A Flatulent Alien

Take the razor from thy wrist, 'tis time to review...

Treasure Planet (2002)

Soundtrack/Score/Music: 4

Story/Screenplay/Narrative: 3.5

Characters/Characterization/Voice-Acting: 5

Art Direction/Design: 7.5

Themes, Archetypes, and Artistic Interpretation: 5

From Wiry:

Damn it, why am I stuck with the plot summary for this stinker? Oh well... many of you probably haven't seen this so I'll try to do it quickly. For those who are unfamiliar,
Treasure Planet basically tries to shoehorn sci-fi into the pirate genre, with less-than-successful results. Rather than creating a unique world in which the original tale can be played out intergalactically, it just... pushes. Hard. Can I just say that Joseph Gordon-Levitt (voice of Jim, the lead character with a haircut straight out of a backwater 1994) is an excellent actor, and I'd like to pull out Mysterious Skin and Brick as worth seeing.

Okay so. We've got Jim, who lives with his mother (a mother? What!) in an inn she owns. When a salamander alien thing crashes with his treasure map (a golden ball), he brings the infamous pirate captain, John Silver, straight to Jim and MILF's doorstep. They flee with their family friend, Dog Hyde Pierce (Dr. Doppler), who decides to hire a crew to find the titular Treasure Planet that the map points to. Alas, his taste is poor, as the entire crew is composed of John Silver and his cronies, with the exception of the kitty captain (Emma Thompson, why?) and her First Mate. Jim is put to duty working for the cyborg cook (John Silver, natch), and they bond in a rather-cliched-song-montage-way but-still-interesting-since-it's-new-for-Disney way during their journey. A few conveniently exploding stars later, they arrive at the planet and it's mutiny time. Jim, the captain, and Dr. Dog flee to the planet, where they encounter Abomination-Bot (Martin Short), the former right-hand droid of the captain who buried his treasure somewhere on the... planet. So they find out that the map actually opens a portal to the center of the planet, with a McDuckian trove of treausre that is (of course!) booby-trapped. As the final dungeon so obediently explodes, John Silver chooses Jim over the treasure. They manage to escape through the portal, and Jim decides to let John roam free. Cue end of story, return to mom, and some horrifying kitty-dog mutants. Yay.

We knew coming into this film that it wasn't going to be good. Now, maybe it's unfair to have expectations along these lines, but let's not kid ourselves. Visually speaking, the computer animation is mostly well done, with a few "wow" moments of hand-drawn integration, but a few clunky moments as well. The score is barely worth mentioning - it flirts with a some pirate tunes (that would finally materialize in Disney's proper tackling of this subject matter in
Pirates of the Caribbean), but it's mostly generic orchestral with the single annoying montage pop song.

Character-wise, I'd be hard-pressed to find a more annoyingly one-dimensional lead than Jim. He also has very bad hair. Disney seems to have been trying so hard to be "hip" be cramming as much quasi-surfing imagery alongside SPACE! and PIRATES! and DOGS DOING CATS! and stuff, but... really, it's like one of those mash-up songs where you feel like the creator didn't actually think through how "Cheri Baby" and "Thong Song" made sense for mashery. The plot has holes you could drive a solar-powered space pirate ship through, and... well, I think I've said enough. The beast is what it is.

From RM:

Treasure Planet, to its credit, took me on a roller coaster ride of emotions: confusion over the gaping plot holes; sorrow over what dark hole Emma Thomspon must have been in to agree to do this; rage, over no one properly preparing me for how lousy this film REALLY was (even though I would argue it has the worst reputation, and rightfully so); mild amusement, over the actually inspired character known as Morph (guess what IT can do?!); and finally, Pity. Pity that John Musker and Ron Clements, men who gave us The Great Mouse Detective, Aladdin, Hercules, and The Little Mermaid, will have to spend the rest of their lives living down that they also gave us... Treasure Planet.

