Updating a classic is always a risky venture. For starters, if it's too old or not really remembered, then its built-in allure is greatly diminished and might as well be an original story. On the other hand, it will inevitably be compared to the original or any previous adaptations and might be viewed as a cheap and/or lazy way to capitalize on past success without putting much creative thought or effort into the process.
Throw in the notion of making such a film as a predominantly hand-drawn animated feature - a filmmaking style that's seemingly fallen out of favor as compared to computer-generated films - and you have the potential recipe for artistic and box office disaster.
While the latter is obviously hard to predict or guess, the most recent such adaptation, "Treasure Planet," thankfully avoids the former problems. Based on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel, "Treasure Island," this isn't the first time the story has been filmed (it was originally done in 1934 and even the Muppets made their own version in 1996).
Rather than simply telling the tale in animated form, however, co-screenwriters and directors Ron Clements and John Musker ("Hercules," "Aladdin") and co-screenwriter Rob Edwards (making his feature film debut after TV writing) have taken the basic story, set it in the future (or at least a technologically futuristic setting like "Star Wars") and injected some contemporary touches and sensibilities into it. The result is a rousing adventure flick that kids of all ages should enjoy, although it does appear to be targeted a bit more at stereotypical boys rather than girls.
The film might initially seem formulaic. Its main character has only one parent (a Disney staple), and his bad attitude and disillusionment are prime targets for the usual positive makeover transition that comes courtesy of a big adventure and interaction with an older and wiser character. While certain plot developments might surprise kids, adults will obviously seem them coming from a space fathom away, even if they're not familiar with any of the past "T.I." works.
Fortunately, those familiar and predictable aspects don't undermine the production. Thanks to the cumulative effort of all the fine details and work from the cast and crew, the film not only overcomes such conventions, but also turns into a rather engaging, fun and funny adventure flick.
Instead of keeping the old galleons and standard pirates or completely modernizing the fleet and crew in a high-tech, sci-fi fashion, the filmmakers have opted for a meshing of the two. The "spaceships" still look like old warships, but their sails are now solar rather than wind powered and the iron-firing cannons have been replaced by those that fire lasers. In addition, the motley crew consists of various alien beings, while Long John Silver has been given something of a cyborg makeover.
Beyond the imaginative update of old high seas classics, the filmmakers have also injected a great deal of humor and occasionally rather funny bits of material and dialogue. Kids will enjoy the alien that speaks in "Flatula" as well as a playful little creature that morphs into most anything and everything while sounding like a cousin to the "Star Trek" tribbles.
Vocal performances from the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("10 Things I Hate About You," TV's "3rd Rock From the Sun"), Emma Thompson ("Primary Colors," "Sense and Sensibility"), Roscoe Lee Brown ("Dear God," the narrator in the "Babe" films) and Laurie Metcalf ("Runaway Bride," the "Toy Story" films) are solid across the board.
Brian Murray ("City Hall," "Bob Roberts"), Martin Short ("Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius," "Get Over It") and especially David Hyde Pierce ("Osmosis Jones," TV's "Fraiser") get a lot of mileage out of their characters with their fun takes on them and do so without overwhelming the viewer with their own "street personality" or sound.
Like the mix of old and new regarding the sailing and pirate details, the film's animation combines the traditional, hand-drawn look with computer-generated backgrounds and other effects. The cumulative result is seamless - unlike some past efforts where the difference between the forms was too vast - and even includes one character who's a composite of both types of animation.
Featuring some decent, heartwarming moments along with loads of action and comedy, the film turned out to be much better than I had expected and ends up being a rousing good time that should entertain kids and adults alike. "Treasure Planet" rates as a 7 out of 10.