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The FW

18 Disney Movies That Were Never Made

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The FW

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.

4. Chanticleer


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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.

5. Reynard

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.

9. Newt


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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 


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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

Barnes and Noble

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.

14. Musicana

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.

16. Hiawatha

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.

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15 Super Facts About Megamind

In 2010, the superhero craze was on the rise in the wake of such hits as Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man. which made it the perfect time to launch a silly sendup of the genre. And so came Megamind, an animated action-comedy about a clumsy villain whose world turns upside down once he actually defeats his superhero nemesis.

1. THE PREMISE WAS INSPIRED BY SUPERMAN.

Essentially, the pitch boiled down to "What if Lex Luthor defeated Superman?" Except instead of Luthor being a wealthy, vicious human, the film offers Megamind (Will Ferrell), a cowardly, odd-looking (but still bald!) misfit from another planet. Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt) is more the Superman type, an alien from another planet who is strong, handsome, and can fly. It's easy for the people of Metro City to love Metro Man, whereas the oddball with the big blue head is instantly regarded as "other" and "bad." It's up to Megamind to prove himself, and find his true path.

2. IT WAS INTENDED AS A VEHICLE FOR BEN STILLER.

The original script by Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons was pitched to Ben Stiller's production company, Red Hour Films, with hopes he'd star as its titular baddie. "[It] was written as a live-action movie," Stiller explained in the spring of 2008. "But we thought it would work as an animated movie so we brought it to Jeffrey Katzenberg [CEO of DreamWorks Animation], and now we're in pre-production."

3. STILLER TURNED DOWN THE LEAD, BUT STILL PLAYED AN IMPORTANT PART IN MEGAMIND.

Instead of voicing Megamind, Stiller opted to executive produce the movie—but he does pop by for a quirky audio cameo as the curmudgeonly curator Bernard, who works at the Metro Man Museum.

4. PRODUCERS WANTED ROBERT DOWNEY JR. FOR THE LEAD.

Riding high off the career revitalization of his live-action superhero hit Iron Man, Downey was game to bring his sarcastic charms to Metro City's menace. But scheduling conflicts ultimately killed the deal. So producers turned to beloved funnyman Will Ferrell, who brought a zany charisma to Megamind, and some crucial gags.

5. THE FILM CYCLED THROUGH VARIOUS TITLES BEFORE MEGAMIND STUCK. 

In the fall of 2008, Stiller was teasing the movie as Master Mind. In that version, Megamind's longtime foe was named Uberman (a more overt spoof of Superman), but by spring of 2009, the title had changed to Oobermind, while Uberman had become Metro Man.

6. SEVERAL DIRECTORS TOOK A CRACK AT MEGAMIND

"There were two or three sets of directors on the movie, each of which started making a different version of the movie before it went to someone else," illustrator/author Jason Porath, who helped with the film as an employee at DreamWorks Animation, told Mental Floss.

The project was kicked off by Gary Trousdale, who had co-helmed a string of Disney animated movies including Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Next, Kyle Jefferson and Cameron Hood, who'd directed the DWA short "First Flight," were brought on. But the final version of Megamind is credited to Tom McGrath, who had co-directed Madagascar and Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa with Eric Darnell, and would go on to helm Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (also with Darnell) and Boss Baby. For their earlier efforts, Trousdale, Jefferson, and Hood ultimately received a special thanks credit on Megamind.

7. IT'S PRETTY COMMON FOR AN ANIMATED MOVIE TO CHANGE DIRECTORS. 

In the case of DreamWorks's How To Train Your Dragon, credited directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders were brought on about one year before the film's release. Then, the beloved movie about a boy and his pet dragon would have been unrecognizable to its fans. "At that point, I think Hiccup was like 9 or 10 years old, all the dragons could talk, and Toothless as we know him didn't exist," Porath tells us. "Those little bug-eyed tiny green dragons he fights for fish in the first movie, one of those was supposed to be his companion dragon. It was a lot closer to the book source material."

This practice extends far beyond DreamWorks: At Pixar, The Good Dinosaur went from Bob Peterson to Peter Sohn. Mark Andrews replaced Brenda Chapman on Brave, and Brad Bird took over directing duties from Jan Pinkava on Ratatouille. At Sony Pictures Animation, Hotel Transylvania cycled through six directors before committing to Genndy Tartakovsky.

8. OTHER VILLAINS VANISHED THROUGH PRODUCTION. 

DreamWorks Animation

One version of Megamind had its eponymous fiend as part of a supervillain league known as the Doom Syndicate. To concoct this crooked but colorful crew of criminals, DreamWorks had an open call, encouraging its artists to pitch villain ideas. Story artist Ryan Savas has publicly shared his sketches for such quirky baddies as White Zombie, The Barista, The Ectopus, the Liberace-inspired Rhinestone, and Alec Baldwin, who can "hypnotize his victims with awesome acting skills." But as the script became streamlined (and the budget got tighter) the Doom Syndicate was cut from Megamind, meaning characters like Destruction Worker, a smoking skeleton, and "geriatric flame-wielder" Hot Flash never made it to the big screen—but they didn't disappear completely.

Three years after the film's release, DreamWorks unleashed the video game Megamind: Ultimate Showdown for the Xbox 360 and PS3. Some of the Doom Syndicate characters reappeared here, including Hot Flash. But Porath told us the fiery old broad made her mark at the animation's offices as well. "Every year, DreamWorks Animation has a big Halloween costume contest," he shared. "And the winner one year was one of the producers who dressed up as Hot Flash."

