Wednesday, May 17, 2006

One Diz Feature Before It Was a Diz Feature

Over the Mouse House's long history, lots of feature projects have been started, stopped, then started again... Like, story artists did some development work on "The Little Mermaid" way back in 1940, but nothing came of it. Obviously the drawings that survive of that early "Little Mermaid" have not very much to do with the 1989 version. In the seventies, I pitched (tepidly) the idea of doing "Aladdin" with Mickey-Donald-Goofy. In 1985 I pitched "The Man Who Would be King" with Mickey-Donald-Goofy (are we detecting a theme here?). Neither of these projects went much of anywhere. But in 1982, Pete Young and I pitched "The Three Musketeers" with Mickey-Donald-Goofy, and there was enough interest upstairs for us to open a production number and actually collect our salaries while developing it. I remember thinking at the time, "hey, this should be easy. There's already two jillion film versions of 'The Three Musketeers,' so there's obviously a STORY there..." (This actually is incorrect. There aren't that many. It only seems that way. The various "Three Musketeers" I can think of off the top of my head are the 1921 version with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., a 1935 limp biscuit, a Gene Kelly version, and a Richard Lester version from 1974. God knows there have been others since...) My point here is that there were a lot of "Three Musketeers" movies, and we looked at most of them. Burny Mattinson, who was assigned to oversee the project, looked at a lot of the films with us. And he got really excited when one day I brought in THIS "Three Musketeers" from 1939. It was a version of the Dumas classic that used less of the book's plot. But it had music. And comedy. Also Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers (a comic trio that was very popular in the late thirties). Burny thought the film provided a great template for our new version of "The Three Musketeers," and told us to go with its main story and character points as we developed our new one. This made Pete Young unhappy, because he wanted to follow the book. In the Ameche movie, the Ritz brothers weren't even real Musketeers, but inept busboys who pretended to be Musketeers. Every time Pete tried to go back to Dumas' original, Burny steered him to the '39 adaptation again. By and by, Pete decided I was the one who was to blame for the impasse. "If you hadn't brought that godd*mn Ameche movie in, we wouldn't be in this fix!" he railed at me one day. "I didn't know the movie existed! Burny didn't know it existed! And now it's all he's got on his mind!" We moved along with the "Musketeers" development, Pete fuming, me apologizing, and Burny focused on the Ritz brothers. Eventually management lost interest in the project, development came to an end, and we moved on to other things. Pete continued to blame me for screwing things up by bringing the '39 version to everyone's attention in the first place. I continued to apologize. And twenty years later, Disney developed the property yet again, releasing it as a DVD feature in 2004. I don't know if any of Pete's early boards were looked at, but Mickey-Donald-Goofy aren't actual Musketeers in the new one. They're janitors. Burny Mattinson, it turns out, was prescient.


Anonymous said...

I seldom do this, but I begged Dick Cook to release this DVD feature as a theatrical. I thought the movie was that good. Plus, it would introduce these great Disney characters to a whole new audience.

Well, it never happened mainly because a traditional Mickey Mouse feature would never be allowed while Michael was around. What if the film had been a hit? That would have blown a hole in Eisner's 2D vs. 3D agenda.

Nice to know Burny was right after all.

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