Treasure Planet, by Cameron J. Czaja

Now that I covered Atlantis: The Lost Empire, I shall now follow up that review with another Disney animated film with similar themes: Treasure Planet. I’m sure most of you have read Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale Treasure Island before, right? Well this is almost that same story but with a science-fiction twist that I thought was pretty unique at the time it was released. Much like AtlantisTreasure Planet is another Disney film that I thought was underrated and truly enjoyed when I first saw at the age of twelve. Did the film still appease me as an adult as it did during my adolescence years? Let’s find out.

As I mention earlier, Treasure Planet has the same exact premise as the classic novel, though there are several science fiction elements thrown into it. Aside from Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon Levitt) and his mother Sarah (voiced by Laurie Metcalf), the rest of the cast are aliens and the setting itself is set in space. The story starts off with Jim getting in trouble with the law. He has built up a rebellious reputation ever since his father left his family, which leaves his mother working the Admiral Benbow Inn. One day a ship crashes near the inn and inside is a dying alien by the name of Billy Bones (voiced by Patrick McGoohan). Before he passes, he gives Jim some kind of sphere.  Before he can discover what it is the inn gets attacked by pirates, which forces Jim, his mother, and their family friend, Doctor Doppler (voiced by David Hyde Pierce), to flee. Taking refuge at the Doppler’s residence, Jim looks at the sphere again and opens it, which displays a map from their location to a mysterious planet that all three were able to identify right away as Treasure Planet. Despite being hesitant at first, Sarah allows Jim to journey to the planet with the doctor, and from there they manage to get a ship and a crew so they can discover Treasure Planet. While on board their ship, Jim is assigned to work with the cook John Silver (voiced by Brian Murray) who, in this version, is a cyborg with a peg leg and a mechanical arm that’s basically a Swiss army knife. For those who are familiar with the story, then you know that Silver is planning a mutiny.  But before he does he takes Jim under his wing during the trip so that Jim doesn’t become suspicious of Silver’s plan.

Unlike AtlantisTreasure Planet wasn’t something that aged well for me.  However, there were still a lot of great moments in this film that I did enjoy, and some themes I was able to reconnect with as I did the first time I saw this film.

Aside from the planet Treasure Planet itself, the movie doesn’t offer much of a mythology.  But what it lacks in substance, it makes up in style. If there’s one thing I can say for sure that works here is the animation, as the traditional cartoons are mixed with CGI. As you can tell from previous reviews, I’m a fan of animation and this was a type of film that used that genre to its full advantage. One character that was the most interesting to look at from an animated standpoint was John Silver himself. I mentioned earlier that his arm was like a Swiss army knife, which was pretty incredible to look at at because of the detail put into it. This allowed Silver to become a more expressive character, which is something I deeply appreciated. Another part of the film that had a great visual look to it was outer space itself. Unlike most space exploration stories where space is naturally dark, outer space here is depicted as having colorful backgrounds with creatures floating around freely. While this doesn’t make sense from a scientific standpoint, it’s a moment where I can suspend my disbelief and just go with it.

While I was re-watching Treasure Island I wasn’t sure if I could’ve found a great Catholic message as the film was dealing with pirates and the obsession with treasure. But then I remembered that the film offers themes of redemption and the importance of responsibility, which was something that stuck out to me even when I first saw it at a young age. Just like the book Treasure Island, this animated version is a true coming of age tale that worked for me as I felt I was the target demographic when this movie was first released. I just hate how there aren’t a lot more animated films that don’t offer similar themes as this one did.

I mentioned earlier that this film didn’t age well for me, and I think the things that contribute to that are the dialogue and use of certain characters. When it’s not coming from someone with great diction, the dialogue that comes out of certain characters is either really obnoxious or extremely over the top. While this didn’t bother me too much when I was younger, it is something that I noticed more now and know it will bother a lot of people.  I wouldn’t blame them. One character that did bother me though was a robot named Ben (if you’ve read the book you know who I’m talking about). Even though he does give off sympatric vibes due to his marooned state and memory loss, he’s a bit over the top and annoying. It’s something I really didn’t notice when I was twelve but as a thirty year old it was quite bothersome. Fortunately he does have much character development, which made him less annoying towards the end.

If you do find yourself looking for something to watch during this time of social distancing, then I highly recommend Treasure Island.  It’s a greatly underrated Disney film on Disney +. As mentioned before, there are some things that may feel grating at first, but if you look past that and enjoy this film on a style over substance basis, then I think you’ll have a great time.

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