Ultra-ambitious, ultra-expensive (and ultra-catastrophic at the Box-Office), Ron Clements & John Musker’s Sci-Fantasy gloss on Robert Louis Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND mixes analogue & computer animation with panache, but is stopped in its tracks by character development missteps in both form & personality. Young Jim Hawkins, who puts the treasure hunt in motion, becomes a typically sullen, floppy-haired sit-com teen, a whiny pain, with shipmates who might have been drawn from the original STAR WARS’ cantina. Worse, the two other leads, an ungainly Captain Cat Lady and a doggish scientist, go all interspecies on us. Kind of icky; with the litter to prove it! As for Long John Silver, he’s a sort of Six-Million-Dollar Cyborg with Swiss Army Knife appendages. Everything’s too busy, too cute; and who’s the likely target audience? The creative staff didn’t figure that one out either which may account for the film’s lack of confidence in itself. What a cast of voice-actors, though! Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson, with sweet late-credit perfs from Roscoe Lee Browne & Patrick McGoohan. But about halfway in, just as Young Jim overhears the crew plotting to take over the ship, RLS’s foolproof storyline kicks in and things start working better. Narrative traction really bumps up with the appearance of B.E.N. (the novel’s ancient island castaway, re-imagined as a damaged robot with Martin Short on vocal). No Disney classic, but those who hang on will be reasonably rewarded.
DOUBLE-BILL: Disney’s own TREASURE ISLAND/’50, the one with Robert Newton’s famously hammy Long John Silver, has always been top-rated, but M-G-M’s lux 1934 edition, with Wallace Beery’s considerable LJS, has an ace in director Victor Fleming, unsung master of the YA form in films like CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS/’37 and THE WIZARD OF OZ/’39.