Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Treasure Planet

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Treasure Planet

Year: 2002

Source materials : Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Budget: $140 million

Box office: $109.6 million

Plot: On the planet Montressor, a young Jim Hawkins is enchanted by stories of the legendary pirate Captain Flint and his ability to appear and disappear in order to hide the loot on the mysterious “Treasure Planet”.

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Twelve years later, Jim has grown into an aloof and isolated troublemaker. He reluctantly helps his mother Sarah run the family’s Benbow Inn, and derives amusement from “Alponian solar cruising”, skysurfing atop a rocket-powered sailboard… IN SPACE!

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One day, a spaceship crashes near the inn. The dying pilot, Billy Bones, gives Jim a sphere and tells him to “beware the cyborg”. After this, a gang of pirates raid and burn the inn. Jim, his mother, and Dr. Delbert Doppler flee.  Jim discovers that the sphere is a holographic projector containing a star map that leads to the location of Treasure Planet.

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Doppler commissions a ship called the RLS Legacy, on a mission to find Treasure Planet. The ship is commanded by the feline Captain Amelia along with her stone-skinned and disciplined first mate, Mr. Arrow.

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The crew is a motley bunch, secretly led by the half-robot cook John Silver, whom Jim suspects is the cyborg he was warned about. Jim is sent down to work in the galley, where he is supervised by Silver and his shape-shifting pet, Morph. Despite Jim’s mistrust of Silver, they soon form a tenuous father-son relationship.

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During the voyage, the ship encounters a supernova. Jim, while securing lifelines of all crew members, saves Silver from falling just in time. The supernova then devolves into a black hole and Mr. Arrow is shortly sucked into it. Amelia suspects Jim of failing to secure the lifelines, but Arrow’s line was cut by a ruthless crew member named Scroop.

As the ship reaches Treasure Planet, mutiny erupts. Jim, Doppler, Amelia and Morph abandon the ship, but Morph has left the map behind. Thinking Jim has the map, Silver targets to kill Jim, but hesitates, allowing them to escape. The fugitives are shot down during their escape, injuring Amelia.

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While exploring Treasure Planet’s forests, the fugitives meet B.E.N., an abandoned robot, who has lost his primary memory and invites them to his place for shelter. The pirates corner the group there. Using a back-door, Jim, B.E.N. and Morph return to the ship in an attempt to recover the map. Scroop attacks them but gets drifted into space. They obtain the map, but upon returning they are caught by Silver.559457

Silver forces Jim to use the map, directing them to a portal that opens on any location in the universe, which is how Flint conducted his raids. They open the portal to the center of Treasure Planet, discovering that the planet is really a space station built eons ago that Flint commandeered to stow his treasure.

As the pirates prepare to collect the loot, Jim finds the remains of Flint, holding the missing component to B.E.N.’s memory. He reinserts it, and B.E.N. immediately recalls that Flint had rigged the planet to explode upon the treasure’s discovery. The planet soon begins to fall apart.

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Silver attempts to escape on a boat loaded with treasure, but eventually lets it go to save Jim. The survivors escape to the ship, but it gets damaged and is unable to leave the planet in time. Jim rigs a makeshift rocket-powered sailboard, 1and rides ahead of the ship towards the portal. At the last moment, Jim sets the portal to Montressor Spaceport, and both he and the crew safely clear the destruction.

Jim finds Silver has snuck below decks to escape. He allows him to go, and Silver asks him to keep Morph, as well as providing him some part of the treasure to rebuild the Benbow Inn, believing Jim will “rattle the stars”. Amelia offers Jim a recommendation to Interstellar Academy before he returns to the spaceport to reunite with his mother.

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Sometime later, a party is hosted at the rebuilt inn; Doppler and Amelia have married and had children of their own, and Jim has become a military cadet… IN SPACE!

Background:  Treasure Planet was originally pitched by Ron Clements in 1985 at the same meeting wherein he pitched The Little Mermaid. Jeffrey Katzenberg, 2 “just wasn’t interested” in the idea. In order to make the film “fun” by creating more exciting action sequences and because they believed that having the characters wear space suits and helmets “would take all the romance out of it”, the crew created the concept of the “Etherium,” an “outer space filled with atmosphere”.

The prologue of the film originally featured an adult Jim Hawkins narrating the story of Captain Flint in first person, 3 but the crew considered this to be too “dark” and felt that it lacked character involvement.

Changes from the Source Material: Other than being set IN SPACE…

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In the novel, Jim’s father is dead, wheras in the film, he abandoned his family. The Captain’s gender is changed from male to female. Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey were fused into Dr. Doppler. Jim is aged from a boy to a young man. Terry Rossio, who worked on the script, later argued the filmmakers made a crucial mistake turning Jim Hawkins too old.

“Treasure Island, the book, is a boy’s adventure, about a young cabin boy who matches wits with a crew of bloodthirsty pirates. All of the key scenes are made more dramatic by the fact that it’s a young kid who is in danger… Treasure Planet made the kid into a young man. Which dilutes the drama of all the situations, start to finish… Instead of being an amazing and impressive kid, he became a petulant unimpressive teen.”

