On November 27, 2002, Treasure Planet hit theaters and quickly became a cult movie that still counts many fans despite a disappointing performance at the box office. 20 years later, it’s time Disney produces some more adventures for Jim Hawkins.
In the early 2000s, Walt Disney Animation Studios was still looking for a new direction after enjoying great success in the nineties. The Disney Renaissance era officially ended with 1999’s Tarzan after delivering some all-timers like Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules, and Mulan, among others. Those were also the years when 3D computer animation became the game changer in the wake of the new millennium. Treasure Planet was one of the most important tests Disney Animation ran, combining computer animation with traditional one. The movie wasn’t as successful as expected, but it still is a heartful story that deserves to be rewatched even nowadays.
Treasure Planet introduced very much intriguing imagery that never reached its full potential. And while it didn’t pass the theatrical test and top its production budget, the John Musker and Ron Clements-directed movie did land an Oscar nomination as Best Animated Feature that year. The plot had all a good story needs, including robots, swashbucklers, spaceships, and golden treasures. Jim is a charismatic and relatable protagonist who is looking for his place in the universe, a journey everyone undergoes at some point in their life. It’s hard not to fall for that lovable rascal and his rocket-powered sailboard.
There are different reasons Treasure Planet wasn’t a box office success, even though it was based on a very popular coming-of-age story by author Robert Louis Stevenson. The main one is its theatrical release a few months after the premiere of Lilo & Stitch, which was one of the huge critical and commercial Disney Animation successes in the early 2000s. The story had some issues, mainly due to the absence of a big, bad Disney-esque villain. Much can be said about cyborg John Silver, but he wasn’t a heartless character and fails as a villain even though he led a mutiny against the charming Captain Amelia. Lastly, the producers failed to keep the production budget at bay, which levitated until reaching $140 million. Treasure Planet still stands today as one of the most expensive traditionally animated movies in history.
With the launch of its own streaming platform, Disney has all the means to relaunch the Treasure Planet franchise and valorize it the way it should. The House of Mouse is currently focusing on the live-action adaptation of the Disney Renaissance hits, so it might be a long shot to hope for the 2002 movie to get the same treatment. However, some follow-up animated series might be relatively affordable and feasible. The movie ended right after Jim joined the Royal Interstellar Academy, there are virtually endless stories that could follow him across the countless planets in the galaxy.
Even though Treasure Planet wasn’t the perfect movie, it perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the early 2000s, when it seemed that some bright and limitless future was ahead. The film left the door open for more stories set in the same universe, but Disney didn’t believe in its potential after the film disappointed. Hopefully, things will change in the Disney+ era. In the meantime, Treasure Planet is available on the streaming service for a rewatch from time to time.