A futuristic update of “Treasure Island” sees young Jim Hawkins find a map supposedly showing the title planet, where a famed pirate is said to have hidden untold riches. A family friend, milquetoast Dr. Doppler (voiced by David Hyde Pierce) funds an expedition that sees he and the boy join the crew aboard the ship (and we’re not talking the water-logged kind, either) of prim and proper Capt. Amelia (voiced by Emma Thompson). Unfortunately, there be nasty cutthroats among the Captain’s crew, headed by Long John Silver (voiced by Brian Murray), a cyborg who has self-serving motives in mind. Martin Short voices an absent-minded robot named B.E.N., whilst Roscoe Lee Browne voices the first mate, Mr. Arrow, and Patrick McGoohan lends his voice to the character of Billy Bones.
The Magic Kingdom simply give up trying here in this lame, lazy 2002 attempt at modernising “Treasure Island” with the barest of sci-fi variations. It is one of the worst Disney animated films to date, and more indicative of the kind of lame, lazy-arse TV cartoon show found today, not at all indicative of the classic Disney brand that has given us enchanting tales like “Pinocchio”, “Peter Pan”, and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. This is truly pandering piffle, even watering down the classic character of Long John Silver, unmemorably voiced by Brian Murray. It’s a toothless interpretation that makes one wonder what Disney would do with Captain Hook if “Peter Pan” were remade today. As for Jim Hawkins? He’s a Yank this time out, like I said, pandering, but the character is seriously dull.
Worst of all, though, are the contributions of David Hyde Pierce and Martin Short. Pierce suffers the same fate that befell his “Frasier” co-star Kelsey Grammer in “Toy Story 2”, in that he is using his far too identifiable Niles Crane voice. Some actors are more versatile with their voice than others, but although the character he voices is similarly nerdy and effete, he is nonetheless distracting throughout. Yes, it worked when he played Sideshow Bob’s brother on “The Simpsons” (and Grammer’s Bob was a different enough character that he changed his voice somewhat), but that was an in-joke to some extent. Here it just bothered me to no end. As for Martin Short, he’s an acquired taste (but seemingly a very nice man in real-life), but is a long way away from “Three Amigos!” or Jiminy Glick here. His frazzled robot character is more in league with irritating “SNL” creation Ed Grimley, and at least there he was only on show for short bursts. Here he is unendurably annoying, and once again pandering. He may be the worst example of the clichéd Disney animated comic sidekick of all-time. He comes off like a very, very poor man’s Robin Williams. Suffocatingly annoying.
The only vocal standouts for me were Emma Thompson and Michael Wincott, and more briefly the late Roscoe Lee Browne. Browne, like Pierce is a somewhat theatrical-sounding American often playing regal or Shakespearean-sounding characters, but he passes more easily for British than Pierce. It’s just a shame that the film doesn’t feature enough of his cultured voice. As for Wincott (who despite not being British is quite adept at British accents, as anyone who watched “24: Live Another Day” can attest to), he’s perfectly cast as an evil arachnid-like henchman, and it’s a shame he’s not playing Long John Silver. Thompson is positively wonderful as the regal, prim and proper ship captain. However, her character is also part of the other big problem with the film: The animation. The characters all look ugly and uninteresting, with the Captain in particular looking ghastly, like a plastic surgery nightmare or maybe a Thundercat that has stepped into a hall of mirrors. Disney were getting all experimental from the mid-90s onwards, perhaps trying to compete with the emergence of CG animation, of which this film features some here and there. This is an ungainly, ugly attempt by Disney to move with the times, but not so much so that they rely solely on computer animation. As a result, it looks cheap and a hodgepodge as the hand-drawn stuff is ‘enhanced’ with all the seams showing as a result (much like the film itself, mixing pirate movie with outer space movie, now that I think of it). But one character is seriously just a pink blob. That’s insultingly lazy from a studio one expects a lot better of. Why use modern technology if you’re going to be so creatively and artistically bankrupt with the character design?
Jazzing up a sea-faring classic with sci-fi elements just seems desperate to me. It should be beneath Disney, and it is boring as hell. The mixture of old-and new animation technology is not seamless at all (and what was with that awful alt-rock soundtrack? WTF? Were Disney aiming for something like a kids version of “Heavy Metal”?), and the film seems like a very uncool person trying and failing to get jiggy wit’ it. Do kids today still get jiggy?
The film was written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”, but also the average “Hercules”) with a writing assist by Rob Edwards, the team of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (who were the duo behind the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films), and according to IMDb, about 6 others. Really? 11 hands in the pie and this is what we get from such a genius think tank? Why didn’t they just do another standard version of the still-effective Robert Louis Stevenson tale? Nah, too many cyborg Happy Meals to sell, I guess (The film flopped pretty miserably at the box-office, amusingly enough). And this apparently took Disney ten years to make? Really?
If not the worst Disney animated film of all-time, certainly the worst since the unbearable dirge that was “Fantasia”.