While Disney remade its first movie in 1994, with the “The Jungle Book,” ever since their 2010 live-action remake of “Alice in Wonderland,” the media company has been re-producing films at a breakneck pace.
Audiences got to see a new perspective on the story of “Sleeping Beauty” through the sensuous 2014 remake “Maleficent,” and felt the heartwarming lessons of “Cinderella” in its 2015 remake. The mouse-fronted company has also shown their hand at remaking classics, such as “Pete’s Dragon” and “Peter Pan,” and favorites, such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Jungle Book,” and there are more to come in the form of “The Lion King,” “Mulan” and “The Little Mermaid,” among others.
But what about the Disney movies that were not quite as critically acclaimed, could any of them benefit from a remake? Two such films, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Treasure Planet,” have been overlooked for a modern rendition, though in my opinion, both are more than deserving of a second chance in the Disney spotlight.
In 2001, Disney released “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” a story about the wannabe explorer Milo Thatch trying to fulfill his grandfather’s goal of finding the lost city of Atlantis; after he stumbles across the underwater utopia, the movie’s plot then shifts to his attempts to preserve it. The movie introduced a new princess into the Disney lineup, Princess Kidagakash, who is better known as Kida; however, Kida is not a princess that many young people or even millennials would recognize, because the film was less successful than other Disney movies. As a result of its poorer-than-expected box office performance, Disney terminated both a spin-off television series and an underwater attraction at its Disneyland theme park.
While some critics praised the film as a unique departure from Disney’s formulaic recipe for success, others shunned the film due to its unclear target audience and lack of songs. Still, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” was nominated for a number of awards, including seven Annie Awards, and the film even won Best Sound Editing at the 2002 Golden Reel Awards. So, in spite of its poor box office debut, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” has developed a cult following, in part due to creative lead Mike Mignola’s artistic influence, and the film even received a direct-to-video sequel, “Atlantis: Milo’s Return,” which was released in 2003.
What makes “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” such a sui generis picture, other than the lack of musical numbers, are the dark, technological elements it presents. The movie begins with a dramatic scene of the city of Atlantis nearly being destroyed because of a monstrous tsunami. The giant crystal that gives life and power to the city, known as the Heart of Atlantis, calls upon the Queen to sacrifice her own life, lifting her up into the air and bonding with her. As the arresting scene unfolds, a young Princess Kidagakash watches with tears streaming down her face before her father, King Kashekim Nedakh, covers her eyes. Thanks to the queen’s sacrifice, the power of the crystal creates an impenetrable barrier around the center of the city, which keeps it from being destroyed by the tsunami, but also causes it to become buried beneath the subsiding waters.
The scene is only one of the many intense moments of the film, so imagine seeing such theatrical events recreated through a live-action remake with the help of CGI effects. One of the biggest elements that would make “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” perfect for a live-action remake would be the technology introduced in the film. In addition to the steampunk submarine that takes Milo and his companions down into the depths of the sea, the people of Atlantis all possess energy crystals that serve as keys, allowing them to open doors, ride flying machines and use weapons to defend themselves. The technology in the film could only become more enhanced if crafted for a live-action remake.
Fans have already begun clamoring to see the film brought to life. To help the process along, devotees have offered up a number of casting choices for if the movie ever received a live-action remake, ranging from James Franco and Jessie Eisenberg as Milo, to Zoe Saldana and Jessica Alba as Kida. As there are also comedic elements to the film, casting has no need to stick with the original voice actors—though, no one would protest if Michael J. Fox, who voiced Milo, was brought in; despite his Parkinson’s, given the technology of the day, it’s not unbelievable that he might be able to reprise his old role, at least to an extent.
In addition to “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” the 2003 Disney classic “Treasure Planet” would also make for a great live-action remake. Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island,” the film follows the story of a boy named Jim Hawkins who gets the chance to live out the adventures he’s always wanted and discover whether Treasure Planet is real or not. While “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” had a modest performance at the box office, “Treasure Planet” flopped altogether; somehow, though, the film managed to receive positive reviews from critics, as well as gain a strong cult following and fan base.
“Treasure Planet” does not differ much from the book it was based off of as far as the storyline goes; however, thanks to Disney, the story received a new element: futuristic space travel. The young protagonist shows off his skill in solar-surfing, which is a combination of sky-surfing and wind-surfing on a rocket-powered board with a solar sail—but because he’s a bit of a rebel, he gets caught solar-surfing in a restricted area, showcasing his personality loud and clear.
The character archetype of the “rebel without a cause” has been shown time and time again, but “Treasure Planet” sinks into the heart of a boy without a father, one searching for himself and for a purpose. Jim’s story is not uncommon, especially in the realm of Disney, where having two parents for a long period of time is rare (ask Bambi, Ariel, Aladdin and Simba for example), but Jim is a character many, young and old, can relate to.
Characters of “Treasure Planet” range from humans, like Jim, to humanoid creatures (many animal-like), like Captain Amelia and Dr. Delbert Doppler, to cyborgs, like the antagonist John Silver, and so on. The film’s use of non-humanoid creatures may cause some to wonder what the live-action remake would look like, but movies such as “Avatar” and “Guardian of the Galaxy” show that production studios have no issue making alien characters look eerily authentic. While fans have not shown much speculation for a live cast, there have been many Jim Hawkins and Captain Amelia cosplays, which shows how dedicated the film’s fans are to its characters.
Like “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” the technology alone in “Treasure Planet” would allow for a breathtaking display of scenes from the movie. Not only seeing solar-surfing, but seeing how they’d manage to recreate the ship RLS Legacy would wow audiences. Just like “Treasure Planet,” the film is loaded with potential riches, and all Disney needs to do is realize the opportunity they have at their fingertips.
Maybe the films were before their time. Maybe audiences weren’t ready for the sci-fi themes that both of the films maintained. Whatever the explanation for their initial flop, the time is ripe for them to be remade, especially considering the general trend toward darker themes that many films are taking. Movies of today are trying to do more than entertain, they’re trying to make grand artistic statements, and if Disney wants to reintroduce an aesthetic that would show their creative diversity, as well as become a hit with brand new audiences, they should look no further than “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Treasure Planet.”