Treasure Planet

on November 27, 2002 by Michael Tunison
The idea of updating "Treasure Island" as a "Star Wars"-style space fantasy seems a natural one, loaded with potential for genre-bending fun, but the safe course plotted by the makers of Disney's "Treasure Planet" only occasionally succeeds in transposing the romantic spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 adventure classic to the far reaches of the galaxy.

As reworked by the veteran writing/directing/producing team of Ron Clements and John Musker ("The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," "Hercules"), "Treasure" is set in a curious alternate universe where wooden sailing ships are equipped to make interplanetary voyages through the "etherium." Plucky young protagonist Jim Hawkins (voiced by "10 Things I Hate About You's" Joseph Gordon-Levitt) here is a moping at-risk teen whose life is altered irrevocably when a holographic chart leading to the legendary pirate's hoard on Treasure Planet ends up in his possession. A canine-faced alien friend (David Hyde Pierce from TV's "Frasier") seizes the chance to hire a vessel and outfit a treasure-hunting expedition, but the ship's cook, a wily cyborg named John Silver (Brian Murray), has his own plans for what is said to be the plunder of a thousand worlds.

While the film benefits from humorous supporting performances from the likes of "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Martin Short as a memory-damaged robot called B.E.N. (an amusing expansion on Stevenson's loony castaway Ben Gunn), the attempt to mix sci-fi and old-fashioned sea story elements with the ultra-contemporary conception of Jim and ironic wink-winkings at adults feels strained at times--a case of trying to be too many things to too wide an audience, perhaps. Meanwhile, the downplaying of Silver's more villainous side in favor of his fatherly affection for the hero detracts from the internal conflict that made Stevenson's darker "Long John" one of the great antagonists in adventure literature. Add in the sometimes-clumsy blend of computer-rendered space vessels and 'toonier character animation, and the result is a "Treasure" barely worth the trouble of seeking out. Voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson, Martin Short, Roscoe Lee Browne and Michael Wincott. Directed and produced by Ron Clements and John Musker. Written by Ron Clements, John Musker and Bob Edwards. A Buena Vista release. Animated/Adventure. Rated PG for adventure, action and peril. Running time: 95 min

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