It’s always a pleasant surprise when a movie is far better than you remember. I saw this when it first premiered on a rare excursion to the movies with my dad. I generally saw movies with both him and my mom, so to see one with just him was a special bonding moment for us, and one I still remember to this day. Unfortunately, Treasure Planet itself is overshadowed by this memory. I could vaguely recall the movie itself, but didn’t remember loving it the way I did other Disney films. Watching it again as an adult, I’ve found that I appreciate the story far more. Why then was I less than impressed with it the first time around?
Perhaps it was because the story was so familiar to me. Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island”, the film borrows heavily from that plot, keeping nearly all of the characters and basic plot the same. Treasure Planet simply adds a space-travel element (no doubt Disney’s attempt to appeal to the younger crowd. It felt like a real-life Toy Story Buzz vs. Woody, only this time it’s sailor vs. space traveler). Having been raised on “Treasure Island” and its various film incarnations through the years (surely I can’t be the only person who still remembers “Muppet Treasure Island”??) the story was nothing new to me. Maybe this is where the film lost me, and probably never stood a chance with my 14-year old self. The story wasn’t new or original, so I viewed it as less exciting. It was just the same old rehashing of a story I already knew.
It’s a shame that I felt that way, because this film is actually pretty decent. Following the tale of young Jim Hawkins, a precocious and troublesome young man who struggles to keep his feet on the ground. Jim obtains a treasure map from a dying sailor (we’ll just continue using that term even though technically everyone in this film is a space sailor). Jim goes on a quest to locate the treasure, joined by a rag-tag and potentially dangerous crew.
If you’re like me, you’re already well-versed in the plot of “Treasure Island”, so I won’t bore you by rehashing all of the plot points. Suffice it to say, all of the key players make appearances here, and the film stays relatively faithful to the source material, all things considered. A few “futuristic” characters are added in for effect (including a robot, because nothing says “future” like a robot, apparently), but their roles are small enough to not detract from the basic storyline. Most of the characters are neither better nor worse than the original, doing justice to the source material without bringing anything too new to the table.
The one exception I found was in the role of the ship’s captain. Treasure Planet rewrites the story to make the Captain a female, one Captain Amelia. I honestly can’t begin to express how happy this minor change made me. Not because they altered a classic piece of literature to include at least one female character, but because her gender is remarked on only ONCE in the whole movie. A character addresses a man whom he believes to be the captain, only to be proven incorrect as the captain is pointed out to him. After this error is corrected, the Captain’s gender is not addressed ever again. She proves to be a fearless and just leader, commanding her crew with skill akin to any man. Amelia feels like a widely underrated character, lost in an underrated movie, and it’s really a shame. Disney did a surprisingly wonderful job in crafting Amelia, and for me at least she remains one of the bright spots in the film.
I must admit, I was never the biggest fan of “Treasure Island”. The story is fine enough, but I never had the desire to sail the seven seas and battle pirates, so the escapism was lost on me. Still, I can appreciate it for what it is, and Treasure Planet does a great job of staying true to the source material while still bringing a fresh new spin to the tale. It may not be my favorite Disney film of all time, but it will no doubt excite the young adventurer in you. If that’s not reason enough to give it a chance, I don’t know what is.