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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 27, 2002

'Treasure Planet' pure gem

By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

TREASURE PLANET (Rated PG for suspense, comic-book action) Four Stars (Excellent)

Dazzlingly imaginative animated retelling of "Treasure Island," set in outer space. Featuring the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, Martin Short, David Hyde Pierce. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clement. Walt Disney Pictures, 100 minutes.

"Treasure Planet," is a swooping action-comic of an animated feature. This fantastic hybrid blends the time-honored pirate tale of Robert Louis Stevenson with a futuristic concept out of "Flash Gordon." The result is a captivating vision that's also a lot of fun, one in which 18th-century pirate ships cruise the galaxy, powered by solar-collector sails, where buccaneers battle with everything from cutlasses to ray-guns.

This is strictly a Disney A-list production, directed by Ron Clement and John Musker, the same team that directed "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin" and "Hercules." Working with writer Rob Edwards, they've found an ingenious way to adapt Stevenson's 19th-century novel of adventure on the high seas, making a cartoon swashbuckler of startling beauty and well-voiced wit.

In this alternate future, young Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lives with his mother, who runs an inn that's a kind of intergalactic roadside rest stop. But Jim is constantly in hot water with the police for recklessly piloting his solar-powered flying surfboard, among other things.

Then a mortally wounded pirate lands at their inn and dies in Jim's arms. Before doing so, he bequeaths to Jim a treasure map.

So Jim and his friend, the flappable astronomer Dr. Doppler (David Hyde Pierce), hire a ship, including crew and captain, for a voyage beyond the stars. The captain is the aggressively talented Amelia (Emma Thompson), a feline type who comes with a hulking granite first officer, Mr. Arrow (Roscoe Lee Browne). But Doppler also hires a crew full of men who seem disreputable at best, as far as the captain is concerned.

The most suspicious is the cook, John Silver (Brian Murray), a cyborg with a mechanical leg and a Swiss Army Knife arm, as well as a laser-powered eye.

He befriends, Jim, the ship's cabin boy, teaching him the ways of the sea-faring man. But Silver harbors his own secret plans, which he shares with the rest of the crew.

The animators have a ball creating the various alien life-forms that populate this film. The entire pirate crew is like a survey of odd creatures, with both a strong personality and a specific physical presence. Some may be too scary for the under-five set. Most, however, are surprisingly clever and funny, including a creature that speaks the language "flatula," with appropriately gaseous sound effects.

Gas jokes? Walt Disney is probably rolling over in his grave. But kids will be howling.

The film has a central vision as well: of a young man out to prove that he can stand up to a test of his ingenuity, courage and character.

The voice cast — Thompson, Murray, Pierce, Levitt — are all delightful. And the cherry on top of this particular sundae is Martin Short, as a marooned robot that provides the key to the treasure, once they reach the distant planet. I could have watched an entire movie about him.

This animation is state of the art, a seamless blend of traditional and computer-generated images — made even more thrilling when blown up to IMAX size (this is the first film released simultaneously in both regular and IMAX formats).

But format doesn't matter: "Treasure Planet" is a film that will enthrall the whole family, in either case.

Rated PG for suspense, comic-book action.