Happy Columbus Day!
This is a day that some folks are lucky enough to get off. But not me. No, we don't do the three day weekend here at JHM. At least not for Columbus Day.
Which is why I'm now getting ready to watch the Platinum Edition of "Aladdin" for the second & third time this weekend. So that I can first check out the directors commentary on that 2-disc set, followed by listening to what "Aladdin" 's lead animators (I.E. Andreas Deja, Will Finn, Eric Goldberg & Glen Keane) have to say about this Academy Award winning film.
Still, what with having to watch & rewatch Disney's "Aladdin" on Columbus Day, I can't help but think about two featurettes that Disney Feature Animation had in development in the late 1980s / early 1990s but never quite got around to producing: "Mickey Columbus" & "Mickey's Arabian Nights."
Of course, you have to understand that this behind-the-scenes story actually gets underway prior to the start of Disney's Second Golden Age of Animation. That period that ran roughily from November 1989 (When "The Little Mermaid" was released to great acclaim) to June 1994 (When "The Lion King" came roaring into theaters, breaking all sorts of box office records).
This particular tale starts back in the summer of 1988. In the wake of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" 's stunning success. When the Walt Disney Company's still-somewhat-new management team (I.E. Michael Eisner, Frank Wells & Jeffrey Katzenberg) were still trying to get the hang of this animation stuff.
Eisner, Wells & Katzenberg just loved all the critical acclaim that was being heaped on "Roger Rabbit." Not to mention the fact that people genuinely seemed thrilled to see such classic Disney characters as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy up on the big screen again. Which is why Michael reportedly turned to Jeffrey and said: "Maybe we should try to do more with this Mickey Mouse character?"
Which was why Jeffrey supposedly put "The Prince & The Pauper" into production. This 35-minute-long film (Which was eventually released in November of 1990 as part of a double bill with "The Rescuers Down Under") was supposed to be the first of a series of new featurettes that were to have starred Mickey & Co.
You see, the initial plan here was that all of the young animators who'd been hired to staff the "Magic of Disney Animation" attraction at Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park would be the ones who'd actually churn out these new shorts & featurettes. Those of you who toured the studio theme park during its first few months of operation may actually recall seeing the storyboards for "Mickey's Arabian Adventure" up on display in the "Story Room" section of the "Magic of Disney Animation" 's tour corridor.
So obviously "The Prince and the Pauper" got produced. So what happened to the next two films in this proposed featurette series, "Mickey's Arabian Adventure" and "Mickey Columbus"? Well ...
The way I hear it, "Mickey Columbus" (which was originally supposed to be released in 1992 as part of the Walt Disney Company's celebration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America) ran into some really serious story problems. You see, after parceling out parts to the Fab Four (With Mickey, Donald & Goofy cast as the captains of the Nina, the Pinta & the Santa Maria and Minnie standing in for Queen Isabella), the film's writers just couldn't decide what to do about the Native Americans that Columbus would encounter in the New World. Should the indigenous people that the legendary explorer meets be played for laughs, Disney ran the risk of upsetting Native American groups. If -- on the other hand -- the Indians that Columbus encountered were played too straight, the second half of the film would fall flat.
Given that the story guys at Disney Feature Animation were never actually able to get a handle on this problematic aspect of the project, "Mickey Columbus" languished in development. And once 1992 came and went, the opportunity to tie this proposed featurette to the 500th anniversary of Columbus' s arrival in America came and went as well. Which was why "Mickey Columbus" never set sail for a multiplex near you.
As for "Mickey's Arabian Adventure" ... Had things gone according to plan, this Mickey-Donald-Goofy featurette was to have been paired with "Beauty & the Beast." Not the Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale musical version of this story, mind you. But the all-too-serious non-singing version that Richard Purdum originally planned to make for Walt Disney Pictures.
"Mickey's Arabian Adventure" actually got derailed for a couple of reasons. For one, as production of "Aladdin" began ramping up, officials at WDFA began questioning the wisdom of having two projects in the works that used virtually the same source material. More importantly, the talented folks who worked at Disney Feature Animation - Florida were proving to be far too valuable to the corporation to waste working on just featurettes and shorts.
Once Disney Company execs realized that there was serious money to be made of new animation, the studio finally got serious about the idea of churning out a new feature length animated film every year. But -- in order to accomplish that goal -- the folks at Feature Animation - Florida then had to be recruited to help shoulder the load. Taking on important parts of upcoming releases, like the "Kill the Beast" sequence in 1991's "Beauty and the Beast" and "I Just Can't Wait to be King" scene in 1994's "The Lion King."
Mind you, the ambitious crew at WDFA-F still found time to churn out a few shorts -- like 1990's "Roller Coaster Rabbit," 1992's "Off His Rocker" and 1993's "Trail Mix-Up." But given the great work that they'd done supporting the production of "Beauty & the Beast" and "The Lion King," it was only a matter of time 'til the crew in Florida got a shot at churning out their very own feature, 1998's "Mulan."
And it's not like the Walt Disney Company ever really stopped looking for ways to use Mickey, Donald & Goofy. In April of 1995, Goofy & his son, Max, starred in their very own feature length film, "A Goofy Movie." Later that same year, the Mouse starred in "Runaway Brain," Mickey's first brand new short subject since 1953's "The Simple Things."
And then -- of course -- there were the TV series: 1992's "Goof Troop," 1996's "Quack Pack," 1999's "Mickey Mouseworks" and 2001's "House of Mouse." Plus the direct-to-video projects like 1999's "Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas," 2000's "An Extremely Goofy Movie" as well as this past August's "The Three Musketeers" as well as the soon-to-be-released "Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas."
But -- even with all this Mickey-Donald-Goofy related product already out there -- I still can't help but think what "Mickey Columbus" and "Mickey's Arabian Adventure might have been like. Perhaps if we ask nice, maybe Floyd Norman (Who -- in a recent JHM article -- talked about a version of the "Mickey Columbus" project that was actually in the works prior to Michael Eisner's arrival at Walt Disney Productions) or some kind member of the now-sadly-defunct Feature Animation - Florida could spill the beans on what these two featurettes would have really been like.
But -- for now -- I gotta get back to work on tomorrow's breview of the "Aladdin" Platinum Edition DVD. Those of you who actually have today off, have a happy Columbus Day, okay?