The Disney Western You'll Never See

This sketch is from the Disney animated motion picture we never made. The rough color concept sketch appears in my new book, "Animated Life" due out in a few weeks. I did several of these nifty development sketches. The color sketches were for a movie currently in development, and I've got to admit it was a fun assignment. Disney's animation department was gearing up to do an animated western. And, not just any western. It was a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy movie full of cattle stampedes, dead rustlers, and a contingent of wacky prairie dogs. You’ve probably never heard of it - and it's just as well. You see, even though Disney spent a fair amount of money on this picture, it was never produced.

I must confess I had more than my share of fun on this project. As far as talent goes, it boasted some darn good artists and designers. Then again, how can you go wrong with a cartoon western that features gun slingers and funny animals? Whoa! Did you say, "gun slingers?" In case you’re worried about the gun thing and the PC considerations of an animated film dealing with firearms, you can rest at ease. Our desperadoes could do no real harm because they were already dead.

Of course, that’s the way it goes when you’re in development. Good ideas come and go, and often time your movie never gets 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 Walt Disney management gave them a nag to ride 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 Disney management wanted traditional hand drawn animation to survive. They preferred to have it die - and die it did.

I still have fond memories of “Devil’s Elbow,” Ogalala and the prairie ghost town. I still smile when I remember the ghostly rustlers and the little Mariachi bugs. I knew we had a hit Disney animated movie that Disney wasn't about to let us make.