Short Ends and Leader

Epic Fail? Walt Disney's 'Treasure Planet' (Blu-ray)

See it for the visionary way it re-imagines a classic. Tolerate it for the same reasons as well.

Treasure Planet

Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, David Hyde Pierce, Martin Short, Emma Thompson
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Disney
Year: 2002
US date: 2012-06-03 (General release)
UK date: 2012-06-03 (General release)

At the time, the studio had two choices. They had just been pitched a reinvention of a Robert Louis Stevenson classic, as well as a grrrl power take on a Hans Christian Anderson favorite. Mulling over the potential project, the company chief couldn't decided. So he simply shrugged his shoulders over the former and greenlit the latter. The results rewrote the era for the otherwise struggling brand. Disney developed The Little Mermaid into the artistic redemption it so desperately needed, while the high tech Treasure Planet was shuttled off to the side. Thirteen years later, the robotic rewrite was dusted off and released to universal disdain. In fact, the tale of Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver reset in space became the first of three major developmental death knells (the others being Brother Bear and Home on the Range) that eventually saw the famous cartoon company announce its intentions to abandon 2D filmmaking all together.

It's a shame really. For all its flaws, and there are several, Treasure Planet represents a visionary work from the hallowed House of Mouse. Instead of sticking with the old fashioned pirate approach with its lack of commercial legitimacy (at least circa 2002), directors John Musker and Ron Clements experimented. The duo behind the success of Mermaid, as well as Aladdin and Hercules, merged the broadening base of CG with detailed hand drawn designs, creating a combination that's both intriguing and a bit irritating. The interplanetary vistas look amazing, and the various technological advances bounce off the screen. On the other hand, Stevenson's story is a bit staid, and the typical Walt ways it's been tweaked for kid vid familiarity are enough to make you disavow the overall effect.

Young Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a bit of a troublemaker, leaving his mother (Laurie Metcalf) feeling more than a little helpless. Even her dog-like friend Dr. Delbert Doppler (David Hype Pierce) isn't sure what to do with this rambunctious solar surfing rebel. When he accidentally stumbles onto a dying spaceship pilot (Patrick McGoohan) with an unusual sphere in his hand, Jim tries to help. Turns out, the object is a holographic map of the so-called Treasure Planet, a place where notorious space pirate Captain Flint stashed the loot from a thousand worlds. Hoping to find it, Doppler hires his own craft. Piloted by the cat-like Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson), he and Jim head out. When enigmatic crewmember John Silver (Brian Murray) learns of this, he plots a mutiny. Soon, our heroes are struggling to survive, hoping a broken down robot named BEN (Martin Short) can thwart Silver and help them find the riches.

At first, Treasure Planet is tedious. The opening material with Jim as a pre-adolescent does little except set up an already understood Mother/Son bond and the first major set-piece involving a solar surfboard and lots of computer generated scenery is too much, too soon. We haven't even had the interstellar angle fully explained and yet our crazy teen is careening around an excavation site like it's something vaguely familiar. Even the introduction of obvious doormat Dr. Doppler as well as the eventual reveal of Silver is something of a letdown. We enjoy the character design, but they never get a real hero moment for either. Only Amelia and BEN get a true introduction, and when you add in the character of Morph (a shapeshifting blob in the best Disney tradition of too cute ancillary attractions), you can literally see the movie start trying. By then, it's a bit too late.

Visually, however, the film is fantastic. The first time we recognize how awesomely outsized this universe will be is when Jim and Doppler head for the space port to pick up passage. Looking like a crescent moon, the location is legitimately awe-inspiring (especially in full blown Blu-ray clarity) and bodes well for the rest of the settings. Treasure Planet itself is also amazing, a kind of complicated orb with a portal to another dimension and a core made up of mechanized menace. Even some of the character elements inspire. Silver's leg and arm become a Terminator-like treat, the robotics lending a sense of evil to the otherwise goofy persona. Granted, Morph can be a bit much, but it does deliver the requisite "wow" factor. In fact, the only real letdown comes from the human side. They seem generic and uninteresting, no matter how many Flock of Seagulls haircuts they have.

What's most intriguing about Treasure Planet, however, is how it functions as a precursor to what would become one of the company's most profitable franchises ever. Pirates of the Caribbean was already in production when this film was released, and the Johnny Depp/Gore Verbinski triumphant would have been the perfect preamble to more buccaneer fun from the men behind Mickey. Planet could have been held until the studio was sure that audiences wanted more spectacle and swashbuckling. Instead, it was tossed out randomly, allowed to run at least 20 minutes too long (at 115 minutes, it's a marathon) and given up for dead as part of the corporation's inability to compete with Pixar et al. Perhaps some of the choices could be challenged (the storytelling, the somber songs by Goo-Goo Doll Rzeznick) but for the most part, Treasure Planet could have been sold as solid eye candy. Instead, it became an unnecessary albatross.

Of course, Disney would reverse their decision regarding hand drawn animation. A merger with the kings of CG gave the company new blood, and a new focus. Eventually, Musker and Clements would attempt another House of Mouse Hail Mary with The Princess and the Frog. While not a 100% success, it did return the studio to the prominence it presided over for nearly six decades. Like The Aristocats, The Black Cauldron, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet doesn't deserve its place among the business's many bungles. Instead, it's an interesting idea stifled by element it can't and couldn't control. See it for the visionary way it re-imagines a classic. Tolerate it for the same reasons as well.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.