Disney Checklist TreasureYarr, let me spin you a tale about an animation studio that had forgotten how to convey emotions honestly, and the lacklustre film that represents this creative malaise. Tis a sad story of a once great power reduced to half-hearted adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson books and how it struggled to be interesting in the middle of a decade where other studios were sailing the seas of creativity with swaggering confidence. Tis a short story, too, for the film itself, Treasure Planet, is barely worthy of extensive comment. If ye think this poor attempt at pirate speak is underwhelming, wait til ye see the film itself…

I’ll stop that now, for the sake of anyone that has read this far. Treasure Planet follows the same narrative as Stevenson’s Treasure Island, where a young dreamer, Jim Hawkins, gets hold of a treasure map and travels across the seas in a ship. On his journey he befriends the not at-all-suspicious Long John Silver, but obviously not everything goes according to plan when it emerges that Jim is not the only one aware of the map’s existence. Beat for beat, this is about as faithful to the book as Muppet’s Treasure Island, only instead of hilarious songs like ‘Cabin Fever’ it has maudlin 00s rock music playing over montages. The big change is, of course, the relocation from the Seven Seas to space. Long John Silver is no longer wooden legged, but a cyborg with a couple of handy mechanical limbs. The castaway they meet on the planet (not island) is a robot with a missing memory chip. Most of the baddies are sinister aliens, while the captain of the ship is the kind of anthropomorphic cat that furries go nuts for.

treasure ship

As with most Disney films of the 00s, the design is the strongest element, with the animators clearly revelling in the fact that they can go all out with their sci-fi stylings. Ships are powered by solar sails, giant space ports form entire moons, and Jim’s Inn at the beginning of the film is populated by customers that wouldn’t look out of place in a Mos Eisley cantina. Silver’s shapeshifting companion is particularly fun, and would probably be a popular character within Disney merchandising if anyone still watched this film. It’s a shame that Jim himself is a surly, badly designed rebel without a cause.

Jim is probably the centre of the film’s issues, a bland, forgettable hero with nothing more to his character than dreams of travel and ten-a-penny Daddy issues that make up the central dynamic of the film with the unexpected father figure Silver. The problem is that the emotions feel cheap, which is quite a claim to level at a studio notorious for saccharine sentimentality. But think about the Disney films that provoke the strongest emotions in you and it becomes clear that in those films the makers have invested far more in the characters, so the audience do, too. When Simba tells his dead Dad to wake up, it’s resonant because only moments earlier the two of them played together in a field under the stars. Here, it seems to be far more a case of ticking off the boxes in a checklist of how to make an emotional animation, and the result is perfunctory and oddly hollow.

 

Wide shots of the ship are pretty much the only interesting thing about the film

Wide shots of the ship are pretty much the only interesting thing about the film

Disney were in something of a rut at this point, making visually interesting but uninspired films that cared more about plot than heart. I’m yet to see Chicken Little, Home On The Range or Meet the Robinsons, but it is unlikely that any of them will feel as rote or humdrum as this sub par effort. There’s still a long way to go before Princess and the Frog

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