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Toon Tuesday : How Disney is fixing "American Dog"

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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  • But considering what a documented failure CARS was, I wonder if  Lassiter is the best man to fix this dog.

  • Go John Go !!!!

    While everybody argues the merits of two unmade movies, go ahead and have at it.  I still remember seeing L&S in a theater, with a 7 year old constantly asking "what's going on?" or "why are they doing that?" The movie needed a lot of editing and could have been simplified with a 15 second opening narrative explanation, then get into Lilo's world and stay put. 90% of the intergalactic mumbo-jumbo could be gone and you'd have a much stronger story.  One of the stronger parts of L&S is the ending - the montage of all the fun things L&S did together - and you leave the theater smiling.

    One thing I think people are getting confused about - Stitch is a unique character that many people fell in love with. He was one of the first characters out of WDFA in a long time that I thought could support additional stories. Many of us are very fond of his character, his personality quirks, and how he will react when put in various situations.

    Having said that, fire up the VCR or DVD and check out Snow White again. The storyline is cut to the bone. Hardly anything that does not move the story forward. Now look at Toy Story, you'll probably find the same thing- very little excess. Pop in L&S and you'll see all sorts of stuff that can go away, from characters to entire scenes.      Stitch is a great character - he wasn't in a great movie.

    There has been a lot of that from WDFA recently - great characters in so-so movies. Long John Silver, half-traditional half-computer animated, great character trapped in Treasure Planet. The McKenzie Brothers moose trapped in Brother Bear. From what I can see, Lassetter's trying to get great characters in great movies. That, coupled with his animation track record being stronger than anyone posting on the net, I'll support Lassetter all the way.

  • I can't help but wonder if the plot would be improved if Bolt remained oblivious to his lack of superpowers right up to the very end of the film - never having that "reality check" that Buzz gets in Toy Story.

    Still, I have to say, having seen both Lilo & Stitch and Mulan - I'll take the writer from Mulan any day of the week.

  • I´m definitely starting to think that Lasseter isn´t  bringing any good to the WDFA department.

    First, we have Pixar making the same movie year after year with a "glorious" last movie that interested nobody but North American people and car fans. And Lasseter, of course. (Who the hell in the rest of the world cares about Route 66?)

    And second, Lasseter starts making great moves like removing Chris Sanders from the direction of American Dog just to crap another Pixar clone plot.

    Let´s just wait to see what happens with Rapunzel.

    I´ll end up pointing at the different prizes and nominations the song in Cars is receiving, quite surprising when all the people I know hate that song, as well as the one included in Toy story 2 involving the cowgirl.

    Is there anybody in Disney/Pixar alive enough to tell me why these things happen? Did anybody trully believe that including such laments would increase the soundtrack sales?

    An epic adventure, a science fiction movie, a real drama, pleeeeease. Try something different.

  • it's hard to not gauge a movie based on money figures...because for the simple fact that the more money that a movie makes means the more people that watched it which more than likely means that more people liked the movie (yes, you have other factors that could figure in; marketing, economy, other movies out at the time), but, my point is, is that titanic didn't make the most money because it had the best marketing...it made the most money because people liked the movie and want and saw it a couple of times in theatres, and they told others about it and they went and saw it in theatres.

    i'm glad they are retooling american dog with lasseter leading the way.  i haven't been a huge fan of disney's films as of late and am a fan of pixar's films.  it seems as though with chicken little they tried to make it a funny film, which it was, but to me there was just something missing from the story, and i feel that with pixar's films they seem to hit the nail on the head with their storyline.

    i did not think of buzz lightyear's storyline when i was reading through this plot, so it wasn't that obvious to me.  you can take a lot of films and draw similiarities between them, but, that doesn't mean they are similiar movies...i'm not worried with this plot.

    thanks for the info, jim.

  • I really liked those original character designs.  Quirky but cuddly.  Especially the cat with the pirate patch.  That character alone would have sold a ton of stuffed animals.  Oh, well.  It's not all about the merchandising, is it?

    As for the revised storyline, I'll reserve judgement.  It does seem very reminiscent of Buzz's journey.  I hadn't thought of that.

    Does anyone agree that Bolt sounds awfully like Thunderbolt from 101 Dalmatians?  Both are german shepherd tv stars, a la Rin Tin Tin.  The dvd sequel 101 Dalmatians 2 actually focused on Thunderbolt and his quest to prove himself a true hero (and not just a tv personality) with some help from Patch (one of the 101 puppies).

  • Hey, I LIKED the intergalactic mumbo-jumbo in "Lilo and Stitch". It's my favorite part of the movie. And L & S is far more a Disney film than "Emperor's New Groove". That had distinct Looney Tune/Tex Avery overtones. I've never been that crazy about it. Or about "Mulan", either. The goddamn dragon got on my nerves.

    Well, the original design of the American Dog is pretty awful. The head looks like it belongs to a moose, not a dog. As for the revamped story...yeah, definitely a bit too Buzz Lightyear. I do like the little girl subplot though. And the cat and the hamster sound funny. All I can say is I hope the movie is better than it sounds, which it might very well be; who knows how many rewrites the thing will go through before it hits the big screen...

  • "So that giant radioactive rabbit & the cat with the eye patch who previously appeared in this picture? They're gone."

    No!!!!!  I loved that cat!  I really wanted a plush of him.  And a plush of the rabbit, too.

    That actually sounds like a really, really neat story.  I love Mr. Mittens already...that's funny!  

    "Like jumping off a bridge onto a train that's moving at high speed."