9. SOME CHARACTERS WENT THROUGH RADICAL PHYSICAL CHANGES. 

Concept art reveals that love interest/journalist Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) had a variety of longer haircuts before the filmmakers settled on her perky pixie cut. During his Uber Man days, Metro Man's Elvis-inspired look toyed with some more outlandish iterations, which involved fur collars, sunglasses, and plenty of glitter. Some test sketches even showed Megamind with spiky hair. But the biggest transformation came to the cunning character's devoted sidekick.

Though fans of the film have come to know Minion as a fanged, talking piranha who gets around in a robo-ape mechasuit, his origins were once far less fantastical. Early concept art shows a version of the character imagined as a chubby man with a tiny jetpack.

10. STILLER WANTED TO SATIRIZE THE SUPERHERO GENRE.

This is an image of Ben Stiller.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

"This genre's been done so many times, that it's always interesting to try to find a postmodern version of it," Stiller told MTV. So he spearheaded a story about how people are not always what they seem.

Notably, this wasn't Stiller's first tme parodying superheroes and villains. In 1999, Stiller starred in the comedy Mystery Men, which followed a batch of wannabe superheroes as they face off with a nefarious foe who was way out of their league. Their powers included farting, bowling, being furious, and shoveling "well."

11. MEGAMIND UNDERWENT A GAG PASS TO MAKE IT EVEN FUNNIER. 

In an informative blog post, Porath explains that a "gag pass" is essentially the part toward the end of production where filmmakers find opportunities to work in more jokes. In this case, the writers and storyboard artists crafted humorous dialogue and visual gags. Meanwhile, Ferrell was encouraged to improvise to bring some more of his unique brand of comedy to the mix.

12. THE FILM'S MARKETING CAMPAIGN ACHIEVED A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD.

To promote the film, Ferrell invited all wannabe superheroes to suit up and join him for a party on October 4, 2010, just a month before the film's opening. But the event also set a Guinness World Record for Largest Gathering of Superheroes. With 1580 costumed attendees, Ferrell and his friends made hero history, breaking the old record by 79 superheroes.

13. THERE'S AN ANCHORMAN EASTER EGG

Toward the end of the movie, Megamind is channel surfing and crosses a news report about a water-skiing squirrel. A very similar story is covered in Ferrell's 2004 comedy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

14. MEGAMIND WAS HURT BY DESPICABLE ME

Cruel timing meant that Megamind opened four months after audiences went wild for Universal's Despicable Me, an animated movie about a villain who goes good. While Megamind pulled in a decent $321 million worldwide, Despicable Me boasted $543 million, spawning sequels and a spinoff for its cuddlier Minions.

The closeness of their premises and release dates hurt Megamind with critics, too. Roger Ebert wrote, "This setup is bright and amusing, even if it does feel recycled from bits and pieces of such recent animated landmarks as The Incredibles with its superpowers and Despicable Me with its villain." USA Today's Claudia Puig was even more cutting, concluding, "Do we really need Megamind when Despicable Me is around?"

15. MEGAMIND FOUND REDEMPTION AS HOME ENTERTAINMENT. 

Released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 25, 2011, Megamind pulled in another $74 million in domestic sales. Readily available in this fashion, its popularity grew. Today, Megamind is warmly remembered and rewatched by fans happy to mispronounce "Metro City," "school," and "spider" like the lovable villain at its center. And despite its bumpy ride through production, it's fondly remembered by the fleets of artists who brought it to life.

You can see their enthusiasm in the blogs linked above, where they've proudly shared concept art and sketches. But perhaps Porath puts it best, declaring, "To put in perspective: almost every movie goes through radical shifts like this. Megamind had a bit longer journey than others, but not by much. I would by no means consider it an outlier. There were a phenomenal number of talented, funny people working to make it great, and it was a fun time at the studio. DreamWorks treated us all really well; I will never work for somewhere that took better care of me."

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Courtesy Fathom Events // GKIDS
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Hayao Miyazaki's Greatest Hits Are Coming Back to Theaters This Fall
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STUDIO GHIBLI FEST: Castle in the Sky
Courtesy Fathom Events // GKIDS

Get ready, anime fans. As part of an upcoming film festival, some of Japanese animation icon Hayao Miyazaki’s best-loved films will be coming back to U.S. movie theaters this fall.

Fathom Events and the North American animation distributor GKIDS are running a film festival devoted to Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki's Tokyo-based animation studio. As part of a series of monthly events that began in June, the festival will be showing Castle in the Sky, Nausicaä, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Earlier this summer, the festival showed My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Due to the festival’s popularity, Studio Ghibli Fest is adding an extra day of showings, beginning with the August re-release of Castle in the Sky. Instead of two days of movies, there will be three screenings on three different days.

The films will be shown on the last Sunday of the month, with subsequent screenings the following Monday and Wednesday. The Sunday and Wednesday films will be dubbed in English, while the Monday showings will have subtitles. The festival runs until November 29.

Since it’s through Fathom Events, the films will be shown at hundreds of theaters around the country. You can check where screenings are available near you by entering your ZIP code here.

Miyazaki is technically retired, but he hasn't been able to resist the call of Studio Ghibli. He's scheduled to release Boro the Caterpillar, a film he's calling his last (several years after saying the same about 2013's The Wind Also Rises) in 2019. So maybe we can expect an extended Studio Ghibli Fest in a few years.

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