Thursday, December 24, 2009

Development Heck

There's been a lot of chit chat about Disney feature projects that are in development at the hat building. (You can find some of it here, here and here. And a compendium of real old unmade projects here.) What I've learned about "development" as both participant and spectator is that projects come and go and fall in and out of favor. They are put into development, then yanked out of development. Some blessed few are greenlit for production, then the red light flashes and the whole train comes to a rattling halt. Directors are assigned, then unassigned.

At the end, what gets made is determined by (in no particular order) 1) the quality of the piece, 2) How many internal studio champions it has, 3) Marketing's input about a) whether marketing can sell the movie and b) how well the characters lend themselves to toys, video games and electronic devices. And 4) If there's a gaping hole in the release schedule that has to be pluggd with something. ....

There are other motivating factors, of course, but those are some of the larger ones that come to mind.

So let us tip toe back through various projects that have been in development at Disney over long stretches of time. This isn't a comphrehensive list, since I'm making it on Christmas eve from the top of my pin head and it only covers stuff going back to the 1960s. (We'll label the projects produced and unproduced. We'll also note that some earlier development work on well-loved titles is, in some cases, pretty much unrelated to development work on the same titles years and years later.)

Chanticleer -- based on the French fairy tale, this project was in the running after Sleeping Beauty. Songs were written, boards and design work done; ultimately done in because Walt didn't think a chicken could carry an animated feature (The internal saboteurs around the studio kept muttering: "Oh yeah, that's the chicken picture...") Unproduced.


Catfish Bend -- based on the books by Ben Lucien Hubbard. Song of the South style animal characters living along the lwer Mississippi. Character designs, outline storyboards, several rough treatments. Spearheaded by Ken Anderson, it never went much of anywhere. Unproduced.


The Nightinggale -- based on the short story by Hans Christiam Anderson, this piece was worked on by Mel Shaw and John Lasseter back in the day. Embryonic development, unproduced

The Abandoned -- this book by Mr. Gallico has gone in and out of development for a lot of years, championed by Bernie Mattinson and Joe Grant, among others, with lots of work done on it. Unproduced into the 21st century.

Mickey and the Three Musketeers -- Wait. Wasn't this done at Disney Toons? And released a few years ago? Well, yeah, but this version was different, and in development at features in the early 1980s. (There are obvious similarities because both spring from the Dumas classic, but the approaches were not the same.) This version unproduced (but produced at Disney Toons.)


Wild Life -- in development for a lo-o-ong period of time, slated as one of Disney Feature's early CGI projects, and championed by division head Tom Schumacker. The plug on this particular project was pulled when Roy Disney objected to the direction it was going in. Unproduced.

In the 21st century, two Big Name Disney directors worked on a spy feline project (the name of which eludes me), Gnomeo and Juliet came and then departed during a management change, and the ever-popular Joe Jump had a birth, then death (or at least deep hibernation), and then a rebirth with Mr. Moore at the helm. (The project's been around since the early days of TAG blog.)

Rapunzel, now scheduled for a November 2010 release, has had a number of story changes over a lengthy gestation period, and Home on the Range, released back in 2004, started life years before as an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous.

Animated projects -- particularly those of the Disney persuasion -- have often occupied Development Heck for years and sometimes decades before showing up at the neighborhood AMC. Not the way executives and production managers usually want it, but the way it is.


Anonymous said...

So true. Pete's Dragon and Small One started life in the 50s. OZ was also around since the 50s and ended up in live action. Reynard the Fox and Gremlins are two well know development heck projects. And Sword in the Stone was tested back in the 40s along with Hiawatha and Peter Pan.

Floyd Norman said...

The feline film was, "Fraidy Cat."

"Hiawatha" was back on the table in the early sixties, and "The Rescuers" was shot down by Walt. I know. I was there. Oddly enough, the film returned to life in the seventies, and actually got made.

Today, the tail wags the dog as Marketing pretty much determines what gets produced. Again, all this from personal experience. Hardly the same old story, things are much worse today, and I find my fun business getting to be less fun every year.

Steve Hulett said...

Thanks, Floyd.

