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Treasure Planet: 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray + DVD Review

Treasure Planet (2002) movie poster Treasure Planet

Theatrical Release: November 27, 2002 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: John Musker, Ron Clements / Writers: Robert Louis Stevenson (novel Treasure Island); Ron Clements, John Musker (screenplay & animation story); Rob Edwards (screenplay); Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio (animation story)

Voice Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jim Hawkins), Brian Murray (Long John Silver), Emma Thompson (Captain Amelia), David Hyde Pierce (Doctor Delbert Doppler), Martin Short (B.E.N.), Dane A. Davis (Morph), Michael Wincott (Scroop), Laurie Metcalf (Sarah Hawkins), Roscoe Lee Browne (Mr. Arrow), Patrick McGoohan (Billy Bones), Corey Burton (Onus), Michael McShane (Hands), Austin Majors (Young Jim Hawkins), Tony Jay (Narrator)

Songs: "I'm Still Here", "Always Know Where You Are"

Buy Treasure Planet from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD • DVD • Instant Video

The gift of hindsight makes it fascinating to reflect on how quickly Walt Disney Animation Studios was able to determine early last decade that they weren't merely experiencing some commercial misfires, but that traditional animation was dead. In 1999, Tarzan had given Disney its biggest in-house animated hit in five years. The next two films, released at opposite ends of 2000, both fell short,
but Fantasia 2000 was a hard sell treated to a specialty IMAX release and The Emperor's New Groove managed to acquit itself fairy well for something that had so drastically changed from conception. 2001's Atlantis: The Lost Empire underperformed, but the following summer's Lilo & Stitch put up strong numbers.

Then came Treasure Planet, a film more responsible than any other for Disney abandoning their traditional animation methods. Arriving just five months after Lilo, Treasure wielded a production budget of $140 million, the biggest in the history of animation. That set it up for one of the costliest failures Disney has ever experienced, when it grossed a pitiful $38 M domestically. Disney knew they were in trouble right away, when Treasure opened weak on the Thanksgiving weekend that had often served the studio well. The film's $12.1 M three-day and $16.6 M five-day tallies were only good enough for fourth place, a far cry from Die Another Day and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in their second and third weeks, a short cry from The Santa Clause 2 then in its fifth week, and only narrowly ahead of Adam Sandler's animated Hanukkah comedy flop Eight Crazy Nights.

Coming the same year that Ice Age made Blue Sky Studios the third animation house to score big with computer animation, Treasure Planet's financial disappointments moved Disney towards abandoning the hand-drawn methods on which the company was founded. Brother Bear and Home on the Range were yet to come and though both would perform better than Treasure, neither did well enough to make Disney reconsider letting go of animators, unloading their desks, and embracing a new age with Chicken Little. Fans of Disney and of animation in general objected passionately to these developments. A decade later, though, it seems as if Disney made the right move from a business point of view. Their subsequent traditional cartoons The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh have fallen short of commercial expectations, while CGI ones like Tangled and the currently-playing Wreck-It Ralph have managed to do better business while also drawing critical raves.

The tenth anniversary of Treasure Planet's influentially disastrous theatrical release made it high time for me to revisit the film in the Blu-ray + DVD combo pack Disney issued over the summer. It's tough to believe that the studio would commemorate this film with a 10th Anniversary Edition, but they did that in July, a month they usually neglect, with minimal expectations. Besides, in spite of its flopping, Treasure Planet has its fans, boasting a respectable 6.8 rating on IMDb, a decent 68% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (74% from top critics), and the distinction of being nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award in the first year that category supported five nominees. You shouldn't expect to see it added to Disneyland's World of Color water show anytime soon, but do know that many Disney fans hold it in higher regard than other efforts likely to be excluded from the company's celebrations of its animation legacy.

Jim Hawkins sneaks a peek out the Benbow Inn's holographic window in Disney's "Treasure Planet."

