Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

Why For did Walt Disney pull the plug on “Pinocchio”?

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Why For did Walt Disney pull the plug on “Pinocchio”?

Rate This
  • Comments 0
DonkeyBoy writes with a question related to Wednesday’s “The Art of Shrek Forever Afterreview. He wants to know about …

… that image of teenage Shrek you included with your article. You mentioned that this was a storyline that Mike Mitchell and his team developed for this Dreamworks film and then dropped. Did Mike tell you what that proposed storyline was supposed to be like?

Indeed he did, DonkeyBoy. The idea of giving moviegoers a taste of teenaged Shrek’s life in the fourth film of this series was to reveal how closely the ogre & Princess Fiona’s lives were intertwined. That – long before the storyline of the first “Shrek” had officially gotten underway – these two characters had actually crossed paths.

Drawing of a teenage Shrek
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation, L.L.C.
All Rights Reserved

Here’s the set-up for this aborted sequence: Shrek has reached the age when ogre parents traditionally kick their their children out of the house. And almost immediately after he’s left home, this teenage ogre finds himself being pursued by an angry mob. And as Shrek racing down the street, trying to evade capture, he’s almost run down by a royal procession.

“And who was supposed to be in this royal procession?,” you ask. King Harold, Queen Lillian and young Princess Fiona. In fact, the idea that Mitchell and his story team wanted to get across here was that this was the moment from the original “Shrek” ‘s backstory where the King & Queen were taking Fiona to the Dragon’s Keep. So that their daughter could then wait in the highest tower for her true love to come along and break the fierce enchantment that Fiona was under (i.e. “By night one way, by day another”) with Love’s First Kiss.

The idea that Mike was trying to get across here was that – if it hadn’t been for that royal procession coming along – the mob would probably have caught this teenaged ogre and killed him. So – in a way – Fiona rescued Shrek long before Donkey & this ogre came along and rescued the princess from the Dragon’s Keep.

Shrek poster
Copyright 2000 DreamWorks Animation, L.L.C.
All Rights Reserved

But in the end, Mitchell and the “Shrek Forever After” story team dropped this particular flashback because … Well, as fun as it may have been to stage a sequence in this film where young Princess Fiona and teenage Shrek almost meet … In the end, this interesting tangent didn’t really service the movie’s story. If anything, this flashback (along with another one that was supposed to have touched on Puss in Boot’s origins. Which – occurring to Mike – was at least a half hour long and had too many dark touches. “This would have been the ‘Schindler's List’ of animation,” he laughed. “There’s a reason that we didn’t put that version of Puss in Boots’ backstory into production.  It was way too depressing”) slowed down the story that DreamWorks Animation wanted to tell with the fourth installment of this popular film franchise. Which is sort of a Shrek-ish version of that holiday perennial, “It's a Wonderful Life.”

Now where this gets interesting is the very idea that Mike Mitchell described to me (i.e. Shrek being forced to leave home at a young age by his parents. He and Fiona then meeting on the road as she’s taken to the Dragon’s Keep) wound up being the opening number of “Shrek the Musical.” Which – FYI – begins its National Tour at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theater on July 13th.

Brian D'arcy James as Shrek, Chester Gregory as Donkey and Sutton Foster as Fiona in the original Broadway Company of "Shrek the Musical"
(L to R) Brian d’Arcy James, Chester Gregory and Sutton Foster
in the original Broadway Company of “Shrek the Musical.”
Photo by Joan Marcus.
Copyright 2008 DreamWorks
Theatrical. All Rights Reserved

And when I told Mitchell about this, he chuckled and said “Well, it’s nice to see some of this stuff that we work so hard on eventually winds up being used.”

But ask any animation professional and they’ll tell you the very same story that Mike just told me. About sequences that they labored over for months. Only to then see these scenes wind up on the cutting room floor.

A storyboard of Bashful one of the Seven Dwarfs
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Right Reserved

Perhaps the most infamous sequences to ever get cut of an animated featured were the lodge meeting, bed-building & soup-eating sequences from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Some of these scenes for Disney’s feature length animated cartoon were well on their way to being produced when Walt opted to pull the plug. In large part for the exact same reason that Mike Mitchell cut that teenage-Shrek-meets-young-Princess-Fiona from “Shrek Forever After.” Because – no matter how great the gags were and/or how skillful the animation was – these sequences didn’t advance “Snow White” ‘s story.

