Tag Archives: Treasure Planet

By the Book: Treasure Planet

People who already know me from Fanpop might have read this article series already, but I wanted it over here at wordpress, too, so I’ll move the articles over here, with some adjustments. I’ll take a look at book-based Disney movies, I will discuss how the movie relates to the original source text (or not), what the merits and the weaknesses of the movie are, and (that’s the new part) I’ll take a look at the soundtrack. I will not do this in chronological order, but simply pick what strikes me fancy (I’m open for requests, though). Don’t expect me to do the Lion King, though. For one, the connection to Hamlet is feeble at best, it’s more a case of being inspired by it than a true adaptation, and two, technically Hamlet is a play, not a book. I also will not do the Disney Princess movies, because I plan to do them in another format. Otherwise, I guess I’ll start (again) with the classics. And what better classic to start with than Treasure Island?


1. The World of Spaceport_Treasure_Planet
Treasure Planet

Treasure Island was my favourite book growing up.  So I was really looking forward to the Disney take on it, though also a little bit worried. And not because they decided to set it in space. To get this one out of the way first: Unlike a lot of other reviewers I think the changed setting was the best decision they made for the movie. For three reasons:

1. Treasure Island is one of the most adapted books of all time. I have seen around 30 different movies and TV Shows based on it, including one movie made by Disney in the 1950s. Did we really need another one in a traditional setting? If you want to tackle this, you better find a new angle (though there already was an Italian/German production which also put the story into space called “Der Schatz im All” – one of the better adaptions, too).

2. It allowed Disney to cut down the number of characters they put on the ship – though I personally think they didn’t go far enough with this. I would have preferred even less but in exchange more fleshed out side characters.

3. Above all, it allowed for some really creative imaginary. It would have been great if they had gone even crazier than just reusing the flying whales from Fantasia 2000, but props for the final climax. The action scene is really a sight to see, especially on the big screen. A lot of people are bothered by the mix of traditional clothes with strange devices, other argue that this is simply steampunk. Neither are completely correct in my opinion. For one, it is not really steampunk. The idea behind steampunk is to imagine future technology or styles how someone from the Victorian age might have seen it (thus the use of steam instead of more modern technology). What Treasure Planet does is more the other way around, taking a very modern idea of technology, but instead of going for the more sterile style seen in other space shows and movies, like Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5 and so on, it tries to insert a romantic element by seeking inspiration from the time the original book was published.

In some aspects, it works brilliantly. I love the holographic books, the uniforms with a slight futuristic edge to it, the glider. In other aspects it’s confusing. Jim for example is a perfect blend between a Victorian and a more futuristic boy, his mother on the other hand misses the more modern edge in her design. I love the design of the ship (and the DVD proofs that the animators actually thought about how it works, with way more details than necessary for the movie), but if lack of air is not an issue, what’s the point of the space uniform Dr. Doppler originally wears? The design is very creative, but a little bit uneven in places. Though my solution wouldn’t have been not to do it, but to do it right, to make sure that every piece fits properly together. Thus said, I don’t think that the pieces which don’t fit are really that much of a distraction, unless you have a problem with the idea of setting it in some strange space future from the get go.


2. The CharactersTreasure_Planet_Characters

My biggest worry concerning Treasure Planet was that they would get Long John Silver wrong. The main reason I love the original book so much is this one character. Unapologetic evil, egoistical, but nevertheless so suave that you somehow want him to win, even though you know that he deserves to rot in hell. So would Disney be able to tackle this character without giving him redeeming qualities?

Naturally not. Thus said, the result is not as bad as I feared it would be and at least the design of Long John Silver is really creative. But where Disney really did a good job was with everyone else. As much as I like the original book: Jim Hawkins is one of the most boring protagonists ever, more a stand-in for the reader than a character in its own right. And all the other characters are more stereotypes than layered personalities. The strict captain, the foolish squire, the gentleman doctor and the trust-worthy servants on the one side, the irresponsible, drunken pirates on the other side.

