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Tron: We Look at the Past, Present and Future of Disney's Sci-Fi Series

Tron: We Look at the Past, Present and Future of Disney's Sci-Fi Series

(08/10/2020)

Jared Leto made waves on Twitter when he confirmed some long-rumored news: That he would lead Disney's third chapter in the TRON storyline. While many details about the new TRON sequel remain fuzzy, Leto suggested the movie might appear under one potential title — and now we know who will direct this third computer adventure as well. What's all the TRON fuss about?

Here's a look back at TRON's history and a look towards what might be in store for the third chapter in the sci-fi franchise.

Humble Beginnings

The origin of Tron 3

TRON began life as a 1982 feature written and directed by Steven Lisberger. The movie starred Jeff Bridges as a genius video game programmer who gets sucked into his own creation. The movie was a visual feast with images unlike anything previously seen on the big screen. Legendary French comic book illustrator Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, designed the sets and costumes (which were nominated for an Academy Award) and, more importantly, TRON was the first movie to extensively utilize cutting-edge computer-generated imagery. Those visual effects, which depicted racing "light cycles" and massive flying archway-like vehicles, were imaginative and proved influential, especially to young audiences who saw the Disney film.

One of the people most influenced by TRON was John Lasseter, then a young animator at Disney, who saw computer-generated animation as the future of the medium. He left Disney, however, to join a small division of Lucasfilm that would eventually become Pixar. While TRON was highly regarded by some (Roger Ebert gave it a 4-star review at the time), it was a box office disappointment and didn’t come close to recouping its huge budget. Still, the movie slowly became a cult classic and aired on the Disney Channel’s first day of operation. Its tie-in video game was a favorite of the early wave of arcade games. Excitement about TRON started to build, until…

An Overdue Sequel

Tron: Legacy

At Comic-Con in 2008, director Joseph Kosinski, a protégé of David Fincher, showed off a two-minute sizzle reel for what was then simply known as TRON 2. It depicted a light cycle chase and two separate versions of Jeff Bridges – his digital avatar, who hadn’t aged since the last movie, and the real-life Bridges who had become a hostage in this digital realm. TRON LEGACY opened in time for Christmas in 2010, and in many ways was even more of a visual triumph than the original.

The sequel pushed computer technology even further forward, thanks to the creation of Clu, Bridges’ younger avatar, and the expansiveness of the 3D worlds depicted throughout the story. This time, the storyline concerned Bridges’ son, played by Garrett Hedlund, who travels into the game world to rescue his father, who has been missing since around the time of the original movie’s release.

Disney went all out to promote the film. A monorail at Walt Disney World was skinned to look like a light cycle; in Disney California Adventure the park’s nighttime water spectacular, World of Color, had a TRON LEGACY-themed coda; and at the same park, a nightly dance party called ElecTRONica began to run a few months before the movie came out. That ended up being so popular that it ran for years afterward. The soundtrack, by French electronic artists Daft Punk, proved hugely popular; it's still one of the best sci-fi scores ever written. And yet, like the first movie, TRON LEGACY was more of a cult hit than an overall box office smash.

Nearly There

Tron 3 in Development

In 2015, less than five years after TRON: LEGACY’s debut (which, in the history of TRON, is lightning fast), word leaked out that Disney had officially approved a sequel. Much of the cast would be returning (including Hedlund and Wilde) and Kosinski would once again be behind the camera. Principal photography was slated to begin in 2015, with a script that was said to bring elements of the computer world into our own. But a few weeks before cameras were set to roll, Disney pulled the plug on the project. In the years that followed, conflicting reports offered brief updates on the movie; Jared Leto was first linked to it in 2017. Hard facts about TRON were elusive.

Back to the Grid

Jared Leto stars in Tron 3

[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]


Now, Jared Leto has confirmed his involvement in TRON 3. Simultaneously, Disney has begun to court Australian filmmaker Garth Davis, who helmed the Oscar-nominated LION, to direct. He's a surprising choice, since he's not a filmmaker associated with tech-heavy stories, and that makes the proposition an interesting one. Additionally, Leto first called the project TRON: ARES, before pulling back to call it merely TRON.

What we don’t know – and what we currently have questions about – is virtually everything else about the project. Will Hedlund and Wilde return to this installment? What about the villainous character played by Cillian Murphy, who was clearly introduced as a potential antagonist for future movies. Does Leto play a user or a program? Will Daft Punk write a new score?

Whatever the answers to those questions may be, the world of TRON is one of the most memorable and alluring in science fiction. We can't wait to go back!



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All images courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures, unless otherwise indicated.

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