All films go through drastic changes. But when you’re dealing with a mammoth conglomerate like Disney, there are many more channels that drafts and edits go through than the average film. For this reason, most Disney films have initial concepts that are wildly different than the final films. We thought it would be interesting to go through and highlight all the most intense differences. In some cases, it’s the initial concepts that are most interesting; whereas in others, it’s the reasoning behind the changes that we feel people will want to hear about. The differences between draft and final film also come at various stages. For some of the films on this list, we will look at the very early drafts and how different they were to what we saw. There are other examples here that show how changes were made at the last minute for different reasons.
Obviously, every film has to undergo various changes during the creation process, but we’re only interested in the weird, shocking, or drastic. It’s interesting to note how some minds at Disney work and how, in the end, most films end up conforming to the Disney formula. That’s not a knock on Disney films or process either. The tried and true formula has been proven to work and conforming in new and creative ways can be just as difficult and rewarding than going against the grain or doing something totally unique. Here are 15 Disney Films That Were Almost Insanely Different.
Bambi is sad enough as it is, but the original plan for the film was to have it even darker than the final cut. Initially, after Bambi’s mother is shot and Bambi finds her dead on the ground (a horrific nightmare of a scene for a children’s movie), the poor little bastard was then supposed to stumble across the charred remains of his mother’s murderer. You see, after killing the mother and starting the fire that burned down the forest, the man was supposed to get stuck in the fire and perish. This was a way of showing the inherent risks of man interfering with nature, and old Walt Disney fought hard to have this scene included. Thankfully, the others involved in the film told this sicko that children aren’t too fond of charred corpses, so they ditched the idea. We do still have the original artwork for nightmare fuel if you like.
14. Alice In Wonderland
The relationship between Disney and Alice in Wonderland goes back to even before the company was founded. There were numerous attempts to get a film made, but a new roadblock popped up before each attempt. This seemed to change when, in 1945, Disney brought on famed author Aldous Huxley to write the film. The Huxley story would have the character of Alice as a cartoon immersed in the life of Lewis Carroll, the author of the original story. Disney found that this was all much too literal for their liking. Walt Disney even said that it was too “intellectual” for Disney’s audience. Before it was axed, however, there was a now-infamous meeting at Disney studios that took place on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked (Dec 7, 1945) in which Disney suggested that Cary Grant play the role of Lewis Carroll. During this meeting, he advised that the story play up a suggested romance between Grant and actress Ellen Terry more because “we don’t want [Carroll] to look like a ‘queer’.” It wouldn’t matter as all this was ditched a few years later for the purely animated film we’ve all probably seen countless times.
13. Peter Pan
If you ever read anything that Walt Disney had to say about the character of Peter Pan, it is pretty clear that the man never really liked the guy in green tights. Disney always felt that he was a bit too evil to be loved by children, but he may have been influenced by the early character designs too much. Early on, the story was to show the Lost Boys complaining that they wanted a mother to tell them stories, so rather than bring the Lost Boys to our world to find a mother, Pan set out to bring a mother to them. In the very first draft of Peter Pan, Peter actually plans to kidnap this mother. He even says the words, “Come on, Tink. We’ll go to the real world! And Kidnap one!” He then cuts some rope to bind her hands. It’s pretty dark.
Like so many other Disney titles, Aladdin had plenty of changes made to it before it hit screens. The one that we thought was the most eye-opening, came in the scene in which Jafar wishes away Aladdin’s princely status. Well, the worst part of this comes from the knowledge of where all Prince Ali’s subjects came from. Come to think of it. It was a little weird that they appeared out of nowhere. In a scene that would be cut, the Genie tells Jafar that the horses were roaches, the camels were gnats, and everything else was diseased rats. Jafar was also meant to humiliate Aladdin by having his robes removed, having bugs eat away all Aladdin’s hair, and then have him vomit birds while the onlookers all laughed. Oh, and the popular fan theory that the merchant from the beginning was actually the genie? That was to be confirmed at the end, but it was cut at the last minute.
