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'Treasure Planet'

Wind never quite fills sails of 'Treasure Planet'

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

By Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette Weekend Editor

Robert Louis Stevenson ... in spaaaace!

That's the conceit behind Disney's holiday animation "Treasure Planet." The second brainstorm was to have these space adventurers navigate the same kind of majestic galleons they sailed in the 1700s, when Stevenson set his tale.

Only now they fly, and that's not the only interesting graphic juxtaposition in "Treasure Planet." Disney's old-school animation shares the frame with a painterly 3-D computer style, as in "Titan A.E."

"Treasure Planet"

dot.gif RATING: PG for cartoon violence.

dot.gif STARRING THE VOICES OF: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Hyde Pierce and Emma Thompson.

dot.gif DIRECTORS: Ron Clements and John Musker

dot.gif CRITIC'S CALL;


The story itself is based on Stevenson's adventure of treasure-hunting and mutiny on the high seas. In the film, Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a sullen, fatherless teenager who lives with his mom at a family inn but yearns for adventure. It finds him in the form of a holographic map to Treasure Planet, repository for all the stolen pirate loot in the universe.

With help from a family friend, bumbling astrophysicist Dr. Doppler (David Hyde Pierce), Jim is able to secure a vessel, the RLS Legacy (get it?), for his voyage. Capt. Amelia (Emma Thompson) and first mate Mr. Arrow (Roscoe Lee Browne) are shipshape, but Doppler clearly had his head in the clouds when he hired on the motley crew of misfit monsters.

Chief among them is cook John Silver (as in Long John), a cyborg with a glowing eye and a prosthetic arm that can chop, mince, slice and dice. He's one frightening dude, but actually the best of the lot, especially compared with the ghoulish arachnid Scroop.

These mates have nothing but bad intentions toward Young Jim and his friends, but the cyborg (Brian Murray) has a soft spot for the boy, and their relationship, teetering between paternity and betrayal, is the heart of "Treasure Planet."

John Musker and Ron Clements, the creative team behind "The Great Mouse Detective," "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin" and "Hercules," bring the idea to the screen 17 years after they conceived it.

Some of the animation -- such as the rendezvous with the space whales and the encounter with the supernova -- is dazzling, but the movie as a whole is less so. For all the potential, these characters and their mercenary mission don't seem to rally the audience, and with a lot of the scenes taking place in dark quarters with unsavory types, the movie bogs down in the middle.

Disney does its best to keep us in good spirits by introducing the required comic foils, in this case Morph, a mischievous little shape-shifter, and B.E.N., a late-arriving droid played with spunk by Martin Short.

In the end, it's not enough to make "Treasure Planet" the kind of crowd-pleaser that gets the kids running to the toy store and back to the theater for seconds.

Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.

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