Treasure Planet: 10th Anniversary Edition (US - BD)
Gabe thinks this particular box office disaster deserves another look...
As a child, Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was raised on tales of a legendary pirate named Captain Flint and his mysterious Treasure Planet. As a budding young man, Jim is plagued by his free spirit and mistrust of authority, and burdens his single mother Sarah (Laurie Metcalf) with his troubled behavior. One night, a spacecraft crashes near the inn and the dying pilot, Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan), hands Jim a bronze sphere for safekeeping. Soon after, a gang of pirates raid and burn the inn that Sarah and Jim’s work and live in. They escape with their dog-like alien friend Dr. Delbert Doppler (David Hyde Pierce), and investigate the sphere, which turns out to be a holographic projector for a map leading to Captain Flint’s Treasure Planet. Excited, Doppler commissions a ship called R.L.S. Legacy on a mission to find the planet and agrees to bring Jim along, despite his mother’s protests. The ship is commanded by the cat-like Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson) and her stony-skinned and disciplined First Mate, Mr. Arrow (Roscoe Lee Browne). The motley alien ruffian crew doesn’t receive Jim very warmly, except for the ship’s cook, a cyborg named John Silver (Brian Murray).
Following record profits during the late ‘80s and early-to-mid ‘90s (not adjusted for inflation), Disney began to see a slump in the box-office sales of their ‘event’ animated films. This downswing started subtly with Pocahontas in 1995, which was released the summer before Pixar unleashed Toy Story and changed the entire feature animation landscape. As Pixar’s computer animation continued to take off Disney released their first CG animated film, Dinosaur, to decent sales, the same year they ended up losing money on the traditionally animated Emperor’s New Groove (2000). In an effort to capture the young male audiences that made special effects-driven adventure films like The Phantom Menace hits, Disney took on a particularly ambitious 2D/3D animated project in Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001). Atlantis was not a hit (it probably lost money after distributor and advertising costs were taken into account), and Fox’s similarly PG-rated, sci-fi adventure competitor Titan A.E (released the year before) was such a monetary fiasco it closed the doors on the animation studio that made it. But Disney wasn’t quite ready to give up on the ambitious sci-fi thing (or, more likely, the gears were already in motion and not worth halting) and after making a bit of surprise summer hit cash with Lilo & Stitch (2002), they released their most expensive animated film to date – Treasure Planet. Treasure Planet went on to be one of the studio’s biggest box office disappointments, paving a bleak road that eventually led Disney to (temporarily) shut down their traditionally animation department altogether.
Box-office disappointment is more or less the only thing anyone remembers about Treasure Planet. Well, that and Jim’s rat-tail haircut. It’s not a great film or even a particularly worthy successor to the Disney name (it didn’t help that it was released in the States the same year as Spirited Away), but, with tempered expectations set firmly in place, it’s a solid standalone animated feature. Atlantis: The Lost Empire’s complex narrative aspirations and striking style have found it the cult audience it deserves (you know, a decent-sized, but not too big one) and there’s no good reason to care about the legacy of Brother Bear or Home on the Range, but Treasure Planet’s ‘swept-under-the-rug’ status is at least somewhat unfair. The good stuff starts with (excessively) expensive artistic design. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker surrounded themselves with enough creative energy to carry the film pretty convincingly from scene to scene with generally unique character and set models. Sadly, there’s quite a bit of evidence blaming the mixed Victorian naval and space-set sci-fi motifs for the film’s dismal box-office performance. Audiences weren’t willing to take the leap in suspended disbelief and Treasure Planet was often labeled as ‘That Boats in Space’ movie. Only a decade later steampunk and pirates are all the rage, proving tastes in mash-up art have changed. The animation rarely disappoints in technical terms, but was put together at a time when blending traditional and CG animation didn’t quite work out, regardless of the amount of money thrown at the screen. This makes for some occasionally unattractive contrasts that date the film more than usual.
It could probably be argued that a lack of originality plagues, or at least shades, the success of almost every film in the Disney feature animation canon, and that adaptation is a long-celebrated studio tradition. But most of the Disney classics are relatively straightforward adaptations. Treasure Planet rests heavily on its space gimmick, which leads to some spectacular visuals, but also points to an overall laziness in storytelling technique (the only other Disney animated film that tells a story straight with an added gimmick is Robin Hood, which is easily one of their weakest productions). The small army of writers often make up for their unnecessary focus on mixing the conflicting settings with a motley crew of surprisingly strong characters. The relationship between Jim and Silver remains the one consistently compelling narrative element. Here the father/son angle of the relationship they share in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel is heavily emphasized to the point of taking over the story altogether. It’s difficult to care about anyone finding MacGuffin/Metaphor-for-Manhood Planet, but Silver’s inevitable betrayal is quite nearly heartbreaking. Brian Murray is the obvious cast all-star, but no one really falls short, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes due with a relatively dull, sub-Luke Skywalker character. Jim’s even given a decent conflicting father figure in Dr. Delbert, adding further complexity to the treatment of the Disney-favourite ‘one dead parent’ theme (though, this time. the dad is just absent, not necessarily dead). The dialogue is sullied by some lame potty humour, but at its best is largely defined by high-level banter, which is, of course, only lifted higher by the capable cast, particularly David Hyde Pierce and Emma Thompson. Only Martin Short’s B.E.N. is a particularly problem, but mostly because he arrives too late in the already comic-relief-filled film for his particular brand of manic comedy to be anything short (pun!) of annoying.
