In an alternate universe, instead of being utterly obsessed with Tangled and The Jungle Book, my daughter would be repeatedly watching Louis the Bear and Reynard. Here are the stories behind those two movies and 16 more that didn't quite make the cut.
If some of them sound intriguing, well, there’s still hope. Other Disney projects that were eventually pulled out of development hell include Wreck-It Ralph (originally Joe Jump) and Frozen, an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.
1. Louis the Bear
For those of us who adored Louis Prima’s role as King Louie in The Jungle Book, here’s something to be sad about: Disney had a whole film planned that would feature Prima’s distinctive voice. Louis would have provided the voice of a bear (pictured above) who escaped from a zoo, aided by a couple of mice. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the concept was later turned into The Rescuers in the years after Walt Disney died and Prima was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
2. Army Ants
In 1988, Disney was considering a movie called Army Ants, the tale of a pacifist worker ant stuck in a militarized colony.
3. Toots and the Upside Down House
Henry Selick directed James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas, so you can see why he’d be interested in directing a stop-motion picture based on the Carol Hughes book Toots and the Upside Down House. Steven Soderbergh would provide the script. Then-Disney-owned Miramax ended up pulling the plug early on in the project.
Based on a tale by Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac, Chanticleer was to be a barnyard tale about how a rooster with a strange name thought his crow caused the sun to rise. Fans of Rock-A-Doodle (you’re out there, right?) recognize this as part of the 1991 movie directed by Don Bluth, who not-so-coincidentally was working for Disney at the time one of the Chanticleer revivals was being discussed.
There is, perhaps unknown to many of us, an old folk tale about a rascally fox named Reynard. Walt Disney considered making a movie about Reynard since at least 1937, but never could quite come to the terms with the fox’s ugly deeds. Unlike other harmless Disney scoundrels, the victims of Reynard’s pranks often perished. It was more than a little off-brand for Disney, but he kept trying to figure out how to make it work for nearly 40 years. At one point, they even considered merging the tales of Chanticleer and Reynard into one movie. Eventually, the sly fox was used as the inspiration for the title character in Robin Hood.
6. Where the Wild Things Are
In 1983, John Lasseter directed a 30-second film test of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, which Disney then owned the rights to. Universal acquired the rights in 2001, but you can still see part of the John Lasseter test and imagine what could have been:
7. Sonja Henie Fantasy
This proposal was possibly intended to be a short, part of a longer film with many little moving parts to it. The concept got far enough that the Olympic champ-turned-actress was featured in some early drawings with a polar bear. Though the movie was never made, an animated Sonja did make an appearance in a 1939 Disney short called “The Autograph Hound” (see 4:25):
8. Uncle Stiltskin
Remember the cartoon Teacher’s Pet? The husband and wife team behind it, Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, sold Uncle Stiltskin to Disney back in 2003. In it, Uncle Stiltskin tries to get a child by spinning straw into gold. It doesn’t work, and he ends up getting a feral orphan girl who was raised by wolves instead. (You can’t make this up, people.) It was in the works around the same time as The Princess and the Frog and Tangled, so what happened to it is anyone’s guess.
In 2008, Disney/Pixar publicly announced Newt, a film about “what happens when the last remaining male and female blue-footed newts on the planet are forced together by science to save the species.” The reason it was abruptly canceled, it would seem, is that Rio—a tale about the last remaining blue Spix Macaws on the planet who are forced together to save the species—was scheduled for release around the same time.
10. Fraidy Cat
“In Fraidy Cat, a chubby housecat with frayed nerves is torn off his comfy couch and dropped smack dab in the middle of a Hitchcockian thriller when he is accused to a crime he didn’t commit,” Disney promotional materials once said. Yeah, I’d watch that. And the general consensus from inside the company is that the movie looked pretty good. Word has it that company execs lost confidence in the project, unsure that it would be commercially appealing. Longtime Disney animators Ron Clements and John Musker actually left the company over the demise of Fraidy Cat, but returned six months later.
