Why For?
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Jim Hill

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Why For?

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First off, Lampwick333 writes

Dear Jim:

Love your new web page. Particularly when you write about Walt Disney Feature Animation and tell us about animated features that had production problems, scenes that got cut, etc.

So I was wondering. Do you have any similar stories about Disney Television Animation? Can you tell JimHillMedia.com readers about any animated TV series that Disney had problems with? Any potentially cool toon TV shows that never made past the pilot phase?

Just wondering,

Lampy

Well, the folks over at Disney Television Animation has pitched some real doozies over the past 15 year, Lampy. For example: Back in the early 1990s, I recall hearing about "Thumper's Thicket," an animated TV series that was supposed to have built around Bambi's bunny co-star. But Disney management -- perhaps because they were concerned that a TV program that starred a cute widdle wabbit wid a wisp would have put viewers into a diabetic coma -- eventually nixed the project.

The same goes for the "Disney Babies" TV show, an animated series which would have featured the adventures that Mickey, Donald and the gang had back when they were infants. Curiously enough, this idea for this particular series was allegedly originally pitched NOT by the staff of Disney Television Animation. But rather, senior management over at Disney Consumer Products. Evidently, DCP's thinking was that a animated TV series that starred these characters would be a great way to promote the corporation's very popular line of "Disney Babies" plush, bedding and children's clothing.

Lucky for us, the DTA folks really resented the idea that Consumer Products was trying to foist this really lame concept for a TV program on them just so the Mouse could move more merchandise. So these guys did every thing they could to help derail the project. Which is why (thankfully) the "Disney Babies " TV program never ever saw the light of day. (Would that we could say the same about that awful "Baby Looney Tunes" show that's currently airing on the Cartoon Network. Anyway ... )

There were proposals for shows that actually sounded pretty promising ("Critter Country," an animated series that was supposed to have featured all the creatures seen in Disneyland's "Splash Mountain" as well as the "Country Bear Jamboree") and proposals for shows that just sounded downright weird ("Disney's Magic Kingdom - The Animated Series." This program would have followed the adventures of a boy & a girl who discovered a Disney theme park of their very own hidden high up in the clouds ... ).

But -- if I had to pick -- the one proposed Disney Television Animation show that I wish had actually gone to series would have been "Maximum Horsepower." This was a pitch for a comical sci-fi adventure series (which was been reportedly put together by DTA vet Tad Stones) which really sounds like it could have been a lot of fun.

So what was "Maximum Horsepower" supposed to have been about? Well, you all know Horace Horsecollar, right? One of Mickey's co-stars in all those Disney animated shorts back in the 1930s. Then -- sometime during the 1940s -- Horace suddenly falls from sight. He never makes another picture for Walt Disney Studios. And no explanation was ever given for Mr. Horsecollar's mysterious disappearance.

So what really happened to Horace? Well, "Maximum Horsepower" was going to be the show that would finally fill in all the blanks. According to the premise that Tad and his team put together, Mr. Horsecollar is an actor with a pretty sizable ego. He's tired of playing second fiddle to a mouse, a duck and a dog. Horace feels that it's high time for his star to rise in the Hollywood firmament.

So picture this: Horace is determinedly marching across the Disney Studio lot. He's headed to Walt's office, where he plans to pitch himself as the star of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." The part that -- provided that he can actually persuade Walt to give him the role -- will finally allow Mr. Horsecollar to leave short subjects behind so that he can become a big-time movie star in features.

Horace is literally just about to enter the Admin building at Disney when suddenly ... he's plucked off the pavement in Burbank and beamed to the fartherest most corner of the galaxy. Why? Because a rather dim alien species has selected him to be their champion ...

And the rest of "Maximum Horsepower" would have dealt with Mr. Horsecollar's dilemma. Totally by accident, Horace ends up defeating the evil ruler who's enslaved this corner of the galaxy. But -- in the process -- he also unintentionally destroys the machinery that would have beamed him back to Hollywood.

So Horace is now stuck, billions of light years from home. A beloved hero to this alien race. The animated equivalent of James T. Kirk.

But -- just like William Shatner, the actor who played Kirk in the original "Star Trek" TV series -- Horace is a bit of a ham (which -- surprisingly enough -- isn't all that hard to do when you're a horse). Mr. Horsecollar desperately misses Hollywood. And -- in spite of all the adulation that he receives in this corner of the galaxy -- he constantly schemes about how he can finally make his way back to Tinsel Town.

