Disney’s Long History With The Story Of “Treasure Island”


The 1833 novel Witten by Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, is arguably one of the most famous adventure stories ever written. A story of a young boy who ventures off searching for lost pirate treasure while also encountering real pirates. Many people enjoyed this story, including Walt Disney; Which begins the long journey the story has had at the company with multiple adaptations. 

In 1950 Walt Disney Pictures released Treasure Island. Though originally envisioned as an animated feature the film eventually became the company’s first full feature length live action film. Previous live action films by Disney incorporated animation in certain sections, but here it was 100% live action from beginning to end. It was a joint venture between Disney and RKO Pictures.

This version was the most faithful to the original book. The film starred child actor Bobby Driscoll as Jim Hawkins. Driscoll previously starred in Disney’s Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart. But perhaps most notable was Robert Newton as Long John Silver. Newton is said to have popularized “pirate talk” with his performance in this film. The film earned $4.1 Million on a $1.8 Million budget and is considered to be an often forgotten Disney classic.

Newton would go on to play pirate a few more times. First in RKO’s 1952 film Blackbeard the Pirate as the titular historical figure. He would later reprise Long John Silver in an unofficial sequel to the Disney film in 1954 and he would play also Silver in a 26 episode TV show The Adventures of Long John Silver

The next time Disney touched Treasure Island was in 1986 in the 10 episode mini-series on the Disney Channel called Return to Treasure Island, which starred Brian Blessed as Long John Silver. The series serves as a sequel to the original story with a now adult Jim Hawkins reuniting with Long John.

In 1996 Disney and Jim Henson Productions released Muppet Treasure Island after the success of The Muppet Christmas Carol. The film saw Kevin Bishop play Jim Hawkins and Tim Curry as Long John Silver. The film followed the basic premise mostly well with a few songs thrown in and the inclusion of some classic Muppet humor. Despite failing at the box office the movie did have a decent life on home video.

The final time Disney touched this classic story with with 2002’s Treasure Planet. The first time Disney adapted the film in animated form with a combination of 2D and 3D animation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt played the teenage Jim Hawkins while Brian Murray voiced Long John Silver. The big twist on this version was that it took place in outer space instead of in the ocean. The film also took heavy inspiration from the steampunk genre and tried to be more unique when compared to other versions. 

Despite the good intentions the film bombed hard at the box office making only $110 Million on a $140 Million budget. Though the film does have a strong cult following to this day. Due to this failure a direct-to-video sequel was canceled and the future of Disney’s 2D animated films seemed to be in jeopardy. 

With this many adaptations from Disney over the past 72 years you’d almost expect there to be another adaptation to be in development in the near future. But with the popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise filing in that void don’t expect one anytime soon.

Which version was your favorite? 

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