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Wouldn't it be cool if ...

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You know, a lot of people seem to think that I'm out to "get" the Walt Disney Company. That I deliberately only post stories on JHM that talk about the negative things that are happening at the Mouse House (Gee, after Monday's "Dreamfinder" story and yesterday's "Midway Madness" article yesterday, I don't know how anyone could have ever gotten that idea ... Anyway ...)

With the hope that I might somehow be able to turn this false impression around, I'd now like to talk about something very cool that's just gotten underway at Disney Feature Animation. You see, the Mouse Factory is getting back into the shorts business.

Seriously, folks. Ed Catmull & John Lasseter (I.E. WDFA's new president and chief creative officer, respectively) are obviously huge fans of short subjects. After all, it was short films like "Luxo Jr.," "Tin Toy" and "Knick Knack" that initially persuaded Disney execs that they should try & develop a full-length computer animated feature with Pixar.

And Ed & John ... Well, they view Pixar's short programs almost as that studio's farm team. You see, these short films allow talented newcomers to test their wings, see if they're actually ready to move up to the "big leagues" (I.E. Helm one of the company's full-length animated features). More to the point, these shorts have also proven to be great testing grounds for new pieces of software that Pixar is thinking of using on its features.

Sooo ... Given that Catmull & Lasseter are looking to remake Burbank in Emeryville's image, it just made sense that Disney Feature Animation should also get its own shorts program going. Which is why -- just a few weeks back -- Ed & John asked WDFA story artists to prep a few pitches for animated short subjects. And sometime later this month, Catmull & Lasseter will first review these pitches and then select a short or two to put into production.

Now the current plan calls for the first new animated short to debut in front of WDFA's next big feature, "Meet the Robinsons." Which is scheduled to bow in theaters on March 30, 2007.

Now where this gets interesting is that Ed & John are supposedly looking to put at least two new animated shorts in production at Disney Feature Animation. So that a larger number of animators can then try their hand at working on an animated short subject.

Which then raises an interesting question: If that first WDFA short is going to be shown in front of "Meet the Robinsons" ... Well, which Walt Disney Pictures release is the second animated short going to be shown in front of?

The reason that I bring this up is ... Obviously, the biggest Disney Studios release for the Summer of 2007 is going to be the third (and supposedly final) "Pirates" film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: World's End."  

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Please note that "supposedly final" comment in the above paragraph. Though no one at the executive level at the Walt Disney Company has actually dared to mention this in public, I've heard from various vendors that Disney Consumer Products reps are already talking up "Pirates 4." With the hope of possibly extending this extremely lucrative brand into 2010 and beyond.

Which is a pretty ballsy thing to do, given that Johnny Depp, Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom are only under contract to do three pictures. So -- should this fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" film actually go into production -- it would be interesting to see who eventually winds up at the helm of the Black Pearl.

Anywho ... Getting back to our original story now ...)

So what with "Pirates of the Caribbean: World's End" coming out in the Summer of 2007 ... Well, wouldn't it be cool if Walt Disney Feature Animation produced a pirates-theme short subject that could then be shown in front of this Gore Verbinksi film?

Mind you, the reason that I'm bringing this idea up is ... Well, as my good friend Ken Plume recently pointed out, Disney Feature Animation already has a great storyboard for a pirate-based short subject sitting in its files. One that was supposed to have starred Mickey, Donald and Goofy.


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

I am referring -- of course -- to "Morgan's Ghost." The infamous aborted project that was originally developed back in 1940 & 1941 by Homer Brightman & Harry Reeves with an assist by the "Big Mouseketeer" himself, Roy Williams.

Now if the "Morgan's Ghost" name sounds familiar to you (Particularly to all you Disney comic buffs out there) ... Well, there's a reason for that. You see, this never-produced short served as the inspiration for the very first Donald Duck comic book, "Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold."

This particular comic book (Which was first published by Western Publishing back in October of 1942) is especially revered by Donald Duck enthusiasts. Mostly because "Pirate Gold" was illustrated by the two artists who (arguably) had the largest impact on Donald's overall career: cartoonist Carl Barks and animation director Jack Hannah.   


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Anywho ... As for the story of "Morgan's Ghost": It's actually a pretty solid premise for a Mickey-Donald-Goofy short. As this proposed picture gets underway, the trio are living in Fish Haven, a sleepy seaside town where nothing much ever happens.

Mickey is the proprietor of the Jolly Roger Inn and Donald & Goofy are his assistants. And there at the Inn, these three have a pet parrot called Yellowbeak. 

Now what Mickey, Donald & Goofy don't know is that Yellowbeak was once a member of Captain Morgan's crew. The infamous pirate who amassed a huge treasure before he was finally caught & hung.

