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Featured Blu-ray Review: Disney Double-Shot: Treasure Planet and Home on the Range

July 1st, 2012

Treasure Planet - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Home on the Range - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Disney's animation department had a resurgence in the late 1980s through the mid to late 1990s. However, by the time the year 2000 rolled around, they were struggling again. Digital animation was taking off and their attempts to combine 2D and 3D animation were not greeted fondly by moviegoers. Of such attempts, Treasure Planet, is arguably their biggest box office flop to date. Home on the Range was a 2D film, in fact, it was announced to be their last 2D film, but moviegoers still stayed home. This week they are both coming out on Blu-ray. Are either of them better than their box office records? Or is there a reason the films flopped?

Treasure Planet - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

As the title would indicate, Treasure Planet is an adaptation of Treasure Island, the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, except it is set in a futuristic setting where people travel between stars in spaceships, which just happen to look like olden wooden ships. We are introduced to Jim Hawkins when he is just a kid reading about the notorious pirate, Captain Nathaniel Flint, who, as legend has it, hid his booty on a lost planet, Treasure Planet.

Twelve years later, we catch up with Jim Hawkins, who has become a bit of a daredevil on his solar surfboard, much to the dismay of his mother, Sarah, who runs an inn. A ship crashes nearby and Jim rescues the pilot. The pilot lives long enough to give Jim a sphere of some importance and warn him that the cyborg is coming. Mere moments later, pirates attack the inn and Jim, Sarah, and their friend Dr. Delbert Doppler escape. While trying to cope with what just happened, Jim activates the sphere and they learn it is a map to Treasure Planet. Jim of course wants to go, while his mother says absolutely not. However, Delbert actually convinces her that a little adventure might be good for the boy, as he has been rudderless ever since his father disappeared. Reluctantly, she agrees.

With that, Jim and Delbert are off to hire a ship and a crew. The crew consists of Captain Amelia, First Mate Arrow, and a bunch of duplicitous scoundrels that Captain Amelia distrusts enough that she hides the true nature of the mission. As such, Jim will be working in the galley with the cook, John Silver, a cyborg. Despite Jim's initial mistrust, he and Silver begin to bond. He should have stuck with his initial impressions.

Treasure Planet is a good adventure movie that has a few too many flaws that prevent it from being great. Some of these are rather minor flaws. For instance, it tries too hard to be spacey. A perfect example of this is in the beginning when Sarah is serving food to some of her guests she gives a bunch of pseudo alien sounding names, but instead of adding atmosphere, it was like the screenwriter screaming, "We're in space! Get it?" It takes you out of the story. Also, there is a bit of a pacing issue, as it takes about 30 minutes for the story to truly get going. The bonding montage between Jim and Silver both slows down the story and feels rushed. We needed some story element that allowed their emotional bond to form more naturally while also being engaging in its own way. Finally, the combination of 2D animation and 3D animation doesn't always really work. Often it looks like the 2D animated bits are on top of the 3D animated backgrounds, or 3D animated bits are on top of the 2D backgrounds rather than the two elements looking like they are part of the same image.

I've also heard complaints about the look of the film and how the old and futuristic technologies clashed instead of blending together as one. However, I like the way the film looks. It has a style that sets it apart from other movies. Also, while the movie took a little while to get going, it really did have an amazing climax with plenty of action and even emotional strength. The film is aided by a strong voice cast, including Martin Short, whose robotic character is introduced a little too late into the plot to get into without hitting spoilers. His delivery manages to be manic without becoming annoying, which is a fine line to walk. Emma Thompson and David Hyde Pierce have good chemistry together as the odd couple and the pair do add a little romance to the movie.

Overall, more works than doesn't, but there are enough flaws to prevent it from living up to the Classic Disney films, or the 1990s resurgeace.

The Extras

Extras begin with a minute-long introduction by Laurie Metcalf, who introduces a number of extras. Next up is an audio commentary with Roy Conli, the producer; Ron Clements, the co-director / co-writer; John Musker, the other co-director / co-writer; Glen Keane, supervising animator; John Ripa, another supervising animator; and finally Ian Gooding, associate art director. That's a lot of people, but they do give a lot of different points of view about the animation process. With RLS Legacy Virtual 3D Tour, you can look at the 3D model of the ship with audio commentary that either talks about how the ship was designed from a technical standpoint, or compared to real sailing ships. The Life of a Pirate Revealed is a 12-minute, multi-part featurette on real pirates. Disney Animation Magic is a 14-minute long making of featurette. There is one deleted scene, plus an alternate beginning and ending. There is the trailer to the 1950 version of Treasure Island, a music video, plus a number of very short looks at the art design, character design, etc. There's a lot of extras, but most are very short, and all are from the DVD.

The film does look and sound great on Blu-ray, if you take into account the issues I had with the combination of different animation techniques. I think high definition makes them stand out a little more. However, the level of detail is strong, the colors are amazing, the blacks are deep. The audio track uses the surround sound speakers to the potential, especially during the climatic action scenes.

