Before I start nit-picking, I'd like to make one thing clear: Treasure Planet, Disney's sci-fi/fantasy retelling of Treasure Island, is a beautiful, entertaining film and well worth watching. It contains some of the best animated "acting" ever to appear on screen, and much of its imagery is unforgettable. It's the only family-friendly film one could reasonably file under "Steam-Punk," and it's got more imagination on display in any given five seconds of footage than most of todays sci-fi films have in their entire running length.
There are, however, good reasons the movie didn't connect with a wider audience in its theatrical run.
Everything in Treasure Planet that takes the story seriously (Jim, Long John Silver, Jim's Mom, Captain Amelia, Scroop) works wonderfully. Yet the mood is constantly broken by the "comic relief" characters such as Dr. Doppler, B.E.N. the robot and that alien whose sole purpose in the film is to provide fart humor.
A great setting, of course, needs compelling characters. Happily, the film's emotional center -- Jim Hawkins and John Silver's friendship/conflict -- is terrific, featuring top-tier character animation and voice acting.
|Silver never stops being fun to watch|
Even with such great main characters, however, I believe the film suffers from one design decision that keeps the story from connecting with some viewers: too many different kinds of aliens. Now, I realize the directors wanted to portray a vast and diverse galactic population in which humans are just another drop in the bucket. In the big starport scene, this works really well.
But this is a film for humans, and once onboard the ship, the parade of strange beings dilutes the drama, because most of the alien crew are nothing more than walking sight-gags with no personalities at all beyond snarling a lot. They're a cartoonish bunch with no sense of history or place. Imagine if the film had stuck to...say...a half-dozen alien species, each with a more fleshed-out presence. If would have been fun to see more members of Captain Amelia's cat-like race or an example of a non-cyborg from Silver's world.
The film builds up to a terrific action/escape sequence and a heartfelt, believable wrap-up to John Silver's role in Jim's life. James Newton Howard's music score, excellent throughout the film, really shines in these moments.
If you've never seen Treasure Planet, I urge you to give it a shot; it deserved a much better fate at the box office. Despite its flaws, it contains some of the best moments to ever emerge from Walt Disney Studios.
And its universe is like nothing you've ever seen before.