Disney’s latest animated movie is an example of going to the well that had water in it half a century ago and discovering that it’s still full of sweet, invigorating liquid. The Mouse House made Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, that triumph of boyhood imagination, as a live-action film brimming with high-color adventure in 1950. The adventure on the high seas has moved to the boundless ocean of outer space in Treasure Planet, the studio’s candidate for Thanksgiving box office supremacy. It should knock the other scurvy dogs at the cineplex off the plank without much trouble.
The story is simple. Dreamer Jim Hawkins comes into possession of a map to the fabled treasure of Captain Flint, charters what passes for a spaceship in the part-past, part-future world he inhabits, and gets suckered by the dastardly, gold-thirsty Long John Silver into a friendship that will only leave the fatherless Jim hurt and betrayed. The movie could have easily gone on autopilot and still made a hundred million bucks. But it’s much better than that, with minimal song interruptions (a good thing, given that the movie’s musical showpiece is written and sung by Goo Goo Dolls front man Johnny Rzeznik), subtle touches of humor and pathos between Jim and Silver, and a seamless transition from swash- to space-buckling.
Jim is the typical Disney post-Aladdin male hero: teenaged, handsome, lonely but resourceful, and given to bursting into adult contemporock song to convey his adolescent angst. But it’s Treasure Planet’s conception of Long John Silver that really makes the movie, turning the cranky pirate into a cyborg with an evilly glowing eye and a metallic clank in his cackle. What’s important is that the razzle-dazzle of a huge Disney production doesn’t outshine the central relationship and conflict between boy and buccaneer. The action sequences are spectacular, and the images of what should be seagoing vessels floating in space somehow both do justice to Stevenson’s classic story and make its futuristic recasting seem perfectly natural.
But that’s just what gets them into the theater. It’s the attention paid to father-son, foe-friend detail that keeps them there and makes Treasure Planet a joy for kids of all ages. Especially adult ones.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.