Over the decades, Walt Disney Studios has released some really phenomenal films. That’s because this entertainment industry giant is, without a doubt, probably one of the greatest of its kind in the world. Hands down. (We might as well say to put your ears and tails down because there are so many animals featured in Disney’s movies).
Sure, there have been some duds (and, it should be noted that, without doing some quick research, we can’t really think of any offhand), but there’s definitely been more “good” apples than “bad” ones (no poisoned apples, here). And that’s saying something, seeing as there have been around 161 feature films released by the California-based studio.
But, our focus isn’t what Disney has actually released. We’re taking a look at feature animated films that never saw the light of day…and should have. This is a list of unreleased movies that either died before they even began—normally at the pitch table—or afterwards, due to budgetary restrictions (surprisingly enough), rivalry between execs, personal taste, or some other forces. Then, there are others that just disappeared.
It’s our belief that Disney really dropped the ball (15 times) by turning down these magnificent films. We bet you will, too!
15 Newt, 2010
This canceled film project really makes us hate Blue Sky Studio’s Rio even more. You know what we’re talking about. That stupid “bird” movie where Blu, a highly domesticated Spix’s macaw, was captured while in Rio de Janeiro before escaping into the jungle, wherein “adventure” ostensibly awaited.
For Newt, Pixar had originally proposed a project about a male and female blue-footed newt who would try to prevent the extinction of their race, but it was canceled when they found out about Rio because the storylines were too similar.
This is a tragedy on so many levels. First, Pixar’s films are incandescently better than anything Blue Sky Studio has ever created. So, we got a mediocre movie by a mediocre studio instead. Second, most stories that take place “under the sea” or any bodies of water always do well. Case in point: The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, and Finding Dory.
14 The Prince And The Pig, 2003
It’s basically due to the utter ridiculousness of this story’s synopsis that makes us believe that it could’ve been such a phenomenal film. The name alone screams “weird”—The Prince and the Pig. It just begs the question, why in Walt’s name would a prince be hanging out with a pig, and why is that even a story?
Here’s your answer: described as a “grand adventure,” these two characters were on a mission to steal the moon. Dang! They’re not messing around.
While an impossible, albeit impressive endeavor, the intrinsic insuperability of such a quest is what makes it so Disney. As Walt said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” It also makes you wonder the following: why do they want to steal the moon? The so-called “prince” might have a reason. But, why would a pig even care? We think a pig would be more worried about his mud pit running dry.
Putting their potential motive(s) aside, here is another question you might have: is “stealing” the moon possible...even in a Disney movie? If the whole “moon” thing makes you think the story is stupid, then all we have to say is Despicable Me. You doubt Despicable Me? Then, you’ve got some serious issues.
13 The Frog Prince, 2001
Even though the actual reason why The Frog Prince was rejected has nothing to do with what we’re about to discuss, we still want to share our theory.
We have an inkling that after The Frog Prince got the axe, it allowed Disney to release The Princess and the Frog almost a decade later because The Princess… is loosely based on The Frog Prince. See, Disney probably wouldn’t have been comfortable releasing another Frog Prince-esque movie (i.e. The Princess…) if they actually made a Frog Prince film.
Moving on. We get it. The Princess and the Frog was an important movie for Disney because it was one of the firsts to feature a female protagonist (in modern-day Disney, mind you). But, it wasn’t that great of a movie...at all.
So our logic is that if The Frog Prince had come out, then Disney probably would’ve said “no” to The Princess… because it would’ve been too similar.
Oh, if only that happened! Anyway, the actual reason why it was rejected was because then-Feature Animation Head Thomas Schumacher was horrible at anticipating trends. The Frog Prince was going to be a satirical take on fairy tales, and he felt that no one would want to watch one. Um. As you can tell by the plethora of movies that do just that (especially the hilariously and brilliantly executed Enchanted), it just goes to show that Thomas was hella wrong. Rather than being innovative, he was just stupid.
12 Wild Life, 2000
(Disclaimer: This is not to be confused with Lionsgate’s 2016 movie—The Wild Life—a story heavily inspired by Robinson Crusoe, due to the events being recounted by a “daring parrot.”)
