"To dream the impossible dream ... "
That's the first line from the hit song from "Man of La Mancha."
Which was the stage musical adaptation of
Miguel de Cervantes' seventeenth century masterpiece, "Don
Image courtesy of S/R
Laboratories Animation Art Conservation Center
But in a weird sort of way, that line also describes Walt Disney Studios'
attitude toward Cervantes's spoof of chivalry. You see, the Mouse tried four
separate times to turn "Don Quixote" into a full-length animated
feature. Only to then have this dream-of-a-movie slip through their fingers.
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Inc. All rights reserved
According to Charles Solomon's excellent "The Disney That
Never Was: The Stories and Art from Five Decades of Unproduced Animation"
(Hyperion Press, December 1995), the ...
... initial work on this quixotic film was done around 1940
by a crew led by Bob Carr. A prolific artist, Carr did dozens of watercolors of
situations and characters, many of them inspired by Velazquez and other Spanish
artists. His initial studies for the Duchess, the Bachelor of Science (Samson
Carrasco), et al. are as carefully detailed as the costume designs for a
historical live-action film. Carr also did hundreds of drawings for preliminary
storyboards, working in an elegant, calligraphic style.
Around this same time, another artist (or artists) prepared
two additional sets of simpler but more vivid preliminary studies. Carr did
finished, elaborately rendered paintings; the anonymous artist employed a
looser, less detailed style, using small areas of color to suggest highlights
on a piece of armor or a flaring pastel line to suggest the folds of a cape.
"Don Quixote" was probably derailed by the war and the studio
cutbacks that followed the box-office losses of Pinocchio
In 1946, a second crew, under Jesse Marsh, returned to
"Don Quixote." This version would have been set to an adaptation of
Richard Strauss' tone poem "Don Quixote: Fantastic Variations on a Theme
of Knightly Character for Large Orchestra, op. 35." Marsh prepared
hundreds of neat pen-and-ink and watercolor cartoons, noting the musical themes
that would accompany the action. He did enough rough storyboards for an entire
film, beginning with a shot of the book resting on a table flanked by suits of
armor, and concluding with a sort of apotheosis: After Don Quixote's death, he,
Dulcinea, and Sancho Panza would ride through the clouds to a glittering castle
beneath a rainbow. Like the earlier version, this incarnation of "Don
Quixote" was apparently shelved before story meetings were held or
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Preproduction work began for a third time in April 1951. This crew used an even
simpler style that reflects the influence of such New Yorker cartoonists as Saul
Steinberg and Otto Soglow: The rounded characters consist of little more than a
few ink lines with monochromatic highlights in dull green or tan. Work on this
film must have ended soon after it began, as only a few dozen drawings were
In each case, the artists tried to preserve the major events of the story:
Quixote's dubbing as knight by the innkeeper; his battles with the windmills
and the sheep; the burning of the books by his niece and housekeeper; the visit
to the Duchess; the adventures with Cardenio and Dorotea; the encounters with
the puppet theater, the lions, and the Cart of the Parliament of Death. No one
seems to have noticed just how much screen time these adventures would require;
although it was not unusual for the Disney artists to storyboard more material
than they needed. Veteran story man Bill Peet recalled that on
"Pinocchio," "If they had animated everything on the
storyboards, it would have gone on for two days."
Another factor that the artists apparently failed to consider was how to make a
sympathetic character out of a lunatic. The Don Quixote the artists depicted
was the farcical caricature of the novel -- not the moonstruck idealist of
"Man of La Mancha." The preliminary designs stress the incongruous
appearance of the Knight of the Rueful Figure, playing his scrawny physique and
flaring mustache against absurdly outsized armor.
Mind you, the story doesn't end there. In the late 1990s,
fresh off their stunning work on the opening sequence for Kirk Wise & Gary
Trousdale's "Hunchback of Notre Dame
," Paul and Gaetan Brizzi were tasked with
taking another run at Cervantes's episodic tale. Before they locked in the look
of Don Quixote & Sancho Panza. So they asked Sandro Cleuzo ...
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... and John Watkiss to both take a stab at designing these
In the end, though the Brizzis may have settled on a fairly
cartoonish look for Don Quixote & Sancho Panza ...
... Paul and Gaetan opted to go with a fairly adult take on Cervantes's
tale. "How adult?," you ask. So adult that -- even though everyone at
Walt Disney Animation Studios admitted that the preproduction artwork that the
Brizzis had produced was stunning -- Mouse House managers still pulled the plug
on the project. Which is why -- sometime immediately after that -- the Brizzis
decamped for DreamWorks Animation.
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So does this mean that "The Impossible Dream" is
dead at Disney. Actually, back in December of 2012, Walt Disney Studios bought
a pitch for a movie from Jeff Morris & writer-director Steve Pink.
"And what's the concept for this movie pitch?," you ask. A modern
take on Cervantes's "Don Quixote."
Which is supposed to be produced by Disney's favorite pirate, Johnny
Depp and his sister Christi Dembrowski's company, Infinitum Nihil.
A Ferdinand Horvath concept
drawing of Don Quixote which dates back to before "Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs." Which suggests that Disney Studios -- at one time --
seriously considered turning "Don Quixote" into a Silly Symphony.
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Mind you, it's assumed that the pitch that Disney purchased
is for a live-action motion picture. But as JHM readers know, it's not always
wise to second-guess MIckey.
Anyway, if you'd like to read more stories about animated films & shorts
that didn't make it out of development, then I urge you to pick up a copy of Charles
Solomon's excellent "The Disney That Never Was: The Stories and Art from
Five Decades of Unproduced Animation" (Hyperion Press, December 1995).
This is honestly one of those books that every Disney history buff should have
in their library.
If you've always dreamed of owning a piece of Disney history
... Well, then you might want to check out S/R Laboratories' Spring 2014
Animation Art Auction. Why For? Because they've got five pieces of concept art
from Disney's 1946 version of "Don Quixote" up for bid this time around.
So if you'd like to own your own little piece of Walt Disney
Animation Studios' impossible dream, be sure and be online when the bidding
gets underway May 19 - 20th.
I've long been baffled why Disney doesn't try creating a more adult animated film. Not necessarily something that needs violence or sex to get to a PG-13 rating, but something with more adult themes, less fantasy or fairy-tale and more dramatic in character.
To pull from current headlines, for instance, why is 'Maleficient' not animated?
I'd like to think that after attempting this many a time it's gotta be bound for the big screen...eventually. It's time Disney! Let's do it. I'd rather it be animated but a live action take would be fun too. I've always loved the Don Quixote stories. It'll happen.
Thanks for the article Jim.
Given how many Disney films eventually emerged from development hell (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Tangled, Frozen), there is still a chance that this could be made.
I would like for Disney to take another try at making Chanticleer. Yes, there is Don Bluth's take, but nothing says there should only be one animated adaption of a story.
Hopefully it will retaken someday. It is impossible to adapt all the Cervantes masterpiece in a feature film, but anyway it would be a more than interesting view. But... please, please, please, please, make it in handdrawing animation. We deserve that!