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Mouse Watch Monday: Wait 'til next year

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Mouse Watch Monday: Wait 'til next year

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What exactly is a Disney film?

That's the question that Oren Aviv (I.E. The new president of production of Walt Disney Pictures) and Dick Cook (I.E. The longtime chairman of Walt Disney Studios) have supposedly struggled with these past seven months. As these two execs have tried to define what makes a Disney film different from all the motion pictures that the other studios in Hollywood release.

Mind you, we're not talking about what a Disney film was like back in Walt's day. But -- rather -- a modern Walt Disney Pictures release. Something along the lines of "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." Which is a motion picture that appeals to the broadest possible audience while -- at the same time -- remains family-friendly.

So far, Oren & Cook seem to have nailed down at least some of the aspects that they look for in a new project for Disney Studios:

  • The script should feature appropriate dialogue (Given its subject matter), but no adult language
  • The story should have lots of action, but no violence
  • It's okay if the screenplay features some romance, but keep it vertical

Mind you, even though "The Curse of the Black Pearl" provides a pretty good template for the sort of picture that Walt Disney Studios wants to produce in the future, not everything the Mouse makes from here on in will have to be a $100 million tentpole. Truth be told, Disney's upcoming production slate is going to have room for films of all shapes, sizes & (more importantly) budgets.

Take -- for example -- "South of the Border," the new live action comic-adventure that Walt Disney Pictures plans on releasing in 2008. Which -- believe it or not -- was inspired by an August 2004 incident where Paris Hilton's pet chihuahua, Tinkerbell, went missing for a couple of days.

Mind you, eventually this Teacup Chihuahua did turn up again. It seems that Paris forgot that she had left Tinkerbell at her grandparents' home. However, once this airheaded heiress noticed that the miniature mutt was no longer in her purse, Hilton immediately jumped to the conclusion that Tinkerbell had been dognapped. Hence all the stories in the tabs about Paris's missing pooch.

But then "Mad TV" writer Jeff Bushnell took this bit of non-news and used it as the inspiration for a screenplay about this Beverly Hills Chihuahua who gets lost in Mexico after its owner takes the dog along on a spa vacation. In order to get back home to Hollywood, this pampered pooch must first befriend some actual Mexican Chihuahuas and then persuade these crude canines to help this Tinkerbell stand-in find her owner again.

 
Photo courtesy of Google Images

Anyway ... Disney originally optioned this screenplay back in 2004. When it was originally thought that the studio would do "South of the Border" as a project that would mix live action & CG. However, given how well "Eight Below" performed last year, Mouse House officials now seem determined to use real-live Chihuahuas to get most of the shots that they need for this moderately budgeted motion picture.

FYI: Disney plans on using the same lip-syncing technology that's now being used in the production of "Underdog" to make it look as though the Chihuahuas in "South of the Border" can actually talk. As to the celebrities that Mickey hopes to hire to voice various canines in this film ... I'm told that Disney would really like to sign Carlos Mencia to play at least one role in this picture.

Speaking of casting ... While there is no official word yet on who Walt Disney Pictures hopes to hire to play the title role in "Prince of Persia," a number of other aspects of this upcoming Jerry Bruckheimer production have already been nailed into place. This film's sub-title will be "The Sands of Time." And per the terms of Bruckheimer's current contract with Disney Studios, the final cut of this highly anticipated motion picture must receive a PG / PG-13 rating.

Given that "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is currently slated to be Walt Disney Pictures' big release for the 2008 holiday season, serious pre-production work is already underway on this film. A series of elaborate concept paintings (Which suggest that "PoP" is hoping to achieve the modern equivalent of the cinematic grandeur that was seen in Alexander Korda's "The Thief of Bagdad") have already been completed. And some preliminary special effects tests have reportedly been done on the film's sandstorm sequence.

As for this movie's proposed storyline, Disney & Bruckheimer are both being rather tight-lipped about this, To date, all that's leaked out in-house about "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is that this film will deal with ...

" ... a young prince (who) must prove his innocence with the reluctant help of a conquered princess and a magic dagger that can reverse time."

I'm also told that the movie version of Jordan Mechner's classic video game franchise will feature an enormous enchanted hourglass. But as to where this particular item fits into the "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" storyline ... I have no idea.

Speaking of action-adventure, Walt Disney Pictures is looking to put a martial arts spin on the studio's animated masterpiece, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" with the studio's 2008 release, "Snow and the Seven." This live action feature (Which the studio hopes to shoot on-location in China) is set in the 1880s, when an reluctant English princess suddenly finds herself in need of protection while traveling overseas. And who then comes to her aid? Seven Shaolin monks.


