Saturday, October 28, 2006

Unmade Disney: The 1930s

Having chronicled and evaluated the history of Walt Disney Productions from its humble beginnings in 1928 to the artistic failures of 1940, I’m going to pause here and talk about some of the projects that were in development at the time and which never made it to the screen.

The Good Samaritan (1934): Pluto rescues a baby puppy that wrecks the house. Clyde Geronimi was slated to direct, and Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, and John Lounsbery animated whole scenes. $5,554.15 was spent on the cartoon before production stopped. In 1944, it was officially abandoned.

Hillbilly (1934): Pegleg Pete mistakes Mickey for a revenuer.

Mickey’s Sea Monster (1935): Mickey, Donald, and Goofy hunt a sea serpent.

The Emperor’s New Clothes (1936): Ted Sears developed this as a Silly Symphony, but the idea was deemed too thin. It was also worked as a possible cartoon for Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.

Japanese Symphony (1936): Bianca Majolie developed the story for a Silly Symphony about a firefly who romances a moth and saves her from a vampire bat among the lanterns of a Japanese garden. The idea of a Japanese Symphony stayed in Walt’s mind; it was also developed as the adventure of two Asian children or as the story of a Japanese girl chasing a butterfly. The fact that Japan joined the Axis put a stop to any further development.

Mickey’s Bakery (1936): Mickey, Donald, and Goofy try to bake a giant cake for a society party. This idea was picked up several times before finally being put down permanently in 1940.

Navy Mickey (1936): I imagine it’s pretty much what the title says it is.

Santa Claus Symphony (1936): A little boy shrinks to the size of a toy and visits Santa’s workshop in this Silly Symphony.

Snow Babies (1936): Walt Kelly designed characters for this Silly Symphony that was meant to be a follow-up to Water Babies. The idea was unceremoniously dropped in 1939 when the Silly Symphonies series came to an end. Rudy Ising directed the quasi-sequel Merbabies in 1938.

Struebel Peter (1936): A Silly Symphony based on the fairy tale about a slovenly brat. It was mainly shelved because the main character was too unlikable.

Sunken Treasure (1936): Mickey, Donald, and Goofy fight pirate skeletons and King Neptune while diving for underwater gold. Tell me that wouldn’t be awesome. The idea was an exciting one, and this was in development under several titles. In 1937, it was being put forth as a cartoon for Mickey only as Davy Jones’s Locker. Pearl Divers was another reworking of the same idea, this time for Donald and Mickey, that was reworked by Howard Swift (another title was Salvagers). This short just never panned out. Grim Natwick and Marc Davis tried to work the story as Mickey’s Treasure Hunt.

The Three Bears (1936): Homer Brightman developed this Silly Symphony as a possible vehicle for Shirley Temple. It was often thought that a collaboration between Disney and Temple would be inevitable, but it never happened. Papa Bear was designed to look like W.C. Fields, suggesting that possibility as well.

Jungle Mickey (1937): Mickey encounters Ubangi natives.

Mickey’s Follies (1937): A revue film that would have included not only Mickey Mouse characters, but also Silly Symphonies characters. Sadly, the story men seem to have been unable to work out how to make such a large idea a mere seven minutes in length. Though I think it would have made an excellent special double length cartoon, most of the ideas seem to have been transferred to the Dance of the Hours segment of Fantasia.

Minnehaha (1937): Walt Kelly also developed this Silly Symphony as a follow-up to Dave Hand’s charming 1937 short Little Hiawatha.

Donald Munchausen (1938): Carl Barks created a story where Donald tells his nephews tall tales about the time he fought dinosaurs in King Kong in Africa. Marc Davis did some sketches for this one that I’d love to see.

Mickey’s Nephew (1938): Mickey plays Santa Claus.

Mickey’s Toothache (1938): Mickey has a laughing gas-induced nightmare.

Pluto’s Robot Twin (1938): George Stallings and Roy Williams developed this idea about Mickey building a remote control dog.

Sargasso Sea (1938): Mickey visits Atlantis and capers about.

Spring Cleaning (1938): Pluto and Bobo the Elephant accidentally wreck Minnie’s house while trying to help Mickey clean. Frank Tashlin was set to direct. It also showed up under the title Pluto’s Pal Bobo, but it never worked out.

Tanglefoot (1938): Mickey and Goofy train a reluctant race horse.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1938): Mickey as Captain Nemo. This is interesting in light of Disney’s live action production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1954.

Yukon Mickey (1938): Mickey explores; it was also developed as Yukon Donald before being completely abandoned.

Abdul Abulbul Amir (1939): A Silly Symphony or special cartoon that would have featured the Carl Sandburg poem.

