Treasure Planet review
"Treasure Planet", Walt Disney Pictures, 2002
I fancied a nostalgia trip and I chose a wonderfully charismatic film to take me back - to a time where I didn't understand what was good or bad about films. It just so happens that this one, despite not being the perfect window into the past, happens to be a fantastic film in its own right.
It's surprising to me how little this film gets brought up in conversation - It's only mentioned in the same breath as other forgotten animated gems like Atlantis or Over The Hedge. This film truly encapsulates for me the wonder and thirst for adventure that everyone craved between the ages of 3-10. It's tone brilliantly balances the cheese of Disney cliche and a strange tangible sense of reality that not only allows a relatable mode of identification with Jim, but is used to explore the surprisingly down-to-earth themes that echoes a sharp poignance, such as the want for a father figure, loyalty and the want to be a part of something greater. This is enhanced with brilliantly witty dialogue that is delivered brilliantly by a talented cast of voice actors who are very self-aware of the personifications of swash-buckling pirates they're playing, grounding a sense of charm. This reflects the approach towards the character designs, which straddle the perfect line between fantasy and reality, since you can see the inspirations from animal that the team drew from. The film never tries to be anything that it isn't - it's an engaging story following a young man wanting to take a stab at an adventure he's been dreaming of since a boy in order to set things right. This instantly plants a warm charming aesthetic that is impossible to not be pulled in by. This is hammered in by colourful characters who highlight effectively the different avenues towards the notion of adventure - whilst we may identify with Jim's sense of wonder, others use it to preying ground; a pretty meta examination of childhood that I commend. This underlines how Clements and Musker sidestep the safe route Disney take around darker topics. One particular plotpoint involves the ship having to fall into a black hole in order to escape certain death. This is an admirable attempt at underscoring the gloomy reality of those in the real world seeking adventure having to metaphorically take the dive in order to succeed. Another sequence in particular explores Jim's abandonment from his father - this can be seen as the spark for his want for the escapism that was stolen from him as a child, which is portrayed pretty movingly with the pale lighting highlighting how he is haunted by his past. I find this refreshing approach to subject matter balanced by the cartoonish skeleton of the film engaging from start to finish - it has a beating heart that most films in the medium are lacking.
Nevertheless, this film doesn't come without its flaws. Firstly the pacing is a little janky and just wants to move on to the next thing without wanting the tone/emotion to resonate. Some sequences of action are sometimes completely undercut by jump cuts that appear far too early, such as when the family house burns down. Considering this pretty much sparks the second act, it doesn't quite appear fully realised as to how the filmmaker's wanted audiences to react, since its not like we've got a whole lotta reason to feel sympathy for Jim and his mother other than the fact that it's their house burning down. Another thing that back-peddles on its own individualistic style is the colour palette. Every space of frame is taken up by drab browns and greys, which I see as a failed attempt at trying to connect it's own universe to the audiences' own. Not only does this reflect how surface-level the cinematography is, adding no sense of dimension to the journey across space, but also how flat the action feels at points. Possibly shaped by the unpolished pacing, the staging of the conflict always feels like we're back in the first act - the approach towards the final conflict feels like an afterthought after the filmmakers mapped out the metaphor they wanted to explore choosing friendship over wealth.
This may ultimately come across as a bit "aged", and in all honesty it's hard to deny. However, the way that it tackles particular ideologies, encouraging audiences to question the value of wealth, rings almost poetic to me. This is achieved through fully-realised character dynamics that breaks the mould of the film as an animation. I feel that what we're presented with is a well-crafted world that understands the complex universal struggles of growing up and tries to tackle them through the room to visually read in between the lines of the fantasy novel the film is based upon.