Treasure Planet (December 7/02)
After the lackluster performance of Atlantis at the box office, it would have been fair to expect that Disney's next few animated movies would be reminiscent of money-making musicals like The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. But they're sticking to their guns and Treasure Planet is their latest non-musical adventure story.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt provides the voice of our hero, Jim Hawkins - a teenager whose rebellious ways get him in more trouble than his single mother might like. But his daredevil attitude pays off one day, after a mysterious spaceship crashes near his home. The inhabitant utters some cryptic warning, and hands Jim an odd artifact just before he dies. Along with his mother and scientist friend, Dr. Doppler (voiced by David Hyde Pierce), Jim eventually discovers that the artifact is in fact a map leading to the titular Treasure Planet - a world that's said to house a long-since dead pirate named Flint. Dr. Doppler, who's been dreaming his whole life of such an adventure, funds the expedition by hiring a ship captained by Amelia (Emma Thompson), a stern-but-lovable sort. The crew of the ship seems to consist entirely of criminals, led by the suspicious John Silver (Brian Murray).
Treasure Planet, loosely inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, is just the sort of fast-paced adventure flick that today's kids aren't getting enough of. Most movies aimed towards children are lean more towards the sappy or comedic; while there's nothing wrong with that, a good old-fashioned adventure can be just as rewarding. Though the cast of characters is comprised of the usual clichés, the film moves at such a brisk pace, it's hard to notice. It's only towards the end, when Martin Short's robot named B.E.N. is introduced, that the film lapses into the usual Disney shtick featuring a wacky but adorable character.
The action sequences in the film are genuinely exciting, with the fight between Jim and a loathsome spider-type character an obvious highlight. And technology is finally catching up with the imaginations of Disney's animators, because the marriage of traditional hand-drawn animation and CGI is fairly seamless this go around. In the past, it's been incredibly obvious when computer animation has been utilized (remember Pocahontas' wooden raft?), but here, the two are merged together nicely. And though traditional animation could've been used to tell this story, the use of CGI affords the film a certain amount of grandeur that just wouldn't have been possible 50 years ago.
There've been some complaints regarding the futuristic update of Stevenson's story, most notably by Roger Ebert - who seemingly gave this film a negative review on that basis alone. That's not entirely fair, mostly because Treasure Planet is so enjoyable. All comparisons aside, this is the sort of movie that everyone can enjoy - albeit in a mindless, popcorn sort of way.