$15 for shovelware is a little steep to pay, but I think the high definition is worth it.

Home on the Range - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

The film begins with Maggie, a cow, introducing herself and talking about how she lost her home. Her owner, Abner Dixon, fell victim to Alameda Slim and the Willie Brothers gang, the best / worst cattle rustlers around. It is said Alameda Slim could steal 500 head of cattle in a single night. When he was hit, he stole every single cow in the place, except Maggie for some reason. But you can't run a ranch with just one cow, so Dixon sold Maggie to a dairy farm, A Little Patch of Heaven, run by a nice lady named Pearl Gesner.

Once there, Maggie's introduced to Mrs. Calloway, the head cow; Grace, the Hippie cow; Jeb, the ornery goat; the three little piglets; and others. She makes a big first impression showing off her eating skills, but she doesn't even get a chance to get settled in when Sam the Sheriff rides up on Buck the horse. Seems Pearl is behind on her payments to the bank and with Alameda Slim forcing so many ranchers into bankruptcy, the banks are losing money. Pearl has just three days to pay the $750 she owes, or she'll lose her farm.

Maggie thinks she has a plan that will save the farm: some of the animals can enter the county fair and win enough prizes to pay back the bank. However, the fair isn't until another two weeks, so they'll have to convince the bank to hold off on the foreclosure until then. In order to do that, Maggie, Grace, and Mrs. Calloway head to town to talk to Buck. Buck is less than helpful and tells them that even if they could get an extension, which they can't, $60 in winnings won't be enough. That's when Rico comes to town. Rico is a legendary bounty hunter and he's brought in his latest catch. There's only one bounty left that Rico hasn't collected on, Alameda Slim. And the bounty's $750, the exact amount Pearl needs to save the ranch. Maggie thinks its perfect and immediately tries to convince Mrs. Calloway that they should try and bring in Alameda Slim. Meanwhile, Rico needs a new horse if he's going to join the hunt, and he picks Buck, making Buck's dream come true.

Maggie's plan actually works out rather well and the three of them follow the chuck wagon right to the cattle drive. When Alameda Slim comes to rustle the cattle, Maggie plans to take him out. However, that when she learns first hand how he steals so many cattle so fast. Unfortunately, that's a spoiler.

Home on the Range is so utterly generic that for most of its 76-minute long running time, it doesn't really feel like a Disney film. It relies more on wackiness and slapstick than interesting characters or a compelling plot. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying cartoons shouldn't be wacky, but they need more to get by. Also, while the voice work is solid across the board, the characters are little more than stereotypes. The Odd Couple pairing of Maggie and Mrs. Calloway never really develops beyond that simple description. In fact, none of the characters ever grow beyond simple one-sentence descriptions. (Some don't even need that.) It's hard to get wrapped up in the plot when the characters don't engage you. Speaking of the plot, the plot is paradoxically sparse and overstuffed. It's a rather simple and predictable story, but there's a lot of extraneous bits thrown in. There are a dozen people credited as writers, and it feels like the film is a product of a committee rather than the result of one person with a vision. Finally, the combination of 3D animation and 2D animation sticks out too much. It's too obvious that there are two different elements being combined in one scene.

On the plus side, there are plenty of fun one-liners and recurring gags, a few good actions scenes, and I did like Alameda Slim's show-stopping numbers, even if it did remind me of a similar number in Dumbo or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I think there's enough here to entertain younger kids, but that's not high praise when you compare it to other films Disney has released over the years, many of which are worth watching, even if you don't have kids.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary track with Alice Dewey Goldstone, the producer; John Sanford, co-director / co-writer; and Will Finn, co-director / co-writer. The two co-directors / co-writers also introduce a quartet of deleted scenes, which run for about 15 minutes including the intros. Up next is a music video. Trailblazers is a 17-minute long making of featurette that employs the western motif. Art Review has two of the artists, David Culter and Cristy Maltese, talking about the look of the film. A Dairy Tale is a three-minute short film with Mrs. Calloway telling the story of the three little pigs, but the other animals keep interrupting her. Yodelmentary is a three-minute featurette on Yodeling. Finally there's Joke Corral: Herd of Jokes, which is close to five minutes of bad jokes.

The film's animation is not as detailed as many other Disney films of the era, so it won't shine as much on high definition. That said, the colors are great and you don't have to worry about digital artifacts or print damage. The audio is solid with good use of the surround sound speakers. However, neither the video nor the audio is as strong as it is with Treasure Planet.

Right now the Blu-ray costs $20 on Amazon.com, which is too much to pay for this film.

The Verdict

When it was released, Treasure Planet was the biggest box office bomb for Disney. However, it deserved to perform a lot better at the box office. The Blu-ray is just shovelware, but the improvement in audio and video quality makes upgrading worth it. On the other hand, Home on the Range is a weaker movie and the Blu-ray has fewer extras, the film doesn't shine as much on high definition, while it costs more. Call it a rental.


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Filed under: Video Review, Home on the Range, Treasure Planet