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Why For?

Why For?

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Theresa M. from Charlottesville, VA. writes:

Dear Jim:

Welcome back! I think that it's great that you finally have a site of your very own on the web. Now I'll always know where to go when I want to find your stuff (Until - of course - Jon & Fab finally decide to fire you ;-) ).

As for your debut "Why For" Q & A column, the Disney related question that I've always wanted to have answered is ... In the song "Hakuna Matata," isn't there a verse missing? By that I mean, that song reveals that Pumbaa was a misfit was that he had a horrible gas problem. So what's Timon's problem? Why isn't he out there spending time with his own kind (By that, I mean Meerkats) instead of hanging out with that wifty warthog?

Excellent question, Theresa. And - yes - Tim Rice did write a verse for "Hakuna Matata" that explained why Timon no longer associates with his friends and relations. It seemed that the little golden brown slacker had an aversion to authority & hard work.

Quoting now from the original screenplay of "The Lion King," Timon turns to Simba and says:

TIMON: Kid, I was not always the calm cool meerkat that you see before you. No sirree. Why (Singing) When I was a young meerkat.

PUMBAA: (Singing) When he was a young meerkat.

TIMON: (Speaking) Very nice.

PUMBAA: (Speaking) Thanks.

TIMON: (Singing) I worked in the colony, paying my dues.

Accepting - without question - the prevailing views.

That a meerkat's life was one long grind.

PUMBAA: (Speaking) Sounds rough.

TIMON: (Singing) Digging holes. Standing guard. Til it crossed my mind.

I was wrong.

PUMBAA: (Singing) He was wrong.

TIMON: (Singing) And all alone. And what I needed

PUMBAA: (Singing) What did you need?

TIMON: (Singing) Was to have heeded ...

Hakuna Matata!

What a wonderful phrase ...

From there, the song goes along as it usually does.

So why did Disney decide to drop this verse from "Hakuna Matata"? To be honest, it just wasn't as strong as Pumbaa's "When I was a young wart hog" stanza. It didn't get a very big reaction from "Lion King" test audiences (Whereas Timon's tagline for Pumbaa's verse - "Not in front of the kids!" - got screams of laughter from people attending the test screenings).

So this was one of these situations where less really was more. The shorter "Hakuna Matata" was, the bigger a reaction it got from test audiences. So "Lion King"'s directors - Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff - ended up just dropping Timon's verse in the song. (Though - if I remember correctly - these lyrics were eventually used in a slightly mutated form in the comic book version of "The Lion King.")

Anyway ... Todd V. from Watertown, WI. writes:

I was just reading your "When Good Attractions Happen to Bad Movies" article and can't help but wonder what went wrong with "Atlantis: The Lost Empire." This was the sort of movie that the Walt Disney Company used to do so well. A Jules Verne type film adventure. So why didn't this movie connect with movie-goers last summer? Was it because "A:TLE" was so poorly marketed or just because the Mouse doesn't know how to make these sorts of movies anymore?

I actually have a different theory, Todd. I personally believe that "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" failed to connect with most movie-goers because the film-makers lost faith in the version of the movie that they originally started out to make.

You see, back when co-directors Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale and producer Don Hahn initially conceived this project (supposedly over a giant plate of nachos at a Mexican restaurant), they wanted "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" to be the ultimate Ray Harryhausen movie. A film where - every few minutes - the crew of the "Ulysses" would have yet another encounter with another fearsome creature.

One of their more intriguing ideas for this project was that there would be a monster in the movie that was tied to each one of the four primal elements: earth, water, fire & air. The water beast, you already know about: The Leviathan, the giant mechanical lobster-thingy that destroyed the giant sub.

But - had Wise, Trousdale & Hahn actually stuck with this intriguing notion - the "Ulysses" would have survived its eventful encounter with the Leviathan ... Only to have the sub be accidentally destroyed as a result of a battle that Captain Rourke and his crew had with some beasts from the air. And what sort of monsters were these ? A vicious swarm of Squid Bats. (What's a Squid Bat? Just what it sounds like, kids. A horrible slimy flying thing that would swoop down and grab up its victim in its tentacles.)

