If “Treasure Planet” is not Disney at its best, it is still Disney at its still-pretty-much-better-than-anyone else, and well worth a look with this 10th anniversary re-release. It is based on the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story “Treasure Island,” filmed many times before. This version is set in outer space, but it is not the galaxy NASA or even “Star Wars” ever dreamed of. It is a dazzling vision that has masted schooners sailing past stars and planets. Computer and hand animation are brilliantly combined, using the best of both worlds so that the characters have a full range of expressions while the vistas are magnificently three-dimensional. This is exactly what animation should be about, presenting us with a thrillingly imaginative adventure that is utterly liberated from trivialities like the laws of physics and possibility.
Jim Hawkins (voice of “Third Rock” star Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a spirited kid who worries his single mother by getting into trouble with a contraption that is like a flying skateboard. A dying man gives him a map that can lead him to the planet where the greatest pirate in history hid all of his treasure. Dr. Doppler (voice of David Hyde Pierce), a family friend, finances an expedition to go in search of the treasure.
Doppler and Jim set off on a huge ship led by Captain Amelia (voice of Emma Thompson), with a crew that are better described as creatures than sailors. Jim is assigned to work with the ship’s cook, John Silver, a cyborg who is part human, part machine. John has a gruff manner with everyone but his shape-shifting pet. Jim thinks John is his friend until he overhears him talking to the crew about plans to take over and steal the treasure for themselves.
Once on the planet where the treasure is hidden, Jim meets BEN, an oddball robot with half his memory missing (voice of Martin Short). Jim, John, and the others race each other and the pirate’s booby-traps to get the treasure.
The movie is wonderfully visually inventive, with dozens of witty details. John Silver is a marvel of animation integration and form tied to content, his mechanical parts created by computer and his human parts created by hand. The voice talent is marvelous, especially Thompson, playing the captain as a sort of starchy governess who happens to be extremely brave and have a wicked sense of humor, and Short, who was born to be animated.
Parents should know that the movie has some scary moments, with extreme peril. A character is killed by being cast adrift. There is some potty humor, including a character whose language is called “Flatula.”
Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for Jim to behave before the trip and what will be different for him afterward. If you had all that treasure, what would you do with it?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy some of the movies based on Stevenson’s Treasure Island, especially Disney’s own 1950 version, starring Robert Newton as Long John Silver. And they will also enjoy Disney’s “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “The Rescuers.”