Disney took those templates and turned most of them (the pirates are the exception) in layered characters. Jim is no longer the good boy, he is now the rebellious teenager. Disney is walking a very fine line with this character. It is easy to make the rebel too bratty and ungrateful to be still sympathetic. But Disney manages to portray him as someone who doesn’t really want to be bad or hurt his mother, he is just confused, unsure of himself, and unable to deal with the hurt and anger her feels because his father left him. And this is something unusual in itself: Jim’s father didn’t die, he just didn’t care enough to stick around. How often do we see something like that in a Disney movie? How often do we see a mother trying to reach out to her child and not being able to help, even though she doesn’t really do anything wrong? Tackling this issue is the biggest strength of the movie and the main reason I’m able to excuse the disneyfied version of Long John Silver. It might not be the Long John Silver I adore and expected, but it is the one which fits into the story they are trying to tell.

Captain Amelia is a terrifying take on Captain Smollett. A little bit of a bragger, but competent enough to back it up, overall a really strong female character. Even with a shoulder wound she never comes off as damsel in distress. Dr. Doppler is naturally a mix of Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey. For a somewhat cowardly character he is surprisingly likable, mostly because he acts when he really has to, and he actually has picked up some useful knowledge along the way, but not so much that he becomes some sort of walking solution for every problem the group encounters. The pirates are still disappointingly bland, so bland, that I can’t even remember the name of the Scorpion guy who takes over the role of Israel Hands. And then there is B.E.N.

To say it upfront: Never enjoyed the character of Ben Gun in ANY adaptation (nor in the book), and only a few manage to make him not annoying. Therefore it’s hard to blame Disney for this one. I like the idea of a robot without a memory chip, but they really should have toned it down a little bit. The screaming just ruins the suspense in some of the best scenes.


3. The Plottreasure-planet-disneyscreencaps_com-4193

If you read a book again and again, there comes a point at which keep skipping to your favourite parts of the story. Treasure Island basically consists of three acts: Billy Bones last days are the first one, the travel to the island is the second one and the fight on the island is the third one. I always liked the last one the best, the suppressive atmosphere of two groups trapped in an unfriendly place and the strategy involved in them outmanoeuvring each other, all this makes for a suspenseful read.

Treasure Planet is a very unusual take on the story because unlike most adaptations focusses mostly on the second and not on the third act. It manages though, to make the travel much more interesting than it was in the original story. Arrow’s death is even changed in a way that it result in real consequences instead of just being a side-note.

If someone asked me what the best scene of this movie is, my answer would be the “I’m still here” scene. For one, the song is beautiful and has really deep lyrics. But above all, it’s a really well done delve into Jim’s psychology. Seeing little Jim running after his father….that’s right up with some of the most heart-wrenching Disney scenes for me. As impressive as some of the action scenes are, those more quiet moments are the true strength of the movie. All in all I would have wanted more of them and more of Jim and Silver facing off, and a little bit less of the chase scenes through the ship.


4. The Soundtrack

Speaking of “I’m still here”, I already did a very detailed analysis of the song when I discussed the “Montage Song”, and since it is the only song in the movie, there is really not much more to say about it. Concerning the score, it is a perfect fit. I especially like the triumphant undertones in it, which transport a constant feeling of excitement.


5. The Conclusion

Treasure Planet is not the adaption I expected, but it is a really good and above all fresh take on an overdone story. If you allow yourself to get sucked into the world the animators created instead of second guessing everything you see, the imagination put into this is really enjoyable. It’s a little bit a movie for the big screen though, to appreciate the animation and the scale the put into the action scenes. It has its weaknesses, some clunky elements which throw the mood a little bit off-kilter, but none of them are distracting enough to ruin the movie. In the Disney canon, it’s one of the hidden gems, and definitely worth at least one watch.