The comedy in "Maximum Horsepower" was supposed to have come from the idea of this blowhard, self centered actor that these dim-witted aliens think is truly heroic ... but isn't. So, in order to keep up his heroic facade, Horace is constantly has to bluff his way through various life threatening situations. But somehow, he always manages to come out on top.

So who ideally would Tad & Co. cast as the voice of Horace Horsecollar in "Maximum Horsepower"? To be honest, I don't think that this proposed project ever got far enough along for the folks over at Disney Television Animation to seriously start talking about which actor they would have liked to provide vocals for this character. But wouldn't it have been fun if Shatner himself -- or maybe even Kelsey Grammer -- had been roped in to provide Horace's plumy, self-important tones.

So why didn't "Maximum Horsepower" go forward? Well, in spite of this proposed program's very promising premise, this wasn't exactly what Disney Company management was looking for in the early 1990s. They wanted Disney Television animation to pitch series that would expand the brand. Keep particularly popular sets of Disney characters out in the marketplace. Which is how we ended up with shows like "Timon & Pumbaa - The Animated Series," "101 Dalmatians - The Animated Series" and "Hercules - The Animated Series."

Which is why promising programs like "Maximum Horsepower" (which Stones supposedly saw as a sort of a stylistic follow-up to another popular DTA show that he created, "Darkwing Duck;" a TV program that -- thanks to strong writing -- would have appealed to both kids and adults) never got much further than their pitch phase.

That's pretty much everything that I've heard about "Maximum Horsepower." That said, I do know that Tad Stones -- on occasion -- drops by JimHillMedia to read the articles and/or to comment on stuff ? Perhaps someday he can come forward and tell us a little bit more about this very promising premise. Here's hoping, anyway ...

Next, here's a letter from Oriol Cedeno, who asks:

Hi, before I get into my question (or questions, rather) I'd just like to say I love your site! Your "Why For" columns are fun and always eye-opening to me. Keep up the good work!

Now, to the point of this e-mail. I'm a huge Alice in Wonderland fan. It's my ultimate favorite Disney animated feature, despite it's rather bad reputation amongst Disney purists. First I'd like to know: is Disney ever releasing a special edition DVD or even a full blown collector's edition DVD of this film in the distant future? I'd be first in line to purchase it.

Second: can you tell me about any concepts or actual scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor for Alice? In that same vein, was the Jabberwocky ever in the film because a 50's promotional storybook shows an illustration of him from the Cheshire Cat scene. Any thing you can provide would make me one happy person. Thanks!

Oriol -

To date, I haven't heard anything about Disney planning to put out a special edition DVD of "Alice in Wonderland." To be honest, "Alice" isn't even one of the titles that Buena Vista Home Entertainment currently has slated to receive the deluxe two disc "Platinum Edition" treatment.

Which is really a shame. Why? Because I know that there is a ton of material on file over at the Disney's Feature Animation Research Library that could be used to flesh out a 2-disc set of "Alice." Items like those hundreds of inspirational paintings that David Hall did for Disney's first attempt to turn Lewis Carroll's acclaimed novel into an animated feature. Mind you, this was back in 1939. Back when "Alice in Wonderland" was being actively considered as the film that Walt Disney Studios would put into production as soon as work was completed on "Pinocchio."

But then -- of course -- World War II intervened. And production of Disney's "Alice" got pushed back 'til the early 1950s. And by then, this feature had a very different style and tone than the European storybook look that Hall had originally proposed for the production.

Which brings me to your next question, Oriol. What became of the "Jabberwocky" sequence that was supposed to have been part of Disney's animated version of "Alice in Wonderland"? Me personally, I know for a fact that a toony version of this truly screwy Carroll poem was originally supposed to have been featured in the film.

And how do I know this? Because I own a copy of "Jabberwocky," the children's book that the Disney Press put out in the early 1990s. Now what's interesting about this particular book is that it's illustrated with artwork that was pulled directly from the WDFA research library. And these illustrations that are used in the Disney Press version of "Jabberwocky" are from a series of storyboards that the studio's artist made for this proposed sequence in the 1951 film.

So clearly -- at some point, anyway -- Walt was giving some very serious thought to including "Jabberwocky" as part of his animated version of "Alice." Going so far as to order up these storyboards as well as (maybe) record a vocal track for the sequence.