Captain Morgan's treasure? It was never found. And only Yellowbeak knows where the late pirate's horde is still hidden.

Which is where Black Pete comes in. You see, he wants this treasure. Which is why Pete slips into the Jolly Roger Inn late one night and steals Yellowbeak.

Of course, now it's up to Mickey, Donald and Goofy to rescue the kidnapped bird. So the trio stows away on Pete's ship ("The Vulture") and -- of course -- much hilarity ensues. Particularly since Goofy (in this proposed film, anyway) is prone to sleep-walking ...


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And Pete ... Well, it's clear that he's not exactly the smartest salt to ever sailed the seven seas. Given that he almost blows up "The Vulture" one night when he absent-mindedly strikes a match in the ship's powder room.


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Anyhow ... Mickey, Donald and Goofy eventually actually beat Black Pete to the deserted isle where Captain Morgan's treasure is hidden. And 'way down deep in a dark cave, this trio finds a large wood chest that they think contains the treasure. But once they pry this container open, Mickey, Donald & Goofy don't find gold inside. But -- rather -- ghosts!


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

To be specific, it's the spirit of Captain Morgan and two loyal members of his crew. Who have been trapped inside of that chest for more than a century now.


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Of course, having finally be freed from that accursed chest is a cause for celebration. So Captain Morgan & his ghostly crew dance a quick hornpipe ...


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... before finally agreeing to help Mickey, Donald & Goofy in their effort to rescue Yellowbeak as well as unearth Captain Morgan's long-hidden treasure.


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Mind you, once they get back that bird, Mickey, Donald & Goofy still have to follow all of the clues that Captain Morgan left behind in order to unearth his treasure. ("Why can't the ghost of Capt. Morgan just tell this trio where his horde is hidden?," you ask. Because -- according to the pirate code -- "Dead men tell no tales." Which is why Capt. Morgan is strictly forbidden from revealing where his treasure is actually buried.)


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Of course, as Mickey, Donald & Goofy begin their hunt for the treasure, Black Pete is hot on their heels. And -- as the story sketches below readily illustrate -- there are still plenty of chills & thrills to be found in this proposed picture's premise.


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Anywho ... As this short finally draws to a close, Captain Morgan is reunited with his treasure.


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

And -- as a reward for freeing him from that awful chest as well as unearthing his long-lost treasure -- Captain Morgan happily awards a share of his horde to Mickey, Donald & Goofy.

And as our heroes sail off into the sunset, rich beyond their wildest dreams ...  


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

... Black Pete winds up getting his just desserts. Being locked away for 101 years for attempting to pass some phony doubloons.


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Okay, I know. That's not a very detailed description of "Morgan's Ghost." To be honest, I only mapped out this story in the broadest possible strokes. Were you to take a look at the 800+ story sketches that were originally done for this proposed animated short, you'd have a much better understanding of how the "Morgan's Ghost" story was actually supposed to play out.

And all of this great material ... It's still just sitting there in Disney's Animation Research Center. Waiting for some clever WDFA employee to come along, open the right files and then pin these story sketches back up on some cork board. So that John Lasseter & Ed Catmull can then see that "Morgan's Gold" still has plenty of potential.

More importantly, so that John & Ed can then realize that a fully animated version of this particular story would be an inspired companion piece for "Pirates of the Caribbean: World's End." Which is why it would be really smart if someone at WDFA would greenlight production of this long-ago-aborted animated short ASAP.

FYI: In the very unlikely event that someone at Disney Feature Animation actually does pursue this suggestion and attempts to get "Morgan's Ghost" put on WDFA's development track, I'd like Ken Plume to get the credit for this suggestion. Rather than myself.

After all, it was Ken who first told me about this 65-year-old concept that was just sitting in the ARC's files. Waiting for someone to remember that this very promising premise was still there, waiting for Walt Disney Studios to get back into the shorts business.

And now that Disney is getting back into the shorts business, wouldn't it be cool if -- strictly from a historical point-of-view -- "Morgan's Gold" finally made it out of WDFA's morgue and wound up on the big screen in front of "Pirates III" ?

Your thoughts?