Treasure Planet puts its own spin on Robert Louis Stevenson's 19th century adventure novel Treasure Island. The film is set in a future where people inhabit and explore a breathable outer space. Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is not your typical Disney hero. Between his ponytail, pierced ear, and police record, this young man has the troubled teenager act down pat. His single mother Sarah (Laurie Metcalf in a role similar to her Toy Story duties) worries about him and wishes the intelligence and adventuresome spirit he's shown from a young age could be put to better use.

Cue adventure. The dying pilot of a spaceship that crashes near Sarah's inn gives Jim a sphere that opens into a holographic map to what Jim recognizes as the planet where legend has it that the space pirate Captain Flint buried his great treasure. Jim earns Sarah's reluctant blessing to board the RLS Legacy with dog-like astrophysicist and family friend Dr. Delbert Doppler (David Hyde Pierce) in search of Treasure Planet. Jim is assigned by the cat-like Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson) the position of cabin boy to the ship's cook, the peg-legged, mechanically-armed cyborg Long John Silver (Brian Murray), who is leading a secret mutiny plot. Jim and Silver's complex relationship takes shape in an appealing montage featuring one of two songs performed by the Goo Goo Dolls lead singer John Rzeznik.

The film plays out in the intergalactic equivalent of Stevenson's novel, with Silver and his salty fellow pirates aiming to find and claim the treasure for themselves, across from Jim, Doppler, and Amelia. For example, the island castaway Ben Gunn becomes B.E.N. (Bio Electronic Navigator, amusingly voiced by Martin Short), a robot missing his memory chip. That is one of the more creative touches to a film that is enjoyable but easily forgotten.

Cyborg cook Long John Silver, seen here with his shape-shifting pet Morph, becomes a complex and ambiguous mentor to the fatherless Jim. The cat-like Captain Amelia commands the RLS Legacy.

Having broken from the musical drama template that delighted the masses in the 1990s but was starting to grow tired, Disney Animation seemed determined to prove itself hip and exciting in the early 2000s. Bizarrely, after more than sixty years of avoiding the genre, Treasure Planet became the studio's third consecutive science fiction film. Clearly, though, this more resembled Atlantis: The Lost Empire than the colorful Hawaiian alien comedy Lilo & Stitch. That Atlantis was so underwhelming helped to lower expectations;
anything had to be better than that. And Treasure Planet is, but few bothered to find that out in theaters.

Retrospect makes it easy to believe that the film was destined to flop. Here was a Disney animated cartoon that was also a PG-rated sci-fi action flick. Part of that was likely to turn off families, and the other sure to discourage teens and genre geeks. Though the comparable Atlantis had performed respectably at the box office, other recent sci-fi animation (Titan A.E., The Iron Giant, and the PG-13 CG video game adaptation Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) had not. It seems unreasonable for Disney to have sunk $140 million into Treasure Planet. That was more than the visually stunning Dinosaur had grossed in North America two years earlier.

Treasure is a lot more expensive and ambitious than it has to be. The money clearly went into visuals, which find the film blending terrific hand-drawn animation with CGI elements that often look blocky and overly geometric. The grand scale of the imagery is somewhat overwhelming and yet aesthetically, the mixed medium work rarely fills with awe. I doubt that halving the budget would have significantly lowered the film's impact.

What is the primary source of the film's impact? It isn't comedy, which breaks down into good (B.E.N.), bad (the squid-like crew member who communicates with fart sounds), and ordinary (Long John Silver's shape-shifting sidekick Morph). It's not the action, which doesn't do a great job of sustaining interest. Where the film gets its greatest power is its 120-year-old source text. Even put into Miyazakian, postmodern context, the story, characters, and relationships intrigue. Those are areas where directors Ron Clements and John Musker excel. Their most successful creations, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, soar on personalities and compelling scenarios. Those are the best parts of Treasure Planet too, but there aren't enough of them, especially without inspired musical numbers to contribute to the ample 95-minute runtime.

