Treasure Planet

Jim Hawkins (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a smart but troubled teenager who had to grow up without the benefit of his father's presence. When a mysterious creature named Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan) falls upon the doorstep of his mother's meager inn, giving Jim a secret map and warning him about a vicious cyborg before expiring, disaster strikes as Billy's pursuers burn the place down in search of the valuable map. Young Hawkins, realizing that he has the key to vast treasures, enlists the aid and financing of canine-like Dr. Delbert Doppler (David Hyde Pierce) and they set out for the adventure of their lives in Disney's "Treasure Planet."

Laura's Review: A-

Fifteen year old Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, TV's "3rd Rock from the Sun") has been getting into one scrape after another since he and his mom (Laurie Metcalf, "Toy Story") were left by his dad years before. One night a shady space traveller by the name of Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan, TV's "The Prisoner") crashes outside the Hawkins' Benbow Inn cradling a small chest and warning Jim about a cyborg before expiring from his injuries. When Jim discovers that the chest contains a spherical map of the legend of his childhood, he and family friend Dr. Doppler (David Hyde Pierce, TV's "Frasier") convince Mrs. Hawkins that their fates lie in pursuing "Treasure Island."

Writing/directing/producing duo John Musker and Ron Clements (Disney's "Hercules") came up with the idea of taking Robert Louis Stevenson's classic "Treasure Island" and reinventing it as a futuristic space adventure, and what an inspired notion it is! Taking the 'deep canvas' technology used for "Tarzan's" jungle sequences several steps further, this spectacular combination of traditional and computer generated animation is dazzling, prompting Disney to simultaneously release the film in both regular and IMAX formats.

The animators first show off their new tricks when Jim gets in trouble for solarsurfing in a restricted area. Sporting the gold earring and funky haircut of a skateboarder, Jim whizzes within the machinery of an industrial plant like a Star Wars TIE Fighter speeding through the outer alleys of the Death Star. He's brought home by robo-cops to the astonishment of his mother and her intergalactic customers.

After Bones' death, the Inn is raided by pirates who torch the building and the Hawkins regroup in the palatial home of astronomer Denlopp, a doglike creature whose enthusiasm for the Treasure Planet quest overpowers his natural reticence. The duo head down to the three-dimensional docks of Montressor, board the ship Denlopp has financed, and meet the feline, no-nonsense Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson, "Sense and Sensibility") and her craggy (literally) First Mate Mr. Arrow (Roscoe Lee Browne, narrator of "Babe"). Amelia quickly puts Denlopp in his place with some fast-paced banter and makes it known that she thinks very little of the crew he's hired. Jim is advised that he will work under the ship's cook John Silver (Shakespearean theater actor Brian Murray), who, he suspiciously notes is a cyborg. The galleon-like ship sets sail into space in a beautiful sequence reminiscent of Hook's departure from WWII London in "Return to Neverland."

This classic adventure tale is spiced with humor ('I speak fluent flatula,' advises Denlopp after a rather, er, bubbly exchange with an alien deckhand) and witty updatings (Silver's parrot has been replaced with Morph, a cute alien creature who mimics everyone and everything around). The characters are all wonderfully realized by both the Disney animation teams and the actors who voice them. The pairing of a dog (Denlopp) and cat (the captain) in outer space charmingly leads to an unlikely romance when Denlopp's learning proves the perfect complement to Amelia's captaining. The standard musical montage, by Goo Goo Dolls' lead John Rzeznik's "I'm Still Here," develops the story by efficiently showing Silver's transformation into a father figure to Jim, while James Newton Howard's ("Signs") score works in Celtic and nautical themes.

Silver is a combination of drawn and computer generated animation and the wonderfully realized character is given all the shading necessary by Murray to make him a charming rogue with a huge moral conflict. Gordon-Levitt elevates his handsome hero above blandness with rich vocal work. Hyde Pierce's distinctive voice is initially distracting in its recognizability, but the actor is so amusing he makes Denlopp his own in short time. There's just a touch of Jiminy Glick in Martin Short's B.E.N., an abandoned robot who's lost his mind on Treasure Planet. It's Emma Thompson who steals the show, though, as the quick thinking, fast talking fabulous feline (talk about Puss in Boots - those sexy thigh high boots Amelia wears are the cat's meow).

The one negative aspect of "Treasure Island" is the characterless band of pirates in on Silver's mutinous plan. Bad guy Scroop (voiced by the villainous Michael Wincott of "The Crow") is one giant spider too many after "Harry Potter" and "Eight Legged Freaks" and the rest of the band make little impression.

As Jim manages to make both his mother and surrogate dad proud, "Treasure Planet" assures us that there's a Silver lining in every cloud and all's well. Disney has added another classic to their estimable collection.

Robin's Review: A-

Walt Disney Studios has a knack for bringing classic tales to the animated big screen with the likes of "Beauty and the Beast," "Pinocchio," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and many more. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements continue this wonderful tradition as they reinvent what may be one of the best, most enduring adventure yarns of all time, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, a story that has been brought to the screen many times, even as early as the 1908 silent short version and the 1920 silent feature. The first talkie version, in 1934, starred Wallace Beery as Long John Silver and Jackie Cooper as young Jim Hawkins and was immensely popular, as was the 1950 interpretation with Robert Newton as the wily Silver and Bobby Driscoll as Jim. More recently is the very amusing remake treatment given to the story by Disney and Jim Henson's team of artists in "Muppet Treasure Island."

