Today I watched Ron Clements’ and John Musker’s Treasure Planet (2002)
Based on the classic adventure novel, Treasure Island, this film takes that story and loosely adapts it to space fantasy. Jim Hawkins is a rambunctious youth who dreams of adventure and gets to live that dream when a treasure map falls into his life. A crew is put together to follow this map, but unfortunately someone messed up and hired a crew of deeply untrustworthy characters. As they sail towards their destination, Hawkins comes to admire one of these untrustworthy characters, a certain Long John Silver, and they form something of a father son bond. But it is not to last as Hawkins is an upstanding sort of fellow who sides with the ship captain while it turns out that Long John is leading pirate mutineers on a quest for gold.
So the big gimmick here is that the story takes place in some kind of super stylized space fantasy world. In this anachronistic setting, tall masted ships from the golden age of sail chart courses through a colourful and warm ‘etherium,’ as the introduction calls space. Yet these ships are still made of wood and the fashions are still very traditional for the pirate genre. This anachronistic take reminds me a lot of the old Dungeons & Dragons setting Spelljammer, which really excited me. Visual flair and creativity move this film and build a really fun world to inhabit.
But then we get to the story and the film seriously drags. Obviously, with such legendary source material, there is a solid story buried here, it’s just that the script is pretty bad. Perhaps the biggest sin here is that Jim Hawkins, our main character, is practically a nobody, a cipher devoid of distinguishing features. Furthermore the dialogue is some of the most hackneyed I have heard since starting these reviews, full of the clumsiest exposition imaginable. Exposition where characters bang on about things that other characters already know doesn’t just rob the film of momentum and sound stupid, it also robs the characters of intellect.
Now that being said there were a few standout performances that managed to elevate the material. Emma Thompson is particularly good as this film’s version of Captain Smollett, a feisty and energetic cat-woman who gets far less screen time than she deserved. Brian Murray also gets some good work in as Long John, his voice perfectly bringing to life a really expressive and interesting character model. That being said he is really robbed of the opportunity to bring out that complex relationship with Hawkins as their entire bonding process is pretty much relegated to a rather crass musical number. It’s the only number of it’s type in the film, it’s just a lame licensed song, and it characterizes the lack of plot creativity found in this film. So really, despite attempts at being a family film, it ends up just being a brisk and entertaining kids film, and that is most certainly to the film’s detriment. 3/5