Treasure Planet (2002)—Disney’s Hidden Masterpiece
When it comes to animated films, Pixar and Japanese anime films such as Your Name often dominate the box office. However, that doesn’t say that Disney doesn’t have any good original animated films. While many may point to Frozen as their most successful, non-archetypical animated feature, they are often forgetting one spectacular film: 2002’s Treasure Planet.
Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) grew up listening to stories of a mythical Treasure Planet and becomes a troubled young man, due to being abandoned by his father. After violating his probation one day, he comes across a dying pilot named Billy Bones who gives him a map to Treasure Planet and warns him of a cyborg. Soon, Jim, his mother, and long-time family friend Dr. Delbert Doppler (voiced by David Hyde-Pierce) are attacked by space pirates. They escape and Jim and Dr. Doppler go on to find Treasure Planet. Dr. Doppler commissions a ship led by Captain Amelia Smollett (voiced by Emma Thompson), who tasks Jim to work with the cook, John Silver (voiced by Brian Murray), who happens to be a cyborg.
Treasure Planet is based on the classic novel Treasure Island, but in space. While this may seem like an outlandish idea, it actually makes for compelling storytelling! Jim is an interesting and likeable character that we are invested in as the film continues. Being abandoned by his father who was obsessed with finding Treasure Planet left Jim trying to find a father figure throughout his life. When he comes across John Silver, the two have a rocky start but soon grow closer and Silver seems to become a surrogate father figure for Jim until he discovers that Silver was the cyborg he should beware all along. This reveal is not only heartbreaking, but also soul crushing in a way.
While Silver originally only used Jim as a means to access the map, he eventually does grow close to him. Eventually, he finds himself conflicted with his mission and his fatherly love for Jim. When he does decide to follow through with his plan and arrives at Treasure Planet, he ultimately decides to sacrifice the gold and treasure he spent his life searching for in order to save Jim. While Jim is the film’s protagonist, we also see how John Silver grows and evolves as a character, from heartless pirate to a scoundrel with a heart of gold.
This movie came out in 2002, yet the animation and visuals still hold up by today’s standards! The film combines both traditional animation and CGI. For example, the characters rendered in 2D animation yet the ships and certain aspects of the ships such as sails, cannons, and engines are rendered in CGI. Speaking of the ships, they combine elements from both traditional and futuristic elements to the ships, including sails and rocket thrusters. Besides the ships, Treasure Planet includes a plethora of anthropomorphic animals and aliens in its diverse cast of characters. Both Dr. Doppler and Captain Amelia fall into the former category while other minor characters fit into the latter. This is set in the future and on another planet in space, which makes perfect sense on why there would be so much diversity present in the film. Despite this, both Jim and John Silver are human, likely due to the audience finding it easier to relate to a human protagonist.
Despite the film’s overall positive critical reviews, it was deemed a financial failure, making only $110 million on a budget of $140 million. This poor box office performance led to the cancellation of a planned franchise and direct-to-DVD sequels. The planned sequel would have revolved around Jim, his love interest Kate and John Silver teaming up to stop Captain Ironbeard from releasing prisoners from a large space penitentiary. Personally, I would’ve liked to see the sequel and it’s a shame that Disney cancelled what could’ve been a popular film franchise. Even today, people still look back on this film fondly.
While I didn’t grow up watching this film, I see why so many people enjoy it. The animation is absolutely breathtaking and further complements the storytelling. In fact, the visuals were so good that Treasure Planet was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 73rd Academy Awards, but lost out to Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. But despite all this, it was not given any sequels and is now largely forgotten. But that shouldn’t be the case. Out of all the films made by Disney, Treasure Planet is one of their most creative films and deserved more recognition for pushing the boundaries of storytelling and animation.