Treasure Planet Movie Review

Children, put down your books. Thanks to Walt Disney Studios, you no longer need them. In today's world, a video store membership card and a working knowledge of animated Disney classics proves to be a much more valuable educational tool than a library card. Want to learn about early American settlers conquering the New World? Rent Pocahontas. Pending pop quiz on Greek mythology? Try Hercules. Put down Sir Edgar Rice Burroughs. You've got Tarzan.

The art of reading a book is slowly fading away. Disney realizes this, and even makes a not-so-veiled reference to it at the beginning of their latest literary plunder -- er, adaptation -- Treasure Planet. When we first meet our hero, 10-year-old Jim Hawkins, he's engrossed in a swashbuckling pirate novel. However, it's really a 3D pop-up novel, where interactive visual effects act out the stories for kids "reading" them. The process has begun.

Years later, Jim (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) remains an adventure seeker whose endeavors often place him on the receiving end of a legal beatdown. In true Disney fashion, Jim's parental unit consists of a single mom still mending her broken home after her husband's hasty departure. If anyone can tell me the last Disney film to contain two parents enjoying a happy marriage, I'll give them a prize.

Jim's humdrum existence receives a much-needed jolt when a sluggish pirate named Billy Bones washes up with a cyber-map and a warning. "Beware the cyborg," Bones utters before entering the eternal slumber. Bones' map points the way to Treasure Planet, a legendary location thought to contain the loot of a thousand worlds. With a little help and his mother's reluctant blessing, Jim embarks on a journey to retrieve the treasure and set his life on an improved course.

Disney wisely hauled out the big guns for Treasure Planet - namely directors Ron Clements and John Musker. The duo's impressive credits include The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and the aforementioned Hercules. Under their guidance, Planet returns the studio's animated fare to legendary form, producing a wondrous and imaginative adventure that's rich in details and big on heart.

Many familiar elements from the Disney Formula are present. Jim and his neurotic partner, Dr. Doppler (voice of David Hyde Pierce), recruit the crew of the R.L.S. Legacy (for Robert Louis Stevenson) for the adventure. Captained by the businesslike Amelia (voice of Emma Thompson), the Legacy boasts an eye-popping crew of intergalactic atrocities. Lobster creatures share quarters with wormy beasts that possess more eyes than arms. And the ship's cook, John Silver (voice of Brian Murray), is a partial cyborg, which raises Jim's suspicions. Silver hangs with Morph, a pink glob of jelly that sporadically alternates its form. Look for rubber, foam, or plastic versions of this character underneath many a tree this holiday season. Have batteries nearby.

Visually breathtaking, Planet's warm and vivid color scheme bursts off the screen with the power of an exploding star. There's a fluid choreography to the action here that's unique to animated motion pictures... or Jackie Chan's Hong Kong exports. The adventure, and pace, slows ever so slightly for a surrogate father subplot between Silver and Jim. But Planet has a strong story at its core that owes more to the swashbuckling serials of yesteryear cinema than it does to cold, steely science fiction ponderings of the future.

Planet commits only one crucial mistake, but it's so grating it nearly sinks the entire ship. Instead of relying on the cute, cuddly but disposable Morph for its required bits of comic relief, the film introduces B.E.N., a robot inhabitant of Treasure Planet who assists Jim but annoys us with flat wisecracks. Voiced by Martin Short, B.E.N. is (not "could be," just "is") the most obnoxious character in the Disney universe. Couple that with the fact that he's useless and unnecessary, and we scratch our heads wondering who at the Mouse House owed Short a favor.

You get a handful of extras on the DVD, headlined by the audio and video commentary -- which includes not just a voice-over track but jumps to making-of footage inside the movie and back again, all without having to press a button when a funky character shows up on the screen. Nice feature! Too bad the original intro and ending are rather lame. The movie's better without all the baggage.

Sky-surfing for fun and profit.


Treasure Planet Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG, 2002


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