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Toon Tuesday : How Disney is fixing "American Dog"

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Toon Tuesday : How Disney is fixing "American Dog"

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It's often been said that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Well, I'm guessing that the folks at Walt Disney Feature Animation have never heard that expression. For they're right in the middle of an Extreme Makeover of their 2008 release, "American Dog."

Gone is Chris Sanders' quirk-filled take on this tale. Which (for those of you who've already forgotten) went something like this:

"Henry, a famous TV dog, finds himself stranded in the Nevada desert. Out in the world for the first time, Henry's tidy life of scripted triumph has come to an end, and his 2,000 mile trek through the real world is just beginning."

Sanders was removed as the writer / director of this project back in December (And -- if current reports prove to be true -- Chris actually left the employ of the Walt Disney Company late last week). With John Lasseter then tapping Chris Williams (I.E. A veteran Disney story artist best known for his work on "Mulan" and "The Emperor's New Groove") to be "American Dog" 's new director.

And given that Walt Disney Studios absolutely, positively needs "American Dog" to be ready for release in late 2008 (So that the company can then honor all of its previously arranged agreements with promotional partners, toy manufacturers and other licensees), Williams immediately got to work. Restructuring this film to suit Lasseter's story sensibilities (Who -- it should be noted here -- supposedly wasn't all that fond of Sander's directorial debut, "Lilo & Stitch").

Copyright 2005 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

So that giant radioactive rabbit & the cat with the eye patch who previously appeared in this picture? They're gone. Likewise the version of this film's storyline that was mostly set in the American Southwest. Even the title character has been radically rethunk. He's no longer a cute little round brown hound dog. But -- rather -- a heroic-looking white German Shepherd with a lightning bolt-shaped patch that runs down the left side of his body.

In fact, Bolt is actually this character's new name. And Bolt stars with Penny (a 12-year-old girl) in the hit television show, "American Dog." Which those familiar with this production have described as " ... Johnny Quest meets James Bond."

Anyway, the gimmick of the "American Dog" TV show is that Bolt & Penny fight crime. With this heroic canine using his super powers (EX: A bark that's so loud it actually stuns whoever it's aimed at) to defeat the bad guys.

But Bolt ... He doesn't understand that this is all just pretend. He actually thinks that he's a super hero. More importantly, that Penny really is a little girl who loves him. Rather than some actress who's just been hired to play a part. And as for those super powers ... Bolt hasn't yet realized that all of those brick walls that he's been jumping through for all these years are just fakes that have been constructed by the studio's prop department.

Copyright 2005 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

So obviously Bolt lives in a fantasy world. As do so many others who call Hollywood home. But thanks to the extra special treatment that this celebrity canine always receives, he never once has had reason to question this existence. To wonder what life might be like outside of the studio's walls.

But all of that changes one night when Bolt's handler accidentally leaves the door open to this pampered pooch's cage. Bolt wanders out into the night ... And then (for reasons that are too hard to explain here) winds up getting sealed inside of this UPS / Fed Ex-type package that's being shipped overnight to New York City.

Bolt is finally able to bust out of that box once it arrives in NYC. Far from the world that he knows, this heroic canine now decides to use his super powers to get back home.

As you might expect, this deluded dog is going to need as much help as he can get in order to cross the continental United States and eventually make his way back to Hollywood. Which is why it's lucky that Bolt soon befriends Mr. Mittens (Who is actually a female cat who was mis-named by an inattentive owner) as well as Rhino. Who's this hamster who never leaves his plastic exercise ball. Who (not-so-co-incidentally) is a huge fan of "American Dog," having seen & then memorized virtually every episode of the series.

So this trio then bands together to help this TV star get back home to Hollywood. With Bolt (because he's still certain that he has super powers) continually attempting these incredibly dangerous stunts. Like jumping off a bridge onto a train that's moving at high speed.

Copyright 2005 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

As you might expect, Mr. Mittens & Rhino soon have their hands full. As they try to keep this crazy canine from accidentally killing himself. And then -- of course -- comes that awful moment toward the middle of the story. When Bolt suddenly realizes that he's not actually a super hero. More importantly, that "American Dog" was just some TV show ...

Okay. I know. A lot of you animation fans out there must already be thinking that Bolt's story arc in "American Dog" sounds an awful lot like what Buzz Lightyear went through in the first "Toy Story" film.

Mind you, you wouldn't be the first person to think that way. Based on what a number of WDFA insiders have told me, they have similiar concerns about "American Dog" 's new storyline. That it may be just a little too familiar to movie-goers.

Mind you, these are the same folks who have been telling me that John Lasseter ordered that "American Dog" 's setting be shifted away from the American Southwest. Why For? Well ... Given that "Cars" had just been set in this same part of the country, the new ubermeister of WDFA & Pixar allegedly felt that it was just too soon to set another animated feature in this same terrain. That audiences would now be up for something different.

Copyright 2005 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Beyond that ... Given all the CG-based prep work that's already been done on this film, "American Dog" will remain on Disney's computer animation production track. Though -- that said -- Disney's marketing staff is allegedly already actively casting around for a new title for this project. With "Hollywood Dog" reportedly emerging as one of the top contenders.

