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MRQE Top Critic

Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Disney came up with an interesting way to remake Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Since the studio had already done its own live-action version, the idea to set it in outer space with aliens comprising most of the cast was quite clever.

The spectacular imagery is not lost on the DVD transfer, and despite the artistic liberties taken in this adaptation, it’s a pleasant viewing experience. It’s too bad the repetitive extras keep it from becoming a must-have, even for serious Disney connoisseurs.

Adventures In Cuteness

A clever update to Treasure Island
A clever update to Treasure Island

A clever update to Treasure IslandThis time around Jim Hawkins (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) is a reckless 15-year old living with his mother at the Benbow Inn on an obscure mining planet. His father walked out on the family years ago and his mother, Sarah (Laurie Metcalf), is barely making ends meet running the inn. She gets by emotionally with the consolation of her friend Dr. Delbert Doppler (David Hyde Pierce), an alien of canine-human descent.

A ship crashes near the inn and its dying inhabitant, Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan), gives Jim a map to a distant planet containing the vast booty of a legendary pirate captain named Flint. Jim, Sarah and Doppler are then pursed by pirates chasing after Bones, who burn down their inn. Jim and Doppler decide to find this planet not only to rebuild the inn, but as a chance to take part in a great adventure.

It turns out that the ship they charter, the R.L.S. Legacy, has a rough and strange crew, especially the cook, John Silver (Brian Murray), a cyborg with a huge metallic arm, a peg leg, and a small blob for a pet called Morph who can, as his name suggests, change into any shape he wants, including the other characters. This new sci-fi version of Long John Silver becomes Jim’s surrogate father, even while planning his takeover of the Legacy.

The action moves along quite well, and it could stand as a great adventure tale if not for its copious amounts of Disney cuteness, especially in its many bumbling characters such as Doppler and Morph. It doesn’t get that bothersome until you met B.E.N.(Martin Short), an android whose only real purpose in the story is to be annoying and obnoxious.

Picture and Sound

Since Disney has set the standard for animated features for the past 70 years, it comes as no surprise how sharp the digital transfer looks. Computer animation is successfully mixed with the traditional hand-drawn variety, and it comes across so smoothly that it’s hard to tell which is which. The animators painstakingly made this blend look convincing, and the supplemental material shows how some of the process was done. The example they use is John Silver, whose cyborg arm was created as a 3D model in a computer. Then they crafted a plastic replica from the computer specifics and added it to a clay maquette, a model used to give the animators points of reference. Also included is an amusing screen test using existing animation of Captain Hook from “Peter Pan” with computer generated imaging (CGI).”

The sound is encoded very effectively on Dolby Digital 5.1 complete with THX certification, and it enhances the great vocal performances, especially the talents of Pierce as Doppler and Emma Thompson as the Legacy’s captain, Amelia. The music and sound effects complement the movie, adding to its sweeping, swashbuckling feel. Best of all, the movie has no real musical numbers, unusual for a Disney production. This is a good thing, since musical numbers would have really slowed things down. Nevertheless, there is a flashback montage set to the music of John Rzeznick of the Goo Goo Dolls.

DVD Extras

Navigating the menu leads you believe that you have lots of bonus features to play with, but on closer inspection you will find the exact same material popping up in different parts of the disc. The deleted scenes are just alternate versions of the opening and ending in early stages of animation, and they don’t add much insight except for one scene showing Jim lamenting the absence of a father.

Some of the material is interesting, especially when the filmmakers explain the “70/30” rule, where they gave 70 percent of the art direction the appearance of a 17th century picture while the remaining 30 percent is devoted to science fiction elements. You also get a 3-D rendering of the Legacy with several different explanations to the ship’s design, such as why a spaceship would have a crow’s nest (because it gives the viewer visual orientation to the ship’s action).

You will feel duped if you try to look at everything on the disc, though. The worst offense comes if you chose to watch the movie with the commentary on. Several of the filmmakers provide insightful tidbits on the audio commentary, such as their preference to kill off the most complicated characters to draw. But it is repeatedly interrupted by little features that you have already seen on another part of the disc! You can skip through these if you want, but having to do this is still too much trouble to ask of a home video consumer. I don’t know whether Disney feels that most of us have too short of an attention span or we are simply too lazy to check out all these features, but the repetition makes it real easy to lose interest.

You can get enough enjoyment watching the movie for its unique retelling of a classic story, but don’t waste your time trying to fish through all the bonus features unless you have plenty of time to kill.