When not churning out new animated, Marvel or Star Wars movies, Disney is spending a lot of its time making live action adaptations of its classic animated films. From straightforward remakes like Beauty and the Beast to drastically different re-imaginings like the upcoming Mulan, the Mouse House has been digging deep into its library of animation for stories to be re-told in a live action setting. Last month, it was reported that Lilo & Stitch will get its own live action remake, so since post-2000 animated movies are apparently now on the table, Disney would be wise to give the same treatment to Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet.
Starting with The Little Mermaid in late 1989 and ending with Tarzan in mid-1999, the Disney Renaissance marked the studio’s biggest period of success with animated movies to that point, as they returned to Disney’s musical and fairy tale roots seen decades earlier in movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Cinderella. But the immediate years after the Disney Renaissance, the studio’s luck with animation cooled down (excluding Pixar offerings), and both Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet disappointed at the box office. However, these movies do have their own, decently-sized fanbases and are both certainly worthy of remakes. In fact, I’d argue that these stories will turn out even better in a live action format.
Take 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Set in 1914, this story followed Milo Thatcher, a cartographer and a linguist from the Smithsonian who wants to find Atlantis, but isn’t taken seriously by his colleagues. Milo finally catches a break when he’s hired by eccentric millionaire Preston B. Whoitmore, a friend of his late grandfather, to lead an expedition to Atlantis, using a book called The Shepherd’s Journal to guide them. The team eventually makes it to the long-thought mythological continent, though Milo soon learns that the real threat doesn’t reside there, but from those around him.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire very much rocked a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea-like vibe, from its crazy, sea-faring adventure to featuring a gargantuan and anachronistic manmade submarine. Once the characters made it to Atlantis, the movie became even more dazzling, and Milo’s burgeoning relationship with Princess Kida and Milo learning about his crew’s true motives work well as emotional anchors. The lack of musical numbers also makes Atlantis: The Lost Empire feel like a more mature offering from Disney. That doesn’t make it better than the Disney movies packed with song and dance, it just means that an older audience might gravitate to it more than kids.
Keeping that in mind, just imagine Disney delivering a hard PG, live action remake of Atlantis: The Lost Empire. With today’s moviemaking technology, that submarine (the Ulysses) and Atlantis’ advanced technology would look even more incredible. There’s also more room to explore complex, emotional themes, as well as throw in extra backstory, like showing Milo’s childhood with his adventurous grandpa or revealing some of Rourke’s mercenary past. If it were up to me, I’d actually aim for making this new Atlantis: The Lost Empire PG-13, but I understand that Disney wants the kids to be able to enjoy it in theaters too, so that’s probably not going to happen.
Then there’s Treasure Planet, which arrived a year after Atlantis: The Lost Empire. A loose adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure novel Treasure Island, Treasure Planet followed young Jim Hawkins, an troublemaker who grew up hearing stories about the legendary pirate Captain Nathaniel Flint, who hid his collective loot on Treasure Planet. After being given a holographic projector that leads to Treasure Planet’s location, and which is nearly stolen by pirates, Jim and his mother’s friend, Dr. Delbert Doppler, commission an expedition to find Treasure Planet. This crew includes the feline Captain Amelia and cyborg cook John Silver, who is eventually revealed to be the main, yet somewhat sympathetic antagonist.
Treasure Planet was definitely more critically well-received than Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (it lost to Spirited Away). Unfortunately, plans for a sequel and possible TV series were scrapped once the movie failed to make a profit. Treasure Planet held a lot of potential, and while we’ll never see it fully realized in animation, this story could finally be better appreciated as a live action, standalone movie.
Just like with Atlantis: The Lost Empire, VFX advancements mean that a live action Treasure Planet could look just as cool as the original, if not cooler, from the looks of the various aliens and John Silver’s cybernetic enhancements to the futuristic, yet archaic-looking, vehicles and the eponymous planet itself. Some of you might argue that Disney is giving audiences enough space-faring adventures through the Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises, but Treasure Planet is different. While there’s room for the remake to tackle more complicated material and improve upon the characterizations, there’s no need for it to have the heaviness of Star Wars or the kookiness of Guardians of the Galaxy.
It’d be foolish to say that Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet are among Disney’s greatest movies, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be thrown into consideration for being re-imagined in live action. Not all remakes and reboots need to be based off previously popular material; sometimes there are opportunities for such projects to actually improve upon their predecessors (even if they are rare). Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet can be those projects for Disney.
Because they’re not as beloved, whichever filmmakers are tackling these respective movies will have more freedom to take creative liberties, while still staying true to the spirit of the original tales. The end result would ideally be these new versions of Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet not only being critically and commercially successful, but also cause people to watch/re-watch the originals and learn/be reminded about why they were special.
Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for all the latest updates concerning Disney’s live action remakes, including whether or not Atlantis: The Lost Empire and/or Treasure Planet will be given such an honor. For all of the non-Disney cinematic fare arriving over the next year, consult our 2018 and 2019 release schedules.