Photo courtesy of Google Images

I know, I know. "Snow and the Seven" sounds kind of bizarre. Though -- truth be told -- this production has a pretty amazing pedigree. The film's screenplay has been written by Michael Chabon, the 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winner who also crafted the scripts for "Spider-Man 2" and "Wonder Boys." And for Woo-ping Yuen, the movie's director ... This is the guy who choreographed all of the fight sequences in the "Kill Bill" films as well as the "Matrix" trilogy.

And Yuen ... According to what studio sources have told me, Woo-ping is looking to make "Snow and the Seven" the "Ocean's 11" of martial arts movies. Meaning that Yuen is out to recruit some of the biggest names in martial arts film history to make appearances in this motion picture. Then add to this Chabon's clever concept that each of the Shaolin priests will have at least one trait that will remind viewers of the dwarfs from Disney's 1937 animated version ... And it sounds like "Snow and the Seven" could be one fun flick.

Alright. I know that there are those of you out there who are already upset that Disney would even think of remaking "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Much less turning this animated masterpiece into a martial arts movie. But you have to understand that this isn't the first time that the Mouse has actually thought about remaking "Snow White."

How many of you remember back to 1979, as Walt Disney Productions was getting ready to release "The Black Hole" ? More importantly, when then-studio head Ron Miller -- as he was meeting with members of the press -- began talking up the studio's next sci-fi-based project. Which (depending on when you talked with Ron) was either known as "Snow Star," "White Star" or "Star White."

Anywho ... The film's storyline dealt with this Princess Leia-like royal who was fleeing from an evil sorceress who's out to destroy the princess's home world. When the Leia-lookalike's spaceship suddenly developed engine problems in deep space, the princess sought shelter in this supposedly abandoned space station.

Only (surprise, surprise) this space station isn't actually abandoned. When the original colonists left eons ago, they left behind seven little droids to maintain the facility. And it's these robots who now become the princess's protectors and keep her safe from that evil space sorceress.

So you tell me, folks: What sounds worse? "Snow and the Seven" with its Shaolin monks or "Snow Star" / "White Star" / "Star White" / Whatever. Which was basically "Snow White and the Seven Droids."

And speaking of cute little robots ... If you want to learn something about the storyline for Pixar's 2008 release, I suggest you come back to JHM tomorrow and check out my "Toon Tuesday" column.

Your thoughts?

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  • If any money from Disney goes into Paris Hilton's pocket I will be p!$$ed

  • Hmmm.. I'm interested in what Oren/Cook will eventually find as the answer to the question what a Disney movie truly is.. I believe there is more room for PG-13 material, it's still family friendly so why not go for it?

    "Snow and the Seven" sound.. little strange, but I'll give it a try. "Snow White and the Seven Droids," god, sounds corny, but if they had produced a decent film with a strong story, why not! Would have been a sci-fi'ey twist!

  • I played the game "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time" and, if memory serves, the plot is that the Prince (never named) has just returned from his first overseas battle and shares the spoils with his father, the sultan, in their palace. The Prince keeps a dagger for himself and the Vizier (a Jafar rip-off) shows off the hourglass containing the Sands of Time and a captured princess. The Vizier then tells the Prince to "unlock" the hourglass with the aforementioned "Dagger of Time," while the POW princess tries to stop him, knowing it's trouble. The Prince unlocks the Sands, chaos ensues, everybody dissappears save the Prince, the POW and Jafar, now a magically-enpowered megalomaniac (hmm...familiar?). The big selling point of the game was the fact that, as the Prince adventured, you found some of the Sand that would charge up your Dagger, allowing for time-based bonuses (Reverse a crumbling bridge back to normal, Fast Forward yourself past the stabbing walls, Pause falling rocks so you could platform-jump over them, etc.) That, and it's franchise ready with three games already made in the series, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," "Prince of Persia: Warrior Within," and "Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones". The plots of the other two, in a sentence or less is that, in WW, you go back in time to stop the Sands of Time from being created in the first place (and you become much darker, almost a goth-Persian), and in TTT, your temporal displacement adventures have messed up the present so much, that the dark side you and the light side have to work together to hopefully stabilize things. Yep, standard family-action fare...<yawn>. I'm a'go watch Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children again.

  • Isn't it a bit ironic that Disney even needs to figure out what a Disney movie is? Isn't it also ironic that, in a way, it takes Walden Media to show them? "Bridge to Terabithia" is very much a traditional Disney movie, maybe a little more edgy than a Hayley Mills film, but with all the elements -- emotion, friendship, magic, imagination, hope -- that made so many Disney classics so memorable.

    Let's just hope they don't ask the "brand" managers.

