The Movie We Didn't Make

You’re looking at development art from a Disney animated feature film. One of the sketches down below appears in my new book “Animated Life,” and it’s one of the several color sketches done for a movie in development back in the nineties. I gotta admit it was a fun assignment. Disney’s animation department was gearing up to do an animated western. And, not just any western, mind you. This was going to be a rootin’ tooting’ cowboy movie packed with cattle stampedes, undead cattle rustlers and a contingent of wacky prairie dogs. It was going to be one heck of a Disney animated motion picture and I know you would have loved it had you seen it. Of course, you never will. That’s because the film was never produced.

Naturally, all animated feature films move through a lengthy development process and there were many iterations of this movie. During this point in development, our hero was a feisty young calf named “Bullets.” Once the cattle drive was underway, the little calf, like most youngsters was eager to prove himself on the range. If we’re thinking, Disney, consider Bullets to be a young Bambi. Only instead of adventures in the forest, this little guy is out on the range where there are no less dangers. The challenges are many, and they include burning heat, flash floods and a ghostly crew of cattle rustlers.

Of course, that’s the way it goes when you’re in development. Good ideas come and go, and often time your movie has no guarantee of ever being produced. Any artist who’s worked in this business more than a few years is already well aware of that. The Disney studio did eventually produce another animated cartoon western. With all due respect to my friends and colleagues who labored long and hard on that film I can honestly say it wasn't their fault. The studio management provided the animation crew with a “horse.” Unfortunately the horse was a nag - when what they needed was a steed. Sadly, it was at a time when traditional hand drawn animation was on the wane, and digital cartoons seemed all the rage. The wonderful art form developed and nurtured at the Walt Disney Studio found itself on life support. Worse, I never felt the Disney management wanted traditional hand drawn animation to survive anyway.

I still have fond memories of our cartoon locations. “Devil’s Elbow,” “Ogalala” and the creepy prairie ghost town. I still smile when I remember the ghostly cattle rustlers and our Greek Chorus, the little Mariachi bugs. I knew we had a hit Disney animated motion picture. All we needed was Disney’s permission to make it.