by D.W. Lundberg

Friday, April 19, 2013


Our continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also listed below.

Title: Treasure Planet (2002; based on the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson)

The Plot: On a distant planet, a rebellious teen embarks on a quest for a legendary lost treasure, and encounters pirates, mutiny and murder along the way.

The Songs: "I'm Still Here (Jim's Theme)," "Always Know Where You Are"

A Little History: Disney's third adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel, following Treasure Island (1950) and Muppet Treasure Island (1996). Directors John Musker and Ron Clements pitched their ideas for Treasure Planet as early as 1985, but Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg wasn't interested. They were finally given the go-ahead to pursue the project in 1997, after their directing duties on Hercules were completed. Production began (officially) in 2000, with approximately 350 crew members working on the film; this number, however, would later increase to over 1,000 crew members, including "four hundred artists and computer artists, about a hundred and fifty musicians and another two hundred technologists" at the time of the movie's release. The filmmakers decided to shy away from the space-suit-and-helmet look so typical of most science fiction, and created the concept of "Etherium" to allow their characters to breathe in space. Musker and Clements also based their designs for the film on classic storybook illustrations (as seen here) as well as 19th–century oil paintings. The background art was created via 3D computer animation, with 2D animation layered over top of it (Long John Silver is an amalgam of both, his mechanical parts rendered entirely by computer). Deep Canvas was also used to create "Virtual Sets" - 360-degree spaces which allowed the "camera" to move around with greater fluidity and speed, akin to a live-action film. The crew adopted the "70/30 Law" (a term often credited to Clements) all through production, with 70% of every design drawn traditionally and the other 30% high-tech. Glen Keane based his initial designs for John Silver on actor Wallace Beery, who played the character in MGM's 1934 production of Treasure Island; John Ripa, meanwhile, modeled Jim Hawkins' character movements after James Dean. While most actors hired for animated films record their vocal performances separately, Brian Murray (John Silver) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jim) were permitted to act out their scenes together. The Goo Goo Dolls' John Rzeznik contributes two songs to the soundtrack (the second, "Always Know Where You Are," is performed by British group BBMak for the CD release). Treasure Planet premiered on November 17, 2002, at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, CA. It was released in regular and IMAX theaters on November 27, but grossed only $101 million worldwide - roughly half its original budget. Though considered Disney's biggest financial flop, the film earned an additional $64 million in DVD sales, for a combined total of $174 million.

How It Broke New Ground: The first film released simultaneously in standard and IMAX theaters. Also the first Disney film to use plastic maquettes (toy-sized sculptures used as character references), rather than traditional clay.
How It Holds Up Today: It's Treasure Island... in space! John Musker and Ron Clements' long-gestating dream project (they directed Aladdin and The Little Mermaid in the interim) comes a decade too late - past the point when its particular blend of sci-fi and Boys' Own Adventure story might have sparked imaginations the world over. Sandwiched between Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets and The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, though, it never stood a chance at the box office, and started a chain reaction that would lead to the "death" of 2D animation as we know it. (Clearly, its target audience of pre-teen, prepubescent boys had moved on to bigger, better things.) All the requisite changes have been made to Stevenson's original novel: ships now surf the stars (how anyone is actually able to breathe out there is never fully explained), Long John Silver is now a cyborg with a mechanical eye, arm and peg leg, and so on and so forth. But once that novelty wears off you're forced to focus on the plot, which plays like a mishmash of every Disney cliché in the book (absent parents, contemptible comic relief, even the film's centerpiece relationship between Long John and Jim Hawkins is just warmed-over Mowgli and Baloo). This Planet may be loaded with surface pleasures, but it's still the same old Disney underneath, and there's something depressing and even slightly off-putting about that. It hardly seems worth the trip.

Grade: C-


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