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The Elephant in the Room -- Part I

The Elephant in the Room -- Part I

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Because of a quirky accident, an elephant from a local zoo is transformed into a singing, dancing diva. The appearance of this pop icon kicks off an incredible story of love, revenge and intrigue. Better yet, it's a new animated, digital motion picture from Walt Disney Feature Animation.

Wait a minute! Did you say Disney?

About a year ago, I was surprised and delighted when I heard that Disney had decided to give the okay to an exciting new book that would examine the animated movies the company never made. The projects that, for one reason or another, ended up on the Disney shelf.

Animation historian Charles Solomon's latest. A worthy addition to your Disney bookshelf

Noted animation historian Charles Solomon would author this new tome providing images and insight into a number of Disney projects that never made their way to the silver screen. Or that were radically revised along the way.

My involvement with one of these projects began on my return from Pixar Animation Studios where I had worked on, "Monsters, Inc." Early in the year 2000, I was requested to join the story team of a film then in development entitled"Wild Life." The assignment to storyboard a song sequence would only require my services for a few weeks.

I was well aware of the "Wild Life" project, having seen it move into development at Disney Studios before I had left in the late nineties. The original idea seemed pretty cool since the film had a narrative that appeared to be a send up of American pop culture. I recalled the characters being wacky representations of pop heroes Andy Warhol and fashion mavens Anna Wintour & Diana Vreeland. The pop magazine, "Magazizzi" represented the many glitzy and glamorous publications one continually saw on the local newsstands. Think "The Devil Wears Prada" on steroids.

A story sketch by "Wild Life" co-director, Howard Baker

Innovative and groundbreaking, "Wild Life" was the animated digital motion picture that, in the words of Disney's own executives, "was going to knock the socks off the competition." Wild Life would be the last thing they ever expected to come from Disney Studios.

You've got to admit that on the surface this seemed like a good idea. After all, what could be funnier than a satirical motion picture that poked fun at the shallow, superficial conventions of popular culture? To laugh at the current contrived trends involving music, fashion and style. However, the filmmakers made one very deadly mistake.

They took it all seriously.

Kitty Glitter and Ella the Elephant. Sketch by this production's Head of Story Darryl Kidder

Don't get me wrong. The filmmakers were well intended, and the movie could certainly boast some of the finest art direction & production design to ever come out of the Walt Disney Studio. The talent was top tier, and Disney spared no expense in bringing this very unique motion picture to the big screen.

My one month on the project had become two, and I continued to create the storyboard assignments sent my way. Having completed the song sequence, I would continue on the show until its eventual shutdown.

By the summer of 2000, the motion picture, "Wild Life" had two sequences green-lit for production. I confess I enjoyed seeing the digital characters come to life on the computer screens, and we were all dazzled by a fully rendered scene showing the color imagery in all its digital glory. Wow! The effect was jaw dropping. Maybe Disney had something here after all.

Disney's top production designers came up with some bold, innovative ideas
for "Wild Life" 's art direction

Or did they?

By late summer, my directors had me tweaking certain scenes as the crew prepared for an upcoming screening of the new motion picture. The entire film would be "up on reels." That means all three acts in storyboard form could be viewed in their entirety. Eventually, word got around that we were going to have an important visitor take a look at our film. The very same gentleman who only a few years earlier saved Feature Animation from an untimely death. Roy Disney would be viewing "Wild Life." And you probably already know what happens next.

Next time, you'll learn the fate of this particular animated movie and the wacky events that followed Roy Disney's verdict.

Did you enjoy today's article about "Wild Life" ? Well, this is just one of the hundreds of amazing tales that this Disney Legend has to share. Many of which you'll find collected in the three books Floyd currently has on the market. Each of these take an affectionate look back at the time that Mr. Norman spent working in the animation industry.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman postings his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • I remember finding DISNEY LOST AND FOUND at Barnes & Noble and looking through it. Learning about Disney films that were never finished always fascinates and saddens me. Its interesting to see the work that animators created and read why they never went into the final film. To me, it gives their work an audience instead of never being seen outside of Disney Animation Studios.

    One thing that disappointed me was concept art for a deleted romantic scene in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. The art was very beautiful and it complemented with Phoebus and Esmeralda's relationship. Unfortunately, the scene wasn't in the final film. I guess some people thought it was irrelevant or something, but I loved it.

    I'm definitely looking forward to more of your articles about "Wild Life," Norman!:)

  • Floyd Norman's articles are one of the main reasons I continue to check out Jim Hill Media.  But with this article, I'm afraid I don't feel like I'm getting the whole story.  The rise and fall of one of Disney's abandoned feature film projects as told by a Disney insider is certainly interesting material.  But a crucial piece of the story seems to have been left out: how and why the film took the disasterous wrong turn of taking its humorous premise far too seriously.  We are told that this was the angle the filmmakers decided to go with, that their intentions in doing so were good, and the film at least would have looked stunning.  But we get no sense of what set the film off on the wrong track or exactly what track it was on.  I want to know more about how the plot changed from the initial idea of a satirical send-up of pop culture.  How specifically did this version of "Wild Life" play out?  Did the satire simply lose its bite?  Did the humor give way completely to a glossed over fairy tale vision of show biz?  Did the whole thing simply call back on the tired formula of an unlikely star who makes it big?  And equally important - if not more so, WHY did it happen?  What were the "good intentions" that led "Wild Life" so far astray?  Were the filmmakers concerned that the satire of pop culture would have seemed too mean spirited?  Did they worry that the targets of their jokes were too obscure for most audiences?  Did they come to the conclusion that the story wouldn't play well to the all important kid audience?

    When i read a Floyd Norman article, I want to feel like I'm really getting the benefit of hearing the story from someone who was actually there; that I'm getting a unique perspective on the event being written about, different from anyone else's.  Most of the time, I feel like that's what I get.  But with "Wild Life," there are just too many questions left unanswered.  Is the next part of the article going to flesh out the story, or should I just pick up "Disney Lost and Found" if I want to know the real dirt on what happened to "Wild Life"?

  • Hey Maldragon and Mr. Norman; I suspect we'll have to wait until part two. Didn't he say that part two is yet to come? Without knowing anything about "Wild Life" I'll bet that I can think of one idea why the film was nixed. The problem with films that are send up's of pop culture is that they can quickly become "dated." Think of any pop film that does a send up of for example: sufing. You immeadiately think 1960's. Or another example the Beatles album Seargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Most will agree that this is probably the best album ever made yet no matter what you do, you always think "Summer of Love" 1967. How would a film that's a send up of pop culture of today, still be current five years from now? Or ten years from now? Or to be more to the point, will it sell at the video store when it's re-released?

  • I too enjoy and appreciate Mr. Norman's postings.  But I also feel that this one seems incomplete, even for a "part one".  Some stories can be improved by being broken up into multiple parts.  Some stories need it.  This post seems more like an extra long introduction than a part of a larger story that can stand on its own.  If the rest isn't ready yet, it would have been just as well to wait until part two was done and post the whole thing at once.

    That being said, it seems interesting and I'm looking forward to more!

  • Disney Legend Floyd Norman concludes his look at "Wild Life," the CG project that Walt Disney Animation Studios developed but ultimately abandoned in late 2000

  • Nice post. I find out something totally new and difficult on sites I stumbleupon each day. It's always useful to learn material posted by editors and practice a little something from their web pages.

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