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  • The short subject is something needed to remind the current generation how to do things right.  This is how most of us were introduced to Mickey & friends in the first place, and with the short attention span of most of us these days it would be in their best interest to make as many shorts as possible.
  • Watching Mickey and company stretch their legs on the big screen again would be a joy to see!  The awareness of the Evergreen characters is waning and it is only a matter of time before just stop caring about them.  We need to get them out in prime-time.  They need vast exposure again.  I would love to see it!
  • Doing another Mickey short is a far better way of reinvigorating the "sensational six" than doing just a pre-school cartoon. Let's hope they go for, and follow it with many more. One question, though: Why did Walt kill this project to begin with?
  • Please let this cartoon happen.  This would be a great way for Disney to re-introduce the animated short to mainstream audiences.
  • But PLEASE change Pete's character name to Captain anything else and don't fall into the all too Dreamworks trap of making any of the characters do the "Got a Little Captain in You" pose...  The mouse does not hock rum...
  • Maybe, now that Eisner is gone, they might think it to be a good time to get back into business with some world famous director and his rabbit.  I can think of a couple of shorts that were well into production that could stand to be finished.
  • JesterColorado, dittos! After repairing relations with Steve Jobs, I've been hoping that Iger would call Spielberg next.
  • "Send suggestions that Disney will take seriously"?  Uh, Jim?--You're just filling in a Wednesdays With Wade history piece.  Let's SERIOUSLY get over ourselves:

    Storyboard-history trivia is one thing, and it's a fun read for Mouse buffs, but I kid you not, some of us thought somebody had hacked the site with your name on that other thread, when we read, "And now a new feature where we all take suggestions from fans to send to Disney!"...You know better than that, and we *know* you know better than that.
    Just stick to the articles, and let us worry about what "happens" from there, if anything.
  • New short cartoons featuring the classic characters?
    That's been done recently on the House of Mouse - mostly painful viewing.
    Kinda like the Applebee's ad with Sammy Davis Jr.

    I've seen the end titles of these animated movies - thousands of names listed - the guys in charge don't know who's ready to move up to more responsibility and who's not? Must be just bedlam and chaos making these cartoons, followed by immediate memory loss on opening night.
  • I think having shorts before features is a great idea!  I'm not sure if Disney would resurect this idea (the pirate cartoon), but the short sounds great.  "Tummy Trouble" sticks out in my mind when I hear someone mention Disney shorts in front of movies; that's a great short.  Of course, the old shorts are wonderful, but Disney would most likely make these new shorts more "modern".  Thanks for the info on this idea!
  • I can't see them putting an animated short (especially with Mickey) before Pirates. For the first PotC, they didn't even show the castle because they wanted to disassociate the movie from the Disney name as much as possible. After that, I can't see them putting a cartoon before P3.
  • I had hoped that the Roger Rabbit shorts would have jump started the shorts machinery way back then, but it never happened.  I think that releasing a STRONG film with a short is a good way of getting the butts in the seats, and including said short with the DVD of that film would seem to make good marketing sense. Even if the shorts were collected every so often in a DVD of their own, having a short lead a longer feature on disc would allow those characters to be seen more than they are being seen now, certainly.  That influences the marketing and merch, so why not do it?

    However, as Disney must have learned pairing "Trail Mix-Up" with "A Far Off Place", a short cannot save a lousy, inappropriate feature.  I don't know who thought that was a matched set.  
  • This short would be excellent.  Does it really matter if the short will be in front of a PG-13 film?  I don't think so.  Animation is NOT a children's medium.  I think mainly over-sensitive/lazy parents and some movie critics will not like having an animated short subject in front of P3.  Sorry if I offend any parents reading this.

    PS- I'm glad Disney is going back to the shorts business.  Disney can't keep Mickey & pals alive only through pre-school programs.
  • Having grown up with Disney shorts, "Morgan's Ghost" sounds like my kind of Disney! Beautiful animations, fun story  - I would eat it up.

    I'm not particularily crazy about the live-action "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, so the "pirate" theme of "Morgan's Ghost" doesn't really affect how I feel about seeing my favorite Disney friends - Mickey, Donald, Goofy (and their parrot) in a pirate-y setting.

    It's the old Walt Disney animation genius in "Morgan's Ghost" that interests me. I'm thrilled Mr. Lassiter likes the old Disney shorts, too.
  • Morgan's Ghost was not just another Mickey short, it was planned as the very first Mickey feature. It was a long story, with musical numbers and everything. I'd hate to see it turned into something chopped up and rushed like "The Prince and the Pauper". I had always wished that they would reserect this project as a feature(I mean if they can make two Goofy features, why can't the Mouse get a little respect?) And PLEASE, THIS TIME use actual Disney trained animators for this project and NOT the bargain basement foreigners that ruined "House of Mouse" and "The Three Musketers".

    They're looking for new ideas? how about this: Create a Mickey Mouse think tank with artists and writers specifically dedicated to making Mickey relevent again. Mickey lost his way when Disney stopped paying attention to him. The only pieces of animation post mid1940s were the great animated segments of the Mickey Mouse Club. Mickey's a special character, he deserves special treatment.
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