Review: Treasure Planet (2002)

John Silver (Brian Murray) tells Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a tale of the stars. The early 90s was a renaissance for Disney animation with fabulous childrens films like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King hitting the big screen and giving the studio’s early classics a run for their money as the best animated films ever made. The early 2000s...not so much. In fact, most people would probably say that Disney films of the early 2000s were one of the studio’s all-time down points. I disagree. While Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo & Stitch, and Treasure Planet don’t match up to the early 90s classics, they are better than they’re given credit for being. They’re adventurous films and surprisingly touching.

Treasure Planet, specifically, is a beautiful film. Utilizing hand-drawn animation overlaying 3D backgrounds, this is a visual triumph. Although the 3D animation has dated, the 2D animation still stands as some of Disney’s most inventive. The characters are a triumph of design. Every character from the galactic fire ant Scroop to the little transforming pet Morph to John Silver himself who is reimagined as a cyborg with a robotic eye, a metal leg, and a giant claw-like robotic arm, has a flavour and distinctive character. In this world, spaceships resemble giant naval galleys, with golden solar sails flowing through space. They provide neat visuals against the gorgeous spacescapes. The entire look of the film has a Steampunk feel, before that became a huge deal.

The film itself is merely a retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic children’s novel, a story that Disney itself made classic in 1950 with Byron Haskin directing and Robert Newton playing the definitive Long John Silver. This newer version streamlines some of the elements — the voyage to Treasure Planet is much quicker than in the original story, and the treasure is easier to find — as well as adds an interesting twist on a large component of the story. While in the original Treasure Island, Jim Hawkin’s father had died, in Treasure Planet, his father abandoned him and his mother. This brings to the fore the father-son relationship between Long John Silver and Jim. It’s there in the original, but more as subtext than outright focus.

The film has some unsuccessful elements. David Hyde Pierce’s Doctor Doppler is a useless character — even his voice acting can’t save it — and Martin Short’s B.E.N., the robot found on Treasure Planet, is a classic irritating Disney sidekick. But despite these missteps and an overzealous desire to be cool, the film deserves to be reevaluated. It’s not great and by no means a classic, but it conveys a sense of energy and adventure that not many Disney films manage.

Treasure Planet (2002)

Directed by Ron Clements and Jon Musker; written by Ron Clements, Jon Musker and Rob Edwards based on the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson; starring the voice talent of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson, Laurie Metcalf, and Martin Short.

7 out of 10