“Treasure Planet” is the Disney animation department at its palest imitation of itself. It uses nearly every element of every animated Disney film since “The Little Mermaid,” but still comes up short. It’s a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy.
Here’s what’s familiar:
— It’s based on a classic story: “Treasure Island,” re-set in space. (See also: “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” etc.)
— It has a misfit hero who comes from a one-parent family: Jim (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a troubled teen whose mom (Laurie Metcalf, who was also the single mom in the “Toy Story” movies) runs a restaurant on the outskirts of the galaxy. (See also: Pretty much every other Disney cartoon.)
— The hero yearns for something more, to be part of your world, to find more than this provincial life, to be out there, to see a whole new world. (See also: Pretty much every other Disney cartoon.)
— There is a cute-ish non-human sidekick: Morph, an amorphous blob who can adopt any shape and mimic people’s voices. (See also: Apu and the magic carpet in “Aladdin,” the lizard in “Mulan,” the gargoyles in “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and so on.)
— A comic-relief character is voiced by a successful and popular comic: Martin Short as the bumbling, forgetful robot B.E.N. (See also Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Jason Alexander.)
— There’s another character who is nerdy, flustered and nervous: The doggish Dr. Doppler (David Hyde Pierce). (See also: Cogsworth in “Beauty and the Beast,” Zazu in “The Lion King.”)
Our hero, Jim, winds up working on a spaceship searching for legendary pirate gold. While aboard, he runs afoul of John Silver (Brian Murray), a cyborg modeled after your traditional pirate; the two forge an unlikely and difficult friendship.
The voice work, of course, is exceptional. Brian Murray is particularly impressive as Silver, doing character work so rich, we don’t even need to see the character to know exactly what he looks like. It is nice to hear Emma Thompson as the ship’s captain, too.
Where “Treasure Planet” goes wrong is in focusing on adventure and neglecting humor. Even last year’s action-heavy “Atlantis” managed some laugh-out-loud supporting characters. Here, the jokes are predictable and average; the closest thing we get to the madcap style of some of the previous films is an alien who speaks Flatula, a language whose sound adolescent boys will find especially amusing.
Without the humor — which often leads to the heart — we’re left with a satisfactory but undistinguished action story. It’ll thrill the kids, sure, and is praiseworthy for that. But it’s light years from the pantheon of the Disney classics, despite trying to copy them in almost every way.
C+ (1 hr., 35 min.; )