Poor "Treasure Planet"; regardless of its quality, it's hard not to feel bad for it. The concept had been the dream of Disney animators Ron Clements and John Musker since the late 80s, but it never got the go-ahead. After doing "Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin," they pitched their dream movie again, this time told that if they could deliver another smash project as they did before, they'd let them do this much riskier one. So they made "Hercules," which underperformed, sagging their progress a bit. But then, finally, they got their chance to make "Treasure Planet"; now with the advancements of CG, they crafted a film whose technical merits had never before been seen in modern animation. So what went wrong? Well there's no way to tell, really. The top two excuses for its failure were an overpopulated market (it was released at the same time as the second Harry Potter AND the Two Towers) and misaimed marketing (all commercials aired during kid's shows, while this was a broader appeal film). Whatever the reason, "Treasure Planet" was a spectacular failure; not even its worldwide revenue could cover production costs, let alone promotion. It's been labeled the film that (temporarily) killed Disney traditional animation... but hey, it can't be THAT bad, right?
It's Treasure Island! In SPAAAAACE!! Young ragamuffin Jim Hawkins is given a mysterious sphere by a dying space pirate, which ends up projecting a hologram with coordinates to Treasure Planet, the supposedly legendary planet rife with intergalactic booty. A ship is assembled, and a motley crew hired, secretly led by the ship's cook John Silver, a crafty dweller with a cybernetic arm. Jim is put in Silver's command, and despite their initial animosity, they develop a close bond, with Silver being like the father Jim never had. This unfortunately complicates matters, specifically Silver's plan to declare mutiny on the ship. The crew does so anyway, leaving Jim, the captain and his friend stranded on Treasure Planet, and with Silver believing he still has the map. Jim attempts to retrieve the map from the ship, but is caught by Silver, forcing him to lead them to the treasure, which is locked away in a most peculiar fashion.
So yeah, these visuals are totally mind boggling, and that's good and bad. This film is up to its eyeballs in CG; every environment, every ship, all the effects, even whole characters are comprised of CG. Some of the scenes here are downright incredible, be it the glory shots of the ship sailing through space, to the spaceport itself, seen from one perspective as a crescent moon, then when zoomed and tilted appears to be an entire shipping-off dockside city. The scenery in space, as with the barren parts of Treasure Planet, and the planet's core are full of lush color and beautiful design, blending natural and decidedly unnatural color. Now we spend a lot of time on the ship, which is entirely CG rendered; most of the shots of the film, even during dialogue, it's 2D characters conversing in a 3D environment. During intense action sequences it's less overt, but there were plenty of moments when it became pretty distracting. When Jim first meets Silver within the ovular cooking area, there's tension between them, signified with a wrapping camera movement around the 3D-rendered space, but the background looks so awkward and misplaced, it diminishes the tension. It's easy to misuse CG, but thankfully there aren't many of these moments.
As for the characters, I'm torn between some of them. It's hard to argue against their personalities given the source material, and the story is pretty sound, but a few characters suffer from over-design, Silver in particular. His CG-rendered cybernetic arm is pretty neat, but his character design is pretty ugly. He's meant to BE ugly, I understand, but a lot of the time his face seems to morph and tween in strange ways. I have a tendency toward limited design, as in the less lines it takes to establish a character and their personality and emotion, the stronger the design is. A lot of characters, particularly Silver, seemed to be too complicated, and were a bit unappealing. Jim is a simple design, but suffers from bland Disney protagonist syndrome as many have before him. His friend Dr. Doppler and the captain Amelia I liked, as some of the other aliens. The mindless (literally) robot B.E.N., again CG-rendered, shows up late to the picture to be loud, offer comic relief, and be voiced by Martin Short. But as annoying as he was, I did like how they translated his character from the source material: rather than being crazy, the legendary pirate who hid the treasure had his memory banks ripped out, leaving the robot tortured by his missing memories.
The adaptation from the novel was done pretty well too: combining steampunk and cyberpunk, but maintaining the traditional values of the original. They really did go all-out on revamping the events into sci-fi craziness, particularly the grand finale in the treasure locked away in the planet's core, and the inter-spatial gateway leading the crew there. The effects of all those gems and rubies plummeting into nothingness... just great. And the final bit of the explosion of the planet... crazy cool. It was all very exciting, quite so, quite so.
Verdict? Given its damaged reputation, I was surprised that part of me really enjoyed "Treasure Planet." It's a pretty clever idea, executed with the same cleverness and filled with some amazing eye candy and gorgeous scenery. However, I felt some of the technology was used in excess, and scenes fully rendered in CG could have been made seamless and believable in good old 2D. Overall I have mixed feelings on this one, but I can certainly say it's not the disaster it's labeled to be.