"Treasure Planet" is an ambitious failure. The lovely look of the picture, mixing traditional animation with more modern, three-dimensional CGI, recalls that of 2002's "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
." The general premise is a creative one: a fantasy retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel, "Treasure Island," replacing a waterborne ship and island with a space-traveling ship and otherworldly planets. Somewhere along the way, however, directing partners Ron Clements and John Musker (1997's "Hercules") have stumbled in their adaptation. What is a rip-roaringly involving story on the written page has been translated into a cinematic one that is strangely inert and uninteresting, the epitome of moviemaking mediocrity.
As a child, Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dreamed that the adventure stories he read before bed became a reality. Now a somewhat rebellious teenager living with his caring single mother (Laurie Metcalf), he and scientist friend Dr. Doppler (David Hyde Pierce) come upon an amazing discovery: a map paving the way to a buried treasure on another planet. Determined to get closer to the riches and save the fate of his mother's troubled Bed & Breakfast, Jim boards a space galleon headed by the strict Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson). He quickly befriends John Silver (Brian Murray), a cyborg working as a cook on the ship. When it becomes clear that Silver is dead-set on capturing the map and treasure for himself, Jim and his allies must thwart his plan and safely return to their home planet.
Walt Disney Pictures has gone to great pains to get the visuals of "Treasure Planet"their tentpole holiday releasejust right, but what revolves around them are ineffectual and dull. The muted pacing, which never finds a steady rhythm, and ensemble of characters, all of them bland stock figures, drag the surprisingly few things that do work down. For a family film yearning for mass appeal, the end result is surprisingly lackluster and will not captivate many viewers beyond pre-teen boys. Coming out after the studio's delightful last effort, "Lilo & Stitch
," "Treasure Planet" pales even more in comparison.
Strongly reminiscent of 2000's sci-fi adventure "Titan A.E.
," "Treasure Planet" is equipped with a stylish futuristic setting, several marvelously animated action set-pieces, and no clue how to naturally mesh everything together to create an enthralling whole. Many of the settings, for example, are not developed to their fullest potential, while the action (including battles with a black hole and a space storm) is either too chaotic or too slow. As a lead hero, the teenaged Jim is a strictly standard creation, while the supporting characters (save for a spunkily-voiced Emma Thompson) are formulaic to the extreme. Nearly everything about the picture, in fact, reminds of previousand superioranimated features.
"Treasure Planet" only comes fully alive in its best sequence: a gorgeous music montage set to John Rzeznick's "I'm Still Here (Jim's Theme)." Sparklingly edited, grandly entertaining, and more touching than the rest of the film combined, this musical interlude hints, briefly, at what could have been. Not only does it give Jim his only real dimension (as a child, his beloved father walked out on the family), but these five minutes stand as an example of the power of music when flawlessly placed within a cinematic landscape. Too bad, then, that it is the only song in the film (not counting the end credits), and what surrounds it is generic and forgettable. "Treasure Island" may be a much-loved story, but you would never know it from viewing the uninspired castration that is "Treasure Planet."
©2002 by Dustin Putman