Posted January 19, 2011 by editor in Retrospectives

Disney: Treasure Planet

Treasure Planet was Roy Disney’s baby, and Michael Eisner smothered it at birth. Dry your eyes – he did the world a favour.

Over at IMDb, some bloke called Jeff Campbell attempts a spirited resuscitation of the 2002 retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, one which lost more than a staggering US$100,000,000. Clearly, plank-walking and keel-hauling would be required for such a waste of pieces of eight. Yarrrr…

“The day after it was released, Eisner held a press conference, declaring Treasure Planet a flop, and blaming it for Disney’s poor 3rd quarter performance. Roy promptly quit the company his uncle and father had built,” Jeff wails, as though describing a tragic sequence of events not seen since the battle of Stalingrad. “As far as the movie itself goes, the controversy robbed what I think is the finest example of a ‘Disney’ movie since Mulan. The animation is spectacular, the vocal talents are superb, and Brian Murray is one of the greatest Long John Silvers I’ve ever heard.”

On that last point, I must defer to Jeff’s presumably superior knowledge – I am limited in the number of Long John Silvers I can compare Murray’s performance to. One thing I can confirm though – this Long John is a villain in the true Disney mould: swarthy, big-nosed, and with a pathological love of riches:

This is not to say the movie is exclusively anti-Semitic. Other ethnic groups are negatively stereotyped too. Despite being members of fictional races, Long John’s motley crew are ethnically ambiguous in a human way. The scurvy knaves also tend to speak ‘Disney baddie™’ – pidgin English with either a Latin American or indefinable European accent.


Surprisingly, the film’s casual racism is its least offence. For a film set in a 18th century-flavoured outer space, where pirate aliens do battle on galleons powered by weird machines, it is soul-crushingly boring. To watch Treasure Planet is to be subjected to a barrage of scenes that were brilliant in other, better movies and wait with fading hope for a scene of dazzling originality that never comes.


Instead, the story of young Skywalker, er Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, not that it matters), is lazily cobbled together with outrageously plagiarised plot lines and devices – most notably from the Star Wars prequel – including a magical portal on the titular planet stripped straight from Stargate. Even the grand finale (spoiler alert?) is a sleepy rerun of Return of the Jedi’s irksome ‘party with the spirits’. A film about pirates could be forgiven such blatant pillaging, if only it didn’t take those concepts and make them so damn lame.

This paucity of imagination is reflected in the characters. Trouble’s afoot, mateys, when a film’s most appealing character is this blob of chewed pink bubblegum:

You may recognise this shape-changing blob from Ghostbusters. It would be nice to think that, to this day, at least one person involved in Treasure Planet has Robert Louis Stevenson haunting the blobs out of them.

The ship’s First Mate is straight as an arrow and solid as a rock. Accordingly, his name is Mr Arrow and he is made out of rock. Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson – no, really) is a feline-like creature, while Hawkins’ friend Dr Doppler is rather canine round the edges. You will not be shocked when they fight like cat and dog, but distressingly their relationship takes a biologically grotesque turn that ends in a cinematic coupling, no pun intended, eclipsed only by The Human Centipede in its wrongness.

It would be trite to compliment Treasure Planet for its beautiful background animation – one particular vignette featuring galactic whales stands out – because Disney can churn that out by numbers. Alas, that is exactly what they did with Treasure Planet. What dates the film now is not the scenery but the characters – which have been uniformly drawn in line with the flat, large-eyed Disney character template that had not changed since the studio’s heydays in the 1950s. Not only is Treasure Planet boring and riddled with clichés, only eight years after its release it looks like a relic from a bygone age thanks to the folks at Pixar.

So don’t be angry at Michael Eisner for taking the pillow to Roy Disney’s hideous baby. Be angry at the Disney Corporation for not taking prophylactic measures in the first place.

Clare Moody