Adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island [another classic literature book that I have never read], it features a bit younger Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the leading role of Jim Hawkins, Tony Jay (previously Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame) as the Narrator at the beginning of the film, comedian Martin Short as the robot B.E.N, Emma Thompson (later to be Mrs. Potts in the live action Beauty and the Beast) as Captain Amelia, David Hyde Pierce as Doctor Delbert Doppler (well-known by most people as Dr. Niles Crane from Fraiser; I’ve never watched the show, but I recognize him from the commercials), and Laurie Metcalf as Sarah Hawkins (recently she has portrayed Sheldon Cooper’s mother in The Big Bang Theory). It is a rather cool idea, to set a pirate movie is space, though we’ve seen elements of it in other films (piracy exists in Star Wars), but the film brings a bit of warmth as the ships remain fashioned out of wood, rather than encased in metal as most sci-fi films. It is another Disney movie that combines CG and traditional animation.
I first saw this movie in theatres with my best friend when we got out of school early before break (a man joked that we were playing hooky). And upon re-watching, I remember thinking that Jim was a “cool” character, being a rough and tumble, slightly bad boy. Flying a hoverboard, to a teenager, is thrilling with just a hint of danger. His clothes played to that image as well, longer hair in the front, a ponytail and earring, oversized jacket and boots. And I also discovered that I kind of like the score to the film; there are a few Celtic elements that pique my interest, but the “adventure theme” is just what you want, the strings and brass passing off to build tension and combing for the triumphant arrival. There’s also a bit of electric guitar for Jim’s adventures, rebelling just a little from traditional orchestral scores. Still not enough to outrank Lord of the Rings, How to Train Your Dragon, or even some of my favorite Disney musicals.
The prologue opens with a space battle: notorious pirate Captain Flint looting another merchant ship, then disappearing without a trace. Legend states he hid all of his loot in one place, in the farthest reaches of the galaxy: Treasure Planet. Young Jim Hawkins is amazed by the stories and adorably informs his mother that Treasure Planet is real and we can just tell that he dreams of finding it. We’re next informed that twelve years have passed and witness Jim take off on a hoverboard of some sort, weaving about bits of machinery. He’s clearly ecstatic, until robotic cops catch up. He’s taken home to his mother’s inn, filled with a variety of odd creatures. Sarah Hawkins is overworked and we can tell times have been difficult and she’s not terribly pleased to have her teenage son brought home by cops, again. She had just been telling a family friend, Dr. Delbert Doppler, that Jim was turning around. The cops inform her, and Jim, that one more stunt will land him in juvenile detention. Then the stupid bots call him a loser. Sarah just doesn’t want to see Jim throw away his entire future; Jim’s retort is “what future?” We find out, from a conversation between Dr. Doppler and Sarah, that Jim is very bright, but he took his father leaving them as a boy very hard (as has been pointed out, that is rare for a Disney movie, for a parent to have left, instead of died).
Mean while, Jim is on the roof and watches a spaceship crash land. He rushes to help the hurt passenger. The old creature, a Billy Bones, mutters about a cyborg after his treasure. Jim helps him into the inn, where Bones collapses and dies, handing a wrapped object to Jim, breathing a final warning “beware the cyborg!” Another ship lands and Jim rushes his mother and Dr. Doppler out of the inn as pirates crash in. When they have a moment to turn back, the inn is in flames. They are able to recover at Dr. Doppler’s large home. Jim unwraps the object to reveal a sphere. Delbert cannot decipher its meaning, but Jim fiddles with it for a minute, finally revealing a map. That leads to Treasure Planet. Jim is instantly excited and tells his mother that all of their problems are solved. He admits that he has screwed up and let her down, “but this is my chance to make it up to you.” She refuses at first to let him go, but when she asks Delbert for help, she instead finds the professor eagerly packing. He will finance the expedition. Between the two men, Sarah gives in.
Delbert, for some odd reason, wears a clunky spacesuit to board the ship, the RLS Legacy (RLS for Robert Louis Stevenson). She’s captained by Captain Amelia and her trustworthy first-mate, Mr. Arrow (those of you who don’t know, ships are typically referred to as “she”). Neither of them trust the crew that Delbert hired and keep mum on the exact nature of their expedition. Jim is forced to hand over the map, to be kept locked in Captain Amelia’s stateroom and he will be the new cabin boy, under the watchful eye of Mr. Silver. Mr. Silver, the cook, is a cyborg, piquing Jim’s interest. He drops subtle hints, thinking that Silver is the one who attacked the inn (if you’re sharp-eyed, you’d recognize the shadowy figure). Silver puts him off, and we’re distracted for a moment by Morph, a very cute pink blob that can morph into anything. Silver dismisses Jim so the lad can watch the launch. A few quirks about ships in space; they require artificial gravity, and solar sails to catch light, instead of wind.
The crew is decidedly unfriendly, picking a fight with Jim, but Silver steps in. He finds out that Jim’s father wasn’t the teaching type; he was the leaving type (we see a flashback, featuring one of two songs from the soundtrack, I’m Still Here). So, Silver will watch over Jim, keeping him busy so as to not get into trouble. And Jim thrives under Silver’s attention and we’re treated to endearing moments like Silver covering a sleeping Jim with his large coat. Yet, Silver’s interest in the boy is not entirely out of charity; he’s leading the crew in a mutiny later and needs to keep Jim from finding out. The ship encounters a star going super nova, then falling into a black hole. Jim’s job is to secure the life lines. But one of the crew, a creepy spider called Scrupe, cuts Mr. Arrow’s line, then pins blame on Jim afterwards. Captain Amelia doesn’t seem to blame Jim personally, stating that they all know the risks of sailing. (Dr. Doppler was also helpful to Amelia in rescuing the ship, utilizing his knowledge of astrophysics.) But Jim is disheartened anyway. He mentions to Silver that for once, he thought he could do something right; he still screwed up. Silver consoles the lad that he has the “making of greatness,” he just needs to take the helm of his own life and chart his own course. And when Jim has the chance to really prove himself, Silver hopes he’ll be there, to catch some of the light. Jim falls into Silver and lets a few tears fall. Silver hugs the lad after a moment.
