Animated Adventures

My movie theme last weekend turned out to be Animated Adventures. I guess I was in a certain mood.

First up, Disney’s Treasure Planet. It’s basically the Treasure Island story, but in a steampunky space setting, with ships flying through the aether on solar sails, cyborgs, robots, and aliens, but still with a late Georgian/early Victorian aesthetic. This one was an interesting combination of hand-drawn characters in a lush computer-animated setting that allows us to fly along with the characters. Rebellious young Jim Hawkins is getting in trouble for riding his rocket hoverboard around the spaceport where his mother runs an inn, but then he gets a mysterious map from an old spacer and sets off with a scientist who hires a ship and crew to find the legendary Treasure Planet. The voice cast is excellent, with Emma Thompson as a prim ship’s captain as possibly my favorite (of course, she’s my favorite in just about everything). The relationship between Jim and a cyborg Long John Silver is quite touching. There’s a good mix of tense action and comic relief.

I’m not sure how I missed this one at the theater. I understand it was a bit of a flop and one of the nails in the coffin of the traditional style of animation at Disney. There were apparently sequels that didn’t get made. While they’re remaking everything in “live action,” this might be an interesting one for them to tackle. The effects would probably be expensive, but they could do a lot with the story and make it into a legit action film.

Then I watched The Road to El Dorado on Prime. It’s leaving this month, so I figured I’d watch it, and I needed something short. Also, I like the voice cast. The very idea of Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh doing a buddy adventure movie fills me with glee. They made for a fun pair in this movie that takes the old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby “Road” films and puts it in Mesoamerica, during the Spanish conquest. A couple of con men get a map to the mythical city of El Dorado, then through a chain of misadventures end up on a Spanish ship sailing to the New World and then eventually shipwrecked, where they spot some landmarks from the map. El Dorado isn’t quite what they expected, and they have to up their con game when the natives hail them as gods — and then they have to make some tough decisions.

Like the “Road” movies, any cultural accuracy pretty much flies out the window. The native people who’ve never seen white men can communicate perfectly with them (in modern English, but since our heroes are Spaniards, maybe we can assume it’s Spanish being translated into English for us). There are lots of comic anachronisms. It’s basically up there with The Emperor’s New Groove for accuracy, but that’s a lot of the point. It’s all about the wacky adventures of these two guys and how their different approaches to the situation threaten their friendship.

It’s a Dreamworks Animation movie, but they seem to be trying to do Disney. It’s not quite a musical, though there is one musical number the two leads perform. Otherwise, it’s more narration songs in the background, sung by Elton John. I found it to be a lot of fun and enjoyed the character arc, but the ending was rather unsatisfying. Yes, we resolved the big issue and the characters completed their growth arcs, but the final resolution struck me as more “now how do we get out of this?” than “whew, now everything’s okay.” They were very obviously setting up a sequel that ended up not getting made, and I’d probably feel different about the ending if we picked up on where the characters went next in a sequel. With no sequel, it felt a little unresolved to me.

Mostly, it’s worth it just to enjoy Branagh and Kline having fun. It seems they worked together in that Wild, Wild West remake, but I’d love to see them working together in something else in live action because it’s like a battle of the hams.

I like the animated adventure movies because there’s all the fun of an adventure story, but since kids are the primary audience, they’re a bit less intense. I’m not really up for super intense stuff right now, so it’s nice to have a little, but not too much, excitement without having to worry about truly bad things happening to the characters.

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