(Yet Another Disclaimer: Those two pictures above are actually official sketches from Walt Disney Studios.)
Who doesn’t love finding all of the s*xual innuendos and other adult-themed Easter eggs that seem to saturate Disney films? This was especially the case in the early days before the proliferation of technology (and the internet), which only exacerbated everyone’s overall obsession with allocating information.
But, we digress. Anyway, who doesn’t indulge in this most enjoyable pastime? Well, there was apparently a movie in the works called Wild Life—loosely based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion—and the way in which it was being made appalled Roy E. Disney when he watched the work-in-progress screening of the film, due to its adult humor, causing him to immediately order for it to be shut down.
Come on, Roy! Adult humor in kids shows are one of the great things in life! But, after hearing the actual storyline of Wild Life, maybe Roy really didn’t have much of a choice but to cancel it because, without the humor, the movie would’ve just been boring. Here it is: an elephant becomes a sensation on the New York club circuit. Great. Now, give us a double entendre!
11 Fraidy Cat, 2005
(Disclaimer: This is not the official image of the movie. It’s just a picture of a cat that’s scared.)
What jumps out about this potential movie is not the fact that the story would have revolved around a cat—a cat that, by the name of the movie, was probably cowardly—who’d lost three of his nine lives. It’s that this so-named fraidy cat would have been trapped in a Hitchcock-esque plot.
Disney and Hitchcock? Yes, please! Some of the best motifs in Hitchcock films include “the likeable criminal” or “the charming sociopath.” The descriptors say it all. Some great examples include Phillip Vandamm, portrayed by James Mason, in North by Northwest. The combination of Vandamm’s soothing voice, his calm demeanor, and his undeniable wit (as made apparent through his ingenious one-liners) made him almost more likable and even more charming than movie-star hunk, Cary Grant, even as a bad guy!
And if there were elements of Hitchcock in this film, then we would’ve had to expect an epic train sequence.
The possibilities are endless. Why-oh-why, David Stainton, did you refuse to green-light the project?
10 The Fool’s Errand, 2002
The following synopsis—a story that centers on a court jester who goes on a mythical journey to return peace to his kingdom—immediately makes us think of Clopin (Paul Kandel) from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. Sure, Clopin may officially have only been a puppeteer and storyteller (as well as a mischievous leader of the gypsies and thieves of Paris), but when you look at his attire (in addition to his ability to make people laugh as jesters normally do), it’s not that far of a stretch to make that comparison.
Seeing as the actual project of The Fool’s Errand was kept well under wraps, there isn’t that much info about it. But, here’s something we do know. The person who sold the script to Disney was David H. Steinberg. While David hasn’t done that much, what he has accomplished is pretty interesting. On the animated side of things, he wrote Puss In Boots, which was a “fun” film. But his main claim to fame is that he was hired by Universal studios to write the first two drafts of American Pie 2.
So, Clopin, plus American Pie 2, plus a mythical journey? Color us intrigued!
9 Bitsy, 2000
The synopsis of Bitsy may not be that profound (it’s essentially a Cats Don’t Dance movie, except, instead of cats, it’s elephants, and instead of wanting to dance specifically, this elephant just wants to make it in Hollywood).
But, the big pull-in factors that caught our attention are the people who would’ve been involved—veteran story artists Joe Grant and Burny Mattinson had developed the first act (and would’ve probably done the entire thing). This is a big deal.
To give you an idea, Joe Grant created the Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, he led the development of Pinocchio, co-wrote Fantasia and Dumbo, and was responsible for Lady in Lady and the Tramp. If that’s not enough, he was also part of Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Monsters, Inc., Mulan, and more.
As for Burny Mattinson, he wrote the stories for The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame…need we go on? These guys are legends. And yet, while Grant and Mattison were pitching the first act (an undoubtedly harrowing affair that lasted for 20 minutes), the executives didn’t approve the pitch because they were “reluctant.”
