Disclaimer: I’m cheating with this one. I don’t own this movie. It’s on Netflix. This is the only Disney movie I don’t own that I’m reviewing, and it’s for good reason.
Disclaimer #2: I’m freaking going to kill this review. I worked on it for literally 2 weeks, then lost it on the browser. I have no idea where it went. Jesus. Now I have to try and recreate the whole freaking thing. And it was so good. UGH!! I’m sorry if this reads a bit rough. I’m not editing. I just want this to be over with.
So I’m going to do this review a bit differently than some of my other ones. If anything, I’m going to lay it out like my Black Cauldron or Beauty and the Beast review. Why? Because this movie needs a review like that. Why? Because this movie was one of the most expensive bombs out there! How bad? It cost $180 Million to make. It made only $38 Million in the US, and when all was said and done, it only garnered $110 Million total. It never made its money back.
Now I’m not really one to judge bombs. Especially Disney bombs. In fact, if we did that, no one would think twice of Disney movies we now call “classic.” Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland. They all “bombed” at the box office. Now I know the 40s-60s is a different time frame, but still.
So we’re going to try and figure out this movie. And to do that, I’m going to attempt to ask two very important questions: Why did this movie bomb? and Is it really worth that title? Is it that bad?
Let’s dive right in with that first question for which I have a few theories:
Exactly Why did this movie bomb?
I had absolutely no want to see this movie. I remember seeing trailers and going, “uh… ok….” but that was it. When it showed up on Netflix a few years ago, I stuck it in my queue because it was one of the few Disney movies I hadn’t seen. Then one day I shrugged to myself and went “Ok, let’s see how bad this is.”
I went in with a preconceived notion of how this movie was going to be. But why? Why did this movie look horrible? I think it all starts with a question that everyone who has ever heard of this movie probably asked themselves:
So wait… this is Treasure Island but… in… space…? What…? Why…?
I would be lying if I said I understood why Disney felt the need to take Treasure Island and set it in space. It’s weird. A straight up adaptation of Treasure Island would have been amazing. A Complete sci-fi reimagining would have been weird, but accepted. Instead, we get this strange hybrid of the two. Think I’m kidding?
In this movie, the characters all look like they’re from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book. They dress like they live in the 17th century. They use old style pirate ships and steering, coal burners and telescopes. They live in tudor style houses full of wooden furniture.
But then they also have technology to make these pirate ships fly (with artificial gravity and apparently a atmosphere bubble around them? we never actually see that… apparently these people can just breathe in space). They have cyborgs and hover crafts and laser technology and 3D books and solar sails.
How do these two things co-exist??
This is what a lot of critics didn’t like about this movie. The style is really bizarre, and I’d be lying if I said it was easy to get used to. The two don’t fit together in the way you want it. Why do these technologically advanced people still use fire to cook and live in wooden houses? I dunno. Maybe it’s set in a galaxy far far away….
I think I lot of people brushed this movie off because the style was weird. Because they didn’t understand why Disney just didn’t do a straight up adaptation. So they didn’t go see it. But you have to understand something. In 2002, Disney actually had competition. Pixar was huge, and Dreamworks had just had a big hit with Shrek. They were trying anything to make themselves seem cool. If taking a well known story and tweaking it to look “fresh” was what it took, then that’s what they did. Which leads me to my next theory on why this thing bombed….
Disney tried to appeal to a demographic they just can’t win with. This is the third movie I’ve reviewed that has shown Disney trying to appeal to the older male demographic (the other two being Black Cauldron and Atlantis). Now don’t get me wrong, this one is definitely the best, and has the ability to appeal to younger kids as well, but you would have never known that with the trailer, the music (really? you got Johnny Reznick, the head of the Goo Goo Dolls? gee, you’re not trying to appeal to teenagers in 2002…) or the main character.
Let’s talk about Jim Hawkins for a moment: In the book, Jim is a 12-13 year old honest, hard working, clever boy who is obedient and loves his family, his mother, and is willing to do anything for her.
In Treasure Planet, we get this:
I’m guessing this Jim (voiced by Joseph Gordon Levitt) is at least 14 if not older, and just look at him! Ohhh Disney you try way too hard. He’s got the cool (bizarre) hair! He rides hover boards! He gets arrested! But oh, he’s just misunderstood. It’s like Disney put a giant sign on this kids chest that read: Come see this movie! Look at me, I’m just like you!!!
