We’ve all heard about the Walt Disney feature films that for one reason or another never made it to the big screen. I believe author, Charles Solomon even wrote a book entitled, “The Disney That Never Was.” Well, perhaps we can call this remembrance, “The Disney Never Meant to Be.” You see, back in the sixties there was a good deal of concern that animation might be on its last legs. The Old Maestro, Walt Disney had his mind on other things and it was difficult to get him engaged in new cartoon projects. Walt wasn’t down on animation, however. After all, he had spent a lifetime making animated films. Films that many would regard as classics. Now, that initial excitment had carried over to other interests and cartoon animation, as far as Walt Disney was concerned had been placed on the back burner.
Creativiity was far from dead at the Walt Disney Studios and various artists, writers and creatives struggled to find a project that would excite the boss. You’re probably well aware of the animated movie, “Chantecleer.” This ill-fated project was the brain child of Marc Davis and Ken Anderson. However, there were a number of other projects that bit the dust back in the sixties, so let’s talk about some of them. First on my list would be the un-named “T. Hee Project.” For those of you not familiar with the legendary storyman, designer, director of forties Disney, T. Hee was the director of the “Dance of the Hours” sequence in “Fantasia.” In time, T. left Disney and became one of the driving forces in a progressive new fifties studio called, UPA. In the sixties, Walt called upon T. Hee to return to the mouse house to develop a new animated project. You can’t believe how excited we were to have T. Hee back at the Walt Disney Studio. Sadly, once the project was pitched to the Old Maestro, it was turned down and Mr. Hee left Disney forever. Then, there was an animated project being developed up on the second floor by storyman, Bill Berg. I was actually around for that meeting, and I recall a very angry Walt Disney storming out of the storyroom after a heated two hour session. On a sad note, another very talented director, animator, storyman had been engaged to bring his project to the Walt Disney Studio. Once again, the excitment grew because the talented older gentleman was a personal hero of ours. In a terrible twist of fate, the talented artist died suddenly of a heart attack only a few days before he was to bring his movie project to Disney.
I guess I could go on and on about the movie projects that failed to garner the attention of Old Maestro, or films that were cancelled because of a series of reasons. I’ll close this remembrance with a project entitled, “Scruffy and the Rats of Gibralter.” This unusual animated project took place during the Second World War. Hardly the stuff of animated cartoon making, one might think. However, this was now the seventies and the Old Maestro had long since passed. Hoping to jump start creativitiy at the studio, veteran Disney conceptualist, Ken Anderson saw potential in this new project and gave it a full court press. Ken filled his expansive office with sketches, character designs and background ideas. This was all for a film that looked to be a break out project for the Walt Disney Studios after a series of rather uninteresting, and lackluster feature films. Once again, Mr. Anderson came out the loser when his bold movie idea was passed over in favor of a more traditional animated film called, “The Rescuers.”
So you see, getting shot down is a grand tradition in the cartoon world. It’s all part of the business, of course. You may have a brilliant idea but that’s no guarantee anyone will buy it. Plus, no matter how hard you work, your film idea may never see the light of day. In the good old days of Disney you could expect Walt Disney to storm out of the meeting after a pitch. Those turbulent pitch days are now a thing of the past, but I’ll have to confess - I truly miss them.