, or whatnot, but as far as underrated Disney films are concerned, this sits right near the top alongside the likes of films like The Hunchback of Norte Dame, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (another great steampunk DIsney movie that’s probably only as charming as it is because of its awesome animation). If needed, I’d highly recommend experiencing it for yourself, as it has held up remarkably well.

Eat your heart out, Orion Syndicate!

Well, this review wasn’t two weeks late or anything. With all this talk of the coronavirus going around right now, I might be watching a few films to try and make light of the situation in the near future. I guess it really just depends on whether or not I find myself quarantined to my house. Time will tell. Stay healthy everyone.

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