Disney Film History: Treasure Island

1950's Treasure Island

1950’s Treasure Island

Sometimes things line up just as you want them and for Walt Disney, that is the story of his first full length live action film, Treasure Island. Live action films had become a passion for Walt as he felt that he had mastered animation and had dabbled in live action with the films Song of the South and So Dear To My Heart, but Disney’s distribution deal wouldn’t allow the company to produce something purely without any animation in the film. It’s a special film that catapulted the studio into a different direction, while keeping true to the classic storytelling that they were know for.

1950’s Treasure Island was a movie that really began as an idea for an animated film previous to World War II, along with many other films that would come out of the decade, but the idea was scrapped during the war and money was put into simpler productions that would make money for the U.S. and lift spirits during the war. However, Disney films weren’t just made for American audiences, and many of the films produced before and during the war had big box office draws in the United Kingdom. Great news for Disney, except for one problem, The U.K. government wouldn’t allow the money made by Disney to leave their island. They wanted the money made to be spent there. The idea Walt went with is that they could make a film overseas to be shown worldwide as well. Match that up with something else that fell into place at the same time, Disney’s distribution.

"Ay, There Be Treasure Buried Here"

“Ay, There Be Treasure Buried Here”

Since before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, RKO Pictures had struck a deal to distribute Walt Disney films and one of the decisions they had power over is content. While making Song of the South, RKO was worried that Walt and company were moving away from animation. With So Dear To My Heart, Walt’s original vision of the film was a live action film with no animation at all, but RKO cut the rug out from under that idea and asked for animation to be part of the film. Walt agreed but longed for a time when he could make all of the decisions without the distributor looking over his shoulder. He’d had problems previously with not being the boss of his own studio, so when he could find the money, he went for it. That money came from the package films of WWII and Cinderella. Cinderella was, in fact, the last film RKO ever distributed, and the last film anyone besides Disney would ever distribute.

With the chance to have the final say with his own distribution in place and a large sum of money on the British Isle, Walt went to work on a new live action film, the previously animated production of Treasure Island. Bobby Driscoll, the contracted star from Song of the South and So Dear To My Heart was cast as Jim Hawkins and talented and popular British star Robert Newton was cast as Long John Silver. Newton’s performance would go on to land him other roles as Silver in film and television and he would also create the iconic “pirate talk” that now plagues us whenever “Talk Like a Pirate” day comes around.

Beware Jim Hawkins

Beware Jim Hawkins, I’m a crazy….

The film premiered in London in July of 1950 and did well. It wasn’t the exceptional breakout film of the year as Cinderella had been back in the winter, but it was successful. More than anything, Treasure Island only needed to make it’s money back to prove that live action films could be a success at the Disney company. The 1950s would be an iconic time for Disney live action films. 20,000 Leagues, Old Yeller, Davey Crockett, and the Shaggy Dog would all be a part of the decade and be successful films for the company.

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: Cinderella
Next Film: Alice in Wonderland


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Posted on October 25, 2013, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I’m working on this film at the moment for my “Live Action Disney Project” blog, so I don’t want to read this post yet until I’ve finished writing mine.

  1. Pingback: The Whole Picture: Darby O’Gill and the Little People | Modern Mouse Radio

  2. Pingback: Disney Film History: Alice In Wonderland | Modern Mouse Radio

  3. Pingback: Disney Film History: Cinderella | Modern Mouse Radio

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