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As "Tarzan" swings off Broadway, is Beyoncé getting ready to play Aida in Disney's next big movie musical?

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.

As "Tarzan" swings off Broadway, is Beyoncé getting ready to play Aida in Disney's next big movie musical?

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First up, Kevin writes in to say:

I was just wondering, how do Disney executives feel about the Wiggles joining up with Six Flags for the "Wiggles World" theme areas in their parks? Is this a sign that the Wiggles and Disney may be parting company soon?


Dear Kevin --

Nope. You have to understand that the Wiggles aren't actually Disney characters. The Mouse just licenses the rights to rebroadcast previously produced episodes of this incredibly popular Australian children's television series. Which it then airs on the Disney Channel as part of their "Playhouse Disney" block.

When Mickey made the deal to acquire these rights back in 2002, no one at the company thought to include any language in that contract that would have then allowed Disney to bring the Wiggles into their theme parks. Which is why the folks at Six Flags were eventually able to swoop in & cut a deal with Wiggles International Pty Ltd. Which then allowed that corporation to bring these characters into their parks.

Copyright Wiggles International Pty Ltd. All Rights Reserved

To be specific, Six Flags added "Wiggles Worlds" to just three of their theme parks in the Spring of 2007: Six Flags Great Adventure, Six Flags Great America and Six Flags New England. And these kid-friendly areas feature specially themed rides & attractions that are deliberately designed to appeal to the 2-6 set. Which is an area where the Six Flags parks have previously had very limited appeal. Should this pilot program prove to be successful, there is talk of adding "Wiggles World" sections to the rest of the parks in the Six Flags chain over 2008 & 2009.

But as for the Mouse supposedly being upset that the Wiggles got away from them ... There's no truth to that rumor. Disney is perfectly happy with what it already has. Which is the rights to air "The Wiggles" TV series every weekday morning at 7 a.m. As for the Disney theme parks ... To be honest, the corporation wants to concentrate on bringing Playhouse Disney characters that it owns outright in the parks. Rather than having to pay out any additional fees to acquire the theme park rights to characters like the Wiggles or the Doodlebops.

Next up, Craig D. writes in to say:

I found an old article from 2005 about the possibilty of releasing Song of the South to DVD, anything new on this?

Actually, things are looking pretty good right now for "Song of the South" to finally be released on DVD in late 2008 / early 2009. But not for the reasons you might think.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

You see, what with DisneyToon Studios now becoming a non-sequel producing operation as well as Dick Cook's decision last year to significantly cut back on the number of movies Walt Disney Studios will release every year ... Well, that leaves Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Soon to be renamed Walt Disney Entertainment) with significantly fewer titles to put out on store shelves in the coming year. And given that BVHE will still be expected to make its numbers ... Well, that means that they're going to have to release something that the public really wants to get its hands on. And that, my friends, is "Song of the South."

As I mentioned back in May, Disney is still hoping to use "The Princess and the Frog" to help soften any racial concerns that movie-goers may have about this 1946 Academy Award winner. Which is why the studio is looking to get production of this new John Musker & Ron Clements underway later this year. So that they'd then have a full sequence from that still-in-story-development film to drop onto that DVD. Which will then hopefully help rebuff any "Song of the South" 's critics.

So if you can just hang in there for another year or two, Craig, you should finally be able to get your hands on a really-for-real copy of "Song of the South." Not an illegal dub of the Japanese laser disc. But -- rather -- a full-blown DVD straight from Buena Vista Home Entertainment ... er ... Walt Disney Home Entertainment.

Next up. John L. writes in to say:

I've seen stories online about changes on the Soarin' ride at Epcot, which brings to mind a couple of questions about this attraction. After building (this same) attraction at DCA, imagineers knew the challenges that faced the attraction, the slow wait times and low ride capacity (not to mention all the "UFOs" on the screen caused by specks of dust. So, why didn't WDI address these issues when they rebuilt the ride in Florida? Why would Disney repeat the mistake of building just two theatres? Why didn't they change to a digital projection system? And finally, why did they design the queue so poorly that they're redoing it less than two years later. Whatever happened to learning from your mistakes.

