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A very Toon-ful Why For

Jim Hill

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A very Toon-ful Why For

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First Adam D. writes to ask:

Did you hear about Miramax picking up "Gnomeo & Juliet"? That was kind of unexpected, don't you think?

Dear Adam D.

Actually, no. Ever since John Lasseter & Ed Catmull pulled the plug on this whimsical reimagining of Shakespeare's tragic romance back in March, a lot of people at the Walt Disney Company had been working frantically behind-the-scenes in an effort to resurrect "Gnomeo." Trying to find a way to still get this film produced by the Mouse and yet not offend the new heads of WDFA.

You see, that's one of the hard & fast rules in Hollywood, folks. You're never ever allowed to embarass your new boss. Make them look bad in any way, particularly during their first couple of weeks on the job.

And yet here were John & Ed shutting down production of "Gnomeo." Insisting that this musical fantasy was a poor fit for Walt Disney Pictures. That the film's core concept wasn't strong enough to support a 90-minute-long animated feature. More importantly, that its proposed mixture of elements (Cement lawn gnomes belting out classic Elton John songs in an English garden setting) would have little if any appeal to children.

Meanwhile, you had these Disney executives who were visibly despairing when word got out that "Gnomeo & Juliet" had been cancelled. Why for? Because of all the money that the Mouse was going to miss out because production of this motion picture had been shut down.

The folks over at Walt Disney Records particularly had a fit when they learned that Lasseter & Catmull had killed off "Gnomeo." You see, they had visions of releasing a "Gnomeo & Juliet" soundtrack album (Which was to have mixed a few new songs that Elton John & Tim Rice had written in with some classic tunes from the Elton John song catalog) which would have gone quadruple platinum.

So these folks reportedly went to Dick Cook, Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, and then asked Dick if he could go talk to John & Ed. But given that the Pixar acquisition deal hadn't actually been completed yet, Cook didn't want to appear as if he was already second-guessing Lasseter & Catmull's decisions.

But that said, Dick -- like so many other folks at Disney -- saw the real commercial possiblities in "Gnomeo." Okay, sure. This proposed CG animated feature may have had limited appeal to kids. But to these children's parents -- who grew listening to "Crocodile Rock," "Candle in the Wind" and "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting) " -- this project was sure to have plenty of appeal.

So finally a decision was made to resurrect "Gnomeo & Juliet." To push forward with this production. But then came the hard part: How to break this news to Lasseter & Catmull?

In the end, it was decided that the Disney execs should just try & sell these Pixar vets on the idea that -- by producing this CG feature through the studio's Miramax division -- "Gnomeo & Juliet" no longer had to be family-friendly. That the film could now be quirkier, crazier, edgier. Which would (hopefully) then make this project that much more appealing to teens & adults.

To hammer home this particular point to Ed & John, the Disney execs who were now in charge of "Gnomeo" reportedly talked about how excited they were about finally being able to use one of Elton John's biggest hits, "The B*tch is Back," as part of the film's soundtrack. Previously, this 1974 hit had been kept off of the approved list of songs that could be used in the Disney version of this film because ... Well, obviously, you can't use the word "b*tch" in a G-rated Walt Disney Pictures release.

But in a PG-rated Miramax Pictures release ... Hell, you can sing "The B*tch is Back" at the top of your lungs for the entire 90-minute running time of the film, if you want. Though -- to be honest -- I don't actually think that that's the plan here.

Anyway ... "Gnomeo & Juliet" will now be produced in London under the watchful eye of veretan animation producer Baker Bloodworth. Who's probably best known (to Disneyana fans, anyway) for his work on "Beauty and the Beast" and "Dinosaur."

And -- after all of this pre-production drama -- Disney Studio execs are hoping that "Gnomeo & Juliet" will be a hit. But not so big a hit that Lasseter & Catmull will now look like chumps for insisting that the Mouse not make this movie.

Next up, Brer Rabbit's Foot writes in to ask:


What exactly is going on with "Song of the South"? About a year ago, you wrote a story that said that Buena Vista Home Entertainment would be releasing "SOTS" on DVD in 2006, just in time for this film's 60th anniversary. But last month, I heard that Disney's new CEO had decided not to release the "Song of the South" DVD. Supposedly out of concern about what people might say about the film's racial content.

So does this mean that Disneyana fans have finally lost their one real chance to get their hands on a legitimate copy of "Song of the South"? Should I now start bidding on those illegal copies on eBay?

