Treasure Planet is one of those underseen and little-talked-about Disney films from the early 2000s. To be fair, many of those animated projects didn't deserve much acclaim or discussion (ahem, Brother Bear and Atlantis: The Lost Empire), but this one - a fantasy sci-fi retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island - is worth a watch if you're in the mood for some family-friendly swashbuckling.
Co-writers/Co-directors: Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson
This film is notable for being the first movie released in IMAX and regular theaters simultaneously, and for its blend of 2D and 3D animation. The look of the film is really cool, mixing ancient pirate lore and the traditional depiction of pirates with an almost steampunk twist; for example, they updated Long John Silver's iconic peg leg into a mechanical cyborg leg. The production design is unique, with this mix being a wholly original combination of two genres the likes of which hasn't been seen (to this degree) before or since.
The casting was pretty spot on here, utilizing Not Just New Movies favorite Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role of 16-year-old Jim Hawkins. Voice actor Bryan Murray - who hasn't been in much else - killed it as John Silver, but I was surprised to find that the main draw actually came from the secondary characters. David Hyde Pierce was excellent as Doctor Doppler, Martin Short brought his special brand of zany humor to the character of B.E.N., and Emma Thompson was great as the no-nonsense captain of the RLS Legacy.
There are a few jokes here that will go over the kids' heads: Doppler goes off on this paraphrased Star Trek-inspired tangent, saying something like, "For God's sake, I'm a doctor, not a...doctor. Well, not that kind of doctor, anyway. I've got a master's degree, but..." There was also a one-liner near the end about how the characters needed a bigger boat - clearly an homage to Spielberg's Jaws. The music was interesting: I liked the score from James Newton Howard, but John Rzeznik (lead singer and lead guitarist of the Goo Goo Dolls) wrote and performed the songs and they all seemed more gimmicky than I'm sure Disney would have liked. I don't know - the whole thing just struck me more as a marketing ploy rather than an organic collaboration.
The story is pretty close to Stevenson's original, although they took some liberties that I think make for a more enjoyable film (especially one geared toward a younger demographic). The flight sequences of Jim on the rocket board were pretty thrilling for the time, and the sense of adventure that permeates the entire story adds a special element to a script that, at times, feels a little flat. But Clements and Musker know their stuff: the duo co-directed some of the best Disney animated films ever made, including The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. Though this film doesn't even approach those two in terms of classic status, Treasure Planet is a fun ride through space that is certainly better than many of Disney's other efforts. Until next time...