Panas: ‘Treasure Planet’ is a forgotten movie with relevant lessons

Roxanne Panas, Op-Ed Contributor

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I was shocked the first time someone my age asked me what “Treasure Planet” is. My response was always the same: it was my favorite Disney movie as a kid, and it is still so important to me. I used a line from “Treasure Planet” as my senior quote in my high school yearbook. I mentioned it in one of my Northwestern admission essays. Half of my peers either forgot they saw it or never saw it in the first place.

“Treasure Planet” came out in 2002, just months after “Lilo & Stitch.” One of the reasons I love the movie so much is that it was so before its time in many aspects, the most prominent being its treatment of the protagonist, Jim.

Jim is a teenage delinquent, always getting in trouble with the space cops for flying his homemade glider in restricted areas and being scolded by his exhausted mother, who runs an inn on their home planet. Unlike many of the Disney films that preceded “Treasure Planet”, Jim’s story is not defined by a romantic interest. In this regard, the movie has the same motif of self-discovery as other Disney masterpieces like “Meet the Robinsons,” “Inside Out” and “Coco,” but it was released years before any of those films.

Jim is motivated only by the desire to make his mother proud and to find his place in the universe after feeling like he has disappointed both his mother and himself. Many times in the film, the two reminisce about Jim’s childhood, remembering a simpler time when Jim’s father was around and Jim didn’t yet feel the pressure to be a perfect son — something he now constantly fails at.

Adolescence is an abstract period in everyone’s life — hard to experience and even harder to describe, but Jim’s character embodies it. He perfectly captures the angst of being a teenager, in combination with the desire for independence. Adolescence is the fine line between youthful wonder and crushing uncertainty, and Jim reminds me of both of those feelings — feelings I still have as an adult.

Jim is sensitive and emotional, often moody and quick to anger. In one scene, Jim is distraught and has a breakdown. He receives guidance from his mentor and father figure John Silver — the ship’s cook — and cries. The presence of this scene does more than move the audience. It exemplifies breaking down masculine stereotypes.

“Treasure Planet” was based off of the 1883 novel “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson. The story and characters were kept mostly the same, but the film departed from the classic novel in a few major ways, the most glaringly obvious being that it’s set in space — the whole story takes place on a pirate-slash-space ship.

In the book the movie is based on, Jim’s father dies early in the story. In the film, however, his father leaves. He longs for an absent father figure in both stories, but the distinction falls in the treatment of Jim’s insecurity. In the movie, Jim’s father choosing to leave adds to Jim’s feelings of worthlessness. This fierce desire to prove himself and to find self-worth is a central part of his character.

Another important and appreciated liberty that the writers took was making the captain of the ship an even-headed, badass young woman instead of a temperamental man. From the moment Captain Amelia is introduced, she demands respect from her overwhelmingly male crew.

As if this movie couldn’t exceed more expectations, the animation and character design are absolutely top notch considering the era of Disney it was released in. The galaxies are rendered so beautifully that you feel like you’re floating. You feel the wind in your hair. You feel the smallness of looking up into space and the joy of being alive.

Between the ecstatic colors painting the skies and the light shimmering off the sails of the ship, every scene is vibrant and exhilarated by the thrill of adventure. What I wouldn’t give to stand on the deck of a ship and see the whole universe beneath my feet. This movie is probably the closest I’ll ever get.

As someone who has always found animation the perfect vehicle for my own personal brand of escapism, I fell in love with the unique alien characters and sweeping galaxy-scapes at the ripe age of three. One of my earliest memories is looking down at the DVD case with the realization that I could watch the movie whenever I wanted.

“Treasure Planet” falls in a specific category of Disney films that no one will name if you ask their favorite Disney movie. It’s been forgotten, and maybe it shouldn’t hurt me this much that so many people my age have not seen it. But my generation is known for being stressed out and under immense pressure to succeed. We hold ourselves to a ridiculous standard of both academic and emotional wellbeing. Nothing has ever spoken to me on that specific wavelength the way “Treasure Planet” does.

“Treasure Planet” is the perfect movie for the overwhelmed student with imposter syndrome, the teenager who wants to make their family proud, the person teetering on the crumbling edge of childhood and adulthood. Find comfort in the words Silver says to Jim after his world falls apart. Feel the hug Jim’s mother gives him when he returns from his journey, the hug that says “I missed you,” “I’m glad you’re safe,” and “I’m proud of you” all in one.

So many kids in my generation long to hear those words, fight to earn them every single day, and struggle to feel like they deserve them. I’m one of those kids. I long to hear those words, I fight to earn them every single day, and I struggle to feel like I deserve them, and that is something that I will never outgrow. That is why “Treasure Planet” belongs to me, and everyone in my generation who has never seen it.

We all deserve to find ourselves, and to feel like we’ve proved our worth to ourselves and to everyone expecting things of us. We are worth more than we think, and every time I watch Jim realize that he deserves to be proud of himself, I’m one step closer to believing I do, too.

Roxanne Panas is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.