Planet of the pirates: Seeking buried treasure in space

In 1950 Walt Disney captured boys' hearts and minds with a live-action film of Treasure Island. In 2002, the Disney organization has decided to take another pass at the story, this time through animation. Now it's Treasure Planet, and it's Robert Louis Stevenson by way of George Lucas, only funnier.

The anachronisms dwarf those of A Knight's Tale as the same old wooden ships now sail through space, jet-propelled. The same old characters wear the same old clothes, but with a few differences. Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a little older, 15, with a contemporary haircut and an earring in his left ear. Mr. Silver (Brian Murray) (note that he's not Long John– perhaps there have been too many sexual plays on that name) is a cyborg with a versatile mechanical arm.

Jim's single mother runs the Admiral Benbow Inn (where do you think the motel chain got the name?) while Jim gets into trouble riding his spaceboard recklessly. Old seaman Billy Bones comes to give them a treasure map and die after warning of "that fiendish cyborg and his band of cutthroats."

Soon Jim and family friend Dr. Doppler (David Hyde Pierce) commission a (space) ship to go after the treasure. Capt. Amelia (Emma Thompson) shows Doppler her feminine side but runs a tight ship, until a mutiny by that fiendish cyborg and his band of cutthroats sends them fleeing in a lifeboat.

In the meantime Silver has proved to be something of a surrogate father for Jim, whose own father left when he was young, except when he's putting the lad in mortal danger.

For the sake of comic relief, Silver is given a shape-shifting creature named Morph instead of a parrot for a pet, and the old creature Jim meets on Treasure Planet is a chatty, huggy android named B.E.N. (Martin Short). The script finds plenty of comedy without losing the story's sense of excitement, although by the time they hit the planet there's not much Stevenson left in the flat-out sci-fi story. This will probably be the part that appeals most to younger viewers.

Some cartoonist must have slipped an inside joke into the opening sequence where Jim is only three and pleading with his mother. "Can those eyes get any bigger?" she asks, making fun of the Keane-style paintings of children whose oversized eyes have carried over into cartoons and give Japanese anime characters a most un-Asian look.

The animation is an effective mix of CG and hand-drawn cels. While anything that resembles Star Wars pales by comparison, there are some very effective sequences of space storms and such. The pleasant incongruity of sailing ships in space maintains visual interest throughout as a new generation is introduced to one of the great boys' adventure stories.