Walt Disney – Back in England 1949


Walt Disney flew back into England on Saturday 15 October 1949 to supervise the final shooting of Treasure Island at Denham Film Studios as well as dealing with the  editing and  music scoring for the film. Virtually all of the film then would have been completed here.


Walt Disney back in England 1949

Here he is ABOVE – being met at the Airport by Perce Pearce, Cyril Jones from RKO-Walt Disney and Fred Leahy Production Executive on the film.


Interestingly, it was practicality that would ultimately get Walt to make his first fully live-action feature, in the form of Treasure Island. in England the British government had imposed a 75 percent import tax on American films shot in Britain.

“After the war we still had the frozen fund situation in Europe,” Walt said later. “So, in order to get the funds out of England, they wanted me to go to England and do something. I had this story Treasure Island I had wanted to do, and I suggested we go over and do Treasure Island and that way we’d use our funds.

Making a picture over there seemed the most logical way of making use of these frozen funds.” He added: “All in all, the project worked out very well, and I believe we are getting a very good picture.”

Walt had chosen Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure classic Treasure Island as So Dear to My Heart was wrapping up. He tasked Perce Pearce and Fred Leahy to go to England and oversee the production, but Walt eventually wound up travelling to Europe with his wife and children to help supervise Treasure Island. Disney representative William Levy wrote to Roy (still back at the studio), that Walt had arrived “in excellent spirits and full of confidence.”

Robert Newton, Walt Disney and Lady Tredder


ABOVE:  Robert Newton in costume as Long John Silver with Walt Disney and Lady Tredder

Production on Treasure Island began on July 4, 1949, and while Walt said that he would be taking a more hands-on approach to the production, he only visited the set (at Denham Studios) occasionally.

That summer of 1951 proved to be a very good one – hot and sunny for much of the filming time – and as many scenes were outdoors this proved perfect. Later on the Studio scenes were done. The film was finished on 11th November 1949 – so a very long shoot.

Long John Silver - Sails away

According to Gabler, Walt was “unusually involved in post-production” on Treasure Island. He had asked  Perce Pearce and  Fred Leahy to airmail him specific takes for editing, and after a test screening in January.

Treasure Island 1950


The above Two scenes where Long John Silver escapes were actually the last scenes that Robert Newton filmed this was an extremely good Studio set at Denham – and very big

In Perce Pearce’s case, he remained here to look after the next film for Walt Disney the marvellous ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’.    Perce Pearce actually died in England in 1955 – where he had continued to live after Treasure Island.


Treasure Island–the first adaptation of the Stevenson story to be in colour–was released in America on July 29, 1950. (Its big premiere was, of course, in London on June 22.)


“Walt Disney, whose artistry marked a new era in motion picture entertainment, now sets a new milestone with his first all-live action feature,” shouted the film’s original trailer. “Only Walt Disney could bring to realistic life and with such dramatic impact Robert Louis Stevenson’s memorable characters.” The trailer promised a movie full of “daring action” and “breathless suspense,” and it delivered. The film was a hit. .

Walt and RKO then went ahead with three more British productions–The Adventures of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, The Sword and the Rose, and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue.

These are films that are important, according to British author and Disney historian Brian Sibley, not just because the films were “remarkable,” but because they “captured the essence of British stories.”

I would add that the films made here proved a defining moment in the Walt Disney history. They elevated Walt Disney to a whole new plateau.

After these came 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – made in the USA. 

These British Films though – particularly ‘Treasure Island’ and  ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’ were indeed extra special – they were classics.


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