TREASURE PLANET (2002):
Written by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards, Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio
The backstory to the making of this movie is more interesting to me than the actual film itself, which is totally forgettable. Clements & Musker, two A-level directors responsible for The Little Mermaid, basically begged the studio for 12 years to make this, being rejected every time. Again and again, they were told to put it off and given another project (like Hercules), until FINALLY they’d done enough favours to be granted their dream. And of course it almost killed Animated Features for good.
A pretty forgettable Disney film (seriously, five years later I remember NOTHING. Just the mom character (who I remember entirely for clean reasons and not MILF-related ones), the captain, and the Poochie-esque kid) which seems to take an awful lot from Atlantis in theme and tone- the whole mixing of past & future tech. It’s basically Treasure Island but with space stuff and cyborgs and junk, which begs the question as to whom this movie is supposed to appeal to- marketing seemed to put a lot of focus on getting the young male audience to go see both of these films, when most Disney films had attempted to go for wide audiences by focusing on romance and a bit of action/danger. These films (along with some other late-90s, 2000s-era stuff like Titan A.E.) were going for this sci-fi/blockbuster thing, ironically a few years before the market would take off for things like superhero movies and The Pirates of the Caribbean. So in the end the limited market appeal of these films killed everything (that and releasing it during a nasty time- like right after the first Harry Potter film)- Disney almost lost faith in Animated Features after this.
It doesn’t help that the main hero Jim Hawkins is a walking Stereotypical Teen Character, being rebellious and troublesome, but also endearing and motivated, so he comes across like a collection of Poochie-esque “this is a cool person” stuff like AIR SURFING WOOOOO GNARLY DUDES!! It’s notable use of Steam Punk is interesting to me, since that’s always been very much at the edge of pop culture- it’s fans are SUPER into it, and have been for years, but it’s such a small, cult following that rarely sees the light of day.
hey, isn’t that the guy from “Roly Poly Olie?”
-Jim is basically your average Teenage Character, complete with cool hobby (solar surfing instead of skateboarding, since this is the future and all). He’s not a major fighter (most of the Mutineers on the ship could easily take him, I think), but he’s athletic enough. And oh my god- look at that ’90s hair! The “hair on the sides of your head is DUMB!” look combined with the top part in the middle! Holy jesus did a ton of kids have that hairstyle back in the day!
About the Performer: Well Hell. Joseph Gordon-Levitt went from “Tommy from 3rd Rock From the Sun to huge star so quickly it blew my mind. I remember him as grouchy teen Tommy, so him suddenly turning into a big name overnight was fun. Appearing in stuff like 500 Days of Summer, 50/50 and others gave him a ton of credibility and showed him as a multi-talented performer, though his career slowed down lately- I haven’t seen much of his stuff in a while. As Jim, he was basically just “Tommy” still.
-Silver is a rarity in Disney films- a villain who actually changes sides by the end, turning to the side of good by giving up his treasure to save Jim Hawkins after coming to like the boy. He’s fairly powerful, and gets extra boosts from his Cybernetics.
About the Performer: Brian Murray just died in August 2018, and was a white guy with a Theater career so long he got a Tony in the early 1960s (for Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead). Most of his work is on the stage, but he has some movie & TV credits in smaller roles.
Reception & Cultural Impact: This movie bombed HARD. Like $40 million against $130 million or something. An unmitigated disaster, it was derided as gimmicky and boring. It bombed so badly that Disney considered dropping their animated stuff entirely. As such, Disney has largely totally ignored it. It has a teeny “online fandom”, largely over the a Sci-fi Steampunky stuff and the furries, but even this is small beans.
THE DEATH OF THE DISNEY RENAISSANCE:
There’s a LOT of reasons why the Disney Renaissance ended and turned into… what we got in the early 2000s, but Jodi “Ariel” Benson made it very clear that the Renaissance was mostly due to “Howard” (Howard Ashman, who died during the making of Beauty and the Beast). Looking at the musical competency that followed him, it’s hard not to make that claim- the last movie with his touch was Aladdin, and after the Elton John-led Lion King, you got… Pocahontas, Hunchback and others. There’s some good stuff in all of those, but ain’t no way on Earth the lyricist behyind Suppertime and Gaston would have allowed shit like Savages or Zero to Hero, or boring “blah” like The Bells of Notre Dame slide by. Under Ashman, EVERY SONG was good.
In the end, Disney has ALWAYS had ebbs and floes. It usually does its best work when basing itself around a particularly few gifted people- either Walt himself, his cast of writers and songmasters back in the day, Ashman & Menken in the Renaissance, Musker & Clemens as superstar directors, and finally Jon Lassetter in modern times. It’s part of why people are so touchy with Lassetter being gone now- a HUGE amount of the studio’s recent success was on him. It’s no mystery why his position was filled with TWO people, not just one.
Going too far without a real creative vision sees… well, The Black Cauldron almost kill animation forever. And then Treasure Planet almost killing animation forever. And then Home on the Range almost killing animation forever. Really, they get cold feet any time ANYTHING fails utterly. The studio is worth bajillions these days, and makes a ridiculous profit off of Merchandise… but they also have a huge number of the largest bombs ever (the recent Alice movie, John Carter, The Lone Ranger and others).
* Jeffrey Katzenberg, the guy who cracked the whip on the animators, leaving the studio.
* Pocahontas being SO BAD really cast a pall over the rest of the movies. I think a lot of them got unfairly maligned afterwards owing to that movie being Disney’s 32X.
* Michael Eisner’s boring, dreary personality kind of just putting pencil-pushers in charge everywhere and lacking true leadership.
* Everyone getting too far up their own ass with “The Meaning” behind everything, leading to a lot of pretty dreary Oscar Bait films.
* Relying too much on the “Disney Template”, which was fraying by Pocahontas with all the sidekicks.
* The trend itself was dying- a craze or fad can only last so long before it bursts- you just weren’t gonna get the same results over and over again.
* Poorly-cast characters. Relying on big-name celebrities for EVERY MOVIE didn’t really work.
* Atlantis and Treasure Planet coming out one after the other, both relying on a similar “Steampunk” aesthetic that has NEVER, EVER BEEN POPULAR, no matter how vocal that fanbase is. They were both too “meh” and lacked the real “Disney Touch”. That these two came out so soon after one another was more or less a signifier of how bad Disney had become.