8 Don Quixote, 1941
One of the real tragedies about this project never getting approved is the universal acclaim that the Spanish novel, Don Quixote, has received, a literary masterpiece which Disney would’ve been able to gloat they’d adapted if they’d chosen to do so.
Here are some of its accolades: It is one of the earliest canonical novels; it is considered the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age—heck, of the entire Spanish literary canon—and it perpetually appears high on lists of the greatest works made by anyone ever due to it being a founding work of modern Western literature.
Don Quixote is about a Spanish noble who wants to revive chivalry in a number of ways under the guise Don Quixote de la Mancha. (It’s important to note that what prompted him to attempt such an impossible feat was that he’d lost his sanity after reading a bunch of chivalric romances. Crazy people are always fun.)
And it’s quite possible that this “madness” factor probably would’ve stayed in the movie, due to developers Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi wanting a more adult take on the story.
7 Antonius, 2002
Take the visual effects of Starship Troopers—with all of the laser blasting, explosions, and giant insectoids leaping, attacking, and blowing up, and James and the Giant Peach, which is basically the entire movie—and put it all in a movie about a leopard in ancient Egypt who becomes a freedom fighter.
Those ingredients would’ve made up Antonius. Sounds stunning, huh? All of this was a possibility because one of the writers who sold the pitch to the Walt Disney Co’s feature animation division was Martin Meunier who did visual effects for the aforementioned films.
But, let’s be real. Even without the James and the Giant Peach and Starship Troopers embellishments, the movie still would’ve been cool. Leopards are incredible creatures, and Disney creators have done stupendous jobs capturing their magnificence and their terror-inducing personas.
Just look at Sabor in Tarzan. Every single scene with Sabor was a delight. So, yeah, we wouldn’t mind seeing a movie with a Sabor-type character as the lead. And then, add to the fact that it would’ve been set in ancient Egypt, and it gets exponentially more interesting. We have proof as to why it would be by our next example (even though it isn’t from Disney)—The Prince of Egypt by DreamWorks.
The art was utterly gorgeous. We think Disney should have a go at capturing the beauty of ancient Egypt. And it could’ve had the chance, but VP of Creative Affairs, Leo Chu, dropped the ball, or at least we believe so because he brought the pitch to the studio, and it never came to be.
6 Mort, 2011
Imagine a Disney adaptation of a series that frequently parodied or found inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkien (you know, the guy who created The Lord of the Rings), H.P. Lovecraft (think: Cthulhu), Charles Dickens (remember the line: “Please, sir, I want some more.”) William Shakespeare (do we really need to give you any examples?), and many forms of mythology, folklore, and fairy tales.
You can’t have too much of any of these things... at all. Now, imagine a world where Disney doesn’t have enough money to afford the rights of something like that. Sounds impossible, huh? Well, it’s true. Disney couldn’t, so it was scrapped.
That’s what happened with Disney’s Mort project. Anyway, if Disney did have the money and bought the rights to Mort, then the story, as part of the Discworld series, would have probably taken place on the backs of four elephants balanced on the back of a giant turtle, just as it did in the books. Um. Yes, please!
5 Stoneflight, 2001
What happened to this movie!? In a 2001 article by Variety, it seems as though everything was in the works. So, where is it?
Disney’s effort, Stoneflight, would’ve been an adaptation of the eponymous book of the same name published by Viking in 1975. At the time, Stoneflight had gone out of print, and it was believed that it would never be heard of again. But one day, an ex-publisher at Viking, who, at that time, was an agent at Sterling Lord Literistic, began pitching the story to publishers, and it soon came to Disney’s desk. It didn’t take long before Jody Hotchkiss at Sterling Lord brokered the Disney deal.
To us, Stoneflight was essentially a combination of many wonderful stories, including Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame (Stoneflight includes gargoyles) and the Pied Piper of Hamelin (because the main character, after befriending a gargoyle on her roof, is taken to a place where other gargoyles have convened with children from troubled families, similar to the Pied Piper who’d lured away the children of Hamelin). Such a waste.