Dear John L.

It wasn't so much a case of WDI not learning from its mistakes. But -- rather -- the Imagineers trying to save a few bucks. By re-using as much material as possible that had been used to create the first version of this attraction (i.e. From the blue prints all the way up to that California-centric ride film) ... Well, that was a huge cost savings for the company.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

You gotta remember that this Future World attraction was actually greenlit in the bad old days. Back when Michael Eisner was perpetually leaning on Walt Disney Imagineering to contain costs. To deliver the biggest possible bang for the fewest possible bucks. So that's why the Epcot version of this popular DCA attraction didn't go digital. Or -- for that matter -- opt to tack on an additional theater to help with this Future World's hourly capacity. Or even commission a new ride film that might better fit with the international flavor of its new theme park home.

In the years ahead, at least "Soarin' " ride film will change. Eventually. Though given that there are still days when this newish Future World attraction has guests waiting in line for upwards of two hours for their chance to soar over all that pretty Californian scenery ... We're at least a few years away from that happening. But once those lines die down, then the Imagineers can finally move forward with their plans to produce a more internationally appropriate ride film.

Next up, George H. writes to ask:

I just discovered while reading an article on Brad Bird, that its rumored that his next big project will be a live action film...but not only that: a live-action Pixar film. And its rumored to be based off a book about the San Francisco Earthquake, 1906.

Really? Pixar moving to live-action films too? Could you please confirm or deny this interesting development?

Dear George H.

Yep. It's gonna happen. The folks at Pixar are doggedly following in Walt Disney's footsteps. Moving methodically from CG shorts to full-length animated features to movies that mix computer animation and live action.

Copyright Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Just so you know, though, George H. It's far more likely that Pixar's first live action / animated film will actually be a big screen adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars" series. I'm told that the Disney brass views this particular project as the logical stepping-off point for an entire series of "John Carter of Mars" movies. And given that Mickey is franchise-crazy these days ... Well, that's why "Princess" is now being fast-tracked while "1906" remains in preliminary development.

Mind you, we're not actually going to see either of these productions anytime soon. My understanding is that the earliest that either of these two Pixar live action / CG features will reach the screen is 2011. So you may want to hold off on getting in line at your local multiplex for a while.

And finally, Jeremy writes in to say:

With the announced closing of Tarzan, I've been wondering about the possibility of future Disney musicals, specifically The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I'm a big Broadway fan, and I've grown to appreciate the Disney movie version a great deal since it was released, expecially the soundtrack. I think I remember that a German version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Der Glockner von..., if I'm not mistaken) was a bit hit overseas several years ago, and was rumored to be coming to Broadway then. Unless I missed it, it never did.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The puzzling thing to me is that Hunchback seems to have one of the most Broadway-ready scores and plots, and would seem to be tailor-made for the stage (even moreso than film, arguably) with its romantic, dramatic undertones and the pedigree of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Basically, watching the movie has always felt like watching a stage show, and listening to the soundtrack makes me feel like I'm listening to a Broadway cast album. To make a long message somewhat shorter, my question, essentially, is this: Is there any chance Broadway will see any kind of version of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the near (or not-so-near) future? Thank you so much for any answers you can provide--as you can see, I've been curious about this for a while.

Dear Jeremy --

You're not the only one who wonders why the stage version of Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame" has yet to make its stateside debut. Ever since this James Lapine musical wrapped up its three year run at the Musical Theatre Berlin in June of 2002, there's been talk of bringing this show to Broadway. But since the stage adaptation of this 1996 animated feature hues much more closely to the original storyline of Victor Hugo's novel ... Well, the concern at Disney Theatrical reportedly was that American theater-goers might balk at a stage version of Disney's "Hunchback" where Esmerelda actually dies.

Mind you, there was some talk in March of 2004 about possibly adapting this stage show for television. In fact, Jason Moore of "Avenue Q" fame was actually signed to direct the TV musical version of "Hunchback." The original plan was that this adaptation would go into production in the Spring of 2005 and then eventually air on ABC's "Wonderful World of Disney" in February of 2006.

