When Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a very young boy, his favourite storybook told the tale of Captain Nathaniel Flint's piracy throughout space. Flint baffled the law because nobody could work out how he was able to carry out his daring raids, always garnering a huge haul of treasure, while apparently appearing and disappearing at will. Some say his treasure is out there somewhere, and will be revealed only to those who have the map to it... twelve years later, and Jim helps his mother (Laurie Metcalf) in her tavern when he's not getting into trouble - but danger is just around the corner...
It's not Treasure Island, it's Treasure Planet! That's sure to get the kids interested, who's interested in pirates sailing the high seas these days? Well, apart from the huge success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, that was, a box office bonanza that was about to take the world by storm when this was released. And so it was in these days of entirely computer-animated cartoons, that Treasure Planet went on to be the least successful Disney animation feature of all time.
Which is a shame in a way, because the craftmanship was certainly there even if the audience was not. It's just that updating the classic Robert Louis Stevenson adventure to a science fiction era needed more to it than making galleons into space ships, and the story was better told in the earlier Disney version of the fifties, the one which starred Robert Newton in which laser guns were notable in their absence, probably due to them being unnecessary. The imagination nedded to allow this to rise above its redundant concept was sadly not present.
That's not to say that it's unenjoyable, as it pleases the eyes even if it does not inspire awe. As ever with Disney, the voice cast are well-chosen, with Brian Murray a salty John Silver and Emma Thompson a commanding Captain, while Martin Short and David Hyde Pierce take care of the more comedic roles without being too irritating. Who is irritating, on the other hand, is Silver's substitute for a parrot, a pink shapeshifting blob called Morph (not the B.B.C. children's T.V. plasticine chap, although the idea is similar). This Morph is supposedly cute, but in fact its witterings would be more palatable if it didn't insist on sabotaging the efforts of the good guys in the name of playfulness. You couldn't even stamp on it, it would just reconstitute itself.
As far as the plot goes, it sticks fairly closely to the novel, although the futuristic handling makes it seem less complex than it should, and quite often the characters might as well be playing the game of the film. When Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan in his final role before he retired) crashlands nest to the tavern, he gives Jim the map - a spherical computer this time - and Jim, his mother and friend of the family Doctor Doppler (Pierce) escape from the pirates in pursuit of him. Next step is to find a ship and follow the map, which they do, but the crew, including Silver, are not as harmonious as they appear. The dysfunctional father and son relationship between Silver and Jim is there, but it's more a source of sentimentality than genuine emotional charge, though Treasure Planet at least does a little justice to its source, even if it's a mild diversion rather than a must see. Music by James Newton Howard.