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Disney Canon Countdown 43: ‘Treasure Planet’

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I’ve never been more grateful that Disney decided to take on Treasure Island for an animated movie. The studio had already nailed a live-action version in 1950 (and let’s not forget the masterpiece that is Muppet’s Treasure Island). In 2002, Disney took this classic Robert Lewis Stevenson novel and combined it with science-fiction to create Treasure Planet.

Directed by the legends that are John Musker and Ron Clements, Treasure Planet blends old and new so creatively that even my grandfather had a great time watching this movie. Is it possible that this movie bridges the generation gap? This is why it makes me sad that the movie suffered a $79 million loss. Traditional animation was on the way out to make way for the wave of CG. The success Pixar was enjoying probably didn’t help 2-D’s chances either.

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Of course, having said that, there is computer animation in this movie. CGI robot B.E.N (voiced by Martin Short) fits into the 2-D world well-enough, but it’s John Silver’s robot arm that seamlessly blends both mediums. However, I’ll be the first to admit that not all the CGI blends perfectly. When 2-D Jim is looking out at the floating Orcus Galacticus creatures, it’s looks like two different films.

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Let’s talk about our main hero first. Jim Hawkins was initially based on James Dean, and you can really tell. The sketches below of Jim is all the proof you need. The angst-lost boy craving approval is spot on. He may be brash at times, but he does absorb what people are telling him. He also really develops as a character, something I always admire in writing.

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I’ve never given much thought to the Bechdel test that determines whether female characters are prominent in films and fully fleshed out. Having less female characters does not mean it will only appeal to guys. It probably helped that I was a teenager when I saw this movie, about the same age as Jim himself, but maybe more on that later. Besides, the female characters that are in this movie are exceptionally well-written. Jim’s mother (voiced by Laurie Metcalf) and Captain Amelia (voiced by Emma Thompson) have more than enough personality between them.

Now time for someone I’ve really been looking forward to talking about: John Silver. The update for this guy perfectly makes sense. A one-legged pirate in the novel to a one-legged cyborg in the film. Remember when I said I was in my teens when I saw this movie? Let’s just say I sort of adopted John Silver as a surrogate father. I don’t know what that says about me since he’s a lying, cheating pirate but still, I wore out my VHS tape listening to his advice about “taking the helm and charting your own course.” Silver’s advice would stay with me for a long time.

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If the relationship between Jim and Silver didn’t work, then this movie wouldn’t work. Somehow, I don’t know how, their relationship went above believability. It might have helped that Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jim) and Brian Murray (Silver) recorded their lines together, but I’d give a lot of credit to the animators perfectly capturing the character’s expressions (one of the many reasons that makes me mourn the loss of Disney 2-D animated movies). There’s so many different facial expressions between them in this one scene that I’ve lost count:

John Rzeznik’s “I’m Still Here” enforces that emotional punch too. The song may be a little on-the-nose and make the movie feel less timeless, but it does evoke more emotion than any dialogue ever could. It’s not only Rzeznik’s songs that brings the music, James Newton Howard’s score has so much gusto and life. The kind of dramatic action music that makes you want to punch the air with excitement. Who wouldn’t want to go solar surfing like Jim when a score like that is playing?

The imagination the animators had for all the different characters in this world is boundless. So many different shapes, sizes, and designs. Let us not forget Morph, the little pink blob that can change into anything and anyone to comedic effect. An animator’s dream.

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The animators didn’t stop there. The settings give us so much spectacle. They go from classic nautical, to mossy green forests, and even to exploding planets. Even if Treasure Planet isn’t your kind of style, you can’t deny it’s got imagination. There’s never a dull visual in this movie.

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If that wasn’t enough to showcase all this, there’s some fantastic camera work going on. There’s a chase seen between Jim and dastardly Mr Scroop that looks as good as live-action. The camera follows behind Jim, giving the audience that raw feel of immediacy and danger.

It’s the small things I love in animation too. There’s the oddest little moment I always notice when I watch this movie. When we’re introduced to Jim (after he’s been escorted by the police and lectured by his mother), he looks at the screen. Jim looks right at us. It’s a pretty sombre look. This doesn’t happen again until the end of the movie. Jim looks at us but this time, he seems happy and content. I love this. I can’t think of another animated movie that breaks the forth wall like this. The main protagonist is telling us he’ll be okay.

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It had been a while since I’d watched Treasure Planet. I was a little afraid it wouldn’t hold up but, to me, it still did. I found that watching the Blu-ray was particularly a special treat if you love the visuals in this movie. I cannot wait to share this one with my children. In my books, there’s nothing better than a quest and adventure story set in a different world. If less songs and more explosions is what you want from your Disney movie, then you must explore Treasure Planet.

Edited by: Kelly Conley

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About MJ Edwards

MJ is a writing and film graduate who loves to relax with scented candles and herbal teas. She is a dog-walker by day and a pie-maker by night. She loves movies starring Christopher Reeve and her favorite animated film is Meet the Robinsons. MJ also loves anything that LAIKA and Tim Burton come out with.