Even the best-laid plans often go awry—a saying that’s especially true when it comes to filmmaking. Movies sometimes languish in development hell for years before making it to the big screen, and many more end up canceled somewhere along the way. This holds true even at Disney, where the costs of traditional or computer animation can spell doom for a troubled production.
Some of these projects are revised and finally published, such as The Emperor’s New Groove, which was totally retooled as The Emperor’s New Groove, and The Snow Queen, which was rewritten and subsequently achieved blockbuster success as Frozen. Dozens more have been completely discarded due to different difficulties encountered throughout development. Here are some of the most fascinating ideas that Disney has abandoned throughout the years, as well as the reasons why fans are unlikely to see them.
Gigantic was intended to be a reworking of the English fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk,” in keeping with Disney’s practice of pulling from traditional folk tales. The Gigantic version was to be set in Spain during the 15th or 16th century, with the typical Jack encountering and befriending Inma, an 11-year-old “fiery and feisty” gigantic girl. There were also supposed to be some enormous evil villains in the story: the 120-foot tall “Storm Giants.” This would not have been Disney’s first attempt at the classic narrative; in 1947, the company made the wartime package picture Fun and Fancy-Free. This film featured two musical animated cartoons, one of which being the well-known Mickey and the Beanstalk.
Gigantic was introduced with excitement during the 2015 D23 Expo, and it appeared that the project was already in the works; Tangled director Nathan Greno was on board to manage the film’s production, and he was subsequently joined by Inside Out screenwriter Meg LeFauve. The music was to be written by husband-and-wife songwriting duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who were no doubt expecting to repeat the enchantment and financial success of “Let it Go” and the rest of the Frozen album.
Gigantic was originally scheduled for a 2018 release, however, Disney revealed in April 2017 that it would be pushed out to 2020, giving the Wreck-It Ralph sequel the 2018 slot instead. Even two years of extra development time didn’t seem to be enough; just six months later, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios president Ed Catmull told Variety that Disney was “ending active development” on Gigantic, instead of focusing on a new (and unspecified) project in the works, which is “now set for Thanksgiving 2020.”
King of the Elves (2012)
The books and short tales of legendary science fiction author Philip K. Dick have long been a favorite of Hollywood studios—Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, and A Scanner Darkly (to mention a few) were all based on his literary works. Disney joined on the bandwagon in 2008, when they revealed plans to create an animated film based on Dick’s fantasy short tale The King of the Elves, which he wrote in 1953. Brother Bear directors Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker were set to direct King of the Elves, which was initially scheduled for a late 2012 release.
It’s unknown how far production progressed. By December 2009, the project had been placed on hold, and Blaise departed Disney in March 2010 to oversee Digital Domain’s new Florida animation facility. Blaise later revealed some of the fantastic character concept artwork he’d produced for Disney for the King of the Elves project. Following Blaise’s departure from Disney, the project was put on hold until June 2011, when Bolt co-director and writer Chris Williams was hired to resurrect King of the Elves for a Holiday 2013 release. Angry Birds director Clay Kaytis (who collaborated with Williams on Bolt) claims that Williams finally abandoned the Elves project to concentrate on Big Hero 6. The King of the Elves page was later deleted from Disney Animation Studios’ website, thus it’s fair to conclude that the film has been shelved permanently.
In addition to King of the Elves, Disney announced a number of forthcoming projects in a press release in 2008, including the projected Pixar animated features The Bear and the Bow and Newt. While The Bear and the Bow was finally renamed Brave and released on the big screen in 2012, the development of Newt was considerably more problematic. Newt was supposed to be released in 2011 and tell the story of the last remaining male and female blue-footed newts, who are brought together by optimistic scientists to rescue their species—only to realize that they can’t tolerate each other.
If the narrative seems familiar, it’s because it’s based on the plot of the 2011 Fox animated film Rio. Disney/Pixar canceled their plans for Newt after learning that Fox had beaten them to the box office with a very similar story. In an interview with IGN in 2011, Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter said that the similarities between the two films were the reason for Newt’s cancellation. “Its plot was quite similar to a movie that’s now playing in cinemas with a blue parrot,” Lasseter revealed. “I suppose great minds think alike.”