Musker and Clements take the well traveled but extremely sturdy pirate adventure and propel it into a fantasy universe where wooden ships can fly among the stars and the opportunity to find your wealth in pirate treasure is very real. Jim Hawkins is always getting into trouble with the local law as he heedlessly surfs his space board in forbidden places. When Billy Bones arrives and dies, leading a cyborg and his cutthroat crew to the Benbow Inn's door, Jim has his work cut out for him - use the map to find the hidden treasure of the infamous pirate Captain Flint and build his mother, Sarah (Laurie Metcalf), a brand new inn ten time better than the old, now destroyed, one.

One of Sarah's regular customers, Dr. Doppler, a mild mannered scientist who sees the adventurer deep within himself, agrees to pay for the journey and hires a ship, captain and crew to take him and Jim to the other side of the galaxy. The mission commander, feline Captain Amelia, and her trusted lieutenant Mr. Arrow (Roscoe Lee Brown), are above reproach, but the same cannot be said for the rest of the crew. Jim is assigned the job of cabin boy under the supervision of kind talking cook, John Silver (Brian Murray). The only problem is that Silver happens to be a cyborg!

Despite his initial mistrust, Jim soon takes a liking to the gruff-voiced, understanding Silver and his little pet, Morph (Dane A. Davis), a shape-shifting and lovable little critter. But Jim's earlier suspicions about the cook are well-grounded when he overhears Silver and the ship's mutinous crew plot to take over the ship, steal the map and grab the pirate's treasure - the loot of a thousand worlds.

As the space galleon RLS Legacy heads across the galaxy toward the mythical Treasure Planet they voyage through the Etherium (which, in this fantasy land, allows you to breathe while in space), meet space whales and battle supernovas, black holes and space storms. The crew, led by John Silver, finally mutinies, throwing Mr. Arrow overboard and taking control of the Legacy. Jim, the captain and Dr. Doppler escape their evil clutches in one of the ships longboats and crash onto the surface of the much sought after Treasure Planet. Captain Amelia is injured in the escape and the doctor, by necessity, must treat her (in the film's funniest, laugh out loud moment for any "Star Trek" fan) while Jim scouts the planet in search of the treasure. What he finds is B.E.N. (Bio-Electronic-Navigator, voiced by Martin Short), a robot abandoned, after literally losing his mind, by the nefarious Captain Flint. It becomes a race against the clock and the pirates to find the loot and escape before the planet explodes.

"Treasure Planet" is a worthy successor to the several renditions of Stevenson's terrific, swashbuckling adventure as it transports the action from the high seas to deep space. The traditional "yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum" atmosphere is kept intact but in a world of aliens, flying space galleons and solar surfboards. John Silver, instead of having a hook for a hand and a peg leg is equipped with a laser eyeball and a multi-purpose mechanical arm that would delight the Swiss Army Knife folks. Stage actor Brian Murray voices the irascible, scheming (but likable) villain John Silver is a gravelly voice that is remarkably like that of Wallace Beery, whom I consider the quintessential bad guy with a good heart, from the '34 version.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers his coming of age character, Jim, with much the same nuance as Michael J. Fox gave to another young Disney hero in "Atlantis: The Lost Empire." He fits into the role nicely and plays very well off of Murray's Silver. The bond between the boy and his surrogate father figure is palpable and believable. Emma Thompson is purrfect as the cat-like commander of the Legacy. She gives Captain Amelia a commanding dignity and will do anything for those loyal to her. Roscoe Lee Brown voices Mr. Arrow with the loyalty his captain expects and is gone all too soon. David Hyde Pierce has a real talent for doing animation voices and combines the prissy sensitivity of the doctor with the true heart of an adventurer. Martin Short puts a Jiminy Glick spin, at times, on the part of B.E.N. who has been oh so lonely for 100 years. Laurie Metcalf does yeoman's work as Jim's mom and Patrick McGoohan gives life (and death) to the character of Billy Bones. Michael Wincott, alas, is not given much to do as the hissing, spider-like mutineer, Scroop. These other key players are well cast but the many background characters, like the members of the mutinous crew, are little more than a collection of screwball aliens. Little Morph does little but mimic those around him but is a cute-as-heck replacement for the traditional pirate's parrot.

The story, with the expected embellishments by the Disney animation team, is a faithful rendition of the R.L. Stevenson tale. It moves the action from England and the Caribbean to another universe but the adventure is still the same and there is action galore. This is the kind of yarn that will develop a whole new audience for Mr. Stevenson's most famous work and may even encourage some kids to read the book.

The techs are, simply, outstanding in every way. Musker, Clement and their team take the 3-D animation dubbed "Deep Canvas" that was developed for "Tarzan" and brings it a giant step forward. Where this technology was only used about 10% of the time in the earlier animation, the creative team makes a whole world with it in "Treasure Planet" and magically and seamlessly integrates it with the 2-D anime of the characters. The action and adventure that the hardy crew of the RLS Legacy must endure admittedly had me on the edge of my seat with hands clenched (I even think I forgot to breathe once or twice).

"Treasure Planet" is a movie for boys of all ages (but girls who like action movies will enjoy it, too) and a rip-snortin' good time will be had with this solid alternative to that wizard movie making the rounds these days.