First Theatrical Release: November 27, 2002
First Home Viewing Release: April 29, 2003
My Rating: 3/5 stars
Where I Found It: Netflix streaming
Bechdel Test Score: Failed, I think. Female characters include Sara (Jim’s mom) and Captain Amelia. They never talk to one another, and I decided not to count exchanges where female customers are ordering Sara around. That’s not really “talking” to one another, is it?
Treasure Planet is one of those movies I would have liked to see succeed. It has a lot going for it — an emo lead who is appealing to girls for his good looks and vulnerability and to boys for his sense of adventure. Beautiful space animation/scenery, including another flying whales scene for the thousands who skipped out on Fantasia 2000. And perhaps most promising of all, a lady ship captain WHO IS ALSO A CAT. Yes, we have a literal cat lady in charge of the crew upon the RLS Legacy.
Still, this is a movie that ends up being less than the sum of its parts. Much like I did during Dinosaur, I found myself reaching for my phone to randomly Google stuff about halfway through. From that point on, I managed to focus on the movie by imagining what could have catapulted this mediocre offering to a movie worthy of a cat lady ship captain. Here’s what I came up with.
If there was singing
Okay, so my affinity for Disney’s “musical-style” movies is no secret. I can respect the studio’s determination that song-and-dance numbers just aren’t the right way to tell EVERY story. But it seems like it would have been the right way to tell this one. Jim is dealing with some very personal stuff — coming of age, seeking a male role model in his father’s absence, angsting over letting his mom down — against an epic, galaxy-spanning backdrop. I can imagine an “internal monologue” song from his mom reflecting on how she longs for him to be that little boy again against the drudgery and frustration of her daily life and his shenanigans; an epic “wish ballad” for Jim as he dreams of adventure; a mutinous below-decks number to clue viewers in to the crew’s evil intentions. The fact that the ONLY time during the course of this movie that I felt like it might be underrated was during Reznik’s “I’m Still Here” number further cements my theory. Some well-placed songs would have helped close the gaps on the rather shallow character development and somewhat disjointed storytelling.
If the aliens weren’t so distracting
Seriously, didn’t Disney get animating crazy aliens out of its system with Lilo & Stitch? I get that it’s fun to go all Star Wars bar scene, but honestly, besides Jim and his mom, there were NO TWO PEOPLE OF THE SAME SPECIES IN THE ENTIRE MOVIE. Does this world have some very strict “quotas” in place? (i.e.: you may only hire one spidery thing, one flatulent thing, one puppy doggish thing, etc.?) Do all these species absolutely despise their own kind? I’m all for diversity, but this cast just felt disjointed, as if someone had scooped their hands into a child’s toy box and thrown whatever came out into the story.
If the primary relationship wasn’t so creepy
I give Disney credit for venturing away from the usual territory of having a romantic relationship be the primary emotional focal point, especially since the “absent-father” storyline is one many modern kids can still relate to. In addition, I like that this movie explored how traumatic it can be for a kid to have a parent walk out on him rather than romanticizing the absent father a la Bambi. So the lack in Jim’s life makes it easy to see why he would be vulnerable to Long John Silver’s friendship, and thus why Silver’s betrayal would also be brutal. That is, it’s easy to see theoretically. Emotionally, I just couldn’t get behind this relationship — not because Long John is obese and ugly and a cyborg, but because he gives off an air of dysfunctional drunken uncle. Totally creepy — I kept feeling like he might molest Jim in that galley at any moment. The fact that a Google search of the movie brought up an early result classifying it as a “romance/adventure” only confirms my worst fears.
If Jim would notice the ACTUAL role models in his life
OK, I get that a father is important. Both boys and girls can be devastated by a father walking out on them. But I got a little tired of watching Jim sulk over how he had no one to look up to when he was SURROUNDED by strong, admirable adults. Back on his home planet, he had his mom who, in addition to clearly loving him, managed a business by herself — she was both nurturer and provider and seemed to be doing an excellent job at it. If Jim was so desperate for a male role model, he needed to look no further than family friend Doctor
Doppler. Sure, he looks like a puppy, but here is a man who is kind-hearted, intelligent, and self-sufficient — not to mention wise enough to have a savings account and adventurous to boot. Once Jim boards the Legacy, he can take his pick of role models from the stoic Mr. Arrow, who is the picture of competence, or Captain Amelia herself, who both runs a tight ship AND is an excellent judge of character (she has major misgivings about the crew). There are SO MANY OPTIONS for people Jim can look up to rather than the shifty, drunken uncle Long John.
[As an aside, while I like Disney’s choice to make the captain a female — and a cat!! — I was irritated by the subtle ways the movie undercut her authority. Doctor Doppler, despite being shown as a decent sort in the early segments of the film, seems unable to stomach a woman being in charge when he first arrives on the Legacy. And then Amelia turns into a mewling kitten hanging on his every word as soon as she sustains an injury in the crash on Treasure Planet. And of course, in the end she’s reduced to a doting mother with a litter of puppies/kittens. Hopefully her uniform means she’s still captaining — I can see Doppler as a stay-at-home dad.]
If this movie wasn’t released to the same generation that saw Muppet Treasure Island
Perhaps the greatest mark against this movie is that it was released to a generation that remembered Muppet Treasure Island, which did Treasure Island better than either Disney or Robert Louis Stevenson did. A mere six years earlier, MTI pulled off pretty much everything I wish this movie would have done:
- Singing – Check
- Non-distracting Cast – Check (OK, you could make the argument that the diversity of Muppet characters on the ship is just as bad as the diversity of aliens, but I would argue that these are far less distracting because most of them are already familiar to us.)
- A non-creepy primary relationship – Check. Sure, there are people who think Tim Curry is creepy, but he doesn’t have that same pedophile vibe I get from Disney’s Silver. Not to mention that he is so charismatic that it’s easy to see how Hawkins would be vulnerable to his charm.
- A lead who doesn’t disregard other role models – The Muppets’ Hawkins is truly an orphan, so his vulnerability is greater even as he seems like less of a prick for pining for a father when he’s got a lot of other caring adults around him.
For your edification, you can see nearly all displayed in the following clip. You’re welcome.