Treasure Planet (2002)

Rating: **
Review Date: 8/5/19
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emma Thompson, David Hyde Pierce, Martin Short

"Dang it, Jim! I'm an astronomer, not a doctor!"

An animated adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" that takes place in space with dozens of different alien species from countless star systems. The highly advanced space-faring technology is oddly anachronistic, as classical schooners and frigates "sail" through space on "ethereal winds." Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a moody skate punk who helps his mother out at the Benbow Inn - whenever he's not stirring up trouble with the police, that is. One night, a spaceship crashes nearby, containing a dying pirate and a mysterious map. The map leads to the fabled hiding place of Captain Flint's treasure, and soon Jim and a bumbling scientist (David Hyde Pierce) charter a ship to take them there. Little do they realize that the crew is a bunch of nasty pirates led by a cyborg named John Silver, who intend to take over the ship once they claim the treasure.

Unfortunately, the film never found an audience, and for several years it was Disney's biggest commercial failure, losing $80 million at the box office. For me, the biggest problem is that there are no interesting or likable characters, apart from Jim's mother, who gets very little screen time, and Emma Thompson's charming and uptight Captain Amelia. Jim is an irritating teenager, Silver isn't particularly engaging, and BEN (Martin Short) is highly abrasive and annoying. Much like the lukewarm "The Black Cauldron" (1985), the film is squarely aimed at the cinematic dead zone of pre-teen boys who think they're too old for cartoons. Some of the writing is clever and smart, but most of the humor is unsophisticated and juvenile.

The film looks great and the animation is smooth and colorful. As one of Disney's earlier forays into CGI animation, some of the models and textures look a bit crude, but at the time they were probably state of the art and quite dazzling. Regardless, the film does a superb job of integrating 2D and 3D animation seamlessly together. The music score is quite good, although the sole musical number is awkward and feels sorely out of place. Ultimately, the film doesn't quite know what to do with itself, and comes across as dull and aimless. You never really care about any of the characters or the perils they face, and while the action scenes look pretty, they seem to lack urgency and vitality. It's a solidly mediocre entry in Disney's animation catalog, and while it's technically remarkable, it falls short of classic status.