Where the Wild Things Are (1983)
In the 1980s, when John Lasseter was only an animator at Disney, he helped investigate the new technique of computer-drawn animation. At the time, Disney had the rights to Maurice Sendak’s iconic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are and was considering adapting it; Lasseter began work on a short CGI featurette meant to test the developing new computer technology. At the same time, he was adamant that the studio’s next The Brave Little Toaster project be created using a combination of conventional and computer animation techniques.
With his presentation for the Little Toaster project, Lasseter allegedly trod on a few toes at Disney, and the ideas were shelved (the film was later made by a different studio using traditional 2D animation techniques). At the time, Disney management were not interested in adopting computer technology unless it could make the production process quicker or less expensive. According to Lasseter, he was summoned to Ed Hansen’s office immediately following his proposal, when he was abruptly dismissed by the animation department manager. Lasseter later worked at Lucasfilm and Pixar before returning to Disney as chief creative officer. Disney subsequently lost the rights to Sendak’s novel, which Warner Bros. adapted into a live-action/CGI picture in 2009. At the very least, we can be happy that Lasseter completed his animated Wild Things documentary before it was canceled by Disney—and that it eventually made its way onto YouTube.
Wild Life (2000)
You’ve probably heard of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, but you’re more likely to be aware of some of the famous adaptations of the story, such as 1964’s My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn or the more current perspective offered in 1999’s She’s All That. In the early 2000s, Disney’s “Secret Lab” created their own rendition of Shaw’s story, Wild Life, an animated feature picture. The intended narrative is vague, although the film was to be a modern and urban version in which an elephant called Ella becomes instant fame in the New York City club scene.
Hans Bacher, a legendary Disney designer, worked on the doomed project for two years and published part of the concept and character art for Wild Life in his 2007 book Dream Worlds: Production Design for Animation, as well as on his own website. Wild Life, according to Bacher, “would have been an outstanding movie,” but it had “serious plot difficulties.” The language was filled with adult comedy, according to Disney scholar and historian Jim Hill, and an off-color line (featuring two gay characters chatting about a manhole) irritated Roy E. Disney so badly during an early test screening that he promptly pulled the plug on the project for good.
Yellow Submarine (2011)
In the late 2000s, Disney floated the idea of creating a motion-capture remake of Yellow Submarine, the renowned 1968 animated musical comedy film based on Beatles songs. The remake was meant to be developed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? ), but there were several delays along the road. The planned agreement included ideas for a companion Broadway musical, and Disney confirmed the project was ongoing in September 2009, with Apple Corps Ltd. also expressing support. Despite the anticipation, The Beatles Yellow Submarine Disney Digital 3D will never see the light of day.
As Blake Goble of Consequence of Sound subsequently pointed out, Zemeckis’ commitment to the flawed motion-capture techniques employed in his prior films, such as The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol, most likely led to Yellow Submarine’s demise. The motion-capture technology was costly, and the results were usually disappointing at the box office and on the big screen, where the not-quite-human figures regularly gave spectators and critics the “uncanny valley” heebie-jeebies.
That wasn’t the only issue. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Yellow Submarine project was plagued with “financial problems, and a major presentation Zemeckis was supposed to have made before the Beatles heirs kept getting pushed back.” When Zemeckis’ next motion-capture film, Mars Needs Moms, bombed at the box office in 2011, Disney let go of both Zemeckis and his Yellow Submarine project. Although he was free to take the picture to another company (assuming he could find one that would accept it), Zemeckis later chose not to proceed with the remake, instead of focusing on a Who Framed Roger Rabbit? sequel with Disney.
The Nightmare Before Christmas 2 (2001)
Following The Nightmare Before Christmas’ surprise success in 1993, Disney was keen to capitalize on the film’s worldwide appreciation. Initially released under Disney’s Touchstone Pictures banner due to the film’s “spooky” content, Disney later fully embraced The Nightmare Before Christmas, re-releasing it in theaters for several years in a row, releasing it on every form of home media imaginable, and even spending a fortune digitizing the film for a 3D release in 2006.
