Saturday, March 2, 2013

Animated Films that Never Were (Disney Edition)

Given Disney's long history as an animation powerhouse, it is not too surprising that several films over the years were purposed, but never came into fruition. Many of Disney's films have spent time in development hell (such as the Emperor's New Groove, Alice in Wonderland, and The Snow Queen [now renamed 'Frozen'].)  Here are some of the most interesting ideas that were scrapped due to budget reasons or other difficulties.

1.) Reynard the Fox / Chanticleer 

Original concept drawings of Chanticleer and Reynard by Marc Davis.

When Walt was still alive, he considered adapting the fable of Reynard the Fox and his rivalry with the noble rooster Chanticleer into a major motion picture. However, Walt later decided it would be in the studio's best interest to drop the project. This was because Reynard could be a bit of a nasty character at times. The wily fox's pranks could be very cruel. In the original tales, he often commits acts of vengeance and is not below murder. However, Disney has adapted several other fairytales with originally dark plot lines to better suit general audiences (such as the The Little Mermaid.) Another explanation as to why Reynard was abandoned would be that an antisemitic version of the story was written during the Nazi Regime, featuring a rhinoceros as a Jewish stereotype. This, however, did not stop the fable of Reynard into being adapted into a stop-motion film by Ladislas Starevich in 1937.

Why Disney abandoned the film.

What they settled for. 

However, although Reynard was scrapped it greatly influenced Robin Hood (1973), which was the second film made after Walt's death. (The first being The Aristocats.) Both of the titular characters are foxes who are cunning and use many disguises to carry out their tricks. Some of the film's other characters were also influenced from Reynard, including the Sheriff of Nottingham (partially based off Isengrin the Wolf) and the fact that the inept king is a lion. Ex-Disney animator Don Bluth made his own adaptation of Chanticleer entitled Rock-A-Doodle in 1991. The less spoken about it the better.

This movie is a disgrace. Oh, Don Bluth how you have fallen.

For those curious, more can be read about Reynard and Chanticleer here and here. A book written about the film's history can also be purchased on Amazon.

2.) Roald Dahl's Gremlins

Note, these two films have nothing in common.

Roald Dahl was best known for his children's books, but also wrote several brilliant short stories and, in the 1940s, he penned a script for Disney. The Gremlins was meant to be released in the 1943. It was about a team of British pilots befriending small mischief making creatures that enjoy drilling holes in airplanes. If made, this would have been Disney's first major film to be not based upon a fairytale or folk story and to be set in modern times. The Gremlins was scrapped because the animators found it hard to make the gremlins appear sympathetic and the film was in production for so long, it would have been 'outdated' by the time it was released. A lot of money was put into advertising the film and lots of merchandising was released to promote it, but it never came into fruition. However, due to public curiosity surrounding the film, the book tie-in has recently been republished and the character, Gus Gremlin, appeared in the video game Epic Mickey.  

The pilot makes an unusual new friend.

An avid fan explains the history behind Disney's Gremlins

3.) Where the Wild Things Are

An important work, despite never being made.

Before the Animation Renaissance, Disney created a test-film based off the iconic children's book Where the Wild Things Are in 1983. It was a landmark for the studio and animation because it was the first cartoon to utilize the blend of traditional animation and computer generated imagery. Also, it was created by John Lasseter, the man who made Pixar a household name and directed Toy Story in 1995. The animation for the film was provided by Glen Keane, who later designed several Disney characters including Ariel, the Beast, Aladdin, and Tarzan. A film adaptation was considered but the technology was too expensive at the time for it to be economically feasible. This short has no relation to the 2009 movie by the way.

A clip from a documentary about Disney explaining the 30 second test.

4.) Roger Rabbit 2

Who knew the public would love a crazy albino rabbit?

Love it or hate it, there is no denying that Who Framed Roger Rabbit? made a huge impact when it was released in 1988. It was the first project by Disney to be economically and critically successful since Walt died during the production of The Jungle Book (1968). The film helped renew interest in cartoons by creating complex animation in homage to classic Hollywood. Fueled by the success, Disney would go onto create The Little Mermaid (1988) and The Beauty and the Beast (1990), entering the Animation Renaissance. So it may seem surprising that Disney never took the opportunity to cash in on Roger Rabbit by making a cheap-quel....err, sequel.

Roger Rabbit: The Toon Platoon was planned as a prequel about Roger Rabbit before his Hollywood days serving in WWII. Roger must rescue Jessica who has been kidnaped by the Nazis to create propaganda broadcasts. He also later finds out his father was Bugs Bunny. This idea was so outrageous that it is obvious to see why it was scrapped. (Steven Spielberg, who helped fund the first film, felt that it would be wrong to work on the film after directing Schindler's List.)

 "Here's my script. Roger Rabbit fights Nazis! I'm sure families well love it!"

The sequel was reworked and retitled Who Discovered Roger Rabbit. The plot was changed to be less controversial and was about Roger's rise to stardom. Some test footage was completed in 1998 utilizing CGI, instead of traditional animation. The test failed to appeal to Disney, partially due to budget concerns. Apparently, director Robert Zemeckis is still considering making a sequel sometime in the future.

