Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for Adventure Action and Peril
Directed by: Ron Clements & John Musker
Written by: Ron Clements, John Musker & Rob Edwards
(based on the novel TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson)
Voices of: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, Emma Thompson, David Hyde Pierce, Martin Short, Michael Wincott, Laurie Metcalf & Roscoe Lee Browne
The year was 2002 and Disney was approaching ever closer to fully embracing computer animation and pretty much neglecting traditional hand-drawn animation. TREASURE PLANET was the third-to-final nail in the coffin with a mediocre box office performance. That’s really a shame too, because of all the Disney films, TREASURE PLANET is among the most criminally underrated. This blending of 2D animated characters against 3D backgrounds isn’t only stunning to look at, but it’s very well written with a few messages that stand out among Disney’s best moral lessons. That’s not exactly what you might expect from a science fiction take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling adventure, but that’s exactly what we received.
Jim Hawkins is a teenage troublemaker. His criminal antics are wearing down on his mother and their family owned inn. One night, a spaceship crashes on the edge of the inn and Jim rescues the ship’s lone inhabitant, an alien babbling about buried treasure, a map and pirates who would kill for gold. Soon enough, Jim finds himself on an intergalactic voyage towards a mysterious planet that hides a legendary treasure. His fellow crewmates aren’t exactly the most trustworthy sort, but Jim finds a father figure in the ship’s cook, John Silver (a cyborg who also takes a shine to Jim). Of course, danger, betrayal and buried treasure await Jim, Silver and the rest of the crew. It’s exactly like TREASURE ISLAND but with planets and aliens.
It’s a bit distressing that we’ve only seen Stevenson’s famous novel adapted to the screen a few times in the past three decades. The story remains just as relevant, exciting and touching as it has ever been. Alongside MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (I’m not even joking in my praise for that movie), TREASURE PLANET is probably one of the best adaptations of Stevenson’s book. Though John Silver may be a cyborg now, he’s still the scoundrel with a heart of gold that readers fell in love with. Jim Hawkins is made out to be more of a troubled youth in this sci-fi adaptation, but that lends very well to the overall moral of the story which ranks among Disney’s most mature messages to be told. Almost every one of the remaining characters are distinct or fleshed out in their own ways, including the most threatening pirate aboard: a crab-spider creature named Scroop.
The visuals are unique as well. This is a futuristic world that manages to also feel old-fashioned. This oddly beautiful ambience is only heightened by CGI backgrounds being populated with hand-drawn characters. You might think that this technique would be distracting, but the combination works flawlessly. The designs of the aliens themselves range from cool (already mentioned Scroop) to downright silly. These sillier creatures slightly distract from exciting scenes at hand, but not so much as the comic relief found in B.E.N. and Morph. I’m aware that this is a family movie, but the jokes generated by these two characters are frequently annoying. Morph feels like he merely exists to distract younger viewers with his shape-shifting antics. Meanwhile, B.E.N. (voiced by the frequently annoying Martin Short) is downright insufferable. This robot serves as the Jar-Jar Binks of TREASURE PLANET. Fortunately, he doesn’t take up a huge portion of screen time.
Though it might have easily wound up as either too whimsical and ridiculously silly in wrong hands, TREASURE PLANET is terrifically exciting entertainment that should please both adults and children in equal measure. The real kudos here goes out to the applause-worthy ending that’s far more touching than you would possibly expect. These messages, about finding greatness in yourself and not judging a book by its cover, can be taken to heart at any age. This ending is among the most satisfying that Disney has ever brought to the screen, even if the film isn’t quite perfect.
TREASURE PLANET is truly one of Disney’s most underrated movies. The visuals are fantastically original and there’s a definite level of excitement to keep everyone glued to the screen. Aside from two annoying comic relief characters, there’s a real sense of maturity to this story that also lends to the timeless feel of the film. If you haven’t bothered to watch TREASURE PLANET yet, check it out. This is a hidden gem in Disney’s massive library of movies. Highly recommended!