If the Disney people have to dress up Treasure Island with video-game aliens in order to make their movie palatable, why bother making it at all?
The Beginnings of Treasure Planet
You can practically hear the whirring of the minds behind Treasure Planet: Let’s re-do a classic. Kids nowadays won’t know from pirate tales, so we have to make it hip. Jim Hawkins isn’t a lonely boy anymore, he’s a moody teenager. Long John Silver doesn’t have just a fake leg now, he’s a cyborg with fake everything. And to keep things politically correct, the ship’s captain is a woman. Throw in some screwy sidekicks and the latest in CGI, and it has to be a hit!!
Well, maybe not. First off, you’d think that with all the latest in animation wizardry, they could have made Jim Hawkins with more than two poses: surly and pouty. He’s the latest in a long line of insufferable movie teenagers, which presents a major story hurdle, since he’s the kid we’re supposed to root for. The writers give him some sky-skateboarding scenes to try to lighten him up, but he’s still decidedly earthbound.
Then there’s the setting, which never quite comes to terms with itself. People and ships can zing through the air like nobody’s business, but back on terra firma, the architecture looks like it hasn’t been touched for a few hundred years. If they can make spacecraft that can whiz around the galaxy, couldn’t some of the buildings look better than dumpy seafood restaurants?
The artwork is breathtaking and beautifully. The art direction was based on the warm palette from the illustrators associated with the Brandywine School of Illustration (such as Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth). Director Ron Clements sought a “classic storybook illustration” for about 70% of the film, with 30% science fiction.
Finally, there are the endless rounds of action sequences responsible for the PG rating that Disney so proudly brandishes. Strangely, the explosions and gunnings seem designed for just the kind of audience that wouldn’t be caught dead in a Disney movie, and they’re too frenetic and intense for the small fry who watched Disney’s Lilo & Stitch go through their paces a few months ago.
As usual, the voice work sports a mean pedigree, but other than the PC captain (Emma Thompson!), it doesn’t amount too much. David Hyde Pierce does the same bumbling-pedantic routine that has served him for the past decade on “Frasier.” And manic comic Martin Short voices a verbose robot that seems a deliberate attempt to irritate the audience even more than the new Jim Hawkins.
Disney seems to be at a crossroads these days. Their previous attempt at erudition, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, at least had a decent story, but then, Treasure Planet did too, before it got all Star Wars on us. In light of the many recent animated films that are leagues away from this drek, Disney looks to be following trends instead of making them.
This movie opened in both 35mm and a specifically-formatted 70mm IMAX version. This marked the first time that a film had concurrent releases in both formats.
After the September 11 tragedy, Disney decided that people being held at sword-point just wasn’t funny, so the animators were instructed to remove as many swords from the film as possible.
The film was a major financial disaster. Budgeted at $140 million, it grossed only $38.2 million by the time it left North American theaters. The loss reportedly resulted in Disney downgrading its earnings estimate for the last quarter of 2002.
An alternate ending was prepared, but was unfinished.