The CGI test footage.

5.) Fraidy Cat

If Disney made a Hitchcock film...

An unfortunate victim of Disney's Eisner-era in the early 2000s, Fraidy Cat was meant to be a CGI thriller-comedy film paying homage to the works of Alferd Hitchcock. It was going to be directed by the dynamic duo Ron Clements and John Musker, who brought us such classics as The Great Mouse Detective (1987), The Little Mermaid (1989), and Aladdin (1992). The film was to star a spoiled cat who is kicked out of his cushy lifestyle when he is falsely accused of a crime.

Some brilliant concept art showing off dramatic lighting. 

Essentially, Fraidy Cat was shut down because it was 'too unconventional' for the studio's standards and 'lacked money making potential'. Yet, Michael Eisner was willing to green light films such as Home on the Range (2004) and Chicken Little (2005), which were, let's face it, box-office turds and critical disasters. He ignored the fact that Clements and Musker, obviously knew what they were doing, considering that their films were big successes for Disney and they worked at the company for over thirty years! One of Disney's executives apparently said:

"...who today even remembers who Alfred Hitchcock was? So why would kids in 2009 pay good money to see an animated film that pays tribute to an old, fat, dead movie director?"

This statement is either blindly ignorant or just an excuse to say the film 'has no commercial appeal.' All I can say is thank god Eisner got booted out of Disney. His type and their 'Hollywood Formulas' appeal to no one but the lowest denominator. Not only do their films not stand the test of time, they stifle artistic creativity and any originality. To see a glimpse at what could have been, more can be read about Fraidy Cat here.

Best thing Mickey Mouse did since staring in his black-and-white cartoons.

6.) American Dog

Gambling in a Disney film. Hasn't been seen since...Pinocchio

Ok, this article has already complained a lot about Eisner, but American Dog had to be mentioned. American Dog was going to be a CGI film directed by Chris Sanders, the man behind Lilo and Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon. The plot was to be sort of 'a fish out of water' tale about a film star dog, Henry, who is ousted out of his comfortable lifestyle. Henry later befriends a large rabbit and a cat with an eye path as he tries to get home. More on the plot as follows:

"Henry, a famous TV dog, finds himself stranded in the Nevada desert. Out in the world for the first time, Henry's tidy life of scripted triumph has come to an end, and his 2,000 mile trek through the real world is just beginning. Henry is a popular dog. He stars in his own television series, in which he is a James Bond style secret agent who manages to survive the most wonderful adventures. Henry is the toast of the town, but then one day one of the stunts in his show goes terribly wrong, Henry loses consciousness, and when he wakes up he finds himself on a train, thousands of miles away from his home. Henry has been a celebrity all his life and does not know how to handle himself in this new situation, but luckily he is able to make some new friends that he convinces to get him back home."

Original character designs for Henry and Ogo by Sanders.

More concept art. The style is reminiscent of the paintings of Edward Hopper.

The project was canned not only due to Eisner's disapproval, but surprisingly by John Lasseter's as well. Lasseter apparently wasn't too fond of Leo and Stitch either, and consider's Sanders films to be 'too quirky.' Normally Lasseter's judgment is sound, but he recently directed those mediocre car movies, while condemning Sanders. (Too be fair, Sanders has always been better at coming with interesting ideas than directing.) So Sanders left for Dreamworks. It also didn't help that American Dog's plot was proposed around the same time of Toy Story 3's and Cars was also to be set in Nevada. The film was thus put on hold. 

Eisner left Disney in 2005, and Lasseter (now Principal Creative Advisor for Disney) ultimately decided to play it safe. The film was completely reworked and was treated as a 'B-movie' to Wall-E. American Dog soon became unrecognizable, save for the fact that the titular character is a star who needs to return home. It morphed into Bolt (2008), a somewhat cute (but ultimately cliche and passable) movie about a dog who thinks he has superpowers. Bolt suffers the most from its lack of originality and usage of standard character designs, which lack the unique charm of Sanders's original drawings. (It also includes Miley Cyrus voicing a main character....ugh.) For those curious, a certain blog has an excellent article about American Dog's history.

The film ultimately became the generic Bolt. (Complete with the 'Dreamworks Smirk'.) 

7.) Newt

The visuals were lovely, but the plot was too familiar. 

Okay, technically Newt was an axed Pixar film, but Disney owns Pixar. The film was announced in 2008 and was to be directed by sound engineer and long time Pixar veteran Gary Rydstrom. The project was abandoned in favor of Brave. On hindsight though, this was probably the better choice. Newt's plot was very similar to two other animated films coming out about the same time it was scheduled to be released, the Blue Sky movie, Rio, and the abysmal Alpha and Omega. All three films were about two animals of opposite genders (and personalities) having to overcome their differences as they embark on some sort of journey. Thus, Pixar decided it would be for the best to avoid the issue of dueling movies. The only thing this film seemed really to have going for it was it's beautiful concept art. Coincidentally, Brave, the film that replaced Newt, sports gorgeous backgrounds and complex character rendering that required Pixar to rewrite its animation system for the first time in 25 years.

The film that replaced Newt