The other night the kids and I popped in Treasure Planet, Disney's 2002 animated futuristic adaption of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island. It's one of the last few Disney animated classics that my kids haven't seen yet, and I myself only saw it once upon it's theatrical release. At the time, it was a rare misstep for Disney Animation but having had another odd flop a few years earlier with Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) it was to signal the end of Disney's decade long reign of producing classic animated fare year after year. Now, Treasure Planet sits on a growing list of titles like Chicken Little, Bolt and Home on the Range as lesser loved and lesser known Disney Animated Films.
So it is with some trepidation that I started up the movie. For me, Disney films are best when they are about princesses and magic and funny animals. They are at their least inviting when they are trying to do something outside of the "Disney Box." Treasure Planet is not a bad film but it's one main flaw runs throughout the entire film. The character design of almost the entire cast is unpleasant and perhaps uninspired.
A dog/man scientist, a cat/person captain, a rock thing is a suit, a lobster, a spider...none of these really played for laughs. The human characters are all bland, and the Long John Silver character is supposed to be half machine half something else...I'm not sure what.
The story is tight, the action is good, there's plenty of humor...although a Star Wars reject character that only speaks through rear-end noises seems a little low brow by Disney standards. I just can't get by how ugly and unappealing the characters look.
Two characters stand out as having a traditional Disney look; a little floating shape shifting blob called Morph and a crazy robot named B.E.N who is voiced by Martin Short. These are the only two characters that could even support any merchandise from this movie. And that's kind of the strange thing about this movie, because even though it's only 12 years old - I don't think the suits at Disney would even finance a movie nowadays that wasn't chockfull of characters that would easily translate into plush toys, action figures, T shirts or the 100 Million other things they need to make a movie a real cash cow nowadays.
In the end, Treasure Planet is not as bad as it's legacy would lead you to believe. It's based on a time tested story retold by master storytellers who chose to step a little too far out of the magical world of Disney for their visual inspiration.