However, reissues were not Disney’s sole ambitions for the picture. According to filmmaker Henry Selick, Disney began toying with the concept of a Nightmare Before Christmas sequel about 2001. Furthermore, according to Selick, studio executives even proposed that “this time it would have to be done in CG,” rather than the stop-motion techniques employed in the original film. “I’m pleased that didn’t happen,” added Selick. Tim Burton (who produced and created the story) appears to have shot down Disney’s plans for a sequel. “I was always extremely protective of [Nightmare], not to make sequels or things of that like…not it’s a mass-market type of thing, it was essential to kind of maintain the purity of it,” he stated in a 2006 interview with MTV. To be honest, a sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas is one Disney picture we’re glad we won’t see—The Nightmare Before Labor Day simply doesn’t seem the same.
Tam Lin (2003)
Director Roger Allers turned his focus to a new Disney production after his blockbuster success with The Lion King in 1994 and his equally successful Broadway musical adaptation of the film. The Kingdom of The Sun was his favorite project, but following disagreements with co-director Mark Dindal and other Disney executives over the narrative and direction of the film, Allers was forced to quit the production, which was retooled and released as The Emperor’s New Groove in 2000. Allers returned his focus to Lilo and Stitch and began working on a fresh tale idea based on Tam Lin’s ballad.
The classic folk story focuses on Janet and Tam Lin, a mortal man kidnapped by the Queen of Fairies. Janet must go through a series of ordeals in order to save her sweetheart from the Fairies before they sacrifice him in a mystical ceremony. “For Roy Disney, who was hungry for an Irish narrative (as did I),” Allers wrote the pitch. Internal politics at Disney Studios during this time period ultimately prevented Tam Lin from being created; according to Allers,” Michael Eisner and Roy Disney…were engaged in a struggle of whose vision for the company would prevail.”
Because of this conflict, Eisner is said to have rejected down the Tam Lin concept in order to get back at Roy Disney. “When I presented it to [Eisner], he rejected it because of its Irishness (even though he knew it was Roy’s brainchild),” Allers recalled. Despite the fact that Tam Lin was subsequently taken up by Sony Pictures Animation in 2003, Allers stated that the Sony team “could not seem to agree on a strategy after two years of development work,” and all intentions to create the film were canceled.
The Emperor and the Nightingale (2002)
Disney has always drawn inspiration for its animated and live-action films from the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen and others. One of these stories, The Nightingale, was considered for a Disney adaptation in the 1940s. Numerous attempts to bring The Nightingale to the big screen since then have all failed, but Disney did manage to release a children’s book adaptation (featuring Mickey Mouse and utilizing some of the concept artwork from the failed film adaptations) in 1992.
The concept was resurrected at Disney in the late 1990s under the title The Emperor and the Nightingale. The narrative for the conventionally animated film was being written by Robert Reece, and Randy Haycock was directing it, while Colin Stimpson and Mike Gabriel were working on visual art and character creation. On his website, you can view some of Stimpson’s concept work for the film (which was to be set in India). The Emperor and the Nightingale was rebuilt as a computer-animated film in the spring of 2003, but it was canceled again less than six months later—this time indefinitely.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit Sequel (1990-2017)
As previously stated, filmmaker Robert Zemeckis accepted the failure of his Yellow Submarine remake and shifted his efforts to producing a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit for Disney. This wasn’t the first time a sequel to the franchise has been contemplated; a direct-to-video sequel was canceled in the early 1990s, as did a planned 1941 prequel.
Zemeckis appeared to have both Disney and original Roger Rabbit star Bob Hoskins on board for his sequel, but Hoskins was forced to retire from acting owing to bad health and unfortunately passed away in 2014, thereby putting an end to any idea of a Roger Rabbit sequel. Never one to accept defeat, Zemeckis stated in 2016 that he had a “terrific” script and that, while it would be “extremely difficult,” they “would do a digital Bob Hoskins” in the picture. Before you get too anxious about what Robert Zemeckis intends to do with Hoskins’ legacy, remember that it’s highly improbable that Disney would ever produce this film—and Zemeckis is well aware of this. “The current corporate Disney culture has no interest in Roger, and they certainly don’t like Jessica at all,” he admitted.
Professor Tom Morrow was originally a spacecraft missions director who oversaw spacecraft travels from Earth to the moon, notably with the Moonliner space-ship. In later attractions, Mr. Morrow is the mayor of Tomorrowland and a promoter of the latest technological advancements.