One gets the sense that there were a lot of cooks making this broth. Aladdin, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, and National Treasure scribes Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio are credited alongside Clements and Musker for story. Sitcom veteran Rob Edwards receives a screenplay credit along with the directors. That is a modest amount of writers, suggesting plenty of uncredited contributions and rewrites during the 4½-year production that was pitched all the way back in the mid-'80s. In any event, the final product is a bit of a mess, full of ideas, characters, and those busy settings without the brilliant cohesion needed. It's not tidy and streamlined while also not being especially rich and dense. The foundation laid by Stevenson's story is strong enough to still qualify this as fine entertainment. But you can easily go ten years without any desire to rewatch it, which is unusual for a Disney animated feature and ensures that this will never exceed middle of the road status among the now 52-film canon.

Treasure Planet Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.66:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Blu-ray only: Portuguese
DVD Movie Closed Captioned; Blu-ray Extras Subtitled
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Still available on DVD ($15.99 SRP; April 29, 2003) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released on VHS (April 29, 2003)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Even if like me, you're not all the crazy about Treasure Planet's visuals, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything amiss with the Blu-ray's flawless transfer. The 1.66:1 transfer boasts the perfection you expect of even traditional animation in the digital age. The spotless image shows off nice color and detail without compression concerns or even a single minor issue.

The disc's 5.1 DTS-HD master audio also satisfies, the film's setting naturally lending to creative sound design and effects that have impact and immediacy. Dialogue is crisp and flawlessly synched, while the music maintains a nice presence without overpowering. Visually and aurally, the presentation leaves nothing to be desired.

Laurie Metcalf introduces the various sections of the Blu-ray's bonus features in segments evidently shot in 2002 but not used until now. A Virtual 3D Tour of the R.L.S. Legacy is offered in two different ways.

BONUS FEATURES

Before Treasure Planet came to DVD, Disney had been releasing their newest animated classics in two-disc Collector's Editions. That stopped with Lilo & Stitch, which eventually did get a better (though far from timely) edition.
Several years ago, there were rumors that Treasure would get a 2-disc DVD too, but they never came to pass and the film hits Blu-ray with several new items (short topical introductions) while recycling most of its many DVD extras, all of them remaining in standard definition.

Things begin with an introduction (0:57) by Laurie Metcalf, who serves as a bonus feature host throughout the disc in a 2002 concept seemingly unrealized until now.

"R.L.S. Legacy: Virtual 3D Tour" takes us around a CG model of the vessel, allowing us to sweat the details. Artistic coordinator Neil Eskuri narrates the Technical Tour (9:29) that's focused on the visuals and production designer Steven Olds handles the Nautical Tour (7:40) about the parts of the boat. Since the setting isn't all that compelling, these tours are fairly dull.

DisneyPedia reveals the life of a pirate with vintage art and movie clips. Roy Disney hosts the making-of featurette "Disney's Animation Magic." While repairing his solar surfer, Jim meets an impressed young elephant-like creature named Ethan in this deleted scene.

"DisneyPedia: The Life of a Pirate Revealed" (12:13) consists of six shorts in which an unseen young boy dispenses piratey facts over an enjoyable variety of footage from Disney and public domain films. Topics include pirate flags, famous pirates, pirate codes of conduct, ships, and treasure. The video is shown in a frame within a frame, making it smaller than it should be, but the content is enlightening and fun.

"Disney's Animation Magic" (14:18) gives us a backstage tour of the film's production hosted by Roy Disney and partly narrated by Metcalf. Animators give us glimpses of their process, from blending drawings with CG to creating maquettes to story reels. It's routine, surface-level stuff, but nicely applied to the film.

Three deleted scenes run 6 minutes and 33 seconds with a general Metcalf intro and scene-specific Clements and Musker intros. They include an alternate opening with narration by an adult Jim, an alternate ending, and a cut minor character.

