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Treasure Planet

Entry updated 26 April 2021. Tagged: Film.

1. Bulgarian animated film (1982; original title Planetata na sakrovishtata). Sofia Animation Studio. Directed by Rumen Petkov. Original voice cast unknown. Written by Boris Angelov and Yosif Peretz. 62 minutes. Colour.

This was the first full-length Bulgarian animated film, released twenty years before Disney's Treasure Planet (2002) – see 2 below – which was also a sf version of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island (1883).

In 2581 Earth is barren of life, save for its civilization of humans and Robots. When ex-pirate Billy Bones refuses to relinquish Captain Flint's treasure map, Black Dog gives him the black spot; before he dies Billy passes the map to his friend, space cadet Filipe, who – being an honest fellow – hands it to his commander, Smollett. The commander immediately plans an expedition to recover the treasure, making Filipe his cabin boy and unwisely appointing Long John Silver as his First Mate. Silver hires the rest of the crew, who are robot pirates that include Black Dog. Smollett's Spaceship, the Hispaniola, then departs Earth for the planet indicated on the map.

The journey is initially quiet, but is interrupted by an outbreak of samba dancing amongst the robot crew – the effect of an approaching magnetic storm. When the storm arrives the spaceship is briefly thrown back to the seventeenth century (see Timeslip) and temporarily transformed into a sailing ship, though still in space: the crew is now attacked by Aliens and Filipe saves Black Dog's life. Returning to the twenty-sixth century, they reach their destination and, after overcoming a robot dragon and optical illusions (see Perception), find the treasure: a giant jewel. Silver, believing the treasure can make him master of the universe, departs – stranding Filipe and Smollett on the planet to die. However, some days later the Hispaniola returns with Black Dog in control, having hijacked the spaceship out of gratitude to Filipe for saving his life. They leave, but Silver sabotages the spaceship so it falls into a Black Hole, killing everyone except Filipe.

The spaceship has an escape pod, but it can only fit Filipe or the Jewel, not both. Filipe has learnt the jewel is a kind of Noah's Ark – when nature began to die on Earth (see Ecology), Captain Flint distilled all its natural wonders and stored them in the jewel. So Filipe chooses to stay on the ship to be eternally trapped in the black hole (see Relativity; Time Distortion): the capsule containing the jewel crashes onto the Earth and dramatically restores nature to the planet, in effect Terraforming it. The resulting visual extravaganza includes myriad living creatures parachuting to the ground ... one of whom is, ironically, Mickey Mouse.

Though the very eccentric animation is often interesting, the character designs and their movements are ridiculous and grotesque, severely hindering enjoyment of the film's virtues: the surrealism, eccentric Humour and Satire, though full appreciation of the latter apparently requires some familiarity with early 1980s Bulgarian society. Petkov would later move to the US to work on several animated shows, such as Dexter's Laboratory (1996-2003). [SP]

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2. Animated film (2002). Walt Disney Animation Studios. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. Written by Clements, Musker and Rob Edwards, based on a story by Clements & Musker and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. Colour. Cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, David Hyde Pierce, Martin Short and Emma Thompson. 95 minutes.

Clements and Musker wrote, directed and produced this film which feels like an awkward combination of pet project and design by committee. It transposes Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883) from sea to space, into a Steampunk Space Opera Science Fantasy a universe where humanity is in the minority and – as in such novels as Harm's Way (1993) by Colin Greenland (see Hornblower in Space) – sailing ships ply the spacelanes. The setting and central conceit are sound but unfortunately the film gets nothing else right.

The whining teen protagonist (Gordon-Levitt) is reminiscent of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels and the opening of the film seems to deliberately imitate the pod-race scene from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999); not an auspicious sign. Young Jim is assisted by not one but two comic-relief characters (Hyde Pierce and Short), while the chief antagonist (Murray) inevitably and inconsistently acts as a stand-in for his absent father. Only Thompson as the slim-hipped, clipped-tongued feline captain adds a touch of life to proceedings. Alas, she is soon sidelined before being ignominiously married off to one of the comic-relief characters. In addition to the woefully under-nourished characters, the film also offers stupid plotting, poor animation, moral incontinence and terrible, terrible music. [ML]

see also: Children's SF; Cinema.

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