Review: “Treasure Planet”

A marked improvement on last year’s rather dull “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” Disney’s “Treasure Planet” is one of the better efforts to come out of the Mouse House’s traditional animation departments in recent years but shows they still have a long way to go before reaching the heights of Aladdin/Lion King glory again.

Combining the old seafaring adventures of the R.L. Stevenson classic with a wild outer space theme, the greatest joy from this is watching the sheer setting where the animators have let their imaginations go wild by combining old and new technology so that clipper ships can fly, multi-level artifical cities still have their ‘seedy docks’ as well as homely pubs, and windsurfing takes on an entirely more exciting and dangerous dimension.

This is a very specifically targeted at young boys film, a shame as during the Katzenberg era the various tales appealed to everyone – “Aladdin” was a young boys film too but there was romance for the girls and the Genie’s comic relief for the adults. This on the other hand is a very serious tale with the occasional dumb gag or fart joke thrown in mostly from the really quite annoying (though well designed) robot B.E.N. which Martin Short voices.

The most charming and smile inducing moments come from the tough but very British cat captain (Emma Thompson) who develops a bit of a chemistry with the always great David Hyde Pierce whose Dr. Doppler is fun. Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes a likable lead hero and Long John Silver (Brian Murray) as a character is suitably murky in terms of his motives though the ‘father I never had’ theme is pushed way too much. Michael Wincott makes a short but memorable appearance as a bug like evil crewman.

The most stand-out thing here is the seamless blend of computer effects and traditional animation. Silver’s CG arm and mood-changing eye look like they were done by hand and perfectly match the rest of his body whilst the various three-dimensional settings and look are seamlessly integrated with more ‘flatly drawn’ scenes to create one of the more distinctive looking Disney features in a while.

Action sequences get quite spectacular from the opening windsurfing piece to a fight against a whirlpool like black hole. However the rest of the film has become bogged down in many ways by the formulaic characters which once were such a blessing to Disney. ‘Treasure’ is a step back in the right direction towards epic storytelling and traditional themes but one would hope for a more broader appeal and light hearted tone next time (ala “Lilo & Stitch”).