Dear Brer Rabbit's Foot:

Well, if you have to own a physical copy of "Song of the South," then -- yes -- I'd suggest that you go ahead with purchasing one of those illegal dubs of the Japanese "SOTS" laser disc.

On the other hand, if you can wait a few years ... Well, I've been hearing that the Mouse is now planning on making "Song of the South" -- along with many other rare Disney movies, shorts & TV shows -- available for viewing via the Net. For a price, of course.

As I understand it, the Walt Disney Company (in the not-so-distant future) reportedly plans on setting up a heavily encrypted web site where Disneyana fans & film buffs will then find a wide variety of extremely appealing content. We're talking about the same sort of stuff that used to air as part of the Disney Channel 's old "Vault Disney" programming block. 50-year-old episodes of the "Disneyland" TV show, "True-Life Adventures" films. There's even been talk that this site would be a showcase for all of those old Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts that the company recently acquired.

And among the many films that would be available for viewing on this Disney-owned web site will be "Song of the South." Now please note that I used the word "viewing," rather than "downloading." The whole point of heavily encrypting this site is that Disneyana fans will not be able to record any of the movies, shorts or TV shows that they're viewing. More to the point, every time that you want to see one of the programs that are on file at this web site, you're going to have to pay for the privilege.

The beauty of this plan is ... Disney gets to eat its cake and have it too. The studio gets to take all of these old titles that it currently has in its film library -- movies like "Song of the South," which haven't generated any real income for the company in years -- and turn them back into earners. But -- at the same time -- Disney gets to keep "SOTS" away from easily-offended types. You know, those thin-skinned consumers who would scream bloody murder were they to ever spy this allegedly racist motion picture for sale at their local Walmart.

The downside of this plan is ... Well, given that Disney is only now getting ready to launch the two month trial of its new download-ABC-programs-for-free web site (You know, the one that will allow you to view full episodes of "Lost" & "Desperate Housewives" -- complete with commercials -- on your home PC?) ... Well, it will likely be a couple of years before the company is actually ready to launch the Net version of "Vault Disney."

So -- when you factor all that in -- we're probably talking 2010, 2011 before this actually happens. Which would be just in time for "Song of the South" 's 65th anniversary.

So as I said earlier, Brer Rabbit's Foot ... If you can just wait a few years, chances are that you'll finally have access to "Song of the South" as well as a slew of other Disney rareties. Here's hoping that the price that we have to pay for access to this "Vault Disney" web site isn't all that expensive.

And -- finally -- Kaye G. writes in to ask:


I was wondering if you had any additional information about "Enchanted"? I'm really looking forward to this traditionally animated / live action Disney musical.

Dear Kaye G.

I have good news and then I have great news. The good news is that the live action portion of this Kevin Lima film is supposedly to begin shooting in NYC shortly. The great news is that master Disney animator Andreas Deja is now working on this project. Deja is currently on loan to James Baxter Animation. And Andreas is serving as lead animator on "Enchanted" 's villainess, the evil queen Narissa (Who will be first voiced and then performed by Academy Award winner Susan Saradon).

Given that -- only a year or so ago -- Deja was despairing that he'd never be able to use his pencil again ... To have Andreas once again doing traditional animation (and on a Disney villain, no less) ... These are very happy times indeed, folks.

And not to get your hopes up too high for "Enchanted" ... But -- based on what they've already seen of this Walt Disney Pictures production -- the people at Disney Consumer Products are already talking about making the star of this film, Giselle (Who will be voiced and then performed by Academy Award nominee Amy Adams) an official Disney Princess. Quickly folding this "Enchanted" character into that highly profitable franchise.

Given that I'm so rarely able to end my stories on an up-note these days, I think I'll close now. Before I can think of what the downside of this situation might be.

You folks have a great weekend, okay? And we'll see you all again bright & early on Monday morning, alright?



Oops ... Almost forgot something really important here ...  Mark Goldhaber of MousePlanet will be taking part in a WalkAmerica event next Saturday to raise money for the March of Dimes. Given that this is for a very good cause (More to the point, given that Mark is a good friend & a very nice guy), I think it would be very cool if JHM readers could also pitch in and help Mark raise some money for this very worthwhile cause.

To learn how to make a donation and/or visit Mark's official fund-raising page, please follow this link.

Thanks in advance for your help, folks. See you all again on Monday, okay?



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