Don’t get me wrong: Jim is actually a great character and a wonderful protagonist. I actually really like his character. He acts out because his dad left. He’s a screw up because that’s what everyone keeps telling him he is, so he’s started believing it. He thinks he has no potential and messing around and getting arrested is the only thing he’s got to look forward to. It’s only after Billy Bones gives him the map to Treasure Planet and they get on the ship that we see Jim for what he really is. This kid has a ton of potential. He’s a hard worker, and he’s smart. He’s good with fixing machines. He’s got a big heart, always thinking of his mother and how he can use the treasure they’re going to find to help her.
Disney ruined all of that with a cool guy character design in my opinion. The trailers show him surfing around on his hover board. They don’t show us any of his personality. They never showed us anything at all. Except how cool he is and “oh look at all our awesome CGI ships”. When Disney tries too hard to appeal to an audience they’re not used to marketing to, they lose out. Which is a shame with this movie, because like I said – it does have things in there for the kids (I’ll get to that later – for better or worse).
My last theory as to why this movie bombed really has to do with the designs of the characters. Some of the character designs are great. We’ve got lots of aliens and the vast majority of them are very cool/weird looking. Even some of our main characters designs are wonderful, like Doppler and Arrow and Silver. But for every three of those, you have a Captain Amelia:
Now I know there are a lot of people who like this character, so let me be clear that I am not saying her character is an issue. She’s a wonderful character voiced by the ever amazing Emma Thompson. That’s not my problem. My problem, and I think maybe where a lot of people had problems, were in the design of characters like her. It’s a little too human/cat hybrid. It’s weird. It’s like your brain doesn’t know where to put her. Contrast that with Dopper, who’s a dog:
Yes, he’s a strange dog/human hybrid too, but I feel like his features lend itself to that more than hers do. This is just one example. Some of the character designs are just…. weird. like Jim’s hair. Or some of the pirates. Sure they’re unique, but maybe they’re a little too unique.
So there you go: my three theories on why this movie bombed. 1) it wasn’t what people were looking for, 2) Disney marketed it wrong/to the wrong people, and 3) strange off-putting character designs.
Now let’s dive into that second, much harder to answer question: Is it really worth that title? Is it that bad?
My short answer is no, but that wouldn’t be any fun. Instead, let’s think of some other universally well known bombs: Battlefield Earth. Waterworld. Mars Needs Moms. Sahara. Now really… should this movie be included with those? Those movies had horrible plots, horrible characters and just were…. weird. How does Treasure Planet Measure up?
First of all, I’d like to mention that for a bomb, this movie has the highest Rotten Tomatoes rating I’ve ever seen (68%). That should tell you something. This isn’t a bad movie. Not even the critics totally panned it.
So the story? Well, Treasure Island is an incredibly well known story that had been adapted countless times. Things have been changed, characters have been forgotten, but the general story is still there in all of these adaptations. The fact it’s been adapted so many times leads me to believe that it’s not that story, unless Disney changed it a shit ton. Now I’ve never read the book, so I only have other movies to compare it to, and other sources online. Here’s what I found out about Disney, Treasure Island, and its adaptation into a space movie.
This movie is an extremely faithful adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
That’s right. When all is said and done, this movie keeps a lot of the book intact. So obviously the story is not the problem. The story is great. We have changes because of the setting and the fact it’s Disney, but everything is extremely well done. One of the changes (which I’ll talk about later) is something I actually was hoping was in the book. But it’s not. Boo. Because it’s that good.
So what about those characters? We’ve got classics here! Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins, Mr. Arrow, Billy Bones, etc. Did Disney screw them up?
I’ve already talked about Jim and how they changed him. But honestly I think it works with this movie, the story, and the other characters. Having Jim start out as a criminal who thinks he’s just a screw up actually lends to his character being able to change and grow more throughout the movie than just having him be some smart obedient kid out for an adventure. Some of our smaller characters from the book, Trelawney and Livesey, have been combined into one made up character named Dr. Doppler (which was written specifically for the ever amazing David Hyde Pierce). It works well, and Doppler is one of the better characters in the movie, built for humor but also good nature.
Then there’s Silver. In the book, Long John Silver is the epitome of a pirate: He chooses what side to be on based on how it can help him, he’s ruthless and smart and driven. He kept himself distanced from everyone, except Jim, whom he grew fond of. Stevenson also made Long John Silver a bit more frugal than other pirates in his book, though. He knew when to spend money and when to give up. He also never let his disability (his peg leg) slow him down.
Long John Silver is a great literary character. Somehow, Disney took this character and made him Better. That’s right, I said it. They made him better.