As was the norm in the 1950s, the trailer for Disney's "Treasure Island" shows no restraint in raising audience expectations. In his "I'm Still Here (Jim's Theme)" music video, John Rzeznik performs in a burger joint and elsewhere. The Brandywine School style of artwork inspired the look of "Treasure Planet."

Story holds less than you'd expect: a Metcalf intro (1:01) and, more excitingly, the original theatrical trailer for Disney's live-action 1950 film Treasure Island (2:08), which wasn't even included on the film's DVD that debuted alongside this film's DVD.

Music serves up another Metcalf intro (0:38) that is more like a short featurette on composer James Newton Howard's work and John Rzeznik's songs. It is joined by Rzeznik' music video for "I'm Still Here (Jim's Theme)" (4:13), which avoids the standard course of studio footage and film clips in favor of something far more creative and fitting.

Art Design starts with a Metcalf intro (0:48) and moves on to "The Brandywine School" (2:24) discussing the inspirational illustration style that emerged in late 19th century Pennsylvania. "The 70/30 Law" (1:39) explains the film's guiding principle visually of 70% traditional, 30% sci-fi.

"The Hook Test" tries Long John Silver's mechanical arm out on Captain Hook. Kent Melton works on a Long John Silver character sculpture in "Maquettes." Dimensional Staging shorts dissect camera movement and other technical considerations in play on the film.

The Characters gives us two Metcalf introductions, one on the characters in general (0:57) and one on mixing the mediums (0:48). For John Silver, "The Hook Test" (1:00) pulls an interesting minute from "Disney's Animation Magic" in which Glen Keane describes and then we see a clip of Silver's mechanical arm being tried out as CGI and hand-drawn animation on Captain Hook.
"Silver Arm Test" (0:37) is another look at the CGI limb's development. The personality and design of B.E.N. is the subject of "3D Character/2D World" (1:05). Also pulled from "Disney's Animation Magic", "Maquettes" (3:11) considers the use of character sculptures throughout the studio's history.

Animation begins with -- you guessed it -- with a Metcalf intro (1:13) that discusses casting animators. "Delbert Doppler" (1:08) has Sergio Pablos discussing the character on which he was supervising animator. "Silver Progression Animation" (2:25) gathers thoughts from Glen Keane on Long John before showing how one brief moment progressed from storyboards to the final product. "Pencil Animation: Amelia's Cabin" (2:10) follows suit, with Ken Duncan's comments on the feline captain giving way to pencil animation of an earlier design for the character. "Rough Animation to Final Film Comparison" (1:38) is aptly titled, playing one above the other in a split-screen.

Dimensional Staging delves further into the technical which combines two of the DVD's sections. Beyond the requisite Metcalf intro (1:08), "Pose Camera" (1:42) explains how the CGI's "camera" movement required perspective shifts in the blended traditional animation. The other four shorts have Neil Eskuri and CGI artistic supervisor Kyle Odermatt discussing the importance of tests, tools, scenes, and an element, using animatics, progressions, and commentary to illustrate their points: "Effects Animation" (1:19), "Layout Demonstrations" (1:23), "Treasure Planet Found" (2:08) and "Lighting" (1:12).

The Treasure Planet theatrical trailer promotes the involvement of John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls. Glorp is one of the alien pirates featured in the DVD-only character art galleries. The DVD-exclusive Treasure Hunt set-top game has you scouring the RLS Legacy for hidden booty.

Release holds a Metcalf introduction (0:35) along with Treasure Planet's teaser (1:24) and full theatrical trailer (2:22).

Finally, hidden in the Set Up menu is a feature commentary led by producer Roy Conli and directors John Musker and Ron Clements. Despite what the case says, this is merely a standard audio commentary and not the visual commentary that the DVD offered. It's still very good, with the long, ambitious production lending to a lively discussion about everything from small visual details to voice actor experiences. The track features additional occasional input from select supervising animators, including Glen Keane.