    SIGGRAPH, a couple years ago, had footage of the American Dog on a train.  But the old version of the dog.

    I'm minoring in film, and my teacher this semester recently said that there are an infinite number of stories, but only a handful of themes.  Obviously, stories often have the same themes, but they are different enough to make an interesting story.

    I was wary of any changes to this film. I'll miss Chris Sanders, and the cat and rabbit.  I liked what I read about the new version of the story.  It's kind of similar to the old story (a threesome of animal friends go on a journey).  

  • I'm kind of disappointed. Out of all the projects i've seen on jim's site over the years this one has caught my interest the most. Mostly because of the quirky character designs.

    I don't know what movie a lot of commenters saw but lilo and stitch was one of the most heartwarming Disney films I've ever seen.

    All that said WDWacky is right. The sanders plot is way too similar to the story for Cars. It would be like having a movie about teddy bears that come to life come out from Disney two years after toy story. (bad example but you get the point). I'll be disappointed to see the character design for the dog change, but the new story has enough to interest me. Especially the hamster who won't leave his ball.

    By the way Jim, you have any info on the Nicolas Cage/ Sorcerer's Apprentice story?

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/02/12/showbuzz/index.html#1

  • Another reality check - Lilo & Stitch was not in CG. No matter how many times Lasetter argues it, there is a reason why there is a surge of cg movies lately - They make money! Kids go and see it because it looks pretty and if you honestly believe the whole ridiculous idea that it's 'story' that counts you're deluding yourself. Monsters Inc, would never have been anywhere near as successful if it had been traditionally animated.

    And the fact is that while Lilo & Stitch did not perform as well as the films in the 90's, that is not the point I was making. I was stating that out of Disney's recent 2D offerings, Lilo & Stitch was the most profitable.

  • Speaking of the number 2 movie of 2006 (domestic), Cars...looks like it may end up at number 3.  Night at the Museum is still going strong and getting closer every week.

  • Hmmm, I don't think so. Night will definitely be the #3 movie, but Cars has $ 244 and Fox's Night is now at $ 232.. Don't think it will make that last $ 14 million anymore. Total gross: Night $ 4 million above Cars.

  • Frankenollie said:

    "Another reality check - Lilo & Stitch was not in CG. No matter how many times Lasetter argues it, there is a reason why there is a surge of cg movies lately - They make money! Kids go and see it because it looks pretty and if you honestly believe the whole ridiculous idea that it's 'story' that counts you're deluding yourself. Monsters Inc, would never have been anywhere near as successful if it had been traditionally animated."

    I routinely take my neice and nephew (12 and 7) out to movies with their friends and whenever we choose the movie I have NEVER heard them ask, "Gee, what's the newest computer animated film out right now?" Nor have I heard them say "Gee, that movie was great! Just imagine the train wreck that would have been if it was traditionally animated." Not once have they turned their nose up at a traditionally animated film in favor of a digitally animated one.

    You know what they do say? Things like, "I want to see the movie with the funny monsters in it." Or "Let's watch the movie about Ants." Or "That car race was awesome!"

    Sadly it is the adults that bicker about traditional vs computer. The kids want a funny movie... the girls want cute characters and the boys want some action. They don't compare plots to other movies, they don't care who directed it, nor does it cross their mind how much money it made or how much some idiot in a suit WANTS it to make.

    And I couldn't agree more with blackcauldron... few themes, many stories. EVERY movie deals with at least one of the 7 deadly sins. Does that mean that every movie is just a rip off of the one before it? While the changes don't thrill me right now either, give it a chance before we rip it apart... much could change between now and then. Maybe we will get the eye patch cat back after all? :o)

  • Hmm. I just came accross this. And Let me say. I am dissapointed. In both, John Lasseter, Chris Sanders, and the very actual people who write on this blog.

    The truth is, we have to be realistic;

    Lilo & Stitch was a good movie, but it was flawed. I myself didn't enjoy how Pleakly had "homosexual" tendencies. It was definitely an odd Disney film. But I liked it alot.

    Chris Sanders, a good guy. It seems like, well truth be told. I did overvalue Chris, while Lilo & Stitch was a very entertaining movie, it wasn't amazing. Unlike Cars, A Bug's Life, & the two Toy Story movies, which were very well made, I have to admit(dang it).

    American Dog is an amazing title. I love it. and as for "Hollywood Dog?" It just doesn't sound very good. And I don't like the new story very well. But I'm sure, with the writer of Mulan now. I trust him he'll take that story and make it good.

    Chris Williams is a good guy. Disney is promoting him, well, Lasseter is, and that's good, he deserves that. And as for chris Sanders, I heard the only reason he got a chance to make Lilo & Stitch was because an exec had a crush on him. But who knows... Rumors. He was good. But I do take the writer of Mulan more seriously than the director of lilo & stitch.

    Now all of you, relax and calm down. The trek to turn Disney a better studio wasn't going to be easy. And as for what this article says. I trust Jim, and I respect him for doing his job. But truth be told, wasn't he the one who informed us the "Bowler Hat Guy" would be axed from "Meet the Robinsons?" Yeah, don't take EVERYTHING seriously that you see in this site. I mean, I love the site, I love controversy. But hey, It might not be true. It might change between the time of release as well. And your right, I love the idea of Mr. Mittens. haha. It sounds good.

  • Lilo and Stitch was a horrible, horrible movie.  My wife and I and our kids hated that movie when it was out.  I don't know any other of Chris's work, but based on Lilo...good move dumping him.

    I'm still not sold on this new movie.  Need to see a trailer and how it all looks together, but something towards traditional Pixar is a good move.

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