"What's this about a 'Jabberwocky' vocal track?," you say, Oriol. Well, legendary writer / comedian Stan Freberg has repeatedly stated in interviews that he's given over the years that he actually recorded a version of "Jabberwocky" for Disney that was supposed to have been included in the animated feature. But -- for some reason or another -- this part of the picture eventually ended up getting cut out.

Now wouldn't it be wild if, someday, someone at Disney could unearth that original recording that Stan made back in the 1950s and sync that up with footage of those wild pastel storyboards for "Alice in Wonderland" 's proposed "Jabberwocky" sequence? Or -- if that's impossible -- inviting Freberg back (50 years after he originally recorded the poem) to the Disney lot to do a second reading of "Twas Brillig and the slithy toves ... "Which then could be synced up to images of those "Jabberwocky" storyboards.

Wouldn't that be a terrific little item to include as an "Extra Added Bonus" the next time Disney re-releases "Alice in Wonderland" on DVD? Paging Scott McQueen, Disney's Director of Library Restoration! I have an intriguing project for you ...

And - finally - Rick G. writes:

Hi Jim,

Two Questions. One: I went to Disneyland about a month ago and we rode the monorail, and the monorail got stuck on the track somewhere between fantasyland and Tomorrowland, right before the Matterhorn. I happened to notice something that I had never seen before. I saw a sign that read Disneyland Oceanographic Research Center. I had never even heard of such a thing. Could you possibly shed some light on that subject?

My second Question. I heard one time that the Tower of Terror was going to be Mel Brooks themed. I think it was supposed to have been called Hotel Mel or something like that. Could you provide some insight on that as well? Thanks. I love your site and I'm glad I have something like it to read while I'm waiting to take calls at work. It really helps me to pass the time. Keep writing and I'll keep visiting your site.

A Disney Dweeb,
Rick G

Regarding Question No. 1: Sorry, Rick. But there really isn't much of a story to report there. Near as I can figure, that "Disneyland Oceanographic Research Center" sign that you mentioned has been in place since the late 1980s / early 1990s. If I'm remembering correctly, it went up just about the same time that the Tomorrowland subs got their canary yellow paint job. Can any of you Disneyland historians out there back me up on this?

So (sadly) there's nothing much exciting or controversial to report about that particular Tomorrowland sign. If -- on the other hand -- you someday want me to talk about that "Atlantis Expedition" sign was hoisted on top of the rocks to the back on the "Submarine Voyage" lagoon back in September 1998 (and the ugly shouting match that erupted between Disneyland's ops staff and the Imagineers who were in the park that day, pitching a proposal for a new Tomorrowland attraction), THAT's a really fun story, Rick. Remind me to tell you about that sometime.

As for Question 2: Yes, someday very soon, I will get around to answering your question about Hotel Mel. I just won't do it here at JimHillMedia.com.

Why For? Honestly, it's not because I'm trying to be a pain in the ass, Rick. But rather, because I began writing a series about the Tower of Terror for Kevin Boles' terrific www.tower-of-terror.com site a few months back. But then -- what with the launch of www.JimHillMedia.com -- I got distracted (and bogged down. Who knew that writing three to five new stories each week would swallow so much of my free time? Anyway ...)

So, when I left off with my "Tower Tales" series over at Kevin's site, I was actually just getting around to the part of the story where I was going to talk about the whole "Hotel Mel" concept. Explain in detail how Mel Brooks came to be involved with WDI. So -- if I were to write about that here now -- I'd feel like I was be cheating Mr. Boles out of a story that was rightfully belonged to him. Which wouldn't be a nice thing to do, Rick.

Tell you what. I just exchanged e-mails with Kevin about this very same matter not two days ago. And -- provided that Chuck and Roger come back to JimHillMedia next week with some great stories about their experiences at this year's Macworld Expo (hint, hint) -- I should have a little more free time next week. Which (hopefully) means that I'll finally be able to finish up Part III of my "Tower Tales" series for www.tower-of-terror.com. Which I promise (Scout's Honor), Rick, will address the whole "Hotel Mel" angle of the "Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror" story.

Sorry that I stiffed you on both of your questions, Rick. Better luck next time, okay?

That's it for this week, folks. Except for one quick personal message: Puddie4Banned, could you please drop me an e-mail at my stadlerhill@mindspring.com address? Thanks.

See you all on Monday,

jrh

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