Founded in 1923, The Walt Disney Company is one of the world’s most recognizable brands and the second largest media conglomerate around. Through the years, Disney has been a part of some of the biggest films ever made, but with all their success, we don’t often hear about the misses or the “never weres.” Obviously, when you have a company the size of Disney, you have plenty of people churning out film ideas. Some get made in the end. Most do not. Countless films never even make it into consideration, but we’re interested in the ones that almost got made, the films that peaked the interest in the powers that, for whatever reason, never made it to theaters.
Of all the films that never got made, there are a ton of direct-to-video sequels and plenty of films that were stripped for parts and incorporated in other films. We want to look at only the films that shocked us somehow; the films that sounded the craziest or the ones that sounded the most awesome. Almost all of the films on this list will never get made. Many of the concepts have become outdated or superfluous or the cultural relevance ship has long sailed away. There are a few, however, that we’re still holding out hope for. Every once in a while, a film that has been labeled as dead is revisited and brought back to life (see Frozen or the upcoming King of the Elves). There’s always a chance. Anyway, here are 15 Disney Films You Won’t Believe Almost Got Made.
15. Roger Rabbit Sequel
After Who Framed Roger Rabbit? wowed audiences, Disney got to work on sequel. They made a few shorts, but the full-length sequel seemed doomed from the get go. At first, there was talk of a prequel called Roger Rabbit: The Toon Platoon. This film would see Roger join the army and try to save his wife, Jessica Rabbit, from being used as Nazi propaganda. His mother would have had a part to play in that as well. Steven Spielberg apparently had issues with the depiction of the Nazis, so the film was reworked into Who Discovered Roger Rabbit? This too was canned when the budget was deemed too large. Then, a few years ago, talk of a different Roger Rabbit film started up. The proposed title was The Stooge and it would feature Roger and Mickey Mouse. That title never got any legs either. Last we heard, director, Robert Zemeckis said he still wanted to do a prequel film, but Disney didn’t seem to have any interest in it anymore.
14. Toots And The Upside Down House
After making The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, director Henry Selick set his sights on another stop-motion venture, an adaptation of the Carol Hughes book, Toots and the Upside Down House. The film was meant to be managed by then Disney-owned Miramax, but they decided against the film before any production began because the budget was too large. The story is about a little girl who discovers a world full of fairies as she helps them battle the evil Jack Frost. It’s too bad because we would love to see another Selick and Disney film. There is still a chance that sequel for The Nightmare Before Christmas is made to which Selick would be interested in doing if Tim Burton did the script, but Burton has always been adamant that he is not too keen on that idea. In his mind, that film was a one-off and all the promise of the other unexplored worlds within was part of what made the original so special.
13. Where The Wild Things Are
After Tron showed the world what computer-generated images could do, Disney and its team of animators set to work to find out where traditional animation could be combined with this new style. In 1983, John Lasseter, who worked for Disney at the time, got a team of animators to create some test footage of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are using a combination of CGI and traditional animation. Back then, Disney owned the rights to Sendak’s story. That was before Universal picked them up in 2001 and made the film. The Disney test footage is available online and shows that the plan was to traditionally animate the characters while using CGI to create the background. In the end, Disney found that making an entire film this way would be too expensive, so the idea was put on hold and then scrapped entirely.
12. Uncle Stiltskin
The writers Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, probably best known for their work on Cheers or the animated show, Teacher’s Pet, pitched an idea that was picked up Disney in the early 2000’s. The film, Uncle Stiltskin, would be a sequel of sorts to the story of Rumplestiltskin except that it would clear up the reputation of trolls. It would show that trolls are really just misunderstood creatures and their exploitation of young slaves was not what it seemed on the surface. In this proposed film, Uncle Stiltskin finds a little feral girl who was raised by wolves. He decides to raise her as his own and learns the true meaning of family. Awww! Isn’t that sweet?
Even though some of the concepts and ideas of the proposed Fantasia sequel were reworked and crammed into Fantasia 2000, the initial suggestion was to make Musicana, a sequel that featured music of the world and highlighted different cultures. Though many of the ideas sound completely amazing and the different musical styles would be a treat to hear and see visualized, the film was shelved in favor of other Disney titles, including The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, and Mickey’s Christmas Carol. All three of those films were great, so we’re not so mad, but damn, Musicana sounds incredible! It’s time we let this one go though. Now that Fantasia 2000 has been made, the promise of a sequel is all but dead.
10. The Gremlins
The Gremlins was the first children’s book ever written by Roald Dahl and was created alongside Disney as a promotional book for the upcoming film version, an upcoming film that never did come. The story revolved around Gremlins who were found to be sabotaging the British planes in response for the British destroying their home to build an airfield. After one pilot discovers the Gremlins, he convinces them to help the British. These little creatures then set their sights on Nazi planes and begin dismantling them. The film never did get made even though the book was an international success. Eventually, some of the ideas from this story were used in the 1984 film Gremlins, particularly the talk about foreign parts in cars not working because of “gremlins,” though the actual gremlins in that film were only very loosely based on the original concept. The Gremlins that were designed for the original film did make their way into the Epic Mickey video game series, but that was as close as they ever got to the big screen.
9. Penguin Island
One of the first ever proposed films for Disney was to be called Penguin Island. The story was about an island of great auks, extinct birds that were first called penguins but actually aren’t related to them. When a blind Christian monk crash lands on this island, he believes the birds are people. Thinking they’re part of some pre-Christian society, the monk begins to baptize the flightless birds. Disney would instead make Pinocchio and wouldn’t speak about penguins again until Mr. Popper’s Penguins was pitched more than 60 years later. That project was also canned (later picked up by 20th Century Fox). It’s safe to say that Disney hates penguins.