11. My Peoples/A Few Good Ghosts
This intriguing story was about a ghost and three kids who bring a pair of star-crossed lovers together. The ghost characters later changed to a team of folk art characters—and as odd as it sounds, I think it would have been kind of awesome. There was a folk art Abe Lincoln made out of an old scrub brush with spoons for ears. Hal Holbrook was signed to provide Lincoln’s voice. Angel, whose voice would be provided by Dolly Parton, was a discarded flour scoop. And Ms. Spinster, to be voiced by Lily Tomlin, had a head made from someone’s old wooden foot. After some change in management and a lot of change to the script, My Peoples got the axe in favor of Chicken Little in November 2003. Worst. Decision. Ever.
12. Yellow Submarine
Look, I love Disney, but I’m also a big Beatles fan, and I find a remake of Yellow Submarine to be completely and utterly unnecessary. I’m therefore thankful that the plug got pulled on the Robert Zemeckis remake of the animated film. We have the colossal failure of Mars Needs Moms to thank for that one—when that movie flopped, eyebrows were raised about budget concerns, and the Sub was sunk.
13. The Gremlins
Not the version with Gizmo and Co., but a version based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. Back in the early 1940s, Disney had at least two screenplays written for this project before it was ultimately dropped. What did survive was a promotional book that would have tied in with the movie. Original copies of these—there are fewer than 5000 of them—fetch up to $300 on secondary markets.
Intended to be a more worldly follow-up to Fantasia, Musicana would have included a mix of jazz, classical music, myths and modern art. Imagine a battle between an Ice God and a Sun Goddess and Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in frog format. It’s said that Musicana was canned so that more money and effort could be funneled to Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
15. The Prince and the Pig
Would you have watched a movie about a little boy and his pet pig and the trials and tribulations they encountered on their journey to ... steal the moon?! Disney thought you would, way back in 2003. And then they thought you wouldn’t, so after paying author Rian Johnson a reported sum in the mid-six figures, they scrapped The Prince and the Pig.
You might remember the Silly Symphony “Little Hiawatha,” based on the Longfellow poem. Disney wanted to make a full-length film about adult Hiawatha, with more of an impressionistic feel to it. The closest it got to being made was in the mid-1940s, when concept art was produced and highly praised by the powers that be. They later decided that the movie would end up being another Fantasia—too “highbrow” to be appealing to mass audiences—and stopped production on Hiawatha in 1949 so they could focus on Cinderella and Peter Pan instead.
17. Don Quixote
Back in 1940, the studio was thinking hard about making an artistic version—think Fantasia—of the Cervantes classic. It got pushed back until 1946, when it was briefly revived again as a short that would be part of a larger project. That didn’t work out either, but the Quixote quandary was brought up one more time in 1951. The solution this time was to produce the movie with very simple, flat animation. No dice. But fear not, Cervantes fans (or maybe you should fear): It was just announced in December that Johnny Depp will be producing a modern re-imagining of the tale for Disney.
18. The Rainbow Road to Oz
Though Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful came out earlier this year, they’ve been trying to seal that deal since the 1930s. Prior to the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney tried to acquire the rights to several children’s literature titles. Sometimes he was successful—Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan—and, sometimes, as in the case of The Wizard of Oz, he was not. MGM ended up buying the rights in 1937 for $75,000. After Baum’s widow died in 1953, Disney was able to purchase the rights to 11 of the 14 other books in the Oz series, however. A live-action movie was planned, featuring Annette Funicello as Princess Ozma and the rest of the Mouseketeers in supporting roles. They even went so far as to preview The Rainbow Road to Oz on TV:
We don’t officially know why the project stalled out, but the speculation is that Disney simply found himself preoccupied with Disneyland projects and the upcoming release of Sleeping Beauty.
Primary image courtesy of The FW.