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Treasure Planet
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2002

Format: Movie
By:   Ron Clements (director)
Genre:   Animated Sci-Fi
Released:   November 27th, 2002
Review Date:   November 26, 2002
Audience Rating:   PG
Does the world really need a 19th movie version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island? Probably not. After all, Muppet Treasure Island, with Tim Curry as John Silver, and some of the best pirate songs ever, pretty much nailed down the requisite family-friendly version. But by changing the venue from seas to space, Disney puts a little rocket fuel in the old literary classic, without scuttling the stuff that makes pirate tales so much fun. Namely: treasure maps, booby-traps, and scurvy swashbuckling scalawags.

Space pirates have been done before, but this is the first time I've seen a film version that's taken the look of a sea-going pirate ship, and just tossed it into space. There are of course, visual precursors, like the WW II battleship look of the Yamato in Star Blazers, or the ether ships in the D&D expansions, but there's something magical about seeing a masted ship sail through the stars. Treasure Planet gives us an appealing world in which lasers and artificial gravity exist alongside deck swabbing, potato peeling, and main-sail trimming. Not to mention the allure of a Treasure Planet that contains not just a few chests of doubloons, but the riches of a thousand worlds.

In the midst of all the visual flash, Disney rightly puts emphasis on the relationship between troubled young treasure-hunter Jim Hawkins (Third Rock from the Sun's Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and morally ambiguous galley cook John Silver. Instead of a hook for a hand and a patch over one eye, Silver's got a friggin' huge Swiss army knife of an artificial limb with more uses than every Ron Popeil gadget ever made, and a clockwork mechanism on the side of his face (a nice little detail that the animators steadfastly keep animating, even in long shots where they might have gotten away with less exacting work). He's voiced by 65-year-old Brian Murray, who's no one you've ever heard of, but brings a star's worth of nuance and warmth to the character. And you can say I'm going soft, but the father figure montage in the middle, overlaid with a song by the GooGoo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik, tugged on exactly the heart-strings it was aiming for.

Other hands on deck include Emma Thompson's purrrrrfect Captain Amelia, and the skittering Skroopf, played by the gravel-and-acid throated Michael Wincott, whose villainous voice has also scraped our ears in The Crow and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The predictable Disney standbys, the ready-to-be-made-into-a-toy cute animal (in this case, a mutable ball of bubblegum-pink goop called Morph) and the wacky sidekick voiced by a stand-up comedian (Martin Short, channeling Jerry Lewis), aren't exactly inspired choices, but they're mostly amusing. And since Jim Hawkins' father abandoned him, Treasure Planet continues the proud Disney tradition which dictates that its cartoon heroes and heroines belong to single-parent households.

Treasure Planet's not going to find a place in the pantheon of Disney perennial favorites, but when the main solar sail is unfurled, it does manage to be the rousing space adventure that Fox's Titan A.E., with its faux MTV-generation attitude, only wished it was.

RevSF Film/DVD Editor Jason Myers is sleeping in Davy Jones' locker, but that's only because Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork gave him an atomic wedgie and then threw him in there and shut the door.

 
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