I will admit that it has been years – dare I say decades – since I have seen the 1950 Disney classic “Treasure Island.” (Alas, I have never read the book either. So before you read on, get all the “shame on yous” out of your system.) So without a clear memory of the original movie or the book, there is nothing to taint my view of Disney’s reworking into “Treasure Planet,” which is a good thing.
Disney has made some bad gambles with their animated films in the past years (with lackluster performances from The Emperor’s New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire), starting the Mouse House into a downward spiral like the one faced before “The Little Mermaid” revitalized the animation studio in the late 1980s. Earlier this year, Lilo and Stitch helped breathe new life into the studio’s animation franchise, and “Treasure Planet” is set to do the same.
A lot of this is due to story. You just can’t go wrong with the classics. There’s a reason “Treasure Island” is still read today, and Disney capitalizes upon that. In “Treasure Planet,” the character of Jim Hawkins is not a stretch because he was originally written as a troubled teen. It is unlike some earlier films like “Pocahontas,” which bastardized a true story to force it into the Disney formula.
Jim Hawkins is a young boy running an inn with his mother after his father abandoned him. Jim longs for the adventures aboard a space-faring vessel but can never seem to escape his dull, humdrum life. One day, an old pirate stumbles into their inn and dies, leaving a treasure map that marks the spot of the legendary Treasure Planet, where Captain Flint stashed his loot from a thousand worlds.
Pursued by space pirates, Jim and his mother’s friend, Dr. Doppler, charter a ship to find the treasure. Jim befriends the cook, a cyborg named John Silver, later to discover that he is leading a band of pirates disguised as the crew in order to steal the map – and the treasure – for themselves.
There are clear elements from “Treasure Island” that have been updated for the new setting, like John Silver being a cyborg instead of just a man with a peg leg. However, there are more clever touches, like Silver’s parrot being replaced with a mimicking blob called Morph.
The animation is breathtaking, primarily the computer generated elements. Beauty and the Beast has recently been released on DVD, and I watched that shortly after I saw “Treasure Planet.” The animation in this latest feature makes the Oscar-nominated Beauty and the Beast look downright crude.
“Treasure Planet” mixes up a near-perfect blend of classic Disney style with the latest animation techniques. The line between CGI and pen-and-ink is becoming increasingly blurred now, especially with the stunning visuals of “Treasure Planet.” In fact, the level of detail and artistry in the ships and backgrounds is enough to go head-to-head with any of Disney’s Pixar co-releases (e.g., “Toy Story,” A Bug’s Life and Monsters, Inc.).
The only hiccup with the animation is that the CGI work has become so sophisticated that even the most brilliant pen-and-ink drawings seem out of place. In fact, there are several scenes where CGI elements in one shot are replaced with pen-and-ink drawings in the next, and it is alarmingly different. One example of this involves the character of B.E.N., a robot voiced by Martin Short. B.E.N. is mostly drawn, but a few times he is replaced with a CGI character, which has so much depth and realism that makes the original drawing look amateurish.
One thing to note is that “Treasure Planet” is rated PG, which was almost unheard of for a Disney animated flick until just a few years ago. Until Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the only other traditional Disney animated film rated PG was “The Black Cauldron,” which some attribute to that film’s poor box office. (Actually, Dinosaur was the first in this series of Disney PG ratings, but that was a completely CGI feature.)
There is some violence and intense moments in this film, though. Heck, it’s about pirates for crying out loud. Yes, people do die in it. However, the deaths are handled quite well by just having the victims float away into space.
Overall, “Treasure Planet” is an adventure with some incredibly creative ways to pay tribute to Disney’s original classic “Treasure Island” while realistically updating the story for a new generation.