From 1986 to 2016, John Musker and Ron Clements have delivered some of the most beloved animated classics at Walt Disney Animation Studios. They've worked on many films that I love dearly including "The Great Mouse Detective", "The Little Mermaid", "Aladdin", "The Princess and the Frog", and "Moana" and yet the one that probably might be the duo's most unique film out of the bunch is "Treasure Planet". Released in 2002, this film was a reimagining of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel "Treasure Island" yet set in outer space that sadly flopped at the box office when it came out and lost the studio a lot of money as it was the most expensive animated film of all time. I do feel bad that the film flopped when it did because this film is genuinely a lot of fun and a good adventure. It's certainly an odd film and not one of the strongest films from Musker and Clements, but there's a lot of fun to be had that can't be denied.
On the planet of Montressor, a young boy named Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gorden-Levitt) is a troublemaker constantly getting in trouble with the law much to the displeasure of his mother Sarah (Laurie Metcalf) who runs the Benbow Inn. One day though, a sailor named Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan) arrives dying at the inn and gives Jim a map to the fabled Treasure Planet, a planet filled with mysterious loot, and warns Jim to beware of a cyborg. After other pirates after the map burns the Benbow Inn to the ground, Jim sets off with companion Dr. Dopller (David Hyde Pierce) to find the planet and gets a ship called the Legacy with a crew run by Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson) to set sail for it. Jim is placed under the care of the cyborg chef Long John Silver (Brian Murray) and the two develop a close bond though Jim is unaware that Silver is planning a mutiny with the rest of the crew to steal the treasure on Treasure Planet themselves. From there, the crew sets sail across the stars for the fabled treasure hoping to find it.
This is certainly a very strange animated film, especially for Walt Disney Animation Studios. I can certainly understand why Disney was reluctant to greenlight the film for so many years despite it being a project that Clements and Musker desperately wanted to make and I also feel that its weird story probably put off audiences too since the film didn't do very well at the box office at the time. However, I won't lie when I say that this film where its weird charm won me over. It's such a fun adventure that I really enjoyed from beginning to end that I really think makes it one of Walt Disney Animation Studios' most unique films. The idea for the story being "Treasure Island" set in space is a very bizarre idea, it's one I think won me over since there are a lot of great elements of action and adventure alongside the space fantasy. I've always been a sucker for adventure films where a character has to find a MacGuffin and this was a film right up my alley. There's a lot of fun adventure to be found here which is routed from Stevenson's classic novel where the characters are trying to find the treasure alongside the mutiny. It's a fun film that's very much in the veins of something Steven Spielberg or James Cameron would've made and has some fun action scenes including a scene involving a black hole turning into a supernova that really stood out. It also helps that the film has plenty of slower and tender moments as well including a montage where Jim and Silver bond while doing small mundane crew work on the ship although I do think they should've cut the song playing over it since I felt it was dreadfully out of place and even a scene where Jim watches space mantis fly among the cosmos. Scenes like that are really what drive the film for me.
As far as the animation goes, it's mostly impressive. I can certainly see a lot of the ambition up on the screen with the flying ships and the interesting planets and locations and it really is impressive. There's also some unique integration of computer animation particularly with Long John Silver where his mechanical arm is computer-animated while the rest of him was animated traditionally by the legendary Glen Keane. It's certainly impressive and I love ambition like that. It also helps that the cosmos look spectacular with the aforementioned supernova scene standing out in particular. I also love how the filmmakers employed unique camera tricks particularly during the action scenes with the camera doing 360 turns. You can see that a lot of Disney Animation's previous films did some experiments with that technique but this film took a lot more advantage of it and I really applaud Musker and Clements for doing so. I do think some of the CG has shown its age a big with some of the ships clashing a little bit with the traditional animation, but I think the film still has a lot of visual flair to keep it afloat. However, what really makes the film work are the characters who are all very distinct, memorable, and likable. Jim is an endearing protagonist that I'm glad wasn't made as depressed or stubborn as he could've been specially given his backstory. He is a little unlikeable from the start but quickly warmed to me once we got on the Legacy. The rest of the crew was also quite fun with Dr. Dopller being a fun, quirky comic relief with his scientific gadgets, Captain Amelia being a strong and sometimes funny captain particular brought out by the charm from Emma Thompson, and Long John Silver is a very good antagonist who isn't totally evil though does have a darker side to him. Even smaller characters like a pink blob-like creature called Morph and a malfunctioning robot named B.E.N. (Martin Short) have some fun moments as well.
In all, "Treasure Planet" is what I'd call a fun animated adventure. The story is certainly weird but one with good action and adventure, the animation has a lot of ambition even if some of it hasn't aged the best, and the characters are all distinct and memorable. This is certainly a unique gem from Walt Disney Animation Studios that I do recommend for anyone looking for a good adventure. It's certainly a weird film, but there is certainly some treasure to be found here.