Treasure Planet
review by Gregory Avery, 29 November 2002

Treasure Planet, the new animated feature from the Disney Studios, is apparently set in the same alternate universe as the Japanese manga and anime, Space Cruiser Yamato, where interplanetary vessels travel back and forth at full sail and with no apparent requirements for oxygen.

Jim Hawkins is a young teenage lad who zooms around, like a skateboarder, on his "solar surfer", while his mother sings the single-parent blues about how she just can't handle what her son's getting up to ("Jim, I have had it!"). In other words, the characters are disappointingly contempo-sounding in a picture where you were expecting, if not counting on, a little more imagination. Jim comes into possession of a treasure map -- a sphere which, when unlocked, projects a huge, 360-degree holographic navigation chart -- which promises to solve all of his and his mother's problems; he engages a ship from a space harbor which is built on the edge of a crescent moon-shaped body, but the ship's cook (we will skip over the one crew member who speaks in various emissions of air that are revealed to be a language called "Flatula") turns out to be John Silver, who has a mechanical leg, hand, eye, and a gear that visibly chugs away on the side of his head.

One recalls how Robert Newton -- the screen's one, and only, Long John Silver -- combined an ever-present element of menace into his fascinatingly colorful depiction of the character from Robert Louis Stevenson's novel -- you were always a little afraid of him, which was just as well, since it made him wholly convincing as a pirate. Here, the movie's John Silver (the "Long" is gone) is gradually turned into a father figure who takes the place of the one that abandoned Jim and his mother long ago, and who molds and shapes Jim's moral character and fiber during the events that follow. His character, though, goes all soft (even his tummy, which looks like a marshmallow).

The movie also keeps changing comic foils.  First, it's the canine-esque Dr. Doppler (voiced by David Hyde Pierce, who did some wonderful work during the animated segments of Osmosis Jones); then, it's Morph, a little floating jelly-like creature who shape-shifts, has big eyes, and coos (since it's jelly-like, I wonder how they're going to market that character as an action figure!); finally, it's the film's version of the hermit-like Old Ben -- here, an articulated waffle iron who has, literally, lost part of its mind (there's a hole in the back) and jabbers madly, at one point saying something like, "Was I have died up an admiral named Lupe?" (That's what my notes say.)

It's too bad the filmmakers couldn't have glued together something more solid, here, as the picture is visually quite beautiful, with settings and backgrounds that have the burnished, lustrous look of N.C. Wyeth illustrations. But the film seriously lacks the grace and humor that distinguished The Little Mermaid (and, later, Aladdin), the animated feature John Musker and Ron Clemens previously worked on. Much of the joy from that picture was in the thrill of watching how it went out and staked its own territory; here, the picture feels like it's photocopying itself from other sources almost from the start, and, by the end, there's a weirdly unsatisfying feel to it, where you find yourself indifferent as to how the story's going to resolve itself and to what's going to happen to the characters on the screen, let alone how they're going to, putatively, live happily ever after. Probably the only thing that could've shaken things up was if the film suddenly mutated into Urotsukidoji territory during its last five minutes, scaring the pants off of everybody.

Directed by:
John Musker 
Ron Clements

Starring the
Voices of:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Brian Murray
David Hyde Pierce
Laurie Metcalf
Patrick McGoohan
Emma Thompson
Roscoe Lee Browne
Michael Wincott
Martin Short

Written by:
Ron Clements
John Musker
Rob Edwards

Rated:
PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate 
for children.

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