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The film's opening title cards read: "Walt Disney Presents Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island." After the opening credits, a written prologue, "signed" by Robert Louis Stevenson, reads: "If buccaneers and buried gold and all the old romance retold exactly in the ancient way can please, as me they pleased of old, the wiser youngsters of today, so be it!" Stevenson's classic tale of adventure originally appeared as a magazine serial story in Young Folks (Oct 1881-January 1882) under the title The Sea Cook, or Treasure Island.
Treasure Island, which was the first entirely live-action feature film produced by the Disney Studio, was shot on location in England. In a June 5, 1949 Los Angeles Times article, producer Walt Disney stated, "MGM owned the rights [to Stevenson's book], but I made a deal with them on something else and got it. I was going to make it here, but the English situation was such that I decided to do it over there." According to studio publicity materials, Disney had been working on the idea for fifteen years, and had originally planned to produce the story as an animated feature. Exterior locations included Bristol, Falmouth and the Cornish Coast, while interiors were filmed in London's Denham Studios, which is listed in the onscreen credits as D & P Studios.
As noted by a variety of contemporary sources, 80% to 90% of the production's costs were funded by "frozen" or "blocked" money made by RKO and the Disney Studio from exhibition of their pictures in Great Britain. Due to British quota laws, a percentage of the money made by American film companies could not be withdrawn from the country and had to be used for production in Great Britain. To utilize the "frozen" currency due to both companies, RKO, which previously had only distributed Disney films, joined the studio as a production partner and the company "RKO Walt Disney British Productions Ltd." was formed.
Although a March 29, 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item speculated that Robert Donat would be in the cast, and a April 21, 1949 Los Angeles Times article announced that Liam Redmond might be signed for the role of "Captain Smollett," neither actor appears in the completed picture. According to news items in English trade papers, Caven Watson was originally cast in the role of "Williams," but fell ill and was replaced by Howard Douglas. English news items also noted that the song "The Heart of a Sailor," written by Mack David and Jerry Livingston, was to be sung in the picture by Andrew Blackett, but the song does not appear in the completed film. Other contemporary sources stated that a variation of the pirate song "Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of Rum," with special lyrics by either Marcus Dods or Lawrence Edward Watkin, was to appear in the picture, but only two lines of the song are heard in the completed film.
The film's cast was composed entirely of actors from Great Britain except for American child actor Bobby Driscoll. The company encountered problems during production due to complicated English laws governing child labor and foreign workers. On September 27, 1949, a court in Beaconsfield, England declared that it was illegal for the twelve-year-old Driscoll to work in the country because he did not have the Labour Ministry permit required for foreign workers. The labor permit could not be issued, however, because Driscoll was under fourteen years of age. At the trial, Driscoll, his father and the production company were each fined 100. Although the magistrates ordered that Driscoll be prohibited from working, the film continued production while an appeal was in process. The appeals court upheld the original ruling on October 25, 1949, according to a contemporary article, but by then, Driscoll's work in the picture was completed. The irate appeals court judge declared that the actor, his father and the production company had "brazenly flouted British law," according to an October 1949 Los Angeles Times item. A October 26, 1949 Variety news item noted that the Disney Studio had spent approximately $84,000 to rearrange the shooting schedule in order to complete Driscoll's work before the appeal was heard. Driscoll left England shortly thereafter, and the rest of the company wound up production. Although contemporary news items indicate that Disney intended to return to England and feature Driscoll in a film version of "Robin Hood," Treasure Island's production problems prompted Disney to change plans. The studio's 1952 The Story of Robin Hood, which was shot in England, did not feature Driscoll in the cast. Treasure Island was the last live-action Disney picture in which Driscoll appeared.
According to a June 1950 article in the English trade paper Daily Film Renter, Treasure Island was to have its "ocean premiere" during the Queen Mary's trans-Atlantic crossing beginning July 1, 1950, and would also be shown aboard the Queen Elizabeth until July 27, 1950. Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that the picture opened in a number of "key" U.S. cities on July 19, 1950. The extensive advertising campaign for the picture included a nationwide treasure hunt for which the studio provided merchandise, contained in treasure chests that could be "opened" by numbered pasteboard keys printed in local newspapers or carried by local drug and department stores. The publicity stunt encompassed more than 300 merchants in 40 cities, according to a August 9, 1950 Variety article, and approximately $250,000 was given away in prizes. In England, a BBC radio serialization of the story was presented in June and July 1950, and featured narration by Driscoll and excerpts of the film's soundtrack. A September 1952 New York Times news item reported that the film had been "banned for children" in Sweden because of "excessive violence," but no information about any Swedish ban was found in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library.
According to a December 1954 New York Times article, the film's ship the Hispaniola, was used again as the Pequod in the 1956 Warner Bros. production of Moby Dick. The ship, which was originally known as the Rylands, had been used for almost a hundred years as a coal runner and carrier of other cargo. After the filming of Treasure Island, the ship was docked at Scarborough, England and kept as a tourist attraction until it was used for Moby Dick.
Driscoll recreated his role for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of Treasure Island on January 29, 1951 with James Mason co-starring as "Long John Silver." When the film was theatrically re-issued in 1975, the MPAA ordered several minor cuts of "violence" so that the picture could receive a G rating, although the scenes were restored for the film's subsequent release on home video. Stevenson's book has been adapted for motion pictures a number of times, including the 1917 Fox version, directed by C. M. Franklin and S. A. Franklin, with stars Francis Carpenter and Violet Radcliffe, and the 1920 Famous Players-Lasky version, which was directed by Maurice Tourneur and starred Charles Ogle and Shirley Mason (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.4550 and F1.4551). In 1934, Victor Fleming directed Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper in the well-regarded M-G-M production (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.4759). In 1954, actor Robert Newton and director Byron Haskin re-teamed for the Australian film Long John Silver, and Newton subsequently starred in an Australian television series, The Adventures of Long John Silver, in 1955. Orson Welles adapted the novel for his Mercury Theatre radio program in 1938 and also appeared in a 1972 British-made film of the story, directed by John Hough. A television movie of the novel, broadcast in 1990, was directed by Fraser Heston and starred his father, Charlton Heston. In 1996, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Tim Curry took to the high seas in the Touchstone release Muppet Treasure Island, which was directed by Brian Henson.