11. The Lion King
There were a few major changes made to The Lion King before it became the animated classic we all know it is. In the beginning, one of the titles was King of the Jungle, a strange name considering lions don’t even live in jungles. The original plot was also much different than the final film. It revolved around an epic battle between baboons and lions which does sound kind of awesome. The leader of the villain baboons was Scar. This evil baboon manipulated Simba and made him lazy, all in an effort to make him easy to overthrow when he eventually becomes king. The story was ultimately changed to something closer to what we saw on screen. But even in the later drafts, there was still quite a bit more violence and challenging themes, such as rape and incest. These were all eliminated and we got the pretty tame but excellent final cut we all know and love.
10. Toy Story
In the original Toy Story…errr…story, Woody was a total a*s. Instead of being a loyal and dedicated toy for Andy, albeit one who was scared of being shoved to the side in favor of the new Buzz Lightyear, Woody was an egomaniacal jerk. He was the villain. All the toys were deathly afraid of him. Take a look at some of the artwork of a cowering version of the dog Slinky, who appeared to have been battered and bruised by the cowboy. When Buzz came into the picture, Woody attempted to murder him on a number of occasions, throwing him out the window and behind the dresser. Eventually, the gang of toys take their revenge and throw Woody out the window. Thankfully, this version of the John Lasseter script was seen and hated by everyone. They canned almost everything from it except for a few of the character’s designs and made it into a buddy comedy that everyone loved.
The first plan for Mulan was a simple story that would be a straight-to-video film. It was to be titled China Doll and would essentially be the film that Pocahontas II became, except that instead of Indian, it would be Chinese. This proposed story would feature an oppressed Chinese girl who is saved and brought to live happily in the West. The eventual writer of Mulan, children’s author Robert D. San Souci, then suggested that Disney consider an adaptation of the Chinese poem “The Song of Fa Mu Lan.” Disney liked what they saw so they offered director Barry Cook two choices—Mulan or a Scottish movie that featured a dragon. Cook asked if he could combine the two, adding a dragon to Mulan. Now we have Mulan.
8. Emperor’s New Groove
The much beloved film, Emperor’s New Groove, is one that almost never happened. After about three years of production under the title Kingdom of the Sun, the film was almost shut down completely. The story was just too convoluted and too expensive. Still, after spending $30 million, Disney basically started over. The Kingdom of the Sun would be a prince-and-the-pauper story in which the emperor, David Spade, switched places with a peasant who looked just like him, Owen Wilson, to escape his life. After test audiences responded poorly to this film, it was just about canned but the team was given a couple of weeks to overhaul it. They quickly flipped the script and brought in new voice actors, except for Spade and Eartha Kitt, and made an entirely new film. Oh, and the lead character’s name was changed from Manco to Kuzco because the term omanco is Japanese slang for v*gina.
7. Lilo And Stitch
Compared to most on this list, the changes that were made to Lilo and Stitch were made very late in the game. For much of the production process, Stitch was an “intergalactic gangster” who was fleeing from his gangmate, Jumba, after a heist went sideways. Stitch wasn’t even supposed to speak, but the great minds at Disney had a sneaking suspicion that children would struggle to identify with a mute gang member and criminal. There was also a major change made to the film’s third act. Originally, the group was to highjack a 747 airplane and fly it through downtown Honolulu. But the attacks of September 11, 2001 made this scene seem insensitive, so they altered it dramatically.
Even though John Lasseter has disputed the beginnings of Cars, it’s quite clear that it began with Jorgen Klubien’s script for a film called The Yellow Car. This story was to be about a small yellow electric car that was considered an outcast among other larger gas-guzzling cars. Lasseter turned this script down saying that it needed a bigger character in it like a backwards fish-out-of-water tale. Lasseter’s version of events of how Cars came to be starts with him and his family on a road trip. It was here, he claims, that he thought up the story for Cars all on his lonesome. We can picture this being true, especially if, while on this trip, he watched the film that Cars blatantly plagiarizes, Doc Hollywood, starring Michael J. Fox. Hell, Cars even named the co-starring car, Doc, after the Doc Hollywood.