Over the next 20 minutes or so in the movie, the surviving members of the sub's crew would have encountered even more harrowing beasts as they journeyed deeper into the bowels of the earth. For example: What they think is a land bridge across a boiling pool of magma turns out to be a Lava Whale. What's a Lava Whale? An enormous earth based beast that suddenly rises up out of the lava and attacks the ill-fated adventurers ... killing a fourth of the surviving crew members in the course of the battle.

And then - of course - there were the Fire Flies that set most of the expedition's remaining equipment ablaze. (That sequence did actually manage to make it into the finished version of "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" without being too severely cut.)

So why did Kirk, Gary and Don eventually decide not to go forward with the ultimate Ray Harryhausen film that they had originally envisioned? There are three reasons, actually. One is that the Squid Bat & Lava Whale battle scenes - while they would have undoubtedly been great fun to watch once they were completed - would have also been prohibitively expensive to animate. (And - given that "A:TLE" was one of the films that WDFA actually had in production while "Hercules" and "Dinosaur" were out in theaters, failing to meet their box office projections - "Atlantis" was one of the very first Disney Feature project to undergo a "reduction in scope." I.E., to have several of its more-expensive-to-produce sequences get cut for cost reasons during the film's pre-production phase.)

Secondly, early test screenings of "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" revealed that audience members were actually pretty anxious to finally get to see the fabled underground city. So anything that slowed Milo & the other adventurers down - even if it was something as exciting as the crew's encounter with the Lava Whale - seemed to lessen these folks' enjoyment of the movie. So - to help speed the story along - four monster scenes (Actually five monster scenes. Milo was originally supposed to encounter Kida when he accidentally got in the way of an Atlantean hunting party that was pursuing a caterpillar that was the size of a school bus) ended up being reduced to two.

And the third (and final) reason that Wise, Trousdale and Hahn eventually decided to cut back on "A:TLE"'s monsters was perhaps the most controversial. You see, early test screenings of the movie revealed that audiences - while being vastly entertained during "Atlantis"'s action sequences - weren't really emotionally involved with the movie's characters. In other words, they thought that the film lacked heart.

So - in order to given "Atlantis" a heart transplant - some radical surgery was in order. The first thing to go was "A:TLE"'s original prologue, where a bunch of fortune seeking Vikings lost their lives at the hands ... er ...claws of the Leviathan. In its place, WDFA created a sequence that actually showed the destruction of Atlantis (Which - it was hoped - would whet the audience's appetite for seeing even more of the fabled city later on in the movie) as well as setting up Kida's emotional arc. It was also hoped that - by showing that the Atlantean princess had suffered such a cruel hardship at the very start of the story (having Kida's mother, the Queen, mysteriously snatched away as that massive tidal wave bore down on the city) - this would somehow make movie-goers care even more about this character.

Did all of this extra effort eventually pay off? In the end, as a result of all these cuts, was Disney's "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" ultimately a more-affordable-to-make and (more importantly) a more-emotionally-engaging motion picture? Given the film's lackluster performance at the box office last summer (as well as the deep discounts that retailers had to offer in order to finally move all that "A:TLE" merchandise off their shelves), it doesn't seem so.

So- in the end - maybe it would have been wiser to go forward with Wise, Trousdale and Hahn's original vision for "Atlantis: The Lost Empire." The ultimate Ray Harryhausen tribute film. The movie that the project's designer - "Hellboy"'s Mike Mignola - described as being an endless "monster parade."(For further information on the monster scenes that you missed out in "Atlantis : The Lost Empire," check out the additional features on the Special Edition version of the "A:TLE" DVD. You'll find leica reel versions of the film' proposed Squid Bat & Lava Whale sequences as well as the film-makers' commentary about why Gary & Kirk & Don ultimately decided to cut these scenes.)