Animation: The crew operated on rule they call the “70/30 Law” which meant that the overall look of the film’s artwork should be 70% traditional and 30% sci-fi. The overall look was based on the art style promoted by illustrators associated with the Brandywine School of Illustration.

The animators took Deep Canvas, 4 and came up with a process they called “Virtual Sets,” wherein they created entire 360 degree sets before they began staging the scenes, and then combined the set with traditionally-drawn characters.

In order to test how John Silver’s computer-generated cyborg arm would mesh with a traditional animation, they took a clip of Captain Hook from Peter Pan and replaced his arm with the cyborg arm.

For the design for Jim Hawkins, John Ripa cited James Dean as a reference because “there was a whole attitude, a posture” wherein “you felt the pain and the youthful innocence”. Animators also used maquettes, small statues of the characters in the film, as references throughout the animation process.

Voice Cast:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jim Hawkins. He started as a child actor, he appeared in the films A River Runs Through It, Angels in the Outfield, 10 Things I Hate About You, and the TV series 3rd Rock from the Sun. As an adult, he has since starred in (500) Days of Summer, Inception, Hesher, 50/50, Premium Rush, The Dark Knight Rises, Brick, Looper, The Lookout, Manic, Lincoln, Mysterious Skin, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, The Walk, and Snowden. 5 David Hyde Pierce returns as Delbert Doppler.

Dame Emma Thompson as Captain Amelia. She has appeared in several films, including Dead Again, Much Ado About Nothing, Howards End, 6 The Remains of the Day, In the Name of the Father, Sense and Sensibility, 7 the Harry Potter series, Wit, Love Actually, Angels in America, Nanny McPhee, Stranger than Fiction, Last Chance Harvey, Men in Black 3, Brave, Beauty and the Beast, and Saving Mr. Banks. Martin Short as B.E.N. He became known for his work on SCTV and Saturday Night Live. He has starred in Three Amigos, Innerspace, Three Fugitives, Father of the Bride and its sequel, Pure Luck, Captain Ron, Mars Attacks!, and Jungle 2 Jungle. In 1999, he won a Tony Award for his lead performance in a Broadway revival of Little Me.

Brian Murray as John Silver. He made his Broadway debut in the play All in Good Time in 1965. Two years later he was cast as one of the leads in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. His film and television credits include Bob Roberts, City Hall, Kojak, Another World, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and 30 Rock. Roscoe Lee Browne returns as Mr. Arrow.

Laurie Metcalf returns as Sarah Hawkins. Dane Davis as Morph. He is a sound editor with over 150 film credits. He won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing for The Matrix. With the exception of Cloud Atlas he has worked on all of the films by The Wachowskis and their TV series, Sense8.

Michael Wincott as Scroop. He has appeared in such films as Born on the Fourth of July, The Doors, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, The Three Musketeers, The Crow, Strange Days, Basquiat, Alien Resurrection, Along Came a Spider, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly , A Lonely Place for Dying , Hitchcock, and Ghost in the Shell. He has also appeared on the television show Westworld. Patrick McGoohan 8 as Billy Bones. He was best known as the star of the television series The Prisoner. Other film credits include I Am a Camera, Ice Station Zebra, Mary, Queen of Scots, Silver Streak, Escape from Alcatraz, Scanners, Braveheart, The Phantom,and A Time to Kill.

Tony Jay returns as the Narrator.

Music and Songs: The film includes two singles 9 from The Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik and British pop-rock group, BBMak. The score was composed by James Newton Howard.

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Critical Reception: Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post, who gave it 4 stars out of 5, stated that the film “boasts the purest of Disney raptures: It unites the generations, rather than driving them apart”. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 2.5 stars out of 4. He felt that a more traditional take on the story would have been “more exciting” and “less gimmicky”. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly described the film as “all cutesy updated fripperies and zero momentum.”

Legacy: Thomas Schumacher, 10 considered direct-to-video releases for a sequel as well as a television series. The sequel was cancelled due to complete lack of interest

Video Games: Several Treasure Planet video games were released in 2002.

  • Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon from Disney Interactive
  • Treasure Planet from Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation and PlayStation, developed by Bizarre Creations.
  • A Game Boy Advance game was released.
  • Disney’s Treasure Planet: Training Academy 

My take:  Treasure Island was my favorite “classic” book growing up. It still influences me as a writer. So imagine my chagrin when I see Jim Hawkins turn into Pootchie (He’s got a pony tail, an earring,  and rides a space windsurfer, brah!). And then seeing one of my all-time favorite characters, the intelligent and badass Dr. David Livesey, turned into whatever the fuck Doppler is supposed to be, well I was not happy.

That being said, I liked the gender switch with the captain (although why they felt the need to pair her off with the doctor…), and the surrogate-father relationship between Silver and Jim. Silver is a great character if the audience has a chance to kind of root for him. The CGI is still at the point where it sticks out, but it has interesting visuals. In my mind I concur with the late Mr. Ebert and would have rather seen them adapt the story in the traditional manner rather than see Jim save the day by space skateboarding, brah.

Next Week: We’re going to look for a fish