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18 Disney Movies That Were Never Made

The FW
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

DejaView

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

BleedingCool

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 

Screenrush

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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10 Filling Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Though it may not be as widely known as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a beloved holiday tradition for many families for more than 40 years now. Even if you've seen it 100 times, there’s still probably a lot you don’t know about this Turkey Day special.

1. IT’S THE FIRST PEANUTS SPECIAL TO FEATURE AN ADULT VOICE.

We all know the trombone “wah wah wah” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when speaking in a Peanuts special. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was released in 1973, made history as the first Peanuts special to feature a real, live, human adult voice. But it’s not a speaking voice—it’s heard in the song “Little Birdie.”

2. IT WASN’T JUST ANY ADULT WHO LENT HIS VOICE TO THE SPECIAL.

Being the first adult to lend his or her voice to a Peanuts special was kind of a big deal, so it makes sense that the honor wasn’t bestowed on just any old singer or voice actor. The song was performed by composer Vince Guardaldi, whose memorable compositions have become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Lee Mendelson, the Emmy-winning producer who worked on many of the Peanuts specials—including A Charlie Brown Thanksgivingwrote for The Huffington Post in 2013. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock. I agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note. His singing of ‘Little Birdie’ became a hit."

3. DESPITE THE VOICE, THERE ARE NO ADULTS FEATURED IN THE SPECIAL.

While Peanuts specials are largely populated by children, there’s usually at least an adult or two seen or heard somewhere. That’s not the case with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may be the only Thanksgiving special (live or animated) that does not include adults,” Mendelson wrote for HuffPo. “Our first 25 specials honored the convention of the comic strip where no adults ever appeared. (Ironically, our Mayflower special does include adults for the first time.)”

4. LUCY IS MOSTLY M.I.A., TOO.

Though early on in the special, viewers get that staple scene of Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, that’s all we see of Chuck’s nemesis in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (Lucy's brother, Linus, however, is still a main character.)

5. CHARLIE BROWN AND LUCY STILL KEEP IN TOUCH.

Though they only had a single scene together, Todd Barbee, who voiced Charlie Brown, told Noblemania that he and Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy in the Thanksgiving special, still keep in touch. “We actually went to high school together,” Barbee said. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”

6. CHARLIE BROWN HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH HIS SIGNATURE “AAARRRGG.”

One unique aspect of the Peanuts specials is that the bulk of the characters are voiced by real kids. In the case of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 10-year-old newcomer Todd Barbee was tasked with giving a voice to Charlie Brown—and it wasn’t always easy.

“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” Barbee recalled to Noblemania in 2014. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for … so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take."

7. LINUS STILL GETS AN ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE.

While Barbee got a crash course in the downside of celebrity at a very early age—“seeing my name printed in TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas … everybody … just thought I was some big movie star or something,” he told Noblemania—Stephen Shea, who voiced Linus, still gets a pretty big reaction.

"I don't walk around saying 'I'm the voice of Linus,'" Shea told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "But when people find out one way or another, they scream 'I love Linus. That is my favorite character!'"

8. THANKS TO LINUS, THE THANKSGIVING SPECIAL GOT A SPINOFF.

As is often the case in a Peanuts special, Linus gets to play the role of philosopher in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and remind his friends (and the viewers) about the history and true meaning of whatever holiday they’re celebrating. His speech about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving eventually led to This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, a kind of spinoff adapted from that Thanksgiving Day prayer, which sees the Peanuts gang becoming a part of history.

9. LEE MENDELSON HAD AN ISSUE WITH BIRD CANNIBALISM.

In writing for HuffPo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’s 40th anniversary, Mendelson admitted that one particular scene in the special led to “a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show. Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey. For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”

10. MENDELSON EVENTUALLY GOT HIS WAY ... THOUGH NOT FOR LONG.

Though Mendelson lost his original argument against seeing Woodstock eating another bird, he was eventually able to right that wrong. “Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” he wrote. “But when we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes, so I finally have given up.”