As I toddled off for Christmas Eve dinner, I forgot one:

"The Brave Little Toaster." Developed under the Tom Wilhite production regime (with Lasseter and Joe Ranft working on it in the early '80s). It was nixed by the animation department's old guard, ultimately put into turn-around under Wilhite's wing and made for $2 1/2 million in Taiwan, 50% financed by the Disney Channel and Bill Mechanic (it helped get Mechanic get pushed out of Disney. The animation department's old fuds were ticked another division of Disney picked the property up.)

"Toaster" was successful enough to inspire several sequels. But the first was the best, and suffers a bit from the cramped budged. But hey, the picture got made.

Anonymous said...

>>Today, the tail wags the dog as Marketing pretty much determines what gets produced.

Well said. Marketing dictates far too much in LA. When a film or show ends up being decent, it is usually in spite of marketing and not because of it. What most movies are is a marketing budget with some voice and craftsmanship crammed into the crevices. Censorship used to be imposed by government. Now it is imposed by corporate profit. Which is worse? Honesty, it is hard to tell the difference.

Elite Medium said...

So you're saying that John Lasseter is beholden to the marketing department of Disney? I have trouble believing that he chooses projects at the Hat Building based on what they say.

fxvet said...

I worked for several years on "My Peoples" (also known as "A Few Good Ghosts" and "Angel and her No-good Sister") it was in development in Orlando by Barry Cook and was weeks from production when Stainton shut it down.

Anonymous said...

_So you're saying that John Lasseter is beholden to the marketing department of Disney?

yes. you obviously believe some men have superpowers. interesting.
what other credits do you plant at this mortal's feet, besides the ones already bestowed upon him by default?

Anonymous said...

Making questionable choices about what properties to develop and produce based on absurd considerations goes back to Disney's time.

Remember, this is the studio that turned down Lord of the Rings and did Black Cauldron instead.

Over-thinking, stupidity, lack of creative judgment in high places? For sure. Censorship???? Hardly. Sorry, not even in the ballpark.

Floyd Norman said...

When you say, "goes back to Disney's time," I hope you're not referring to Walt. He was long gone when those dumb decisions were made.

Not sure what you mean by "censorship." However, if you think creatives are in charge of what moves into production, you're mistaken.

Anonymous said...

"Kevin Smith: Look, losing A Couple of Dicks was almost akin to losing my own dick. It was a perfect buddy-cop movie comedy title. Everyone knew it. You couldn’t say that title to somebody without a f—ing smile crossing their face. But what I had gone through with Zack and Miri Make a Porno — “porno” had become very problematic, it became tough for us to advertise [the film], blah blah blah. Warner Bros. decided, “Hey man, we’ll call the networks and see if we’re going to get any problems [with A Couple of Dicks as a title], months before the movie’s ever going to come out.” The top 3 networks — CBS, ABC, NBC — said we can’t run one of your spots before 9 o’clock.
I’m like, “Well what about Inglourious Basterds?” And I guess, because of the spelling, they got away with it. So we were like, “Can we call it A Couple of D.I.C.s?” Because that’s the proper acronym for detectives, Detective In Charge. And [the networks] kicked that back as well. It was the pluralizing of any form of dick, whether it was d-i-c-k or any derivation.
So my feeling was like, it’s an R-rated movie, so who the f— are we talking to anyway before 9 o’clock? Warner Bros’s feeling was like, “Hey man, we have to advertise to the sports audience on Saturday and Sunday and all those sporting events usually take place before 9 p.m. in the evening.” At which point, I was like, “Oh wow, you guys are way smarter than me.”
All credit due to Warner Bros., they tried really f—ing hard to score that title. It just came down to a point blank choice of run a campaign where you’re not going to be able to advertise on the big three networks before 9 o’clock, or run a campaign where there are no hindrances."

ie, corporate censorship.

marketing regularly 'censors' material. the sooner you let go of that image of the smoking man in the suit sitting in a dark room blacking out text and splicing audio, the sooner we can all move on and admit that censorship today is very much a financial arrangement. as are all things american, for better or for worse.

Site Meter