TreasurePlanetcoverGrade: B
Entire family: Yes
2002, 95 min., Color
Rated PG for adventure and peril
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
Bonus features: C+
Amazon link

Pirates in space?

Why not? But Treasure Planet is a strange combination of futuristic space age, recent pop culture, and 17th century elements. The plot and characters have one foot in the past and one in the future. It’s the same with visual design. Ships that look like Spanish galleons fly in the air. Whales fly. Jim Hawkins, the lad at the center of this Robert Lewis Stevenson adaptation, has a solar board and rides it like a skate punk or parasailor. And the architecture? It’s like Tortuga in space. Disney was trailblazing in its combined use of 2D and 3D animation, and the results are stunning to look at. But the past-and-future mix doesn’t work nearly as well when it comes to content.

Fans of Disney’s live-action Treasure Island may be disappointed that the spaced-up version has more breakneck action and not nearly the intrigue of the 1950 classic. What’s more, Robert Newton carried the old film as Long John Silver, playing just the right blend of a benign old peg-legged pal who fascinates Jim Hawkins, and a menacing fellow with a hidden agenda—a blackguard who could be ruthless when the time came.

We don’t get that same type of character in Treasure Planet’s John Silver, who’s a menacing looking cyborg from the start. His face is drawn a little like Fagin from Oliver & Company, but fuller and meaner. And he’s armed with a gadget that slices, dices, shoots, and scares the heck out of everyone. There’s only menace in this fellow, so he’s nowhere near as interesting as Newton was in the more complex live-action role.

TreasurePlanetscreenBut fans of Stevenson’s novel will at least have fun picking up plot points and variations. In this animated version from directors Ron Clements and John Musker (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid), Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a bit of a delinquent at a crossroads. His mother (Laurie Metcalf) runs the Benbow Inn, and the adventure begins when Jim finds a dying pirate named Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan) and brings him back to the Inn. In short order, the pirate is dead, Jim is holding an orb the size of a grapefruit and told to “beware the cyborg,” and pirates are ransacking and torching the place, forcing Jim, his mom, and a family friend, Dr. Doppler (David Hyde Pierce), to flee.

As in the book, Silver (Brian Murray) and his crew keep their identities secret and hire on as hands on a mission to follow the orb-map to Treasure Planet . . . which is curious, since their own planet, Montressor, is French for basically the same thing. Oh well.

Unlike the 1950 film, this souped-up, spaced-out version drags a little, despite the action, because the characters and their relationships are more superficial. Take Ben Gunn, for example. Instead of a lunatic who’s been away from people for too long, it’s an annoying robot named B.E.N., who’s supposed to provide some of the comic relief. The rest comes from the doddering Dr. Doppler, a dog creature with an obvious fondness for the catlike ship’s captain (Emma Thompson), and a little thing that looks like one of those goofy, unidentifiable things that Olympic cities present as mascots. Morph (Dane A. Davis) is a shape-shifting blob of pink mass that perches on Silver’s shoulder, like a parrot. But I’ll take the parrot any day.

So what does that leave us with? The stunning art and animation. Andy Gaskill worked as a visual development artist on The Little Mermaid, and, promoted to art director, he oversees a crew that creates frame after frame and sequence after sequence of breathtaking art design and animation. The palette is largely orange and brown, and yet there’s plenty of visual pop. Only in a few scenes do we get grain and a soft image.

Given the artwork, if a better character had been inserted than the one-dimensional cyborg Silver, we’d be talking about Treasure Planet as another Disney classic. As is, it’s still a stirring animated adventure with near non-stop action that can be shelved in the “underappreciated Disney” category.

Language: n/a
Sex: n/a
Violence: The usual peril and fighting
Adult situations: Several deaths of minor characters
Takeaway: Disney’s adaptations continue to be inventive, if not always successful at the box office. And Treasure Planet deserves a second life.