Treasure Planet’s high tech, colourful mix of hand-drawn foregrounds and computer generated cosmic backgrounds is a wonderful arena for the Blu-ray format, and this 1080p, 1.66:1 (they didn’t maintain Atlantis’ widescreen framing) is just about as perfect as can be expected from the material. One might even say that the utter clarity of this transfer hinders the film a bit, because the blending issues between the traditional and CG work stand out just a little bit more clearly. But with the limitations taken into account, there’re only minor quibbles to contend with. The cell-painted shadows sometimes look a bit messy, especially when it comes to redder hues, but for the most part the foreground colour elements are clean, save some occasional bouts with banding effects, and strongly supported by sharp black (or at least near-black) lines. In standard definition this line work shimmers with compression noise, but here they intersect without incident. The painted and digitally composited backgrounds (and set-pieces, like Silver’s robotic arm) are smoother, featuring far more complex details and blends. Often, it feels like the directors are purposefully dulling the palette to evoke a darker feeling, but there are some exquisitely vibrant sequences and others that contrast the blackness of space with the brightness of stars quite effectively. One scene that looks particularly improved in HD is the one towards the end of the film where CG treasure fills just about every corner of the screen without losing detail in a rush of jagged edges.
Disney audio technicians didn’t waste a single channel when they put together this particularly busy 5.1 mix and this Blu-ray’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix never disappoints in terms of immersion, dynamic range and overall ‘oomph’. The constant busy quality could overwhelm a lesser mix, but things never turn to audio mud, and I’d easy compare this track to even the best uncompressed, sci-fi laced mixes. The blend of sound styles help set the mix apart from stuff like Star Wars with a whole lot of more definitively Earth-bound noises. The sound isn’t quite as impressive as Revenge of the Sith meets Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but it strives for something a bit different. The stereo and surround channels aren’t just made a part of the spectacular, space-faring action sequences, they’re an integral part of the dialogue and lower-energy ambience as well. If a character is speaking off screen his or her words are appropriately placed and even the vaguest effects move throughout the channels with impeccable realism. James Newton Howard’s part classic/part guitar rock score is hit and miss, but much more hit, especially once you get over the occasionally awkward transitions. Howard takes his cues from the swashbuckling tradition, but is sure to make the score his own with rousing, humable themes. The same can not be said for the Goo Goo Dolls’ insipid original songs, which gets the full 5.1 treatment without any other sounds to break its terrible, terrible clarity.
There wasn’t a lot of fanfair surrounding this 10th anniversary release, but Disney hasn’t skimped on the extras. I suppose it helps that most of the extras were already available as part of the original DVD release. The special features begin with an audio commentary with director/producers Ron Clements and John Musker, producer Roy Conli and supervising animators Glen Keane, John Ripa and Ian Gooding. This is marked as a ‘visual commentary’, which, because of the limitations of the original DVD release, does not refer to a pop-up video track, but a cut away, branching option. Unfortunately, I must have done something wrong in setting up the track because I never saw a cut away or a prompt to trigger a cut away. Still, this is a reasonably valuable track on audio-only terms. Clements, Musker and Conli are recorded together, which gives them a proper chance to amusingly bounce off each other while rolling through all the facts of the production. The animators are all obviously recorded separately and only appear to talk on rare occasions. The problem with the track is that, like so many animation-based commentaries, the discussion turns a bit dry. The necessity of making animated films this big means the made-in-comity aspect muddies things into a series of cast and crew credits (i.e.: ‘animator A did this, background artist B did that’ etc) and not particularly interesting stories about the troubles of Silver’s striped pants.
Next up are two incredibly boring virtual 3D tours of the R.L.S. Legacy model. The first is a ‘technical tour’ (9:30, SD), the second is a ‘nautical tour’ (7:40, SD), and both fly through the digital set (the same digital set) while commentators drone on about the technical specs. Disneypedia: The Life of a Pirate Revealed (12:10, SD) is a six-part featurette aimed at teaching the kiddies on the subject of pirates throughout the ages. It’s a bit dopey and short, but also pretty informative. This is followed by a series of featurettes, starting with Disney’s Animation Magic: Hosted by Roy Disney (14:20, SD), a look at the animation process from head to toe. The other features are divided by subheading and each include an introduction from actress Laurie Metcalf. Story includes the original Treasure Island trailer, Music includes a Goo Goo Dolls music video, Art Design includes The Brandywine School (2:20, SD) and The 70/30 Law (1:40, SD), The Characters includes multiple sub headings for both John Silver and B.E.N., Animation features Delbert Doppler (1:10, SD), Silver Progression Animation (2:30, SD), Pencil Animation: Amelia’s Cabin (2:10, SD) and Rough Animation to Final Film Comparison (1:40, SD), and Dimensional Staging includes Effects Animation (1:20, SD), Pose Camera (1:40, SD), Layout Demonstrations (1:20, SD), Treasure Planet Found (2:10, SD) and Lighting (1:10, SD). These featurettes are all aimed at younger audiences, but the footages still features a few valuable nuggets of behind-the-scenes info. The extras are wrapped-up with two deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and trailers.
Treasure Planet still isn’t a classic or even objectively particularly good, but it’s a whole lot better than its sordid history would have you remember. The filmmakers took some fun visual chances with contrasting artistic and genre styles, and the character work borders on the brilliant at times, which is enough to justify revisiting it in honor of its 10th anniversary. This Blu-ray release features a very nice 1.66:1, 1080p transfer, a wonderfully full-bodied DTS-HD MA soundtrack and a decent selection of extras lifted from the original DVD release.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 3rd July 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Directors and Animators Commentary, Deleted Scenes, DisneyPedia, Music Video, Behind the Scenes Featurettes, Virtual 3D Tour of R.L.S. Legacy, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, David Hyde Pierce, Martin Short, Emma Thompson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation, Comedy and Sci-Fi
Length: 95 minutes
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