WHAT'S NOT MISSING?

Gladly, the DVD included in this combo pack is practically identical to the one released in 2003. Its Sneak Peeks and file dates are updated and colorful disc art has been replaced with the standard drab gray, but its contents otherwise appear to be the same. That gives the disc a few exclusive features, since anything more complex than a video clip hasn't made the leap to Blu-ray.

That includes the visual commentary, which regularly interrupts and extends playback of the film with playback of pertinent extras available elsewhere.

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I'm not crazy about incorporating movie viewing into the supplement experience (especially here, where it adds little), but Blu-ray's seamless branching technology should have made this even smoother. Also missing on Blu-ray but found on DVD: the set-top game "Treasure Hunt" adapted from the RLS Legacy Virtual 3D Tour, three still art galleries (consisting of several hundreds of images divided into Visual Development, Paintings, and Moments), 15 character galleries, a 25-image story art gallery, a 36-image color keys gallery, and two poster designs.

The discs open with ads for the still unrealized Disney Studio All Access, Cinderella: Diamond Edition, and The Odd Life of Timothy Green. The menu's listing repeats those, followed by promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Secret of the Wings, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure, Pocahontas & Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, The Tigger Movie, The Aristocats, The Rescuers & The Rescuers Down Under, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3, and Planes.

The only thing this DVD loses from the old DVD are the dated previews, which promoted Finding Nemo, Brother Bear (long in advance, with unfinished animation and some behind-the-scenes footage), The Lion King, Castle in the Sky, and, okay maybe nine years isn't enough to get nostalgic for Stitch! The Movie, Atlantis: Milo's Return, Bionicle: The Movie - Mask of Light, and George of the Jungle 2.

The Blu-ray applies a cyborg's point-of-view to clips from the film, like this shot of Doppler and Jim. The DVD recycles the old menus, which take their design from the holographic Treasure Planet map sphere.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's menu plays clips with a cyborg's point of view circling around portions. Pop-up menus are useless here. The Blu-ray's value is further lessened in that it doesn't support bookmarks, resume playback, or even perform Disney's consolation prize of remembering where you left off on the film. What a pain for those who can't finish the film in one sitting. The DVD recycles the old DVD's menus, which are kind of elaborate and list certain features multiple times, but at least show creativity common for the time.

Blu-ray gives Treasure Planet the slipcover that DVD never did, embossing the front's character poses recycled from the DVD artwork. Inside the side-snapped Blu-ray keepcase, a Disney Movie Rewards booklet joins the plainly labeled blue BD and gray DVD.

Jim Hawkins' search for Treasure Planet goes through B.E.N., a shipwrecked robot who is missing his memory and a bit out of his mind.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though appealing enough, ten years later, Treasure Planet is still no classic. It is however one of the brighter spots in a brief dark era of Disney animation.

This 10th Anniversary Edition combo pack does what is expected, by preserving the DVD extras (including most of them on the BD) and treating the film to a stellar feature presentation. While it's not quite a must-own film you'll be itching to revisit, it's a good set that is one price drop away from holding interest to more than Disney animation completists.

Buy Treasure in the Planet from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Early 2000s Disney Animation: Home on the Range • Lilo & Stitch • Atlantis: The Lost Empire • Return to Never Land
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: 3rd Rock from the Sun: Season One • Angels in the Outfield • The Dark Knight Rises
2002 on Blu-ray: The Santa Clause 2 • My Big Fat Greek Wedding • Sweet Home Alabama • The Ring • Spider-Man • Men in Black II
Treasure Island (1950) • Muppet Treasure Island • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl • WALL•E
New to BD: Prep & Landing • Brave • Grave of the Fireflies • Secret of the Wings • DreamWorks Holiday Classics • The Muppet Christmas Carol

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Reviewed November 25, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2002 Walt Disney Pictures and 2003-2012 Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.
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