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A Second Look: Treasure Planet
In 2002, Ron Clements and John Musker released Treasure Planet as a science fiction adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson, Martin Short, Brian Murray, Roscoe Lee Browne, Laurie Metcalf, Dane Davis, Michael Wincott, and Patrick McGoohan, the film grossed $109.6 million at the box office. A box office bomb, the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature as well as the Annie Awards for Character Animation, Character Design in an Animated Feature Production, and Directing in an Animated Feature Production. Due the film’s performance at the box office, a planned sequel was cancelled.
Troubled teenager Jim Hawkins is the son of a single mother who runs a run-down hotel for space travelers and he is trying to cope with the fact that his father abandoned the family years before. One day, a mortally wounded alien crashes outside the hotel and gives what Jim eventually finds out is a map to the treasure of the fabled pirate Captain Flint. Jim sets out with the absent-minded Dr. Doppler with the crew of the Legacy to find the captain’s treasure. However, the crewmembers are all pirates looking to get the treasure for themselves.
Though not as good as previous Disney films, Treasure Planet is still a pretty good film as far as animated films go. It presents an interesting twist on an old favorite, turning an adventure story about pirates on the high seas into a futuristic space opera. Though there are many similarities, the film does differ in many different aspects, some of which aren’t as obvious as the changing of land to planets. Take BEN for instance. In the original story, he’s a guy that was stranded on the island by Captain Flint and eventually went crazy due to the isolation. Here, he’s a robot that’s only crazy because he’s missing a vital component to his brain and when he gets it back, it not only allows BEN to be competent but lets him remember the vital aspect to someone finding the treasure. Like the Treasure Island film that was Disney’s first fully live-action film, BEN is the best part of the film. There’s also John Silver’s pet, which was change from a parrot to a blob named morph that can transform into anything at will, which provides a lot of comedic relief at various points.
The film also makes a few tweaks to Jim, who’s turned from a naïve young lad coming of age while on the high seas with pirates into what passes for Disney anti-hero, violating his parole, failing classes and growing more cynical of the world. Still though, Jim does come of age in this film, just in a different way. Here, his father left instead of died and his journey on the Legacy gives him the adventure he so craved. He’s able to not only play to his strengths, giving him the ability to direct his energy towards something useful, and with his opening up to John Silver, he grows much more confident in himself. Seeing the wonder and beauty of the universe also seems to help grow out of the cynicism. Interestingly, Jim is also a deconstruction of the notion that rebelling against authority is cool, seeing as it’s shown that he’s not cool for doing so and his strained relationship with his mother exists because of his attitude.
This version of John Silver is also quite notable, with him turning into a cyborg with a bionic eye and arm alongside a fake leg. Yet, unlike his other counterparts, he’s become a lot nicer in this iteration, actually having a soft spot for Jim rather than faking one and cozying up to him in the original. His caring and concern for Jim shows up in the climax when he gives up the treasure in order to save Jim, a stark turn from the original story where he’s able to escape with even a little bit of money. While this all makes for a good character, what it really does is take the best parts of the original Long John Silver and water them down to be a passable Disney villain that hardly resembles anything like the original characterization. While Disney has done this many times before, it usually is done much better than this and done without changing too much of the character. John Silver is a much better and much more interesting villain as a purely cutthroat and manipulative pirate. Making him nicer practically neuters the character.
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