The story of Treasure Island has quite a history within The Walt Disney Company. Not only was Treasure Island the first live-action film from the company, but Disney’s long fascination with pirates has been evident in many forms, most notably Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean. In 1996, Disney collaborated with The Jim Henson Company and released Muppet Treasure Island, also based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel. In addition, there was a unique idea rolling around the minds of two Disney creatives for many years: Treasure Island in space.
This was a pet project of directors Ron Clements and John Musker, the dynamic duo who directed The Little Mermaid. They had pitched this idea numerous times to the studio throughout the 1980s and early 90s, but it was turned down several times. However, chairman Roy Disney believed in their vision and finally, in the mid 90s, he green-lit the project. Treasure Planet was finally released in 2002. Unfortunately, this creative film did not receive the response that they hoped for and did very poorly at the box office.
Visually, this is a beautiful movie. There are many excellent shots in the film, the standout being when the camera pans in on the crescent moon that becomes the main city. The blend of CGI and traditional animation also works in the favor of the story and compliments the film rather than taking away from it.
One of my favorite things about the film is in its presentation of Long John Silver. He is a complex character in every version of the story, but is particularly effective here where he is voiced impeccably by Brian Murray. The rest of the voice cast is excellent too including David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson, and Martin Short.
The prominent science fiction imagery was likely the cause of the lack of mainstream audience appeal. Plenty of mainstream audiences are used to science fiction franchises, but in an animated Disney movie? I could see why people may have been skeptical. Despite this, it is my belief that Treasure Planet is one of my best Disney films in this experimental period of the company.
Live-action remake: There is no live-action remake planned for Treasure Planet.
Treasure Planet in the theme parks: A few of the characters from Treasure Planet were seen in the park around the time of the films’ release but have rarely been seen since.
Sequel/Spin-offs: Treasure Planet was originally intended to be merely the first entry into an expansive franchise. Thomas Schumacher, Disney Animation’s President at the time, said this: “We’ve got a story and some storyboards and concepts up, and a script for what a sequel to this could be. There’s also a notion of what a series could be. I have all the pieces in place, and should we [decide] to push the button, we push the button and go with it.”
Unfortunately, they never pushed the button. Like Atlantis, this franchise didn’t see the light of day due to poor box office performance and mixed reviews. The most that came out of this was a pair of video games, which are now long out of print. For more details on the cancelled plans for this franchise, check out this article here.
Treasure Planet is available to stream on Disney+.