Now I know -- particularly for all you Chris Sanders fans out there (Who were actively looking forward to seeing a new Disney animated film that would feature Chris' truly unique character design & story sense) -- that it must be disappointing to hear about all of the changes that are being made to this movie. To learn that virtually nothing that we've seen so far will wind up appearing in the finished version of this film.

But that said ... You have to understand that this is a business, folks. And John Lasseter was just making the changes that he felt were necessary in order to insure that "American Dog" would ultimately be a success at the box office. As to whether or not these decisions were actually the right ones (More importantly, is the Mouse eventually going to come to regret letting a true talent like Chris Sanders walk out the door?) ... Well, I guess we're just going to have to wait 'til 2008 to see. When Chris Williams' quirk-free version of this WDFA production finally arrives at a theater near you.

Your thoughts?

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  • God.. First, lettings Sanders leave Disney is a very serious mistake Lasseter made, and he is going to regret it. Here you have an unique and original artist who proved himself with Lilo & Stitch, and now he is joining the long list of great people who left Disney because of bad (or worse) management decisions.

    "And John Lasseter was just making the changes that he felt were necessary in order to insure that "American Dog" would ultimately be a success at the box office."

    Second, what? So, making "American Dog" look like "Toy Story" is going to be an insurance that it will do good at the box office? I hate the new story, I think it's just dull. I must admit, the first story wasn't the most original story either, but it was at least exciting. How many times have we seen New York in a movie already? Why not just go for the American Southwest? So what if Cars was set in the Southwest, it's not the same story, not the same characters, not the same problems. End of discussion.

    I think they're making a big mistake here. "American Dog" could have brought WDFA back to the top of the game, and now "Hollywood Dog" (or whatever this bomb is going to be called) will just be 'some animated film.' I still won't believe they just let Chris Sanders leave...

    PLEASE!!! Iger, look at what's happening at the animation division! Please send Cat-Lass back to Emeryville, and appoint someone else as Disney Animation president. Quick.

    Related: I was just thinking. I guess John Lasseter still keeps his office at Pixar in Emeryville, doesn't he? I don't think he's always at his office at the Team Disney Building (I'm refusing to call it The M. D. E. Building) in Burbank, and he's obviously not always at the Animation Building in Burbank... So where's the objectivity that he needs to manage Disney and Pixar? (This is the same for Catmull, but I think the change is higher that Catmull is at Burbank more than Lasseter.)

  • While the new version doesn't sound that great, the original one didn't sound the slightest bit appealing either.  And after Cars, I'm really not interested in seeing another animated film set in a "route 66" type environment.

    I find it odd that they're keeping this movie basically just to honor contracts, but they're changing everything about it, the characters, setting, plot, even the title.  I doubt there's much "cgi prep work" that will still be useful.  Why not just cancel it and offer licensors another movie in its place?

  • Well if John didn't care for Lilo and Stitch that pretty much sums it up right there; I found it quirky..YES...fun YES...different YES.  This new version of American Dog sounds very much the "same" as other CG films....particularly..as mentioned... Toy Story.

    Which version would be better..Sanders version or this new one?...hard to say obviously...which sounds more fun and interesting...I will go with Sander's.  The image of the cat with the eye patch always made me smile....oh how I will miss you....

    Incidently on my list of Pixar films, Bug's Life and Cars are at the bottom......not cracking on Lasseter...I'm just mentioning....

  • I am verging of horrified by this complete overhaul of American Dog. The film does indeed sound far too similar to the Buzz Lightyear arc in Toy Story and I'm really struggling to see how this film can possibly be changed so drastically for 2008.

    Lasseter is a fantastic director (A Bug's Life remains my fave Pixar film and will probably never be toppled) but I get the feeling that he's letting his position and his personal ideas get in the way of what is best for the company. He may not have been a big fan of Lilo & Stitch but it was one of the biggest Disney films in years and recieved great reviews. So how exactly is Lasseter ensuring box office success by removing the one guy who has been able to turn a substantial profit for Disney animation.

    It just seems that Lasseter has been in his comfortable Pixar home for far too long and now he's threatened by anything which appears different.

  • "It just seems that Lasseter has been in his comfortable Pixar home for far too long and now he's threatened by anything which appears different."

    That says it all!

  • That's a shame that Sanders is likely to be leaving Disney.  I hope he gets snapped up quickly by Dreamworks and Warner and is allowed to make his own movie and that it makes so much money that Lasseter's foot goes swiftly into his own mouth.  Shameful behavior on Lasseter's part.  He should concentrate on the parks and the attractions that he is spearheading and let the animators do their thing.  Especially the ones who have proven hits and success.  

  • I'm devastated... Chris Sanders was one of the most creative persons in that studio and American Dog was a brilliantly pensived story with real originality and edge! I stress on WAS because it's no more. Now it's the next by-the-rules Pixar flick.