In the movie, Silver is a cyborg. He has a peg leg, but he also has a cyborg arm that’s like a swiss army knife and a mechanical eye. His design is one of my favorites in the movie. I could go on and on about it. I really like the arm, because it lends for some interesting scenes and some good tension build up in others, as you see him seamlessly shift from his hand to a gun behind his back.
But his design isn’t what makes Silver so great. What makes him great and what makes him better in this movie than in other adaptations is that he’s deeper emotionally than a lot of other characters. Most of his emotional depth comes from his relationship with Jim. This is where this movie really soars.
Silver is originally in this story for one purpose only: to steal the map to Treasure Planet, cause a mutiny, and steal the treasure. It’s his dream. Then this kid shows up: a kid who’s stubborn but puts up with everything the guy can throw at him. Jim’s a hard worker, and Silver realizes it: maybe even sees a bit of himself in him. A friendship begins, and before long you could argue that Silver really loves this kid. He sees the potential in him when Jim can’t see it in himself. Silver sees this kid is destined for greatness. And that’s where things get complicated. Even he mentions he’s getting in too deep.
There’s a scene in which you understand his true emotions. It’s also the moment that Jim finds out the truth behind who Silver actually is. A crew member, Scroop, had just seen the two (Silver and Jim) up on deck, and the guy accuses Silver of growing soft. He lashes out and tells them all it was just an act to cozy up to the kid. Jim, of course, is hiding in a barrel, and his trust is shaken in the guy for the rest of the movie, understandably. But there’s this moment where the rest of the crew leaves, Jim is still in the barrel, and you see this look from Silver. In that moment, you realize that it wasn’t Jim he lied to, it was the crew. It’s at that moment that he realizes he can’t feel what he wants, and that to save his skin (and maybe Jim’s too) he has to carry on with the plan. It’s just for a split second, but you feel what he feels. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Silver Character quite give that look before.
Once they’re on the Planet, Silver and Jim’s relationship is tested. Silver tries to tell him the truth, but Jim doesn’t believe him. It’s only after they’re in the belly of the planet and Silver is torn between a boatload of treasure and saving Jim’s life that we understand where his true allegiance lies. This is a scene that isn’t in the book, and it plays very well. And I kinda like that he’s the only Disney Villain who’s ever redeemed himself.
This movie is worth watching for Jim and Silver alone. It’s extremely well done and is a huge strength of the movie. So to say that this movie is horrible, doesn’t have heart, and doesn’t have good characters is just stupid.
Now it does have it’s good characters, but not everything is unbelievably amazing. This isn’t the best Disney movie by far, nor does it deserve to be. It has tons of issues (most of which I pointed out answering my first question). To that list I’d like to add just one more.
I mentioned how Disney marketed this to an older audience when you could argue they didn’t have to. Disney’s always been good about the side characters, and this one isn’t lacking. This movie, unlike Atlantis, feels like a Disney movie. To me, the side characters in this movie exist for the kids. Doppler’s funny, Morph (see below) is just the best.
Then there’s B.E.N. People have called B.E.N. (voice by Martin Short) the Jar Jar Binks of animation. I’m not going to disagree. This movie had a ton of momentum, and then we meet this robot who is missing his memory and has been stranded on Treasure Planet, and we lose it. He’s desperate for attention, and is super annoying. But believe it or not this is not a creation of Disney’s. That’s right. Ben is actually a character plucked right out of the book – same story and everything (at least the being marooned on the island part… not the memory part).
I would turn off the movie the second we meet B.E.N, but then I would miss a bunch of good scenes. But he is a pain. So is that alien who speaks in farts. As if we didn’t know you put that in there just to get kids to laugh, Disney….
So let’s return to our question: Is it really worth that title? Is it that bad?
No. It’s not. This movie should not have been a bomb. It’s not bad. There are many more horrible Disney movies out there. In fact, the more I watch it, the more this movie really grows on me. This movie has something that makes me keep coming back. It has heart. It has characters that make you care about them. It has a villain that is the most interesting character in the entire movie. Whatever this movie is, it should not have been a bomb.
If you haven’t seen it, give it a watch. Really. You might think it’s weird, and you might think I’m crazy for liking it as much as I claim to. It has a lot of issues, but if you can see through it, it’s worth it. It’s going on my Disney’s Underrated movies list. Although I still think just a straight up adaptation in the ocean would have been good too…
I give Treasure Planet (2002) a 3 out of 5.
Up Next: Brother Bear (2003)