Review by Dustin Putman
1½ stars out of 4
"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 release--just 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 previous--and superior--animated 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."
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman