“Treasure Planet” Celebrates 20th Anniversary While History Repeats Itself

There are certain titles that come to mind when someone says “Disney Movie.” For some, it’s The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. For others, it might be Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan. Then, there is a select group that will think of a group of titles from the early 2000’s, like The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Treasure Planet.

Today, that last group has something to celebrate as Treasure Planet marks i’s 20th anniversary! That’s right, it has been 20 years since we first went to Montressor and on a visual adventure that took us to the far reaches of the galaxy on a hunt for Flint’s trove. But did you know that we almost could have been celebrating an even larger anniversary for this film?

You see, Ron Clements and John Musker, who directed Treasure Planet, originally pitched the idea of “Treasure Island in Space” back in the 1900s. Well, based on reports, 1985 to be precise. Though the duo famously helmed The Great Mouse Detective, it wasn’t until The Little Mermaid that the pair found enormous success. With those two titles under their belt, they pitched the idea of “Treasure Island in Space” yet again, only to be rejected another time. After the two had another hit with Aladdin, they pitched again, this time to Jeffrey Katzenberg – who was not particularly fond of the idea and rejected it again. Instead, the directing duo went to Chairman Roy E. Disney who approved the idea, and based on the timeline, was already working on a top secret project behind the back of Katzenberg, something that would come to be known as Fantasia 2000.

It’s a good thing that it wasn’t approved until that late in the game, as now technology had improved and allowed for incredible visuals, with Treasure Planet taking on a hybrid aesthetic of both 3D Computer Animation and 2D Hand-Drawn Animation. This wasn’t entirely uncommon practice at the time, as numerous Walt Disney Animation Studios Films have incorporated the aid of computers since The Great Mouse Detective. However, this time around, the film was mostly computer animated with the character animation being animated traditionally, or a combination of both, like with the infamous cyborg of the film, Long John Silver. Animated by the legendary Glen Keane, the robotic arm of the character was fully CG, while the rest of the character was traditional. Even more than the character animation, the film is widely recognized for its incredible action sequences, which were aided by the Deep Canvas technology developed for 1999’s Tarzan.

Think of Deep Canvas as this generation’s multiplane camera. Through numerous layers Deep Canvas enables. As the scene progresses, more and more brushstrokes are added to fill in gaps from the previous frames. In this way, artists (with considerable help from a technical director) are able to use their artistic intuition to create entire 3D environments that can intercut seamlessly with the 2D world of the animated film. It also gives backgrounds, like those in Treasure Planet, a seemingly infinite look. With the system in place, Clements and Musker can now also make sweeping camera movements in their sci-fi action film, reportedly citing both Steven Spielberg and James Cameron as inspiration for those dynamic movements.

Fans also cherish the performances by the all-star cast in the film. Martin Short took on the role of the Bio-Electric Navigator (B.E.N.) and future P.L. Travers, Emma Thompson provided the voice of Captain Amelia. David Hyde Pierce, then widely known for his role as Niles Crane on Frasier, played Dr. Delbert Doppler while Joseph Gordon Levitt, then more known for Third Rock from the Sun, played the lead character Jim Hawkins. That’s on top of the team who already was working on the picture, like the aforementioned duo of Ron Clements and John Musker, who over their career have helmed The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana. Aside from that, the writers behind the third adaptation of Treasure Island at Walt Disney Pictures (the others being 1950’s live-action Treasure Island, and the later Muppet Treasure Island) Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio went on to pen the live-action film adaptation of the Disney Parks attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean, and a number of it’s sequels.

Interestingly, now 20 years later, the producer behind Treasure Planet, Roy Conli, is also on the latest Walt Disney Animation Studios production, Strange World. It’s funny to think that now, 20 years later, we’re seeing the same kind of cycle at the studio. With hits like Encanto and Frozen taking up all the attention of bulk of fans, something unique like Strange World, or Treasure Planet 20 years ago, go overlooked by most Disney aficionados. At least the test of time has treated Treasure Planet relatively well with more people looking back on it and becoming fans of the film. Reportedly, then Disney Animation president Thomas Schumacher had a whole franchise, consisting of direct-to-video sequels and a TV series planned that never came to fruition that many fans of Treasure Planet wish came into being. Tragically, the film has and still holds (at least as of 7 days ago) the record for biggest animated box office flop of all time, as well as the most expensive animated film ever made. However, many film critics and analysts give that a bit of an asterisk considering Treasure Planet was also released against Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

20 years later, the unique Strange World is facing the same box office problem, and this time, a major franchise phenomenon release can’t be pointed at. However, what can be pointed to is the streaming problem, where fans are now waiting for the inevitable release on Disney+, considering the marketing for Strange World has been sub-par, to say the least. That said, I believe that in time, like with Treasure Planet, many fans will come out of the woodwork and share what a delight a film like Strange World is. In 20 years, adults will appear that say what a fresh project Strange World was when compared to standard fare at the time (See Also: Anything featuring Olaf). With that, my advice is to go see Strange World now, and do what you didn’t when Treasure Planet was released 20 years ago, and join the cult-classic cult today!

Treasure Planet is now streaming on Disney+, and Strange World is in theaters now.

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Tony Betti
Originally from California where he studied a dying artform (hand-drawn animation), Tony has spent most of his adult life in the theme parks of Orlando. When he’s not writing for LP, he’s usually watching and studying something animated or arguing about “the good ole’ days” at the parks.