Sticking to Stevenson's text works well and by setting the story in the future the Disney animators have free reign to create some pretty wild characters. The story begins with 15-year-old Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a young man who dreams of space exploration but resents being stuck on his planet especially after his father abandons him and his mother (voiced by Laurie Metcalf). Things change however when he stumbles upon a dying pirate's solar map that shows the exact coordinates of Treasure Planet--a legendary place where there are said to be untold riches. He is also warned by the pirate to watch out for "the cyborg" (half man half machine) who'll stop at nothing to get the map. Warning or not this is Jim's chance. He and family friend Dr. Doppler (voiced by David Hyde Pierce) commission a sparkling galleon and its motley alien crew to find the planet. Onboard Hawkins meets the cook John Silver (voiced by Brian Murray) a cyborg who takes the young man under his wing and shows him a thing or two about space travel. Jim is at first wary of Silver but soon trusts the charming rogue. That is until Jim finds out Silver is indeed the mutinous cyborg he was warned about hell-bent on getting the treasure for himself and his crew. Betrayed once again Jim must face down the mutineers and ends up discovering a greater treasure than he ever imagined.
The vocal lineup for Planet is surely impressive. Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock From the Sun) does a nice job bringing Hawkins to life and the animators have fun incorporating the young actor's physicality floppy hair and all. As well Murray (a Tony-nominated stage actor) mixes the right amount of pirate-y behavior with tenderness when he begins to care about the boy. But in typical Disney fashion the actors who seem to have the most fun are the secondary characters. Emma Thompson (yes the Oscar-winning actress of such grand period pieces as Howard's End and Sense and Sensibility) voices Captain Amelia the tough-as-nails alien leader of the ship and Thompson relishes her every utterance. Hyde-Pierce does as well voicing the dog-like high-falutin' Doppler. The title for biggest ham however belongs to Martin Short who voices B.E.N. a short-circuited robot whom Hawkins and company encounter on Treasure Planet. It's a great part because the robot has more than a few screws loose--hence the brilliant casting of Short.
Whether intended or not Treasure Planet takes a lot of its inspiration from the Star Wars series. Jim is very much like Luke Skywalker a daredevil who longs desperately for adventure. Plus there are a myriad of alien races in Planet. In fact it seems the Disney animators of Lilo & Stitch didn't get enough quality alien time and decided to expand their horizons. The array of aliens is a marvel to watch as are the spectacular vistas--from the alien spaceport to Treasure Planet itself. The combination of digital and traditional hand-drawn animation gives amazing textures. Aside from this the sunny and bright squeaky-clean Disney version of Stevenson's novel keeps things copacetic for the kiddies but somehow misses the impact of the sometimes very dark original story. In the book Jim becomes attached to Silver because he needs a father but the relationship is seriously twisted. Disney gives it a typical warm glow in the end which is a shame. They should go out on a limb every once in awhile.