    I've never thought I'd be saying that, but it's the first time I seriously doubt Disney's new "creative" leadership :-(

  • Reality Check time.

    Lilo and Stitch in 2002 made $145.7 mil domestic, $127.3 international, with a total of $273 mil

    Toy Story 1 in 1995 (seven YEARS earlier) made $191.7 domestic, $170.1 international, with a total of $361.9 mil

    Toy Story 2 in 1999 (three YEARS earlier) made $245.8 domestic, $239.1 international, with a total of $485 mil

    In addition, Lilo and Stitch the DISNEY picture is MUCH less Disney than the two PIXAR pictures. L&S is irreverent, quirky, disrespectful and belongs at Nickelodeon or Dreamworks, NOT Disney. (My 4 year old son, has seen both TS and TS2, but I will not let him see L&S).

    For all you "Walt would have NEVER done.....", don't seem to mind when WDFA makes movies that make Walt roll over in his grave. I'm just asking for consistency!

  • Personally I am a big fan of The Emperor's New Groove. Wasn't it completely revamped as well? If Chris Williams was involved with that rework, then I have full confidence that this rework will be successful also. I'm looking forward to this movie!

  • To everyone who says that "Lilo and Stitch was sooooooo successful". Another Reality Check.

    1. Tarzan - $448

    2. Pocahontos - $346

    3. Hunchback - $325

    4. Mulan  -  $304

    5. Lilo & Stitch - $273

    6. Hercules - $252

    7. Brother Bear - $250

    8. Atlantis -  $186

    9. Emperor's New Groove - $169

    10. Treasure Planet  - $109

    (all figures in the millions and worldwide grosses)

    Not alot to crow about. Did it do better than Treasure Planet? Yes, but so did the Peanuts Christmas special. Lilo and Stitch didn't do that well compared to much better animated features. AND I am not including anything before 1995!

  • Not everyone's talking about success in money terms, you know............

  • While I am saddened by the loss of Chris Sanders and what he brought to the table, I'm not ready to label John Lassiter as either 'threatened' or 'too comfortable'. I too will miss seeing the quirky and interesting movie that was going to be made and am not excited by this *new* (cough cough) version. But let's stop with the armchair qaurterbacking shall we? Just because someone else, with a great track record behind him, defines how to make a succesfull movie diferently than we would, doesn't mean he's lost his marbles. There is a reason he has a job that allows him to make these decisions and we only get to gripe about it on the internet. While there might be some folks out there who could possibly do things better I am POSITIVE that there are millions of people who would do it worse. I'll ride with Lassiter's high's and low's over Eisner's/Pressler's/ Hariss's ANY DAY.

    But the cat with the eyepatch needs to stay!!!!

    PS - I'm tired of people throwing $$ numbers around when talking about the success/failure of a movie. I think we should always talk about  movies using the following titles:

    Expectational Success/Failure: Did it meet or beat expectations

    Artistic Success/Failure: Did it either break new ground, did it find an audience, will it stand the test of time, etc,...

    Financial Success/Failure: Did it make more $$ than it cost to produce and market

    I also propose that we NEVER gauge a movie based off of the movie that came before it UNLESS we are comparing a sequel to the original or a remake to the original.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Lilo and Stitch was okay, but I always felt it didn't really belong under the Disney label. It was definitely more suited for Nick or Dreamworks (as jedited already said). Personally, I think people way overvalued Sanders. L&S just looked good when compared to the rest of the bombs Disney was making at the time.

    As far as the revamped story being too much like Toy Story ... try this on for size.

    According to Jim, the original plotline was, "Henry, a famous TV dog, finds himself stranded in the Nevada desert. Out in the world for the first time, Henry's tidy life of scripted triumph has come to an end, and his 2,000 mile trek through the real world is just beginning."

    Now try this:

    "Lightning McQueen, a famous race car, finds himself stranded in the Nevada desert. Out in the world for the first time, Lightning's tidy life of triumph has come to an end, and exposure to the real world is just beginning."

    Come on, it's the same plot. It's been re-used 1,000 times in different formats. It's no better or worse than the new story (which sounds more Disney-like and appealing to me).

    The Pixar guys have made seven of the most profitable, popular films in history. They've CERTAINLY created the most appealing, enduring characters to come out of animation in the last 10 years. What's Disney done in the same time period?

    I'll tell you ... el zippo. They've got ONE, marginally successful film in that time and they've over-exposed the characters and driven whatver minor appeal they once had out of them in doing so.

    I'll trust Lasseter to do the right thing 100 times in a row before I'd trust a WDFA guy ...

  • NOW WDFA is stealing from the company's own direct-to video sequels!!!

    Not only do certain character arcs sound a lot like Buzz's from Toy Story, BUT...

    The plot itself is now extremely similar to the direct-to-video feature "101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure", wherein a TV dog, ThunderBOLT, gets lost from his show's set and has to face the fact that he is not quite as super as the character he plays on his TV show.

    So much for originality...

  • perrybw: good point, haven't even thought of that movie when I first read the new plot. That's just cheap..

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