Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Treasure Planet (2002) ***

PG, 95 min.
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Writers: Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Robert Louis Stevenson (novel “Treasure Island”)
Voices: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson, Michael Wincott, Martin Short, Roscoe Lee Browne, Laurie Metcalf, Patrick McGoohan

“Treasure Planet” is a surprisingly good animated romp through the story of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel “Treasure Island”, but with a futuristic space opera bent. It came in an era when its production company, Walt Disney Pictures, was struggling with reaching the wide audience they wanted for their animated fare. The company had great success with their traditional animated projects throughout the nineties, but the success of Pixar Animation Studios was beginning to change the market for animated films. Other studios were breaking into the market with their own CGI animated films and Disney was loosing their monopoly on the animated market.

Because of their distribution deal with Pixar at the time, long before Pixar became a partner of the studio, Disney tried to stick with their traditional animation and steer toward a more adventure oriented boys demographic. Following closely behind 2001’s “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”, “Treasure Planet” was a second attempt to grab a new audience for the studio, but diminishing returns meant the studio would abandon this path after this film.

The film itself is filled with spirit. With a strange mix of players for its vocal cast, the film just didn’t have the typical Dinesy hooks that people looked for in their animated fare. It’s still a hell of a good time, though, with a pretty good message at its heart to boot. Penned in part by the team that would eventually bring life to Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, the story of a boy who befriends a ruthless pirate translates surprisingly well to its outerspace setting. Some imaginative production design contributes to an original vision of space travel that incorporates the nautical details of a pirate’s life. You may not have heard of it, but it’s worth a look, at least for your 6-15 year-old boys.

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