Birds weave a bed in a storyboard for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Right Reserved

Mind you, it often took Walt quite a while to make up his mind when it came to cuts. As Neal Gabler recounted in his excellent “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” :

As early as November 1936, storyman Dick Creedon had suggested the possibility of lopping two scenes – one which the dwarfs meet to discuss whether they should let Snow White stay or, fearing repercussions from the Queen, make her leave, and another in which the dwarfs, having resolved to let her stay, decide to build her a bed so that she will not want to leave. “I don’t think it has any purpose in the story now and will divert us at a point when we should start building our suspense tempo,” Creedon asserted.

Dopey chisles on a bed post in a storyboard from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Right Reserved

Unconvinced, Walt proceeded to have the scenes animated anyway, as well as another in which the dwarfs were eating soup under the reproachful eye of Snow White, who is trying to teach them manners, though he warned of the bed-building: “take out all the superfluous stuff.”

Dopey slips on the bed legs in a storyboard from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Right Reserved

The scenes were still in the picture as late as June 1937 – they hadn’t even been finalized until April – but Walt, like Creedon, finally decided that they had to go because they disrupted the flow of the narrative. Ward Kimball, who had animated the bulk of the soup-eating sequence, was crushed. He had spent nearly a year and a half on the section.

Dopey ends up under a pile of wood in a storyboard from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Right Reserved

But – in the end – it didn’t matter how long individual animators had worked on sequences and/or the amount of time or movie that Walt Disney Studios had already spent on a project. If Walt felt that something wasn’t working, out the window it went.

Disney also ran into the same sort of problems in 1938. When – rather than have the team that he has assembled for “Snow White” sit by idle or – worse – get poached by the competition, Walt rushed “Pinocchio” into production. Which – according to Walt himself – was a huge mistake. Because (again quoting from the Gabler book) “ … (we didn’t have) a thing prepared. (We tried) to build a story before we even knew it.”

As you read through “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination,” it’s kind of hard to hear about how the team at Disney Studios struggled to get a handle on “Pinocchio.” As Gabler explains:

A production drawing of Pinocchio from Disney's Pinocchio
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Right Reserved

The major drawback to the lack of preparation (on Disney’s feature length cartoon) was the failure to tackle fully the character of Pinocchio. As Walt put it bluntly at the outset, “One difficulty in ‘Pinocchio’ is that people know the story, but they don’t like the character,’ who, in the book, is often cruel. It is a sign of his dis-satisfaction with the character that Walt suggested that they enlarge the role of the Blue Fairy and have her appear in different disguises, including that of a blue cricket, to help guide Pinocchio and keep him on a righteous path. But that was only an expedient. Walt clearly had no handle on Pinocchio, describing him at one point as “fresh,” like ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s wise-cracking dummy Charlie McCarthy, or lusty, like Harpo Marx, grabbing for the fairy whenever she appears. He wasn’t even sure if Pinocchio should act like a puppet or a small boy or whether he should appear wooden or flexible. When Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl, and Ollie Johnston took the former tack and animated 150 feet of the puppet early that February, Walt was displeased.

A production drawing of Pinocchio from Disney's animated feature Pinocchio
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Right Reserved

As the story goes, including the official story record, shortly after seeing Thomas’s animation, Walt decided to put Pinocchio on hiatus from February through September while the staff reworked the script. In fact, Walt kept working on, revising and sweatboxing scenes right through July, but he knew that he had hit a wall. Ham Luske claimed that after looking at the storyboards of a scene where Pinocchio terrorize Geppetto’s cat, Figaro, he suggested to Walt that the audience would lose sympathy for Pinocchio unless the puppet had some way to discern right from wrong. As Ward Kimball told it, “Angelfter six or eight months, Walt looked at it and he says, ‘It’s not working.’ So he threw it out and everybody had to start all over again.”

You’d be amazed how often this happened at Walt Disney Studios. Where – over the past 80+ years – projects have been chugging along through the development pipeline (Take – for example – the storyboards below. Which are from a never-produced Disney short, “Donald’s Beaver Hunt”) …

Donald shoots a large gun in a storyboard for Donald's Beaver Hunt, an unproduced short
mage courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Right Reserved

… only to then have the guy in charge (be it Walt or Roy E. or – nowadays – John Lasseter or Ed Catmull) say “It’s not good enough. Shut production down.”

Donald Duck holds up a beaver in a storyboard for an unproduced Disney short
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Right Reserved

And speaking of shutting things down, I think that’ll do it for this week here at JHM.

FYI: if you enjoyed the sketches that were used to illustrate today’s article, most of them came from the Spring 2010 catalog for S/R Laboratories. Which will be holding its biannual animation art auction next week. On May 24 – 25, to be exact. For further information on what other pieces will be coming up for bid this time around, please click on this link.

And remember, folks – if you’d like me to answer your Disney-related questions in a future "Why For" column – please send them along to [email protected]

Have a great weekend, okay?

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post