The directing duo of Ron Clements and John Musker transformed the world of feature film animation, and the fortunes of the Walt Disney Company, throughout the 1990's. From Beauty and the Beast to The Lion King, their works earned the acclaim of millions, set box-office records, and won a multitude of Oscars for their unparalleled artistry. But the mighty fell hard in 2002 with the release of Treasure Planet. The entertaining documentary titled Treasure Planet: Disney's Biggest Mistake outlines the long and complicated history of this notorious flop.
Clements and Musker had long dreamed of adapting Robert Lewis Stevenson's classic into a sweeping adventure set in space. After a string of unprecedented successes, they finally had the leverage to make it happen. The approach to the film was unorthodox, and subverted many of the most steadfast Disney tropes.
The documentary goes scene by scene and highlights examples of this outside-the-box thinking, which extend to its storytelling, character development, sound design and animation techniques.
Throughout, great respect is shown to the artistic achievements of Treasure Planet. Unfortunately, as the documentary details, the film was derailed by bad timing and apathetic studio heads. By the time of the film's release, 2D animation was on its way out, and the burdensome techniques employed by Clements and Musker were increasingly cost-prohibitive. The film was green-lit by a prior studio regime, and its existence was viewed as a thorn in the side of their newly minted executives. They failed to place their full resources behind the film's release. The dismal box office receipts killed the prospects of a planned sequel and sabotaged an impressive work of cinematic art.
To the studio's surprise, the stench of a flop did little to quell the film's most ardent admirers. Critics and movie industry awards committees observed a film of great value, and an increasing number of curious filmgoers have since discovered the same.
On its surface, Treasure Planet: Disney's Biggest Mistake is a thorough, respectful and well observed examination of one particular film. On a more profound level, it thoughtfully portrays the ongoing battle between artistry and commerce.