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Second rate treatment for a first class Mickey Mouse movie

Second rate treatment for a first class Mickey Mouse movie

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Back in animation's heyday at Walt Disney Feature Animation, big boss, Michael Eisner proposed this interesting question. "Would it be possible to produce an animated feature that would cost less than a hundred million dollars?" At the time the current crop of Disney films in production were going through the roof. The veterans in the group, like myself, said, "Of course it would be possible." Of course we knew that would never happen unless the production was free of encroaching management. If the ever-present "creative executives" were allowed to fuss over a film, the cost of the production would eventually soar.

Michael Eisner never got his "budget feature" from the Feature film division, but his direct-to-video unit began cranking out sequels and prequels to the existing Disney library, and doing it all on a shoestring when compared to what the big ticket features were costing. The head mouse had suddenly found a new revenue stream, and things have never been the same.

Some years later, I found myself wandering the halls of the Frank G. Wells Building on the Walt Disney studio lot where I had just dropped off a story board assignment. Ironically, it was on one of the many sequels Disney had in production. Since I had a few hours to spare, I thought I would stroll through the building to see what else was going on.

For those of you not familiar with this relatively new structure on the Disney lot, it is now the home of Disney television, and direct-to-video development. There were many projects in development, but none of them merited more than a passing glance. Eventually, I made my way to the second floor of the building where I was suddenly surprised to find a group of old friends and colleagues working away on a project that was so intriguing I knew I wouldn't be able to stay away. The film in progress was, "The Three Musketeers," starring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. In an era of warmed over sequels and prequels, this little movie was a breath of fresh air.

Before I go any further, let's zip back to the early eighties when I made my unexpected return to the Disney studio as a writer in the comic strip department. I remember more than one project that featured the classic Disney characters taking the roles of historic or literary characters in special stories, most of which were written for the comic book department. A couple of these ideas were moved over to animation where young Disney storytellers were busily adapting these stories for film. It seemed Mickey, Donald and Goofy were naturals to star in stories of this type. I can't remember every idea in development at the time, but one was called "Mickey Columbus," and the other was a retelling of the Dumas story of "The Three Musketeers." Remember, this was pre Eisner and Wells, and the Disney studio was soon in for a major upheaval. These ideas, along with many others would be put on the back burner, or worse, completely forgotten.

Yet, here we were in 2002, and the Mickey project that I never thought would see the light of day, was finally in development. Better yet, the studio had assembled a crew worthy of such a project. Making a Disney film work requires a unique group of story artists. These guys were knowledgeable of the Disney shorts of the forties, and fifties. They were the dream team of cartoon story, and I had worked with most of them over the years. Chris Otsuki, Kirk Hanson, Bob Taylor, Daan Jippes, Ken Mitchroney, Don Dougherty and Bob McNight were crafting this Disney epic the old fashion way. They understood how the characters had evolved over time, and how they related to each other. With this much talent on a show, I knew it had to be good.

I continued to work in development on other shows in the Wells Building, but I couldn't stay away from the "Mickey" project. The producers and director, Donovan Cook eventually got use to seeing me hanging around, and soon I began sitting in on story pitches and watching over the shoulder as art direction on the movie progressed. I was so impressed by what I saw, I knew this little film was deserving of more than a direct-to-video release. In many ways it reminded me of something that had happened back in 1997 when I began work on a direct-to-video sequel called, "Toy Story2." This was another movie that many of us felt was worthy of a theatrical release. I continually made a nuisance of myself by bugging our Disney executive, Jane Healy, as well as Helene Plotkin and Karen Roberts Jackson who were our producers at Pixar Animation Studios. In time, both Disney and Pixar saw the light, and "Toy Story2" was headed for the big screen. I clearly doubt anything I said caused the studio bosses to change their minds, but the TS2 crew was delighted to see their little movie finally go big time.

So, here we were again. The perfect opportunity had presented itself. Disney finally had the perfect Mickey Mouse vehicle, and a movie that was sure to play well in theaters. Adding to that, the upcoming celebration of the Mouse's seventy-fifth birthday was on the horizon. For a company that prides itself on synergy, things couldn't have been better. Think of the promotional opportunities a movie starring Disney's most famous characters would generate. There was no way the Disney Company was going to let this opportunity slip pass them -- or so I thought.

A few weeks ago, "The Three Musketeers," starring Mickey, Donald and Goofy was released on home video. The film did enjoy a wonderful, but brief big screen presentation at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. Those who attended the screening confirmed my belief that the movie would indeed play well theatrically. The theater, pack to the hilt with rambunctious kids fell silent when the movie began. Clearly, this was a movie both parents and kids could enjoy together. "The Three Musketeers" was the family film many of us had been begging Disney to make for years.

I am delighted that Disney finally made "The Three Musketeers." I'm grateful they allowed Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy to be seen by a new generation of kids. And of course, the movie will probably make a truckload of cash for the Walt Disney Company. Having said that, I have to conclude with, it's a sin and a shame this wonderful little film was unceremoniously dumped onto the direct-to-video rack. I even emailed Disney film boss, *** Cook (no relation to director, Donovan) to reconsider the decision to release the movie to direct-to-video. *** Cook is a nice guy, but I know even he has to answer to the big boss upstairs. Finally, in my opinion, that's where the rationale for this whole thing becomes clear.

Yes, I've heard the arguments why "The Three Musketeers" failed to gain a theatrical release, and those reasons probably make a good deal of sense. Yet, I can't help wonder if projects such as "Doug," "Recess," and "Teacher's Pet" can score a big screen release, how hard would it be to give the big push to the most recognizable mouse in the world? Or maybe this is not about shelf space or box office receipts, rather Whose legacy will really be remembered at The Walt Disney Company.

Like millions of others, I've got my copy of "The Three Musketeers" next to my DVD player. However, watching the film continues to be a difficult experience every time I switch on my machine. Is it because the film is lacking in good old fashion Disney fun and entertainment? Is it because the wacky songs don't crack me up every time I hear them? Nope, that's not it. It's because Disney as usual, has blown it again. It's because another marvelous opportunity has been totally wasted because of the agenda of its shortsighted management.

In the third act of this funny Mickey movie, the ambitious bad guy, Pegleg Pete, is finally brought down in the midst of a performance at a grand opera house. I couldn't help but be reminded of another "comic opera" being played out at a movie company today. At the film's conclusion, Mickey, Donald and Goofy have proven themselves worthy to wear the title of "Musketeer." You can't help but cheer for the little guy who has spent most of the story under the thumb -- or perhaps I should say the boot of the villain. This proves that little guys, who have the spunk to stay the course, can indeed overcome the baddie even though he may have more power, money and a hoard of henchmen to do his will. Indeed, this little Musketeer is still doing battle today. Even though he is up against insurmountable odds, he may yet again prevail.

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  • The movie mentioned in this post is a very entertaining movie. Many kids watch this movie very fondly because they enjoy it so much. If your kids are bored, you can show them this movie for them to enjoy. I hope you like this movie and your kids will enjoy it too.

  • There are also two preserved workers’ cottages (constructed by the subdivision of the original ironmaster’s house),

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