Cinematic Flashback: Treasure Planet (2002) Review

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. Stick to it, no matter the squalls! And when the time comes you get the chance to really test the cut of your sails, and show what you’re made of… well, I hope I’m there, catching some of the light coming off you that day as Jason’s Movie Blog’s “cinematic flashback”  reviews the swashbuckling sci-fi animated 2002 adventure Treasure Planet.


“Find Your Place in the Universe”

Director: Ron Clements and John Musker

Writer: Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards, Ted Elliot, and Terry Russo

Starring: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Brian Murray, David Hyde Price, Martin Short, and Emma Thompson

Run Time: 95 minutes

Release Date: November 27th, 2002

Rated: PG


With his father out of the picture and his mother at her wit’s end, Jim Hawkins is a rebellious teenager seen by the world as a slacker with no future. Even Jim fails to see what good could come from his life until one fateful night a dying pirate give him the map to all of his dreams – the legendary loot of Captain Nathaniel Flint. As his journey into space aboard a ship of unsavory characters begins, Jim finds a mentor in the crew’s cook, a cyborg named John Silver. However, his trust in this new friend proves to be hazardous as they grow ever closer to Treasure Planet.


Growing up with a bunch of knowing a lot of literary classics, I do always love hearing about Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic tale of Treasure Island. Much like J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and H.G. Well’s Time Machine, I actually haven’t read Stevenson’s Treasure Island novel (in any written iteration), but have seeing plenty of adaptations over the years to know the narrative (and all its characters) inside and out. Naturally, the story of Treasure Island is quite a renown and definitely is a great narrative to play around with and I think that’s why Disney decided to try and reimagine the classic swashbuckling story with a twist. Personally, I didn’t chance to see Treasure Planet in theaters when it first got released as I finally checked it out when it got a home release a few months after. Here’s what I thought of the movie….

Treasure Planet is directed by Ron Clements and Jon Musker, the duo creative minds behind such other Disney classics such as The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and (eventually) Moana. Given their past knowledge of working with Disney (with some of their work behind “big hits”, Clements and Musker approach Treasure Planet with great aspiration in reimaging Stevenson’s swashbuckling classic adventure. The whole introduction to the more science fiction aspect is quite remarkable and I loved how the movie translate the story into a more futuristic sci-fi aspects and nuances, but still keeps the fundamentals “coming of age” motifs throughout. It was definitely quite a fun movie that definitely worked and was filled with action, comedy, and dramatic visuals.

Also, the film’s story also remained somewhat faithful to Stevenson’s classic narrative, so it was great to see a lot of scenarios and characters (i.e. Flint, Bones, Ben, etc.) ripped right from the classic tale and into this sci-fi iteration. Plus, who doesn’t get excited at hear the words from the beginning of the film “There were nights when the winds of the Etherium, so inviting in their promise of flight and freedom, made one’s spirit soar!” I mean…. come on…who didn’t get excited when you hear that or imagined hearing those type of words during your childhood (a sort of call to adventure motif).

The animation was “on point” with a lot of Disney movies (or for that matter the animated movies of the late 90s / early 00s) with colorful solid animation styles that’s a mixture of classic 2D animation and computer 3D wizardry (mostly for background settings and other nuances). I also did like how all the character designs had a sci-fi twist to them, especially how the character of John Silver was made into a half a cyborg. Additionally, the film’s score, which was composed by James Newton, was fantastic; filled with heroic / adventurous melodies throughout. Plus, I did love the song “I’m Still Here” by Johnny Rzeznik as it really did fit Jim Hawkins’s theme in a nutshell.  

Despite a lot of positive reviews, I just find it sad that Treasure Planet didn’t make a big enough splash during its theatrical release. During its theatrical run, the movie grossed closely to $110 million at the box office against a production budget of $140 million; partly considered a failure at the box office. What’s presented is really good, but not quite enough to be compared to some of Disney’s past endeavors, especially since the movie got released a few years after the company’s decade long “Renaissance era” of animated feature films. Thus, I’m not saying that the movie was bad (there’s not a whole lot of personal nitpicks criticisms as I really do love this movie. That being said, the beginning half of the movie is a bit slow as the movie tries to introduce a lot of the settings and various characters throughout. Additionally, some of the movie 3D CG visuals don’t quite mesh well against the 2D hand drawn animation of its characters. This was a bit similar feeling that I had with DreamWorks’s Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. Although, it didn’t bother me quite as much as it did in Sinbad. Still, I do understand why 3D animation was “cutting edge” technology (i.e. the way of the future) for animated movies, but I think the movie could’ve been better handled in the final presentation.

The voice talents in the movie are really good with actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt leading the charge as the film’s main hero / protagonist character of Jim Hawkins. While Gordon-Levitt would eventually go on to other big names in movies (i.e. 50 / 50, Looper, and Inception), he wasn’t quite as known during the time of this movie (except for 3Rd Rock from the Sun and Angels in the Outfield). However, his voice work in Treasure Planet was great by generating enough youthful spunk within the character of Jim and definitely showcases it throughout the movie. Additionally, Gordon-Levitt’s co-star, Brian Murray does a great job in the role of John Silver. The rest of the cast, including David Hyde Price, Emma Thompson, and Martin Short, give solid animated vocal performances within their respective character roles. These “veteran” acting talents lend credence to their various supporting characters in the movie and do pull it off with great ease. I do have to say that I loved Thompson’s Captain Amelia (her voice matched the character design beautifully).

Altogether, Disney’s Treasure Planet is a solid (yet sometimes underrated) animated feature film. Its story is great (most likely to due to its source material), its animation was solid, and the voice talents were perfect. It’s definitely a great feature for kids (or anyone who doesn’t know Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic) to be introduced to the Treasure Island story (or to watch Muppet Treasure Island). In the end, it may not beat out the films released during Disney’s “Renaissance Era”, but 2002’s Treasure Planet is still a fine choice of both children’s entertainment and animation endeavors.

Cinematic Flashback Score: 4.1 Out of 5


Fun Fact: Treasure Planet took 10 years to make, having had the longest production cycle of any other film in Disney’s Post Renaissance Era, after it went through production hell, though the production mainly started after the release of Hercules (1997).


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