Review by Gordon Justesen

Voices: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson, Martin Short
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio: Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: April 29, 2003

“Now you listen to me, James Hawkins. You got the makings of greatness in you, but you got to take the helm and chart your own course.”

Film ***

Treasure Planet is perhaps one of most ambitious animated films to come from Disney, or any studio for that matter. It took longer to make than most animated films do. To give you a hint, the actors providing the voices started began working on their lines in the studio nearly four years before the film’s initial release. Disney put a lot of time, effort, and money ($140 million, to be exact) to ensure that this would be an experience like none other in the history of hand-drawn animated films.

The lengthy level of work paid off, from my perspective, as I find this to be one of the most visually astounding animated films of its type since the highly underrated 2000 release, Titan A.E. And just like that project, which was released by Fox, Treasure Planet met a similar fate at the box office this past holiday season. This happened for two possible reasons; by the time it came out there was already heavy competition from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Die Another Day, or Disney may have just been struck by the so-called pirate movie curse, even in animated terms. Nonetheless, this engaging feast for the senses, which did manage to get an Oscar nod for Best Animated Feature of 2002, is a dazzling spectacle, and deserves a second look on DVD, which I’m sure it will get.

The film is essentially a futuristic re-telling of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, Treasure Island, which told of a troubled young treasure hunter and his relationship with a notorious pirate in search of the same prize. It is set in a time and place where sailing ships, powered by rockets and solar winds, now fly beyond the stars. The troublemaker in question is young Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and not too long after being cited for speeding on a hoverboard, he comes into the possession of a holographic treasure map passed on to him by a dying pirate. This secret map holds the key to the mysterious Treasure Planet, which is said to carry within it the sacred treasure of a thousand worlds. Seeing a chance to turn his struggling life around for both him and his mother, Jim takes advantage of this once in a lifetime chance to find the treasure. However, Jim is warned by the dying man to beware of one thing, The Cyborg.

With his mother requesting supervision, Jim is accompanied on this journey by the smart but bumbling scientist Dr. Delbert Doppler (voiced by David Hyde Pierce). Once aboard their spacecraft, Jim and Delbert are suggested to keep their agenda a secret by the ship’s captain, Amelia (voiced by Emma Thompson), since many of the other shipmates happen to consists of potential bloodthirsty pirates. Assigned to work in the galley, Jim comes to face to face with the cyborg himself, John Silver (voiced by Brian Murray).

Silver, who is no doubt planning a mutiny once the ship reaches its destination, finds himself reaching out to the young Jim. Since his father abandoned him and his mother when he was younger, Jim finds Silver to be something a father figure, but once Silver’s agenda is revealed, it puts Jim in a battle of wits for possession of the treasure. Jim, Delbert, and Amelia elude the ship and seek refuge on a barren, nearby planet, where they befriend a short-circuited robot named B.E.N. (voiced by Martin Short).

Those who are familiar with the Stevenson classic will know what to expect story-wise, but it’s in the settings, characters and visuals that Treasure Planet is very distinctive. There isn’t a single scene in the film where your eyes won’t be willing to study the detail of the frame, because there’s so much to gaze upon. There are also some truly spectacular action sequences, such as where the spacecraft escapes the clutches of a black hole, and later where Jim constructs his own hoverboard as part of an attempt to elude a planet on the version of destruction.

Loaded with endless visual wonder, as well as a couple songs written and performed by John Rzeznik of the rock group The Goo Goo Dolls, Treasure Planet is a striking animated feature that is every bit worth the hard and lengthy work that was obviously put into it. It is also quite simply one of the most splendid animated movies of the last several years.

Video ****

Simply as astonishing as expected, and I say this because as incredible the film is to look at, there was really no way this presentation could’ve gone otherwise. This ranks among the very best Disney releases, as this anamorphic transfer is loaded with endless visual wonder. Every inch of color, detail, and action is captured enormously in this soaring presentation that is definitely one of the best looking discs I’ve seen.

Audio ****

Same marks in the audio field, as well. This THX-enhanced 5.1 mix is as explosive as they come. The sharpness of the sound perfectly matches that of its outstanding look. It’s a marvelous presentation that provides a great deal of dynamic range, especially in the areas of action and music, as John Rzeznik’s powerful song “I’m Still Here” blasts through the speakers with high range. Truly, a magnificently crafted sound transfer.

Features ****

Disney loads the goods on this release. Included is a branching visual commentary with directors Ron Clements and Jon Musker and producer Roy Conli. There are three deleted scenes with optional commentary by the same crew members. Also featured is a segment on the magic of Disney animation wit Roy Disney, a look at the legacy of Robert Louis Stevenson, and a DisneyPedia look at The Life of a Pirate. Also included is a music video for John Rzeznik’s “I’m Still Here”, which is especially well done.


Treasure Planet, while not the greatest of the animated films, is certainly a visual achievement, and makes for a blast of a ride for kids and adults alike. It’s definitely time to set sail!