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How Disney's "Frog Prince" movie got its legs cut out from under it

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How Disney's "Frog Prince" movie got its legs cut out from under it

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You know, when I hear about things like how the Walt Disney Company is supposedly putting newer, lower priced copies of the "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo" out on store shelves this week ... All with the hope that this maneuver will somehow have a negative impact on "Shrek 2"'s opening weekend at the box office ... I am reminded that the most important word in the phrase "Show Business" is supposed to be "Business."

As in: This is a real cutthroat business.

Of course, I'm sure that you Mouse House supporters out there (those of you who have sufficiently long memories, that is) will point out that -- back in November of 2001 -- Dreamworks did the exact same thing to Disney. By that I mean: They released the video and DVD version of "Shrek" on the exact same day that "Monsters, Inc." was making its theatrical debut. All with the hope that this one move might significantly undermine this Pixar picture's chance at setting box office records.

But -- this time around -- I can't help but think that there's a bit more than business involved here. That Disney Company management actually tends to take these "Shrek" films rather personally.

Not just because they delight in twitting Disney's animated features (FYI: Look for Ariel from "The Little Mermaid," Cogsworth and Lumiere from "Beauty and the Beast," even "Pretty Woman" to get royally skewered in this sequel). But because -- if the Mouse had just moved a little faster (More importantly, if it had actually believed in the innate story sense of one of the studio's then-master animators) -- it could have also been a serious contender in the satirical fairy tale market.

Don't believe me? Then (borrowing a page from Mr. Peabody & Sherman) please allow me to set the Wayback for the mid-1990s. Back when Walt Disney Feature Animation was still churning out cartoons that were very, very serious. Ambitious animated features like "Pocahontas" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" that clearly ached to be taken seriously. To be considered true works of art.

Well -- admittedly -- "Pocahontas" and "Hunchback" may have been beautiful looking movies with many entertaining moments. But let's be honest here, folks. These films just weren't all that funny.

And nobody knew that better than then-Disney master animator Eric Goldberg. Goldberg -- who actually co-directed "Pocahontas" with Mike Gabriel -- longed to get back to a time & a place where cartoons were funny again. When audiences could go into a theater and be sure that they'd see something funny up there on the big screen.

Which is why Goldberg (with the help of his extremely talented art director wife, Susan McKinsey Goldberg) developed for Disney this satirical take on the Brothers Grimm's classic fairy tale, "The Frog Prince." Something along the lines of the "Fractured Fairy Tale" section of Jay Ward's late, great "Bullwinkle" TV show. Only with a much stronger story. Something that would be able to hold an audience's interest -- as well as to keep the laughs coming -- for a full 90 minutes.

Eric and Sue really threw themselves into their "Frog Prince" project. And -- by the time the Goldbergs had perfected their pitch for r the project -- they were reportedly certain that they had created something truly special.

But -- in the late winter / early spring of 2001 -- when Eric and Sue finally showed WDFA's allegedly creative executives all the development work that they'd done on "The Frog Prince," they were in for a really rude shock. Then-Feature Animation head Thomas Schumacher reportedly rejected the Goldbergs' proposed feature in record time. Why for? Well, the alleged reasoning behind this suit's high speed rejection of the film was that audiences just weren't going to sit still for a film that spent 90 minutes making fun of fairy tales.

Now keep in mind that the brain trust at WDFA made this ridiculous pronouncement just weeks before Dreamworks' "Shrek" rolled out into theaters nationwide. And that CG animated feature -- which actually spent 89 minutes making fun of fairy tales -- wound up grossing $267 million during its domestic run at the box office. Not to mention scoring the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Which is why -- in a stunning reversal on their earlier position -- Walt Disney Feature Animation immediately put not one, not two, but THREE different projects into development that made fun of fairy tales: "Chicken Little," director Mark Dindal and producer Randy Fullmer's CG hilarious follow-up to their very under-appreciated "Emperor's New Groove;" "Rapunzel Unbraided," another WDFA computer animated project that will mark Glen Keane's directorial debut; and "Enchanted," a rather ambitious project that's supposed to mix live action and animation as it sends up earlier Disney animated fairy tales.

Speaking of "Enchanted" ... I keep hearing that this oft-postponed project has had some pretty serious story problems. Which is perhaps why Mouse House management recently recruited the guys who created "Kim Impossible" -- Disney Television vets Robert Schooley and Mark McCorkle -- to see if they can't possibly untangle "Enchanted"'s various story problems.

Again speaking of "Enchanted" (it's deja vu all over again!) ... WDFA had initially hoped that Eric and Sue Goldberg would ride herd on the animated portions of "Enchanted." But -- by the summer of 2001 -- the Goldbergs had grown extremely disenchanted with Disney. Which is why the husband-and-wife team both opted to exit the Mouse House in August 2001.

Which is why Walt Disney Feature Animation now finds itself an also-ran in the satirical feature length fairy tale race. If the Mouse had just been on the ball back in 2001 and recognized Goldberg's "Frog Prince" film idea for the gem that it actually was, the studio could have possibly already completed production of that project. Maybe even beating "Shrek 2" to the big screen.

But now ... the earliest that Disney can even hope to get into the satirical fairy tale game is the Summer of 2005. When Dindal & Fullmer's "Chicken Little" is due to egg-cite crowds in multiplexes all over America.

Whereas "Rapunzel Unbraided" ... Well, given what a perfectionist Glen Keane is, this WDFA production is said to be moving along at a glacial pace. Given the slow speed at which this film is reportedly coming together, Disney isn't worried that "Rapunzel Unbraided" is going to wind up going head-to-head with "Shrek 3" in the Summer of 2006. Right now, they're just hoping that Glen's opus will be out in time to compete with "Shrek 4." Which isn't even slated to show up at your local cinema 'til sometime in 2008.

So what do you folks think of this froggy little tail ... ER ... tale?

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