Main cast: Brian Murray (John Silver), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (James Hawkins), Emma Thompson (Captain Amelia), David Hyde Pierce (Doctor Doppler), Martin Short (BEN), Patrick McGoohan (Billy Bones), Roscoe Lee Browne (Mr Arrow), and Laurie Metcalf (Sarah)
Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker
This woefully unappreciated movie takes my breath away. The idea of making an animated science fiction movie out of RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island had been done many times before, of course, but Treasure Planet does it in a most inspiring manner.
This movie has taken some liberties with the original story, but it faithfully captures the magical sense of exploration and discovery that original story conveys so well, as well as fleshes out the bonding between James “Jim” Hawkins and John Silver. Where most adaptations prefer to romanticize John Silver as a misunderstood hero, this John Silver stays true to Mr Stevenson’s original character: a complex but unmistakably amoral man.
Treasure Planet tells the story of Jim, a teenager who lives with his mother. His father has walked out of the family, and Jim has never gotten over that. One day, a stranger’s spacecraft crashes near his mother’s inn and they nurse this stranger back to health. As it turns out, this stranger bears a map to the famed Treasure Planet, where the infamous pirate Captain Flint hid his stash. If the original stash in an island is big, we’re now talking about a stash that filled a planet kind of big here. Everybody sees intergalactic dollar signs, and Jim’s mother protests only half-heartedly when Jim sails off with a crew of intergalactic motley critters to search out this Treasure Planet.
Among the crew are the feisty feline Captain Amelia and her loyal second-in-command, Mr Arrow. The wealthy canine Dr Doppler finances this trip and he is a dashing but useless scholar way out of his league. There are many humanoid and not-so-humanoid members of the crew, but none bonds as close to Jim as the cook John Silver who becomes a father figure for the lad. But John Silver is actually not who he seems to be, and this deception of his will soon pit him against Jim.
One of the best things about this movie is the relationship between John Silver and Jim. The scenes of Jim’s dreaming of witnessing his father’s abandonment of his family cutting into John Silver beckoning him to test drive the life shuttle are very nicely done to bring forth the developing kinship between these two people. Jim’s transformation from zero to hero is also beautifully done in a way teens and kids can relate to. Okay, we may never look as good as Jim while being a zero, but I think many people may understand his insecurities about responsibilities, need for stability and security, and longing for adventures.
The movie falters towards the second half with the introduction of the really irritating Jar Jar Binks wannabe BEN as well as the insertion of tired explosions and chases – is it that easy to blow up a planet? – but I am utterly satisfied with this movie. Treasure Planet is a glorious tale that evokes a sense of discovery and excitement while presenting well-done aspects of a teenager’s discovery of his self-worth and an antihero who remains conflicted yet unrepentant to the end.
It’s a pity that studio politics have sunk this movie. It’s really a treasure in its own right, and hopefully it’ll find a new lease of life on video.