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Toon Talk: Treasure Planet
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
Fortune and Glory
Disney has gone back to the vault for a live action inspiration for one of their animated films before, as when 1952s The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men begat 1973s Robin Hood. But aside from anthropomorphizing the cast into a various lions, tigers and bears, et al, the look and feel of the story remained basically the same.
Not so much with the latest, Treasure Planet, which takes Robert Luis Stevensons classic novel Treasure Island and the 1951 film classic it inspired (the very first Disney all live action film) and sets it in a galaxy far, far away. But instead of a totally sci-fied treatment, with spandex spacesuits and sleek star cruisers a la Star Trek, directors Ron Clements and John Musker (whose pet project this was for some time) have brilliantly melded the old with the new, a retro-futuristic montage of Old England and Mos Eisley: there is still a pirate ship, but its sails are powered by solar energy, not the wind. Long John Silver is now envisioned as a half-man, half-robot, with a Terminator-like mechanical eye and CGI-enhanced arm and peg leg. And the fabled treasure of Captain Flint is now hidden, not on a deserted island, but on an uncharted planet somewhere in the vastness of space.
But somewhere in that journey from island to planet, amidst the high tech gadgetry both onscreen and behind the scenes, something was left out in the story: heart. Its hard to pin ones hopes on such a morose lead character as they have transformed young Jim Hawkins into. Abandoned by his father at an early age, Jim has taken to getting himself into trouble with joyrides on his Solar Sailer, a combination light speeder and surf board. When he comes into the possession of a glittering orb that is actually a map to the legendary Treasure Planet, he, along with a bumbling dog-faced astronomer named Dr. Dobbler, hire the space ship the R.L.S. Legacy (note the nod to the author) and its motley crew to find it. But mutiny awaits as said crew, lead by Silver the cyborg (passing as the ships enigmatic cook), have their own plans for the map and young Hawkins.
The script doesnt stray much from the original story, so such emotional moments as Jims growing bond with (and eventual betrayal by) Silver come off as predictable. The films strengths come from the exciting set pieces that have been developed to exploit the futuristic setting, such as an encounter with an imploding star and the thrilling climax above the bobby-trapped titular planet. Less effective are blatantly kiddie-fied elements such as Morph, a floating Schmoo-like character ready-made for a Happy Meal, and the robotic B.E.N. (as in the originals Ben Gunn), computer animated comedy relief that smacks too much of trying to recreate the manic lunacy of Aladdins Genie.