Disney Classics #43: Treasure Planet

This movie came out during the time when I wasn’t going to see Disney flicks at the cinema anymore and so it totally passed me by. I only watched it a couple of years back, and while it’s fun and has some decent visuals it still feels a bit flat.

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The plot is basically Treasure Island set in space, which works mainly thanks to this unique world they create which mixes cosmic backdrops with nautical flourishes. The visuals of spaceships sailing through the stars is actually quite striking in places, and while utterly daft has a certain charm.

The problem is that this doesn’t feel like a Disney movie, it feels like the studio was trying to stay relevant or follow trends and so it lacks a certain charm. That’s not to say it doesn’t work as a fun adventure story, but it doesn’t sit comfortably in the Disney catalogue.

For starters, I can’t think of another Disney movie with such uninspired music. There are couple of cheesy power ballad type songs, but they didn’t land with me and there are no musical interludes, the story being played fairly straight.

Sticking to the novel’s plot line does mean that Brian Murray’s John Silver is a vastly different from the traditional Disney villain. There’s more conflict on display here as Silver’s conscience and affection for Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) clash with his selfish quest for the treasure. It’s an interesting dynamic, and the movie does a good job of keeping him in the grey area throughout, there are moments when he softens, but he doesn’t have the 180 degree flip that sometimes happens in kids’ movies. Even at the end, he’s got a bit of a scheming edge to him.

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The dynamic between Jim and Silver is at the heart of the movie, with Jim, a bit of a waster, finally getting the father figure he missed growing up and some encouragement and praise. It’s key to Jim’s development as a hero, having to take charge when the pirates mutiny and the Captain is injured.

The character of Captain Amelia, voiced by Emma Thompson, is an interesting one. Introduced as a strong, confident commander she’s definitely in charge but the fact that the movie sidelines her for the third act undercuts the strong female character they had created. I get that being strong doesn’t make you impervious to injury, but it’s still a shame when she spends most of the closing stages unconscious or having to be carried by other characters. Emma Thompson deserves to be a more badass character.

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In general the movie works for me, mainly because it would be hard to totally mess up with Robert Louis Stevenson’s story and marrying it with weird alien creatures just adds another cool element. The ending is where the stories divert the most, with intergalactic portals setting up the major action sequence, but this is executed with real skill, creating a genuine sense of peril and some thrills along the way.

It’s a fun adventure film, but it lacks that certain Disney charm and in making Silver a rather likeable character it loses out by not having a definite villain. But kudos has to be given for how it tweaks elements, especially in the creation of Martin Short’s screwy robot B.E.N, standing in for the castaway Ben Gunn, who is a rather fun and nutty performance from short.

It works, but it’s flawed and it’s not one I rush back to rewatch. I think the problem is that I already have a version of the story I love, and nothing can match The Muppets’ Treasure Island. I’ve heard some people really lay into this movie, but I don’t think that’s fair, it’s a little flat and flimsy in places, but it entertains enough, and the ambition and decision to try something different in this era should be applauded.

Disney Score: 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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