And - finally - Brian8871 (Also writing in reference to this week's "When Good Attractions Happen to Bad Movies" article) posted this angry item as part of that story's discussion board. Brian - it seems - was somewhat steamed by my "Sorry, but that would be telling" comment in that article. Which is why he wrote:

What the hell? If the attraction isn't going to get built, then for whom would it be a spoiler? If you don't know, Jim, then just say so!

Actually, Brian8871, I DO know what was supposed to happen next in the storyline of Disneyland's proposed "Atlantis Expedition" attraction. The problem is ... Sometimes it's just not wise for me blow all of the info that I know about a particular subject in a single story.

Why for? Well - for one thing - most of my stories are too damned long already. So sometimes I hold things back just for the sake of brevity.

But the rest of the time - if I'm holding back info - it's usually because I'm deliberately trying not to hurt a source that I've got at Walt Disney Feature Animation and/or inside WDI.

You see, the more specific I am about the information that I use in my articles, the easier it is for Imagineering or Disney Studio management to chase down the actual source of that info. And - as much as I like bringing you folks seldom told tales of the Walt Disney Company's history - I'm just not willing to end someone else's career over what is ultimately just a well sourced piece of gossip.

Think I'm being over dramatic? Then let me tell you the sad story of one of the top talents over at Universal Creative. This guy shared a few relatively innocent stories with the folks over at Screamscape.com a few years back. Universal's response? They fired him. For reportedly revealing company secrets.

So that's why I have to sometimes hold stuff back, Brian8871. Not because I'm out to tease my readers. But - rather - because I don't want to start a witch hunt at WDI or Walt Disney Feature Animation. Where clueless Mouse House executives begin to badger their subordinates, demanding to know who's vital leaking info to "that fat *** Hill."

When was the last time this happened? Last week, actually. I'm told that a lot of people at WDFA management weren't very happy that I revealed that Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis were doing voices for "Bears." Evidently, these folks thought that the whole Rutt & Tuke / Bob & Doug McKenzie thing would be a great promotional hook for the film ... Provided (of course) that they were actually able to keep this story under wraps 'til "Bears" finally got released in November 2004.

These folks were also reportedly very unhappy that I talked about all the problems that the "Bears" team was having trouble with Griz, the character that Michael Clark is voicing for the film. (Just to be fair, I should point out that - according to the numerous phone calls that I've received this week in response to last Thursday's story - the Griz character is STILL in the picture. Though supposedly in a somewhat reduced role.)

So - again - Brian8871, I'm not deliberately trying to be a tease here. I'm just constantly in the middle of this very delicate balancing act. Trying to deliver the best possible story loaded with inside info for all you folks ... while still making sure that whatever I write doesn't end up costing someone their job.

Besides, Brian8871 ... I mean, think about it. You're on a Disney theme park attraction. Supposedly trapped inside a submarine that's being crushed by the claw of a giant lobster-thingy? If you were an Imagineer (particularly who had been raised watching Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under the Seas" and Irwin Allen's "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" TV series), how would YOU go about resolving this story point?

Would you - perhaps - send a little electricity coursing through the outside of the hull? How about launching a few torpedoes at extremely close range? Of course, that might cause even more pinhole leaks to sprout on the inside of your vessel. Which means - in order to avoid sinking - you'd probably have to get to the surface ASAP, right?

Does that sound like a fairly likely way for this proposed addition to Disneyland's Tomorrowland to come to a close, Brian8871? Glad you think so, Bri ... But - then again - you never heard this from me, okay?

Anywho ... That's it for the first edition of "Why For?," gang. Here's hoping that you guys enjoyed it.

By the way, we're looking for a really compelling visual to use with this new regular feature here at JimHillMedia.com. If any of you artistic types out there would like to take on this project, I'm offering up a copy of the original screenplay for Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" to the person who delivers the very best logo.

The deadline for this very first JimHillMedia.com contest is 11 p.m. EST on Thursday, September 19th. So let's see what you got!

Talk to you Monday,

jrh

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