4 Toots And The Upside Down House, 1996
Do you love The Nightmare Before Christmas? Do you love James and the Giant Peach? Well, one of the people for whom you should be thankful, at least for their impeccable direction, is Henry Selick.
Turns out, Selick had been interested in directing yet another stop-motion picture based on the Carol Hughes book, Toots and the Upside Down House. And if this potential movie had been anything like Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, then it would’ve been fabulous.
But, then-Disney-owned Miramax decided to pull the plug early on in the project. One of the reasons why the story of Toots and the Upside Down House is so fascinating is because, besides its obvious intrigue, which involves a world where fairies are battling against a rather mischievous group of goblins and sprites, it reminds us of two wonderful films—the anime Patema Inverted and Coraline.
It’s like Patema Inverted because the main character, Toots, finds herself in an inverted world just like the characters in Patema. In regards to the latter, Toots is like Coraline in that she too is neglected by her parents (except, in Toot’s case, her mother isn’t just any old mother; she’s a fairy-in-training). It’s a recipe for perfection.
3 Yellow Submarine, 2011
Remember the colossal failure that was Mars Needs Moms? It was terrible. Well, if we all had liked it (and if it didn’t tank), then we might’ve gotten Disney’s take on the 1968 Beatles film, Yellow Submarine. Yup, Disney would have found inspiration from an LSD-trip-inducing creation.
Can you imagine a Disney-esque Blue Meanie? How about a Disney-inspired Nowhere Man? Hard to imagine, huh?
It also makes you wonder how Disney would’ve dealt with gaining the rights to what would’ve undoubtedly been a Beatles-esque soundtrack. Maybe it would’ve been a compilation of Beatles covers? That’s fine. Across The Universe was incredibly enjoyable, so why wouldn’t this?
Anyway, why do we wish that Mars Needs Moms did well? What’s the correlation? Well, this potential Beatles adaptation was developed by Robert Zemeckis, and Mars Needs Moms, a huge box-office flop, was produced by Zemeckis as well. Since Mars Needs Moms crashed and burned, Disney felt that Yellow Submarine would too.
2 King Of The Elves, 2012
The interesting thing about this movie is that it could potentially still come about. And we’re extremely hopeful that this is very much the case.
The project, which was originally shelved in December of 2009, later went back into development in 2011 before the director, Chris Williams, left the project a year later. Nothing has been heard about it since. Well, if the project’s history is of any indication, King of the Elves could come back. And we sure hope so.
The story is so inspiring because it’s your run-of-the-mill tale of your everyday average Joe who ends up getting caught up in a world of elves. The beginning of the story actually reminds us of The Hobbit, because, like Bilbo Baggins, the main character in this story, Shadrach Jones, invites into his home some outsiders (in this case, it’s elves, not dwarves) who are on a quest (except, instead of plundering for dragon treasure, these elves are in a war against trolls).
Yah. That’s reason enough.
1 Tam Lin, 2003
This potential adaption of the Scottish fairy tale of the same name would’ve been an amazing movie for Disney, minus the first part of the story.
The beginning involved a character who ostensibly “collected” or “possessed” the virginities of maidens and later on revolved around a woman’s quest to get an abortion. Not very Disney-friendly. But after all that, we meet the titular Tam Lin, a human who was captured by the Queen of Fairies. And Tam has a problem; he believes that he will be thrown into hell on the most cliche of nights—Halloween.
In addition to the story revolving around All Hallows’ Eve—making it a possible creative conduit to The Night Before Christmas—another aspect of the story that would’ve been interesting is that Tam could transform into various beasts. (If Disney made this movie, Sleepy Beauty’s Maleficent in dragon form comes to mind or maybe everything in Monsters, Inc.)
Anyway, besides Tam’s name being in the title, the protagonist of the story was actually Janet because she was the one destined to save him. And, this is important because we need more female-centric roles. Moana and Frozen are great examples. Blame Michael Eisner for Tam Lin never coming to fruition. The story was originally made for Roy Disney and Eisner, who was in conflict with Roy, saw it as Roy’s baby, so rejected it outright.