5. Princess And The Frog
When the Princess and the Frog was being conceived, there were a number of negative points that critics latched on to, especially when it came to potentially racist or insensitive components of the initial pitch. One of the problems that was changed was the title. The original title was to be “The Frog Princess,” which made it sound like the princess was a frog. It was also rallied against by some French outlets for the derogatory term “frog.” The biggest issues came with the main character. Though she became the waitress, Tiana, she was originally conceived as a chambermaid named Maddy. African-American critics had a field day with this, claiming that the name was far too close to the racist term “Mammy.” They also argued that the maid profession was about as racist as it gets. They were right. It was changed.
Pretty much everyone loves Up, from children to old-timers. The one major change that we found interesting from concept to final cut was in the death of Muntz, the villainous character. The plan in the beginning was to have an allusion to The Shining, in which Muntz would chase Kevin into a labyrinth made up of rocks, much like the hedge maze from The Shining. Muntz would work his way into the labyrinth and get lost, left to forever wander the maze until his death. This was changed to a good old-fashioned plummet from a cliff, a death that Disney found more acceptable for children than the maze. We’re not sure where we fall on this one. On the one hand, The Shining reference would be awesome. On the other, it’s a pretty deep way to go, so we understand the change to a more classic Disney fall death.
3. Wreck-It Ralph
Wreck-It Ralph bounced around in its various forms for about 20 years at Disney. Originally, in the late 80’s, the film was to be called High Score. Then, in the late 90’s, the film took on the title Joe Jump. The initial concept was to have Felix Junior as the star of the video game in the film. His son, Fix-It Felix Junior, was to be the protagonist. Junior didn’t want to go into the family business, taking over for his dad as the video game hero, so he rebelled. The film would document Junior’s journey to find his own path. This all changed when production began and the director, Rich Moore, saw something in the antagonist. “We’d already begun developing the antagonist for the Fix-It Felix Junior video game,” Moore explained. “I couldn’t help but notice that the Wreck-It Ralph character, the guy who was throwing garbage down at Felix as he climbed around that apartment building trying to fix things, was a lot more interesting and entertaining than Felix himself was. Which is when I turned to our story team and said ‘Why don’t we try building our movie around that guy instead?’” The resulting change made a story in the same vein as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? where the alleged bad guy tries to prove he’s not what people think he is.
In the year that Snow White and Seven Dwarfs premiered, 1937, Walt Disney made it his next mission to animate The Snow Queen and several other Hans Christian Anderson stories. When it was decided that the story was too dark for Disney, the project was shelved for many years and wasn’t picked up again until late 90’s. At that time, more ideas were bandied about but no strong concept ever stuck. By 2010, the film was grounded again. It wasn’t until the song, “Let It Go” was made that much of the complexity was added to the character of Elsa. From the beginning, Elsa was the villain who intentionally froze Anna’s heart. Anna was in need of Hans to kiss her in order to save her life. This all changed when “Let It Go” inspired the writers to visualize Elsa as a more complicated character, turning from villain to a hero who is often perceived as a villain.
Overall, there were several important changes made to Zootopia to make it the film we now have come to love. One change that has been well-documented is that all the predators had, at one point, shock collars on. This was to keep them from giving in to their predatory desires. This was changed late in production because it was too dark and sad. There was, however, a much bigger change made a year before the film was released. The film’s director, Byron Howard, explains that Nick (Jason Bateman) was originally the main focus on the film. Hopps was set to play a secondary role. Howard came to the difficult decision that this dynamic needed to change. “We’re telling a story about bias,” he said. “When you have the Nick character starting the movie, through his eyes the city was already broken… He didn’t like Zootopia. Hopps, on the other hand, did. She loved it. And suddenly, everything became obvious.” When they switched the roles of these two characters, the film’s message became completely different.