Trouble brews when the rest of the crew confronts Silver. He passes off his kindness to the boy, assuring them that the lad means nothing to him and he won’t let anything get in his way of finding Captain Flint’s “loot of a thousand worlds.” Unfortunately, Jim was playing with Morph and ended up in a barrel in the galley and heard everything. Silver finds him a few minutes later and discerns that Jim heard. Jim acts, stabbing Silver’s robotic leg with a knife (yeah, this Disney hero wields a knife, and later a gun), running to the Captain’s stateroom. He, Delbert, and Captain Amelia manage to escape the ship after Silver’s mutiny begins. Jim is charged by Captain Amelia to guard the map with his life, though Morph gets a hold of it. Jim has to jump out of their skiff to retrieve it and faces off with Silver for a moment. Silver has the lad in his sights, but can’t pull the trigger; he really has a soft spot for the boy. Amelia is hurt when they crash land the skiff onto Treasure Planet. Delbert looks after her as Jim scouts about (they’re a bit of an odd pairing, he being a humanoid canine creature, and she a humanoid feline creature; but they’re both smart and Amelia is sassy).
Jim feels like he’s being watched; indeed he is, by B.E.N: Bio Electronic Navigator, a chatty robot with a few screws loose. He is missing his memory bank, but manages to give Jim a few clues about the treasure. Jim also discovers that the map he grabbed, was Morph playing. He has to sneak back aboard and get the real map. B.E.N accompanies Jim and causes the teen a few problems, but does ultimately aid in Scrupe being lost to the galaxy. When they get back to their hideout, they find Silver waiting. Amelia and Delbert are captured and Jim gives in to Silver’s demand to save them; on one condition, he is the one to use the map. Considering Silver can’t work it, he has to agree. Jim goes along with the pirates, following the course the map lays out until they come to cliff. While the pirates argue, Jim works out B.E.N’s clue and opens a portal, revealing Flint’s secret for how he could attack ships and then vanish. The portal leads them to the treasure and while the pirates begin gathering the loot (and silently setting off an alarm), Jim makes for Flint’s old vessel. The skeletal captain is holding B.E.N’s memory chip, which is helpful so the robot can remember the booby trap. Flint didn’t want anyone getting a hold of his treasure, so the entire planet is rigged to blow. The countdown has started.
Silver’s crew is vaporized for the most part, but he catches Jim trying to get the ship flying again. Jim pulls a sword on his friend, but Silver lacks his typical smile, sternly informing Jim he’s come too far to let the boy stand in the way of his treasure. Tension is broken for a moment when a blast from the machinery knocks them off the ship. Silver tries to keep a hold of the ship and his treasure, but Morph informs him that Jim is about to fall. Silver continues to hold onto the ship and tries to reach for Jim, but he has to give up the treasure to save the boy. They somehow manage to make it back to the portal, where B.E.N is waiting with Amelia and Delbert aboard the Legacy. They being their final escape, but there’s not enough time, particularly when their main mizzenmast is damaged. Jim cobbles together a makeshift hoverboard with the idea to go back and change the portal’s location to get them out of there. And his plan works, until the makeshift parts start failing. He sinks closer to the explosion until he can jumpstart the engine and he’s racing back, hitting the button at the last possible moment. He high-fives Silver and whoops in delight.
Captain Amelia commends Jim’s unorthodox, but effective plan and tells him she will recommend him to the Interstellar Academy. Delbert congratulates him, and mutters they won’t tell his mother about the life-threatening bits of their adventure. Jim discovers Silver a few minutes later, attempting to steal the last skiff. He aids Silver, but turns down the man’s offer to go with him; following Silver’s earlier advice to chart his own course. Silver is proud of the lad, telling the lad he’s glowing; “you’ll rattle the stars,” he tearfully encourages. They share a last embrace and Silver tells Morph to keep an eye on Jim. One last token, Silver tosses Jim a handful of treasure, for his mother to rebuild her inn. The movie ends with the inn being rebuilt; Amelia and Delbert are married, with four children; the cops show up with Jim, showing off his new uniform. Bonus features reveal that Jim went on to become a captain. Where You Are closes out the film.
I personally feel like this a hidden gem of Disney’s. Like I’ve been experiencing with a few other movies lately, I’ve forgotten how well I like this movie. I was just the right age to really connect with Jim and his desire to prove himself. I think that’s a concept that still rings true today. I loved the bond that Silver and Jim created, with Silver becoming a father-type figure to Jim, helping guide him just when Jim needed it the most. He taught Jim to be proud of hard work and doing a job well and praised the teen when he did something special. I think Silver having a more gruff exterior helped facilitate Jim’s acceptance of him; he didn’t need another well-intentioned person in his life scolding him about his decisions. I enjoyed Captain Amelia’s banter and appreciated the fact that she was female, and the fact that no one batted an eye that she was female and a captain. So, for me, this ranks above Hunchback of Notre Dame; I love Hunchback‘s music, but I’d rather watch the story of Treasure Planet again. Still can’t top some of the other Renaissance hits (and that’s mainly due to nostalgia credit).
Who was your hero as a teenager? (We’ll go with fictional characters) What element did you most relate to? As always, open for further questions or comments.
Up Next: Winding down with a few of Disney’s most recent films, starting with Tangled