Shiver me timbers, lads and lassies, Disney’s gone and time-whacked the classic pirate adventure into the galactic future.
Treasure Planet retells the compelling story of a boy’s coming of age on the wild seas, updating the tale with humor and visual thrills that 19th-century writer Robert Louis Stevenson couldn’t ever have dreamed of. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid) wrangle technical magic out of both hand-drawn and computer-generated animation, cast a motley crew of great actors, and then emphasize it all with a romantic score and a couple good songs.
Fans of the classic novel will be pleased that so many wonderful things about it remain. Sailors are now spacers, but they still talk in seaman’s lingo and dream of buried treasure. Boys can sail-skate through canyons at near-Mach-1 speed, but they still must do their chores. The interstellar ships are magnificent galleons, their sails billowing like cosmic wings. Most importantly, no matter how many gadgets a teenage hero knows how to operate, he still has to learn how to handle himself before he can become a man.
Jimmy Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt of TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun) is a troubled 15-year-old, bored with his life in an isolated inn and angry at his father’s abandonment many years before. One night, a turtle-like alien crash-lands in Jimmy’s back yard, and just before the creature expires, he hands Jimmy a glowing sphere. The sphere turns out to be — guess what? — the map to Treasure Planet, that fabulous place where, if legends can be believed, the nefarious pirate Captain Flint buried his tons of ill-gotten booty.
Jimmy and his family friend, the dog-like astrophysicist Doctor Doppler (David Hyde Pierce, Full Frontal) cast earth-bound caution aside and set out to find the treasure. Quicker than you can say “man overboard!”, they’re booked on the RLS Legacy. Captain Amelia (an hysterically funny Emma Thompson, Howard’s End) is a sensuous cat-like alien who’s as brave as any seafaring thug (nobody would dare comment on how dangerous it is for her to strut the decks in her spiked heels; Captain Kirk, she ain’t, and what a delightful change). The ship’s cook is John Silver (Brian Murray, City Hall) a refurbished cyborg with a secret agenda and a pet named Morph, a goofy, two-eyed, blobby shape-shifter who gets my vote as the funniest sidekick in Disney history. The rest of the crew seems to be aliens shanghaied out of the bar in Star Wars, such as a multi-farting giant the kids will love, and Scroop, a murderous giant spider.
Comic Martin Short (Father of the Bride) voices B.E.N. (Bio-Electronic Navigator), a short-circuited robot who’s been playing Robinson Crusoe for so long on the abandoned planet that he’s bonkers with loneliness. He makes a loyal sidekick for Jimmy, who goes through an emotional upheaval when he discovers John Silver’s duplicity.
Before it’s over, everybody bad gets zapped into mega-space and everybody good goes home happy. Hoist the flag, boys, it’s a worthy one.
– reviewed by Marci Miller