Jabberwocky (1939): While Alice in Wonderland struggled through development, a Silly Symphony featuring just this poem was considered.

Morgan’s Ghost (1939): Dick Creedon and Al Perkins came up with this story, alternately called Pieces of Eight and Three Buccaneers, that is a reworking of Treasure Island (the novel that would, in 1950, become Disney’s first live action feature). This would have been one of the absolute best. Yellow Beak, a pirate parrot, is on the run from Black Pete (Pegleg Pete, of course) with Henry Morgan’s treasure map. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy agree to split costs on a ship, not realizing that they’ve leased the Sea Shark from Pete himself, disguised as an old woman. At sea, Pete sets the trio adrift on a raft; they wash up on an island and discover a chest containing the ghosts of Henry Morgan and his crew. They rescue Yellow Beak, fight carnivorous plants, and have all sorts of adventures, then lose the treasure to Pete, who discovers the treasure is fake. The story was so good that Bob Karp used it for Donald Duck Comics, in a story called “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold.” The story starred Donald and his nephews, and was drawn by Jack Hannah and Carl Barks.

Museum Keeper (1939): Donald Duck tries to guard a priceless, rare painting, to have been directed by Frank Tashlin. This was also titled Old Masters and Donald and the Old Masters before being abandoned.

Mountain Carvers (1939): Mickey, Donald, and Goofy carve a hero's face in a mountain.

Men in Uniform (1940): Mickey is a milkman pestered by a kitten.

Penelope and the 12 Months (1940): Joe Grant and Dick Huemer came up with this story about a little girl who travels through time with the help of a magical grandfather clock. Walt thought the story didn’t work, but Mary Blair did some beautiful concept paintings for the cartoon.

It was around 1943 that the long-gestating feature Tales of Hans Christian Andersen was finally dropped. The film was meant to be a co-production with Samuel Goldwyn, who also wanted to make a film about Andersen. It was decided at some point that the film would be shot in live action, with animated segments depicting some of Andersen’s tales. The animators and story men had been developing several of them throughout the 1930s, nearly all of which had been considered as separate animated shorts (possibly for the Silly Symphonies, possibly as special cartoons). These included The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Emperor’s Nightingale, Through the Picture Frame, The Little Fir Tree, The Steadfast Tin Soldier (which would eventually show up as a segment in Fantasia 2000), and especially The Little Mermaid, which Kay Nielsen drew many development sketches for. They were so good that they were finally used for the 1989 Disney film; Nielsen has a screen credit. Besides a flurry of financial issues that plagued the studio throughout the forties, Disney also had problems with the tone. All of Andersen's stories end on down notes, often in tragedy. Goldwyn continued to develop the idea, finally releasing the Danny Kaye musical Hans Christian Andersen in 1952.Disney also decided not to make a feature film out of Anatole France’s satirical novel Penguin Island, an idea which had been put forth around 1937. He still had some hope that he could make a feature out of Edmund Rostand’s Chantecler or Saint Cloude’s The Romance of Reynard, and let the development continue into the forties. Other projects still in development as of the end of 1940 included the continuing Fantasia project, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Dumbo, The Legend of Happy Valley, The Wind in the Willows, The Reluctant Dragon, Inspector Bones, The Hound of Florence, Don Quixote and, since 1937, Bambi.

In early 1940, Walt Disney was on the verge of a new phase of his career. His company was going to be publicly traded for the first time. He had built a new studio that the animators would be moving into. The box office failures of Pinocchio and Fantasia still lay ahead. Walt, hoping for a bright future, said “What I see way off there is too nebulous to describe, but it looks big and glittering. That’s what I love about this business; the certainty that there is always something bigger and more exciting just around the bend, and the uncertainty of everything else.”

1941 would prove to be a very uncertain year.


Anonymous said...

That genital-less urchin with the scarf is extremely disturbing.

SamuraiFrog said...

Oh, my, yes.

Sherry said...

Wow, this was quite the post. Interesting, all of the "failures" that didn't quite make it seem to have re-incarnated themselves in one form or another over the years.

Sunken Treasure would have been fun.

SamuraiFrog said...

It would have. That and "Morgan's Ghost" are my favorites. And "Donald Munchausen." Who wouldn't want to see Donald Duck fight King Kong? Only a cynic, that's who.

The North York Nut said...

Wasn't there a toon in 1929 called "Mickey''s Follies"?

SamuraiFrog said...

There was. The cartoon they were going to do in 1937 would've revisited the concept, but in a much larger, showier fashion and with more characters. They ended up remaking a couple of the earlier ones: Mickey's Birthday and The Ugly Duckling, for example.

The North York Nut said...

Are you gonna do a 1950s one?

SamuraiFrog said...

At some point... the whole Disney thing is a series I need to get back on track with.