You might remember the Disney movie Treasure Planet, or you might not, because it's never really achieved the same level of fame as the rest of the Disney pantheon - but not because it was a bad movie. It was a hybrid 2D/CGI updated version of Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island' - in space! With classic sailing-ship-looking crafts that sailed in an airy space atmosphere called the Etherium. It had a blend of Celtic-sounding music with some 90's grunge songs (by Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik) mirroring the steampunk-ish vibe of old-meets-"new," and brought in an element of parental abandonment and found family.
It didn't perform terribly well at the box office, but was still nominated for the Academy Award for best animated feature, and has been somewhat vindicated by the advent of Netflix and YouTube (on which Jim Hawkins has a pretty dedicated AMV-making fandom) - now at least it's getting something of the attention and fandom it deserves.
What you might not know is that according to the original plan, the movie would have been followed by a sequel, and even an animated TV series. I came across this lost possibility in an AnimatedViews article, and it made my day and broke my heart at the same time. It contained a synopsis, some planned voice actors, and a treasure trove of unused concept art that, sadly, we'll probably never see on the big screen.
Above are character designs for good-guy Admiral Blake, bad-guy Ironbeard, and action-girl Kate, who eventually would be in a relationship with Jim.
Some pretty well-known names were also lined up to voice these new and returning characters:
Fresh off his villainous turn in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Willem Dafoe signed on to play Ironbeard. Most of the first film’s cast – which included Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Hawkins, Emma Thompson as Captain Amelia and Brian Murray as Silver – were expected to return. As for who might have played Kate, Falkenstein says, “I, honestly, can’t remember now who we were considering.”
Willem Dafoe is a pretty nice choice, and it's nice to see Emma Thompson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were both signed on to return - and particularly Brian Murray, who gave a fantastic performance as Silver, with the perfect blend of pirate-y bluster and softer father-figure moments.
The rough synopsis is as follows:
The sequel was to pick up where the first film left off, with Jim Hawkins going to the Royal Interstellar Academy. At the Academy, he is a hotshot “natural,” but he doesn’t follow the rules very well. Hence, he gets off to a shaky start – especially with his classmate Kate, who is very smart and has a type A personality. Kate’s father is Admiral Blake, the Commander of the Navy. Jim and Kate vie for top of the class but have very different skills.
Captain Amelia is dean of the Academy, which has a brand-new vessel: the Centurion. Designed by Doctor Doppler, the Centurion is the fastest ship in the galaxy. B.E.N. is its pilot.
The pirate Ironbeard desires to commandeer the Centurion. This ruthless villain is relatively all iron – almost nothing of who he originally was, inside and out, is left. He leads a group of pirates to hijack the Centurion while Jim and Kate are aboard. The Navy can’t catch the Centurion, due to the vessel’s speed and armor.
Jim and Kate escape the Centurion. Jim decides he needs a pirate to help catch pirates. They find his old buddy Long John Silver in the Lagoon Nebula, where he is running a smuggling ring. Silver agrees to help when he hears about the Centurion. Jim and Kate receive a tracking signal from B.E.N. – who is currently hostage aboard the Centurion – and follow via Silver’s creaky vessel. They discover the Centurion docked near the Botany Bay Prison Asteroid.
Ironbeard is using the Centurion to disable Botany Bay’s security systems. Jim, Kate and Silver sneak aboard the Centurion, where Silver reveals to Jim that he wants to take the Centurion for himself. He asks Jim to join him. Kate overhears this and is horrified, especially since the two have, of course, started falling for each other during the adventure.
Ironbeard discovers the intruders, charging into a fight in which Silver is injured. Meanwhile, the other pirates throw down ladders to the prison below, allowing swarms of elated prisoners to climb up into the ship. Silver, Jim, and Kate exit the Centurion amidst all the confusion. However, Ironbeard shoots down Silver’s ship. They plummet to the prison asteroid below, crash-landing.
Kate is angry at Jim and storms off. Jim is about to blow her off as well when Silver tells him to give her a chance. He reveals a part of his past through a flashback, when a young (non-cyborg) Silver screwed up a relationship with the love of his life – a decision which directly led to his life of piracy.
Silver has a very dangerous cargo with him that he had been trying to smuggle and sell for a fortune, which has the power of a neutron bomb. Jim, Kate and Silver reconcile and work together to fix Silver’s ship and prevent the Centurion, filled with the most evil pirates in the galaxy, from going on an insane robbing-and-killing spree. At the last second, Silver reluctantly gives up his “retirement fund” in order to destroy the Centurion, with Ironbeard and all the pirates on board.
Silver again parts from Jim and Kate, telling them to take care of each other. A few years later, Jim and Kate graduate with honors, while a proud Silver secretly watches from the shadows, smiling.
That, frankly, sounds amazing. I'm not ashamed to say I'm pretty gutted that we never got this. (Crying over never-made sequels to underrated movies. All day, every day.) Getting to see some of Silver's backstory alone would have been phenomenal, but seeing the concept art and planned voice actors and possibility of not only a sequel, but a T.V. series? Wow. Is there a word for "painfully missing something you've never gotten to experience?" Because I feel that. There was so much potential here - a quite literal universe of stories to tell.
Still, I'm not giving up hope entirely. Like I said, the internet and Netflix have given Treasure Planet a kind of second wind when it comes to fandom. Now that interest is picking up again (riding the wind of 90s nostalgia, perhaps?) we might get another look at the Etherium someday after all. I'm certainly hoping!
And at the very least, you can satisfy a tiny bit of curiosity with these lovely, if bittersweet, looks at the official, unused concept art. As always, thank you very much for reading!