When Gene Roddenberry pitched "Star Trek" to the networks, he described it as a 'Wagon Train' to the stars." It's not so far-fetched, then, for Disney to re-imagine Robert Lewis Stevenson's swashbuckling pirate serial "Treasure Island" as "Treasure Planet," an intergalactic road movie crawling with insectoid aliens and cyborg rogues.
Combining cutting-edge computer animation with traditional two-dimensional characters, "Treasure Planet" pops off the screen, reviving Stevenson's adventure with surprising accuracy.
Fidelity to source material and a host of sharply imagined characters, however, can't help "Treasure Planet" from feeling a little distant. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements, the team behind "The Little Mermaid," have produced sparkling retina candy, but they aren't able to muster a lot of emotional resonance in the cold vacuum of space.
Following Stevenson's outline, "Treasure Planet" puts a map promising the location of Capt. Flint's long-lost "loot of a thousand worlds" into the hands of wayward 15-year-old Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and fusspot scientist Dr. Delbert Doppler (voiced by David Hyde Pierce).
Patrick McGoohan (TV's "The Prisoner") pops out of self-imposed obscurity to provide a pleasant cameo as the expiring Billy Bones, an on-the-run ex-pirate dodging a cutthroat cyborg from whom he stole the map. Once Jim and Delbert accept the map, a golden globe producing a three-dimensional star chart to Treasure Planet, they, too, become the hunted. Enlisting the help of the sharp-tongued Capt. Amelia (voiced by Emma Thompson) and a menacing crew of questionable motives, they set out for Flint's famed gold aboard the RLS Legacy. Along the way, Jim becomes friends with the ship's cook, John Silver, a sinisterly jolly sea dog with a Swiss Army mechanical right arm and a wheezing hydraulic leg.
Stevenson's Long John Silver remains one of the most morally gray characters in literature: a scoundrel and cold-blooded killer who regains some humanity when he sees some of himself in Jim. Disney doesn't strip away all of Silver's ambiguity, although it softens him up a little for younger audiences. "You give up a few things to chase a dream," he tells Jim in a nod to his own broken body and treasure lust.
Silver and Jim's bonding takes place mostly in montage, as we see Jim adjust to life aboard Capt. Amelia's spaceship. But it's all too condensed to develop the kind of connection for the emotional hook the "Treasure Planet" audience needs.
Like last year's "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," "Treasure Planet" signals a departure for Disney, a grab at those young teens who might be put off by the singing/dancing Disney of their childhood. But thus far, developing the perfect animated action/adventure film has proven difficult for the Mouse House, which has had better luck with its Pixar association ("Monsters, Inc." and "Toy Story").
Nevertheless, "Treasure Planet" adds a strong female character to the Disney canon with Capt. Amelia. The frisky feline matriarch of the RLS Legacy steals every scene she graces with lines such as "Zip your howling screamer! There you go - poetry." Bold, noble and displaying the quickest wit since Robin Williams' Genie in "Aladdin," Amelia should get her own spin-off video, even if "Treasure Planet" runs aground.
2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements; screenplay by Clements, Musker and Rob Edwards; edited by Michael Kelly; art direction by Andy Gaskill; produced by Roy Conli. A Walt Disney Pictures release; opens Wednesday, Nov. 27. Running time: 1:37. MPAA rating: PG (adventure action and peril).
Jim Hawkins - Joseph Gordon-Levitt
John Silver - Brian Murray
Capt. Amelia - Emma Thompson
Dr. Doppler - David Hyde Pierce
B.E.N. - Martin Short Robert K. Elder is a Tribune staff writer.
Movie review, 'Treasure Planet'
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