In 2002 the Disney corporation released a re-imagining of the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, the difference being that they set the story through space with steam-punk technology. When this came out Disney was is a bit of a downwards spiral, they had direct to video sequels coming out frequently and 3D animation of Pixar was on the rise, which is why I am so surprised that an original concept came out of Disney at this time. Steampunk is on the rise in popularity these days so even if it's a concept you haven't heard of you probably will have seen an example of it somewhere. Panic at the Disco's 'Mona Lisa Smile' video clip for instance features sets, costumes and props from some of the biggest names in steampunk, or you may have seen *shudder* Justin Beibers 'Santa Claus is coming to town'. Alternatively slight steampunk visuals were used in movies such as Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus or Robert DeNiro's skyship in Stardust.
I never saw Treasure Planet when it came out in cinemas, and didn't see it on video till very recently, and I was genuinely surprised at not only the risk the movie would have been for the comany but how well they did it. Certain aspect aren't as strong as other Disney movies, while the background music is good it's not to the level of other Disney Movies; however since this is not a musical it dosen't hurt. The main problem is the mixing of the 2D and 3D animation. Often the computer generated back drops, while designed beautifully just dosen't fit properly, this can be difficult for immersion. You're pulled out of it by this, although I doubt this is a problem for a younger audience the movie is targeted towards however. Finally a point that I had never considered was raised by Doug Walker (The Nostalgia Critic) in his brief review of the Treasure Planet. That being, that he simply wasn't able to get into the setting. I've been a fan of steampunk for the last 5 years or so and it's something I took to very easily so I hadn't really considered that other people would have difficulty in understanding this mix of Victorian and futuristic. For those who are confused a quick definition of steampunk as I understand it.
The word means the mixing of steam engine Victorian setting and punk rock of the 80's, it's developed a bit from that but essentially its a genre of alternate history. It takes the idea that steam engines became the main source of power rather than electricity so everything still has a very grundgy look to it, with copper and brass being the main construction tools and cogs and wheels being used so often it's pretty much to the point of decoration. The clothing is all reminiscent of the Victorian era, through corsets, top hats, blouses and bonnets.
While the genre is growing in popularity from conventions and costuming into movies, books and as mentioned video clips it still isn't common place and it a bit of a geek sub-culture.
So those are my problems with the film, what is it I like. First off the designs are pretty spectacular, I really would have liked to see more of them but they give a real sense of wonder to the movie. The 2D animation is top notch as always for Disney cinema releases. The real strength in this movie comes from something that Disney is not known for, and thats character and relationships. This movie feels like your watching real people and not fairy tales and thats incredibly rare for Disney. When Disney changes the original source material it's to make it more child friendly, to make it safer. In Treasure Planet they have the father of the hero Jim Hawkins leave when he is a child. Not die nobly, not pass away off screen but leave. This integral change made the story more focused on the relationships which are done perfectly. Jim is played off as an intelligent but rebellious misunderstood boy, and if I read that I would have rolled my eyes. There are few character descriptions more overused than that apart from wise, mystical mentor figure doomed to die. However they handle it well, you can see the Jim's acting out does come from an actual place of pain and he does allow people to change. He's not a rebel just to try and appear cool. Giving the character father issues does also play into the relationship he has with Captain Silver, you see how much they go to care for each other. You believe their interactions and the ending is more satisfying because of this and reminds me of the same kind bitter-sweet closure you get at the end of Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
Fighting against nostalgia, as this is one of the few Disney movies I didn't see as a child, I find it sitting in my top Disney movies of all time. Not a hundred percent sure where it exactly fits in a list but perhaps that's something I could look at for future posts. But regardless of that this is a movie that is really worth a watch. 8.5/10
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