Reviewed by: Douglas M. Downs
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, Emma Thompson, David Hyde Pierce, Martin Short | Directed by: John Musker, Ron Clements | Produced by: Roy Conli, John Musker, Ron Clements | Written by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards, Ken Harsha, Kaan Kalyon, Mark Kennedy, Donnie Long, Frank Nissen | Distributor: Disney
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was one of my favorite books as a young child. Stevenson himself had a difficult relationship with his own father. He felt that his dad was extremely overbearing. The end result was often reflected in stories about boys that were, in fact, fatherless. Many of his stories were also about the conflict between good and evil. Treasure Island was one of the last stories Stevenson penned, inspired to write it while drawing a map for one of his stepsons. This story summed up Robert’s desire to escape life and travel.
The original plot was about a young man named Jim Hawkins, the son of a family who owned a local inn. Following the death of an old sea captain named Billy Bones, Jim and his mother open the sailor’s trunk and discover a map. It is later revealed that this is a treasure map of the famous pirate Captain Flint. The rest of the story follows this young boy’s journey through mutiny, trust and a quest for riches.
“Treasure Planet” is an animated re-envisioning of this classic story in a SciFi setting. If you can imagine taking Stevenson’s story and mixing in one part “Star Wars”, one part “Stargate” and one part X-games, you’ll have the substance of “Treasure Planet”. This combination makes for an interesting hybrid as you can imagine.
This is Disney’s second animated film for the 2002 film year. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements add the technique of “camera movements” to the animation. This is the first major release to use this ground breaking technology. The rest is an interesting mix of computer and hand drawn animation. All of these elements are used to soup up our 18th century pirate’s story.
This tale, mates, begins with young Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in trouble with the authorities. He has ridden his solar surfboard through a restricted industrial area. The robocops bring Jim straight home to his mother (voiced by Laurie Metcalf) to be incarcerated. Jim’s mom runs an out-of-the way inn and most of her customers are pirates and transients. Things go from bad to worse as a band of pirates are chasing Billy Bones (voiced by Patrick McGoohan). Billy dies on the premises and gives Jim an unusual sphere. This object does not mean much at first because the pirates arrive at the inn and burn the place down while trying to find this small ball themselves. Jim and his mom are rescued by the kindly Dr. Doppler (voiced by David Hyde Pierce). Dr. Doppler is an astrophysicist and together with Jim they discover that the sphere contains a treasure map. The two are soon off to hire a boat and follow their dreams. The ship is owned by a catlike woman named Amelia (voiced by Emma Thompson). She quickly hires a crew that includes Captain John Long Silvers. Captain Silvers (part human and part cyborg) becomes both Jim’s mentor and nemesis. The rest of the adventure follows most of the traditional storyline.
There are moments when Silvers and Jim have sparks of friendship and moments when the two seem to be extreme rivals. “Treasure Planet” is an excellent “PG” visual adventure for children. It uses all 95 minutes in a fast paced story. The film does cover the themes of single parenting and the challenges it raises, greed and rebellion. If you liked and understood the original Stevenson’s classic, you will no doubt enjoy this film. There are plenty of likeable Disney characters (my favorite was a character named Morph). If you do plan to see this film, I recommend the IMAX version (and don’t forget that most IMAX theaters will let you bring your own refreshments, which helps to balance the higher admission charge.)