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12 Brazzle-Dazzle Facts About Pete's Dragon
Walt Disney Productions
Walt Disney Productions

Forty years ago, on November 3, 1977, Pete's Dragon was released in theaters across America. Though it was a box office disappointment at the time, it has since turned into a beloved classic for the generations of audiences who grew up with Pete and Elliott. In honor of its 40th anniversary, check out these brazzle-dazzle facts about the Disney classic.

1. ELLIOTT WAS VOICED BY VETERAN ACTOR CHARLIE CALLAS.

Charlie Callas was a comedian known for his rubbery face long before Jim Carrey was around.

2. IT WAS HELEN REDDY’S FIRST LEADING ROLE IN A FILM.

You’d assume that working with an invisible dragon would be pretty challenging for anyone, let alone someone new to the film industry, but Helen Reddy enjoyed the experience. “I only had one actual scene with the dragon," she explained, "and during rehearsals I worked with a latex model of his head so that I would be familiar with the dimensions during filming.”

3. REDDY’S BALLAD IN THE MOVIE WAS NOMINATED FOR AN OSCAR.

Reddy's "Candle on the Water" was nominated for Best Original Song. It lost to “You Light Up My Life.”

4. DON BLUTH SUPERVISED ELLIOTT'S ANIMATION.

The project notoriously called for a lot of overtime hours, and a couple of years after Pete's Dragon was released, animator Don Bluth left Disney. He went on to animate and direct The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986), The Land Before Time (1988), and All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), among others.

5. CALIFORNIA DOUBLED FOR MAINE.

The movie may look like it takes place in Maine, but neither the cast nor crew went anywhere near the Pine Tree State. The landscape scenes were courtesy of Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch in Canyon Country, California, while the Passamaquoddy town square and wharf area was constructed on the Disney Burbank Studio lot, partly from an old Western set. Even the harbor was constructed on-set.

6. ACTOR SEAN MARSHALL HAD NO FORMAL ACTING BACKGROUND.

Despite this, he beat hundreds of kids who auditioned to play Pete. “I think Disney always went for kind of the natural,” he said.

7. MARSHALL BECAME AN ALL-AMERICAN POLE VAULTER IN COLLEGE. 


redmorgankidd via YouTube

He partially attributes his athletic success to his role in the film, saying that the training he went through for the part, especially ballet, made him more of an athlete.

8. THE LIGHTHOUSE BEACON COULD BE SEEN FOR MILES.

Nora and Lampie’s lighthouse was equipped with a real lighthouse lens and a wickstand that could create a beacon that was visible for 18 to 24 miles. Constructed on California's Morro Bay, Disney had to obtain permission from the U.S. Coast Guard to actually light the lamp. There were plans to eventually move the lighthouse to Disneyland, but it became too deteriorated.

9. MICKEY ROONEY AND RED BUTTONS DID SOME AD-LIBBING.

The scene where Mickey Rooney and Red Buttons drunkenly walk to the cave to see Elliott turned into a massive ad-lib session, with each comedian trying to outdo the other with pratfalls and slapstick. “The director said, ‘That was fantastic, but we can’t have a 20-minute scene where you two are just walking through the cave. We’ve got to re-shoot it,’” Marshall recalled.

10. IT WAS A DISAPPOINTMENT AT THE BOX OFFICE.

The film only made $18 million in the U.S., which was a real disappointment to Disney. The studio was hoping to experience the same level of success it had had with another movie that mixed live action and animation—Mary Poppins.

11. THE SODIUM VAPOR PROCESS WAS USED TO MIX ANIMATION AND LIVE ACTION SCENES.

Invented by Ub Iwerks, the co-creator of Mickey Mouse, the process involved using a camera with a prism installed that separated the sodium vapor lights from the rest of the color. This projected a yellow light onto the screen behind the actor, which could later be subtracted out, and any background could be added in its place.

12. THERE’S A GOOFY YELL TUCKED AWAY IN THE FILM.

It’s when Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) accidentally sends himself flying via harpoon. Listen for it at 1:13 below.

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