But then this project's greatest patron, Michael Eisner (Disney's former CEO just loved "Hunchback." When asked what his favorite animated feature was, Michael would always mention this Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale film without any prompting. The man clearly felt a connection to this character & material. Insert your own bit of misunderstood-and-reviled-figure-locked-away-in-a-tower psychobabble here) found himself being nudged toward the door. And when Eisner officially exited the Walt Disney Company in September of 2005 ... That was pretty much all she wrote for the TV movie version of Disney's "Hunchback" musical.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But -- that said -- that doesn't mean that the stage musical version of Disney's "Hunchback" won't ever make its stateside debut. My understanding is that several small regional theaters have already asked Disney Theatrical for the rights to produce this James Lapine show stateside. And while the Mouse has continued to say "No" (Supposedly because it still believes that the TV movie version of the show may yet be revived) ... Well, that doesn't mean that they're always going to say "No."

After all, when it comes to Broadway shows & Disney, anything is possible. Take -- for example -- this coming weekend, when "Tarzan" closes at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Which should be a sad time for the folks at Disney Theatrical. But instead those offices have been abuzz lately with the news that Walt Disney Studios is seriously thinking about turning DT's earlier production, "Aida," into a big budget movie musical.

"And just who would play the title role in the film version of this Elton John musical?," you ask. Would you believe Beyoncé? The Mouse is reportedly already in talks with this pop diva, trying to convince Ms. Knowles to make "Aida" her follow-up project to "Dreamgirls."

Starring in the movie version of this Tony Award-winning musical should be a no-brainer for BeyoncĂ©. Particularly since the show's title role has proven to be such an effective showcase for chart toppers like Toni Braxton and Ms. Knowles' fellow "Destiny's Child" survivorMichelle T. Williams.

Mind you, the folks back at the studio are thrilled that a movie version of "Aida" is finally in the works. After all, that's why Disney bought the rights to the children's storybook version of Giuseppe Verdi's opera that Leontyne Price wrote back in 1990. Because they originally thought that this material might make fine fodder for a feature length cartoon.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So now -- after almost 20 years -- to have "Aida" finally come full circle and return to the studio. Only this time not as a proposed animated feature, but as a live action movie musical ... Well, there's something very pleasing about that.

So that's why you shouldn't feel too blue if you're a "Hunchback" fan who's been patiently waiting for the Broadway version to arrive and/or that TV movie to go into production. These things have a way of sorting themselves out ... Eventually.

I mean, it took over 25 years for the movie version of "Chicago" to finally get produced. So good things do come to those who wait.

But if you really can't wait any longer to see the stage version of Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame" ... How's this for a consolation prize? Courtesy of YouTube, here are a few clips from "Der Glockner Von Notre Dame." Now you can at least get some sense of what the German version of the show was like.

Enjoy !

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  • HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is already an underrated Disney movie, which is too bad. I too think the musical should come to the States. Its one of the best Disney movies ever made, in my opinion.

  • A couple of points:

    -I love to get an official, double disc edition of Song Of The South.

    I really hope this gets released.

    -I enjoy Soarin' at Epcot, and don't mind he Cali. movie, simply because the ride is so breathtaking. But the cue needs to be fixed badly..The cue in California Adventure is so much better (which is something I never thought I'd say =P)

    -The John Carter of Mars series would be AWESOME.

  • //Don't ask me why, but Eisner just loved "Hunchback."//

    Perhaps it's just that, y'know, Hunchback really is quite a good movie.

    As for it being on stage...well...for a while, one of my favorite "Must See" attractions at WDW was the Hunchback stage show, which I actually saw before I saw the movie, and I instantly adored the music.  It's a very theatrical score, perfectly suited for the stage.  I remember watching both that show and the Beauty and the Beast show at MGM, and realizing just how much Hunchback outshined Beauty and the Beast, at least in terms of their Disney theme park productions.

  • I think that "Aida" should be animated!  I'm not too familiar with the story, but I think I read before that the themes are more adult-oriented in "Aida"...but that didn't stop THoND.  

    Jim, I hope you're right with the SOTS on DVD rumor/news...it seems that there are so few people who don't want the movie to come out that it's silly to withhold it from everyone else who wants it.  I'm sure there have been other Disney movies that certain individuals don't agree with, but there hasn't been as much vocal opposition to those other movies.