  • This news fills me with so many questions:

    Am I missing something here ? Doesn't George Lopez already work for Disney? Wouldn't he be considered long before Carlos - I'm like Aladdin, but I steal jokes instead of food - Mencia? Otherwise, even a bad talking dog movie is good for $50 mill, as long as they don't release it during the summer.

    An all-star martial arts movie with no violence ? ok, who does that please? Probably not the martial arts fans. Jackie Chan has had the most success crossing over to US audiences, but after a while, he does hit people. Someone in Disney marketing needs to attempt to take a woman on a date to a martial arts movie - you can tell them Jackie Chan is really funny, you can tell them it's like watching a really fast ballet, you can tell them it's based on Snow White - they ain't going. No need to even suggest a movie with Jet Li.    Mr Yuen, the director, staged some pretty violent scenes in Matrix and Kill Bill, but there will be no violence in Disney movies, so what is he to do?  And isn't Wonderboys the movie they released, nobody came, and they released it again hoping for Oscar nominations, then it went away for good? Speaking of wondering, when you make the "Ocean's 11 of martial arts movies", who is the martial arts equivalent of Scott Cann ?

    Prince of Persia - like Lassetter,  Bruckheimer has made plenty o' cash for the Disney Co, so he gets as close as you can get to a free pass in the movie world. I always enjoy this movie when I see it every other week on TNT - they call it "The Mummy." I don't think they needed to spend the money on the POP title to appeal to the videogamers. If they make a cool adventure film, word will quickly spread through the same target market before the movie is released, but hey, Bruckheimer earned his pass to spend the $ however he wants.

    My biggest question is how does someone say with a straight face that they've spent 7 months figuring out that the goal is to make movies with appropriate dialogue, lots of action, and G rated romance?

  • Wow, "South of the Border" sounds amazing. As in horrible.

  • I'm very dubious about POP. Even if they can Disney-fy it, the fact is it'sstill based on a videogame and they are notoriously difficiult things to adapt because as it sands there has NEVER been a decent game to film adaptation.

  • I do think PoP has a shot at being a great Disney action movie a la Pirates. The PoP games are a little violent, but what makes "Sands of Time" stand out from its 2 sequels is its Arabian Nights-esque fairy tale charm, don't you think so, Cecilbdemented? The way the Prince narrates the story, accent and all, he makes it sound like a timeless tale, intimate in character, yet grand in its adventure. I'm cautiously excited! I love this game!

  • "South of the Border" still sounds a lot like "Cars" and "American Dog" to me.... but with more ethical issues than I can count.  [I apologize: after several years of working in a holistic petcare store, I have come to abhore anything that relates to treating one's dog as an accessory.  But I digress...]

    Actually, I'm rather excited about "Snow and the Seven" - at least, the prospect gave me a nice laugh... in a good way.  I'm reminded of how Gail Carson Levine took the basic "Cinnerella" story and adapted in a fun, spirited way to "Ella Enchanted", [the book, mind you].  Hopefully, "Snow and Seven" will be of a similar sort. [that, and my fianceé is giggling in excitement over all of the great martial artists who could potentially star in the film.  He's hoping for Tony Jaa, or, since he already has a Disney contract, Yun-Fat Chow.

  • Oh, and I think if Disney were to do a video game.... Kingdom Hearts would be a prime candidate.  It's such a pity they haven't done more with it!

  • Except for Prince of Persia, every one of those movies sound horrible. Egad. I  hope a lot of this article is hearsay and not fact.

  • "An all-star martial arts movie with no violence?"

    They mean "no violence" in the way Pirates 1 and 2 had "no violence".  Meaning action (violence with little or no blood).

    Martial arts have done very well with that PG-13 level of violence, specifically the Jackie Chan stuff, arty stuff like Crouching Tiger, and comedies like Shaolin Soccer.  It's definitely possible to do a martial arts film that's not overly violent, appropriate for "family" audience (at least in the same way as Pirates) and even a date movie.  Chicks loved Crouching Tiger, and stuff like some of the Jackie Chan movies has crossed over ages and genders.

    And Prince of Persia actually seems like a game that could be turned into a decent movie, they just need to use it as a source of elements like characters, setting, magical stuff, instead of trying to flesh out the game plot (kinda like Pirates did with the ride).

  • With so many movies pushing video game tie-ins as of late, why are they basing Prince of Persia on an old video game?  I'm surprised they are not giving a completely new story line and having a video game come out to tie into the movies release.

  • Why base a movie on an old amusement park ride?

  • Rotel, they are basing it on the more recent Prince of Persia games, not the old 1980s ones. Besides, it sounds like they really are just using story/character elements of the game rather than rehashing the exact same plot, so there's room for creativity.

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