To take you into a little bit of the backstory of how we tend to grade this, normally I end up pitching a number a little higher than maybe what the film deserves, and Wiry pragmatically, or sometimes doggedly, works us down to a more reasonable number. Not this time. I wanted to bust this film down to Fun & Fancy Free, and if it wasn't for the visuals, it'd be down there.

This film is beyond lousy. This film is horrific. When I see this, I weep for someone who, not understanding Disney in its entirety, chose to have this represent anything other than the DREGS of the DREGS of the DREEEEEGS of the darkest period in Disney history. If not for technology, this would be the worst thing ever produced by Disney, including Song of the South and The Black Hole. The score is uninspiring at some points, and insipid in others. The plot seems like poorly, POORLY done fan fiction. The animation is at times impressive at times not so much. And, other than a father son story, much of the archetypes are lousy or unnecessary (did I really NEED to see interspecies breeding, Disney? DID I?).

I'm sorry if this seems mean spirited, and Treasure Planet fan, if you're out there, please try to explain this to me. I don't want to feel this about a Disney film. I don't want to be this angry. But I am.

Update 8-26-08 (from RM): I've spent the past few days musing upon this film. Not so much that it was bad. I'm sure there will be a few more unpleasant surprises for us before this is done. But how two guys like Ron Clements and John Musker, with such phenomenal taste and instinct, could make so many slip-ups in one film. Story, music, characters, even art seem poorly done. And if this were some one shot shlub like the guy who did Black Cauldron, I might understand. But not from these two. The mathematical chances that their normally good taste could stray so far from home base just seemed too bizarre to be true.

The more I thought about it, the less it made sense.

Until, one night, an almost heretical thought came to me.

What if....what if they KNEW it would be this bad? What if, deep down in their hearts, Team RonJohn knew this was going to bomb, and made it anyway? Now I know this seems crazy, but hear me out.

The Lion King changed everything. We can all agree on that. All films since Lion King have been held up against it. Even some before it are held up against it. Because for most people (not myself) it is THE standard in Disney, past and present. It may not be the best Disney film (it isn't), but at the moment it is our highest ranked and has the distinct advantage of being the last excellent Disney film before the backwards slide of the Modern Era. Now, as we have illustrated with some films (Hunchback of Notre Dame), this system isn't always fair. And I'm sure Team RonJohn (yes, I'll be calling them that from now on) knew that Simba n' pals were the modern barometer. That every film since it would be compared to it, and no film would be allowed to stand on its own individual merits.

So what if, for the greater good, they made a film so bad, that it, in effect, purged Lion King from our collective conscience as the modern barometer?

Think about it. Though I had never seen Treasure Planet until this past weekend, I was hip enough to know that since TP, the barometer has been, "Will it be as bad as Treasure Planet?" not "Is it Lion King reborn?". We've accepted that, if another Lion King comes, it could be a while, and we shouldn't be holding our collective breath.

I think Team RonJohn knew that. And I think they took the bullet for the greater good, because they knew they could survive it. It's the only way I can justify this film in my mind.

Update 8/26/08 (from Wiry): On the other hand, Team RonJohn was trying to get this stinker made for years and some wise person at Disney clearly put it off as long as possible. Come on, I mean... even in pure concept alone it's a questionable project. There are countless examples of great artists pursuing one of their own ideas to a horrible end, given how hard it is to keep continuously topping oneself. I think it's just a natural fizzle, the inevitable career blip that will (hopefully) be no more than a dip between great works (but we'll let you know once The Princess and the Frog comes out).

Final Grade: D+

Final Rankings:

1.) The Lion King
2.) Sleeping Beauty
3.) The Hunchback of Notre Dame
4.) Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs
5.) Lady and The Tramp
6.) The Great Mouse Detective
7.) Pinocchio
8.) The Jungle Book
9.) The Black Cauldron
10.) Mulan
11.) Treasure Planet
12.) Fun and Fancy Free


Perhaps a more apt name for this film might be, "Trasher Pan-it".

August 25, 2008 at 12:55 PM  

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