  • I saw Hunchback/Der Glockner in Berlin a few years back, and it was quite good.  And, despite Jim's indication, I don't think the play was fundamentally different from the film.  In fact, it seemed quite faithful to me.  I have been frankly surprised that they haven't moved the play to the U.S.  The production used a very postmodern, fluid set, with these giant blocks that could move up and down to create different shapes on the stage.  It reminded me of the newer Cirque du Soleil sets in Vegas.  All of the characters were there, and true to their film counterparts.  My guess is that if it does come someday to the U.S. it will get a new director and a new vision.  But I would guess that with The Little Mermaid coming, that it might be a while before Hunchback comes to the U.S.

  • Maybe Beyoncé's shoeless cameo at Bergdorf Goodman last week was in preparation for a barefooted movie role.

  • I think Aida would be very difficult to do as a traditional Disney animated film. The story is a dark tragedy The heroes are both put to death at the end of the film! Not exactly the family friendly fare most consumers expect from Disney.

  • EpcotFan said:

    "I think Aida would be very difficult to do as a traditional Disney animated film. The story is a dark tragedy The heroes are both put to death at the end of the film! Not exactly the family friendly fare most consumers expect from Disney."

    True, true. But maybe they can release the movie as a Touchstone release or (even better) as a Miramax release. When I think Aïda, I think culture, theatre, art. Miramax used to be that, and sometimes still is. Why not make a Walt Disney Animation film that is released by Miramax Animation, or just Miramax is fine too.

  • I agree on Hunchback .... its one of my favorite Disney animated features and does feel and sound like a stage musical already. I hope it is revived stateside someday.... or even in England ... where we could at least get an english soundtrack.

    As far as Song of the South on DVD?  I understand that they may want to find something thats not been out before in order to make cash.... well ... thats good ... but I have an idea for another little piece of work that a few people may want to buy on DVD as well. A little something called CAPTAIN EO !!!

    On the sibject of PIXAR and live action ... great news ... but if Disney is thinking of doing anything with live action / animation again .... please ... PLEASE ... let it be a green dragon with purple hair. I'm talking a PETES DRAGON comeback. Imagine a PIXAR version of Elliot?  Perfection.

    Whle they are at it.... make a stage musical of Petes Dragon.... it if works with Mermaid, Lion King, Mary Poppins, and Beast ... then I think the truly magical music of Petes Dragon would also do well.

  • Pete's Dragon?!?

    I saw that movie once when I was really young, and all I remember is that it scared the crap out of me!  I think it was the part where the kid gets captured or something.  Oh, and I do remember the song "Candle on the Water."

    Can somebody give me a brief plot review of Pete's Dragon?


  • Disney is apparently working on a big-screen version of their Broadway musical version of the classic

  • I can't stand Beyonce. I really hope they don't cast her in Aida. She oversings and overacts in everything I've ever seen her in. Did anyone watch her sing "Silent Night" at the Walt Disney World Christmas parade? Classic Beyonce. My family and I actually began laughing at her vocals. It was embarrassing.


    (The first half starts out OK, around 1:50 she begins her vocal aerobatics)

    <object width="425" height="350"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/coCTah1kYq4"></param><param">http://www.youtube.com/v/coCTah1kYq4"></param><param name="wmode" value="transparent"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/coCTah1kYq4" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" width="425" height="350"></embed></object>

  • Holy hell! A big screen adaptation of Aida? That is my favorite musical, I'd love to see that!

  • I'd say Der Glockner Von Notre Dame is markedly different from the Disney film if it ends with Esmeralda's death.

    But it is very much fitting with the French musical melodrama genre that had 3 examples running on B'way around when Hunchback hit theatres: Les Miz, Phantom and Scarlet Pimpernel (the lightest and least successful of the group)... I mean, Hunchback has parts comparable to Javert, the Phantom and Raoul- all in one show.

  • Jim Hill's back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about which "High School Musical" star is being recruited for "Aida," why California Adventure may seem somewhat familiar to Disney's America fans as

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