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The Montage Song

So far, I have talked mostly about the kind of songs, which are character related. But there are also songs which mostly work as a narrating device. They are often (but not always) sung from the off and can roughly fulfil three different functions: World building, emotional insight and  compressing time. Today, I want to write about the last variant: The montage song.

A montage is a very handy device whenever a movie wants to show development over a longer time-span in a short time. Usually a montage is paired with music and/or narration, but there is also the option to take it on the next level and use a song. This has the advantage that the song (unlike the narration) doesn’t have to describe directly what happens on screen or voice the opinion of the narrator. Instead it can serve as some sort of comment.

The most well-known montage song in Disney canon has to be “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”. But to understand this song on all levels, one has to see it in connection with the other songs from the movie, so let’s talk toady about one, which often gets overlooked: Treasure Planet’s “I’m still here”. It is the only song of the movie, and played during one of it’s stand-out moments. The montage in this case has three purposes: Giving the audience the sense of a long travel, showing how the relationship of Silver and Jim develops and giving a glimpse in Jim’s soul by showing his traumatic memories of the days his father left him. The song mostly connects to the last aspect, expressing Jim’s inner turmoil.

I am a question to the world
Not an answer to be heard
Or a moment that’s held in your arms

And what do you think you’d ever say
I won’t listen anyway
You don’t know me
And I’ll never be what you want
Me to be

All of Jim’s defiance is in those lines. He doesn’t want to listen because he feels that the people judge him without really knowing him.  He wants to be his own person instead of trying to fit in.

And what
Do you think you’d understand
I’m boy, no, I’m a man
You can’t take me
And throw me away

And how
Can you learn what’s never shown
Yeah, you stand here on your own
They don’t know me
‘Cause I’m not here

In those lines are all the sense of abandonment. Jim, now in the difficult age between boy and man, has been left behind too often. He is feeling alone, but he is also not ready to trust anyone at this point. And why should he, more or less everyone is basically telling him that he is a looser.

And I want a moment to be real
Want to touch things I don’t feel
Wanna hold on and feel I belong

And how can the world want me to change
They’re the ones that stay the same
They don’t know me
‘Cause I’m not here

Fittingly, the montage shows at this point Jim watching the crew in a gathering, while he is sequestered away in a corner. He is still an outside, but the wish to belong is growing in him. But he is not reaching out because he is well aware of his status as an outsider.

And you see the things they never see
All you wanted – I could be
Now you know me
And I’m not afraid

And I want to tell you who I am
Can you help me be a man
They can’t break me
As long as I know who I am

This is the sequence which shows how Silver slowly develops a true interest in Jim, and Jim slowly starting to trust him. The lyric expresses Jim growing self-confidence. At this point, it doesn’t matter if others think that he is a looser, because he knows that he isn’t one. And as long as he has this knowledge, he won’t be one.

They can’t tell me who to be
‘Cause I’m not what they see
Yeah, the world is still sleepin’ while I keep on dreaming for me
And their words are just whispers and lies that I’ll never believe

Jim’s father leaving is here shown as the reason for his deep-seated distrust in other people.

And I want a moment to be real
Want to touch things I don’t feel
Wanna hold on and feel I belong

And how can you say I’ll never change
They’re the ones that stay the same
I’m the one now
‘Cause I’m still here

I’m the one
‘Cause I’m still here
I’m still here
I’m still here
I’m still here

Even the lyrics express the change in Jim’s psyche during the travel. At the beginning, it was “They don’t know me,  ‘Cause I’m not here”, now it is “I’m the one, ‘Cause I’m still here”. Jim has grown up, developed a sense for himself, and he is ready to take on the world, no matter what people are thinking about him.

All in all, this is one of the most complex constructs for a montage song I know, and it works on every level. The visuals go perfectly with the lyrics, and together they allow a deep understanding for Jim and his relationship to Silver, and that without having to spell it out for the audience. Even if you don’t like the movie as a whole, this sequence is certainly worth to pay attention to.