8. Fraidy Cat
In the early 2000’s, a new animated film started gathering steam within Disney’s walls. It was to be called Fraidy Cat and it would be about a cat who is framed for the disappearance of another pet and must go on a journey to clear his name. The goal of the film would be to satirize some of the classic film noir tropes of yesteryear, such as those used in various Alfred Hitchcock films. Disney seemed enthused about the film and named the directors Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid and Aladdin). After a bunch of artwork was put together in pre-production and a date of 2009 was set, Disney then backed out of the film. The studio felt that no one even knew or cared about Hitchcock anymore, so it was shelved indefinitely. The team of Musker and Clements would make The Princess and the Frog instead.
7. Yellow Submarine
Robert Zemeckis wanted to remake the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine for a while before he pitched it to Disney. When they first pitched the idea, Disney loved it and climbed on board. The story goes that Zemeckis planned to film it using motion capture, the same styles he used in Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol, and Mars Needs Moms. In fact, it was because of the failure of Mars Needs Moms, seriously one of the worst animated films in history, that Disney decided to back out of Yellow Submarine. The budget for these films are exceedingly high, so when Zemeckis’ Mars Needs Moms bombed at the box office, that was more than enough of a warning sign for Disney to see the writing on the wall. Some reports also suggest that Disney will never do a motion capture film again because of that disastrous film.
6. The Seven Dwarfs
Technically, much of this proposed film concept was turned into the 7D TV show, but the basic premise is what was most intriguing, and that basic premise was lost in the show. In the early 2000’s, a team got together and pitched the idea of a film focused on the seven dwarfs before they met Snow White. Lord of the Rings was smashing records at the box office, and the team saw some promise in creating an epic in this fashion. In 2005, computer animation was begun and the project was officially underway. This male-centered journey would be something new for the company that had focused on princess-led films for so long. This film was meant to connect with the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but things went off the rails when one of the creators, Mike Disa, backed out of the project. His departure was said to be caused by the insistence that they give Dopey a tragic backstory, something Disa was against.
After creating Princess and the Frog for Disney, the studio gave that film’s directors, John Musker and Ron Clements, the chance to pitch another film that they could animate. The decision was simple for Musker and Clements. They wanted to animate a story from Terry Pratchett‘s iconic comic fantasy book series, Discworld. So Disney agreed and set to work getting the rights. Turns out, the rights were too expensive, so they said ‘nah’ instead. This goes to show that no one at Disney is above the money. Even if you create The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, and The Princess and the Frog, the Mouse House will still break your heart. This led the team to create an original story, one where rights would not be needed. Thus, Moana was born.
4. Don Quixote
Recently, Disney announced that they would making a modern re-imagining of Don Quixote in concert with Johnny Depp, but long before that, there were plans to make an animated film based on the Miguel de Cervantes story. These plans go all the way back to 1940. From there, it was pushed back to 1946 but never went anywhere. Then, in 1951, the idea was pitched again but denied. Finally, in the 1990’s, Paul and Gaetan Brizzi put together some animated storyboards for Don Quixote at the behest of Disney. The story says that they blew everyone away. Still, the studio passed on them, suggesting the pitch might have been a bit too adult-themed. This rejection actually led to the Brizzis leaving Disney for their competitors, Dreamworks.
3. The Search For Mickey Mouse
In 2002, a very interesting film gained some traction within Disney. It would be called The Search for Mickey Mouse and would focus on an adventure of epic proportions to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 75th anniversary. The plot centered around the disappearance of Mickey and Minnie enlisting the help of various Disney characters to track him down. Some of the characters who were said to be involved, included Basil of Baker Street, Alice, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Robin Hood, and more. However, Disney felt that there were too many cameos and the story suffered because of it. The film was replaced with Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers. Meh. If we were betting folks, we would say that something similar will pop up again for Mickey’s 100th birthday, so stay tuned.
2. Homer’s Odyssey
We don’t know why Homer’s Odyssey was discarded, but in 1992, Disney greenlit three animated films, Homer’s Odyssey, Sinbad the Sailor, and Pocahontas. Sinbad was ditched because it was too similar to Aladdin and Disney feared they would over-saturate the audience with Arabian Nights stories. Obviously, Pocahontas ended up being made. But what about Homer’s Odyssey? One reason could be that Disney worried Homer’s Odyssey would not be relatable for youths or maybe they felt that Hercules would be a better and more recognizable way to go. Either way, the film was silently discarded and we haven’t heard anything about it since. Secretly, we’re still holding out hope that this one is made because the Odyssey is a story that all generations can appreciate. Its formal structure is in the fabric of all modern storytelling.
1. Reynard The Fox
Poor Reynard. Way back in 1937, the same year that Disney’s first ever animated film was released, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney had plans for another animated feature, Reynard the Fox. Reynard is a classic character that dates back to at least the 12th century. Disney loved this trickster-like character, but the studio was weary of making him the protagonist. There were various reasons for this, but the studio had issues about the fox’s methods, which included pranks that often ended in someone’s death. Ultimately, the concept was shelved. Every several years afterward, however, Reynard would be picked back up and tried again. It never was to be. The early designs of the character were reworked in the later years to create Robin Hood though, so some of Reynard lived on at least.