2002, PG, 90 min. Directed by Ron Clements, John Musker. Voices by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, Emma Thompson, David Hyde Pierce, Martin Short, Patrick McGoohan, Michael Wincott, Roscoe Lee Browne, Laurie Metcalf.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 29, 2002
Disney here remakes one of its own with stupendous results that put much of the studio's recent animated output to shame (I'm talking to you, Emperor's New Groove). Robert Louis Stevenson's buccaneering classic hit a high water mark with Disney's pitch-perfect 1950 version starring crusty Robert Newton as the Long John Silver who stalked his unipedal way through kidhood dreams for at least a generation or two. That this futuristic retelling of Treasure Island is as rollicking an adventure yarn as it is owes much, I suspect, to Disney's keen sense of the past and how to adapt it to the present. That said, what's a Disney film without a dodgy protagonist in need of direction and adventure? Teenage Jim Hawkins (voiced by Gordon-Levitt) helps run the Admiral Benbow Inn with his mom, but doesn't seem to be able to keep his nose out of trouble with those pesky robot cops. When a bedraggled privateer by the name of Billy Bones (voiced by McGoohan) washes up on the Benbow's space dock clutching a pirate map to the fabled Treasure Planet, and then expires (unfortunately minus the ominous “black spot”) with the warning to “beware the cyborg,” well, what's a young punk to do but chew through his leash and set sail for, uh, adventure. Hopefully you know where we're going with this -- if not, you'd better be under the legal drinking age or you're likely to get a stiff downgrading in the retro-cool department. It's difficult -- nay, impossible! -- to imagine that Stevenson's thoroughly rip-roaring tale has lost any of its gritty panache over the years, but something tells me that these days if it's not adapted for the Xbox it may be trés passé. Disney has nipped and tucked the original story to include some familial issues that are darn near compulsory when it comes to the Mouse, but those nontraditional additions aside, Treasure Planet is still a near-perfect retelling. When Jim finds himself setting sail aboard the R.L.S. Legacy in search of the fabled planet, he hooks up with the eye-poppingly designed cyborg Silver (with a wonderfully rusty vocal turn from Brian Murray) and a host of scaborous scalawags of such inventive physical bizarreness they rival H.P. Lovecraft's Innsmouth clan in terms of sheer oceanic oddness. Best of all, though, is Emma Thompson's Captain Amelia, whose stodgy, businesslike demeanor is wrapped within, you'll pardon the pun, a skintight catsuit that makes Jessica Rabbit look like the floozy she is. Meow indeed. Directors Musker and Clements, who handled Disney big guns, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, with equal aplomb, do credit to the material in spades, and while there are a few slips -- the film could have done without so much focus on the blobby little wad of pink Flubber known as Morph, who acts as Silver's comic sidekick -- the overall tone of this rocket-paced updating is exhilaratingly giddy, making it by far Disney's best animated film since Mulan.