Those of you familiar with my career probably know that I worked with a talented guy named Vance Gerry. Little has been written about Mr. Gerry and it appeared he wanted it that way. Vance was one of those guys who simply arrived at work each day, created brilliant stuff and went home. He seldom, if ever gave interviews or sought the lime light. Vance was content to do wonderful visual development and create delightfully entertaining sequences for Disney movies. Vance Gerry appeared to do all this with - as Carl Barks would say - ridiculous ease. He had the unique ability to make his storytelling efforts look effortless, and he lent his considerable talents to scores of Walt Disney films over the years.
Vance Gerry was a prolific development artist and often his shelves were filled with forgotten projects and film ideas that failed to move further in development. One such was this movie idea I simply call, Vance’s Dog Story. I found it buried in a pile of sketches in his office and I regretted Disney had not shown interest in the story. I convinced Vance to let me borrow his sketches and do further development work on the project. I created additional material in color with the hope of perhaps showing the revamped project to our Disney bosses, Peter Schneider and Tom Schmacher. The story, like most Walt Disney animals stories was deceptively simple. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel this story of a man and his dog would be sure to resonate with audiences.
Here’s the story in a nutshell. It’s a small time circus, and a nice young man has been making a living doing a circus act with his group of trained dogs. The young trainer is devoted to his canine performers and they’re more a family than simply a cheap circus act. However, hard times force the circus to close down and the young dog trainer has to abandon his act along with his family of canine pals. Regretfully, they come to a parting of the ways as the dogs are all given new homes. It’s a sad but necessary solution because the young man cannot afford to support his animal family. He has to give them up, and they go their separate ways. Time passes, and one clever dog is determined to find his former owner. So begins the journey that will eventually happily reunite the young man and his talented troop of pups. Very simple story, wouldn’t you say?
As you can imagine, our Disney bosses had little interest in such a story. Too plain, too simple and worse of all - probably too Disney. As much as I respected my bosses at the mouse factory it often appeared making Disney movies was the last thing on their minds. Perhaps they were right. After all, times had changed and movie audiences were probably in the mood for something cool, hip and edgy. Vance Gerry continued to create dozens of family oriented stories during his remaining years at Disney. His stories were focused on companionship, heart and charm. And, his stories may very well have been green lit for production had a certain wise old gentleman still been in charge.