Treasure Planet is a 2D and 3D animated film that was released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2002. Regarded as one of the most beautiful animated films in the early 2000s, it was praised by critics for its visuals, its unique story (despite being loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island”), and its incredible cast of voice actors that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, and Emma Thompson. Despite being critically acclaimed, Treasure Planet was a box office failure, making it one of Disney’s biggest flops in the movie industry. What are the factors the contributed to its failure at the box office? Let us find out we know more about the production history and reception of Treasure Planet.
The idea for Treasure Planet was conceived by Ron Clements in 1985, who pitched its story at the “Gong Show” meeting, which was famous for being the place where John Musker pitched The Little Mermaid. While The Little Mermaid was approved, Clements’s Treasure Planet was rejected by Michael Eisner, who said that Paramount Pictures was going to develop a Star Trek sequel that has a similar premise to the Treasure Island novel, so he didn’t want Disney to be accused of plagiarism. Fortunately, the Star Trek sequel went unproduced, so Clements pitched his idea again in 1989, shortly after the premiere of The Little Mermaid, but his idea would be rejected the second time.
Not giving up on his idea, Clements pitched it again in 1992 after the release of Aladdin, but it would be rejected by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the then-chief of Walt Disney Studios. Feeling frustrated with the constant rejections over the years, Clements approached Roy E. Disney, the then-Feature Animation chairman, to convince Eisner to approve the idea. Disney would be successful in convincing Eisner, and in 1995, Clements’ Treasure officially went into production.
Despite being approved for production in 1995, it was only in 2000 when the production team was able to perform principal photography. The delay in production was caused by Ron Clements and John Musker wanting to finalize the theme and design for the movie. The two eventually decided to apply the “70/30 Law,” wherein they will design the film with 70% traditional and 30% sci-fi in mind. The art style for the movie was conceived by the art directors, who took inspiration from the illustrations produced at the Brandywine School of Illustration.
It was reported that about 350 people were members of the production team when they started production in 2000, but in the screen credits for the film, there were more than 1000 that was credited to be part of the team. The staggering amount of people that work on the movie is caused by the film’s combining of 2D and 3D animations elements, which was proven to be difficult for animators that specializes in only one field. The 2D animations were drawn first, then the 3D character animation was added to give characters more life and expressions, and then the computer-generated (CG) environments were implemented to last to create a more open atmosphere that is impossible to be drawn in 2D.
During its opening weekend, Treasure Planet was only able to gross approximately $12 million, finishing fourth at the box office after Harry Potter: the Chamber of Secrets, Die Another Day, and The Santa Clause 2. Overall, the film grossed $109.5 million worldwide, and since the budget for Treasure Planet was estimated to be $140 million, the movie was considered to be one of the biggest flops in the film industry in 2002.
Even though it had a strong marketing campaign that is brought by Disney’s partnership with the Kellogg Company, McDonald’s, and Pepsi-Cola, it was not enough to entice people to watch the film. Furthermore, the movie also received positive reviews from various film critics, including Roger Ebert, who gave it 2.5 out of 4 stars. Because of its stellar innovation in animation, Treasure Planet was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002, although it lost to the Studio Ghibli-produced Spirited Away, which was developed by only using traditional 2D animation.
Treasure Planet was planned to be the first movie in a franchise that will include direct-to-video films and an animated series, but because it bombed at the box office, these plans were later canceled. In addition, a few months before the release of the film, a sequel was already in the works by director Jun Falkenstein and screenwriter Evan Spiliotopoulos, but the writing process was quickly halted when Disney realized that Treasure Planet was going to flop. Treasure Planet would be one of the last traditionally animated film for Disney, as they will soon move on to focus 3D animation after the release of Home on the Range in 2004, although they still released The Princess and the Frog in 2009 as a last effort to revive 2D animation.