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The Elephant in the Room -- Part 2

The Elephant in the Room -- Part 2

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Picking up where we left off last week ... "Wild Life" had been in development for nearly two years, and now it was finally moving toward production. The crew was delighted when word got out that two sequences had been given the green light for production.

In spite of the obvious story and theme issues, our production team was totally energized and blazed ahead with full artistic intensity. Even our large story room was filled with the booming sounds of Techno Rock as the artists continued to crank out reams of storyboards. Like it or not, no one could escape this driving heartbeat, and it provided a special energy that seemed to push us all forward.

As I mentioned earlier, this production was not short on talent. In fact, this was one of the few animated movies that included a costume designer. Visually, the motion picture would have been stunning. On board were designers such as H.B. (Buck) Lewis and Craig Kellman. Premiere production designer Hans Bacher had recently joined the team, and I still remember the worried look on his face when he stopped me in the hallway. "The movie is in serious trouble," said Bacher. "We've got to do something about the story." I fully understood what troubled the designer, but I also knew there was little I could do about it. Disney story artists had long since been marginalized by Hollywood screenwriters, and things were not about to change anytime soon.

Story sketch showing a humiliated Magda as she introduces her latest  pop star

Professional voice actors began to replace the movies' scratch track, and our film could now boast of big name talent. Noted character actor Alan Cumming had been pegged for the voice of Red Pittstain, and Academy Award winner Kathy Bates would create the voice of media maven Magda. Finally, television star Debra Messing was being considered for the voice of pop diva Kitty Glitter.

In spite of the movies' story issues, I continued to have fun on the project. Our directors requested I create color storyboards for the screening. I was able to add glitz and polish to the usually simple storyboards using computer applications Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator. I couldn't help but be amused by the fact that I was doing all this on my Apple laptop while being surrounded by millions of dollars worth of high-end workstations.

Suddenly, the day of the screening was upon us. I wasn't invited to the Roy Disney screening in the Northside facility, but there was really no need. I already knew the verdict before the first act was over. "We can't release this movie," said the disgusted vice chairman as he stormed out of the building.

We had high-end work stations worth millions. I did all my digital  enhancement on an Apple laptop

If you've been in the business as long as I have, you already know what happens next. Executives scramble to cover their butts and everybody blames everybody else. Hey, what would you expect? This is Hollywood.

Finally, there are the inevitable questions. How did this happen, and who was to blame? Why were certain decisions made, and who made them? Everybody, it seems wants the "inside scoop."

Sorry, boys and girls, you'll not find them here. Besides, grunts working in the trenches are not privy to top executive decisions. However, you can bet there is plenty we'll never know. "Wild Life" was hardly a "stealth" project, and studio managers would do well not to paraphrase Louie in "Casablanca." "I'm shocked -- shocked ! -- to learn such a movie was being produced here at Disney!"

 Ella the Elephant by "Wild Life" co-director Howard Baker

"Wild Life" was not necessarily a bad idea. A mix of Studio 54 and "Pygmalion," it was hip, cool, and edgy. Maybe even a little ahead of its time. After all, the Mouse is currently cashing in on projects like "Hannah Montana" and "High School Musical." In many ways this innovative film could have been an incredible blockbuster attracting the growing teen markets the company so eagerly courts.

With its sophisticated themes and provocative story line it was clear to all who had a brain that "Wild Life" was hardly a Disney movie. One could only imagine the howls and shrieks that would have come from conventional Middle America once little Jenny and Jeff got introduced to the "club scene." It was, as one story artist put it, "Too hip for the room."

Ella the Elephant was a fascinating character and the central focus of "Wild Life." She could sing, dance and captivate an audience. She was an incredible wonder - - but she was still a huge, lumbering elephant. An elephant in the room that -- strangely enough -- nobody ever saw.

I digitally enhanced a story sketch by "Wild Life" head of story Darryl Kidder

Did you enjoy the conclusion of Floyd Norman's "Wild Life" ? Well, this is just one of the hundreds of amazing tales that this Disney Legend has to share. Many of which you'll find collected in the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at the time that Mr. Norman spent working in the animation industry.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman postings his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • I read both parts of this article and am still a little lost.  Why couldn't Disney release the movie?  Floyd gives the impression that Roy Disney was concerned with content.  I know this is a dumb question, but with the movie taking place in the big city club scene were there references to all that comes with that (sex, drugs, etc)?

  • Yes, as much as I enjoy Mr. Norman's stories, this one seems incomplete still.  What exactly were these huge story issues to which he refers but never explains?  He says they're obvious, but not to us.

  • Sounds to me like this was going in the direction of Nelvana's Rock 'N' Rule.

  • Floyd seems to be doing his darnedest not to offend anyone here, but from what I heard concerning that disasterous screening was the verdict was "Too Gay".

    Apparently one of the screenwriters, in an attempt to be "edgy" crossed a line that didn't please Roy Disney at all.

  • I think the film didn't fit the "Disney" brand. Let's face it, Disney made its name in animation so releasing an animated film under anything but that wouldn't make sense.

    Thanks for the insider point of view, Floyd. Very interesting as always.

  • If you _must_ know.... http://animationarchive.net/Deleted%20Movies/Wild%20Life/

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