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Review: 'Treasure Planet' strikes gold

Outer-space version of classic works wonderfully

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Treasure Planet
Flying space galleons are a part of "Treasure Planet."

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(CNN) -- Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "Treasure Island" has been committed to film at least 30 times. Now Disney is giving the classic tale an inventive twist by animating the action and spinning it into outer space. The result, "Treasure Planet," is a truly wonderful tale combined with stunning animation.

The rip-roaring "Treasure Planet" is a unique cross between the futuristic "Star Wars" and Stevenson's time-honored tome, one of the great pirate stories in literature.

The brilliant conceit of the film is while it does take place in the far reaches of the galaxy, it also maintains the outward veneer of a good old fashion 18th-century swashbuckler, with space vehicles that resemble sailing galleon ships -- albeit ships manned by strange aliens using billowing solar sails. It's a bit odd that everyone, both human and alien, can breathe in outer space, but why sweat the details.

The heart of the story remains intact. Jim Hawkins -- voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, best known for his role as Tommy Solomon in the TV series "Third Rock From The Sun" -- is a young man who has found a 3-D holographic treasure map leading to the legendary lost gold of the notorious space pirate Captain Flint.

Making the journey

Treasure Planet
On his trip, Jack Hawkins (center) is accompanied by Doctor Doppler (left) and Captain Amelia.

In an effort to recover the fortune, Jim leaves his mother (voiced by Laurie Metcalf) behind, and along with the fussy, dog-like professor Doctor Doppler ("Frasier's" David Hyde Pierce), he signs up for an intergalactic expedition aboard a glittering space galleon.

He's quickly befriended by the ship's cook, Long John Silver (Brian Murray), a charismatic cyborg -- part man, part machine -- who is not necessarily what he seems. With a nod to the futuristic themes of the film, Long John's peg leg is now replaced by a robotic prosthetic, and his parrot has changed into a creature called Morph, who can transform into any shape it wants.

The ship is commanded by the feline Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson) and her first mate Mr. Arrow (Roscoe Lee Browne).

Unbeknownst to them, Silver is planning a mutiny. Most of the motley crew is secretly under his command, and once the ship is far out into the galaxy, they attempt to take over the galleon and steal the map from Hawkins and Doppler.

Along the way -- when they're not fighting each other -- they encounter black holes, they battle supernovas and they fight an enormous space storm.

Innovative animation

Treasure Planet
The film's animation is startling, particularly in IMAX format, says Paul Clinton.

Screenwriters Ron Clements, John Musker (who also co-produced and directed), and Rob Edwards have stayed fairly close to Stevenson's original tale with a few exceptions, the main one being a romance between the ship's captain and the hapless Doppler.

Visually this space opera is highly innovative. Hand-drawn animation is combined with elaborate 3D "virtual sets" that jump off the screen -- especially if you're seeing it at one of the large-format IMAX theaters now showing this movie around the country.

Clements and Musker have had a lot of experience transferring myth, legend and lore to the big screen. The duo also created other Disney blockbusters including "The Little Mermaid" (1989) and "Aladdin" (1992).

"Treasure Planet" may not be in that league, but it is solid entertainment.

"Treasure Planet" opens nationwide on Wednesday, November 27.

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