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What’s coming next from DreamWorks Animation

Jim Hill shares what he’s learned about “Over the Hedge,” “Flushed Away,” “Shrek III,” “Bee Movie” and “Kung Fu Panda” … as well as revealing a key plot point for “Shrek IV.”



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Oh, sure. Walt Disney Feature Animation came on strong last week at SIGGRAPH 2005. But you have to remember that Disney wasn’t the only animation studio in attendance at this year’s CG computer graphics conference.

In fact, were you to wander around the exhibition hall at the L.A. Convention Center, you’d have seen that Pixar Animation Studios was there too. As was Sony Picture Imageworks and DreamWorks Animation.

Truth be told, DreamWorks Animation actually had a bigger presence at this year’s SIGGRAPH than Walt Disney Feature Animation. During this five day conference, DreamWorks presented four courses, two panels and seven sketches. Which was more presentations than any other major animation studio mounted at this year’s event.

Of course, given “Madagascar” ‘s strong performance this summer (To date, that CG release has earned more than $430 million worldwide), DreamWorks Animation must have felt like it finally had something to crow about. Which is why artists and technical directors from that studio happily hosted seminars with titles like “Bringing a New Visual Style to the Screen.”

And — were you to drop by the DreamWorks Animation booth last week — you’d have seen dozens of eager animation students handing over resumes & reels … All with the hope that they’d eventually make the cut and then be invited to come work for the Glendale-based company.

Mind you, it wasn’t just “Madagascar” ‘s strong performance over the past few months or so that made it that much easier for DreamWorks Animation HR staff to recruit new talent. The word is out that DW has a number of new projects in its development pipeline that sound like they’d be a hell of a lot of fun to work on.

“What sorts of projects?,” you ask. Well, here. Let me give you a brief run-down on DreamWork Animation’s next four or five years worth of films.

Given that Jeff Lange just wrote about “Wallace & Gromit — The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” for JHM, I don’t really feel the need to write about that upcoming DreamWorks release … Other than to say that, while I was out in LA last week, I too got to see the first 15 minutes of this Nick Parks / Steve Box picture. Which was hilarious. Which is why I’ll be making a point to drop by my local cinema on October 7th to see what happens during the next 75 minutes of the film.

No, the films I’d like to talk about today are the feature length cartoons that DreamWorks Animation is prepping for release for 2006 and beyond.

First up — in May 2006 — is “Over the Hedge.” This CG feature is actually sort of a prequel to Michael Fry & T. Lewis’ popular comic strip. In that this film reveals how R.J. (a scheming raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis) and Verne (a tentative turtle voiced by Gary Shandling) actually became friends.

Dreamworks Over the Hedge
Copyright DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

Fans of the “Over the Hedge” comic strip don’t need to be reminded that Fry & Lewis obviously aren’t fans of suburbia. And this DreamWorks Animation release — which is being directed by Tim Johnson (“Antz“) and Karey Kirkpatrick (screenwriter of Disney’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“) — also delights in twitting people who drive SUVs and strictly adher to their neighborhood association covenants (I.E. Your grass on your lawn must always be no taller than one inch high, etc.).

Last week, I got to see a few work-in-progress sequences from “Over the Hedge” as well as some storyboards. And — based on that material — DreamWorks Animation looks like it may have another winner on its hands. One scene in particular (In which R.J. was leading his forest friends around the sub-division, demonstrating all the dining possibilities therein) had Willis seeming to channel his old “Moonlighting” character, David Addison. As Bruce barreled through page after page of rapid-fire dialogue, pointing out what a “movable feast” the suburbs really are.

Mind you, Willis has got some great support on this picture. By that I mean: Shandling’s no slouch as Verne, the timid turtle. And Steve Carell — who will soon be popping up at a theater near you as the star of “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” — virtually steals the show as Hammy, the attention-deficit squirrel.

Over the Hedge Dreamworks
Copyright DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

Add to this trio William Shatner & Avril Lavigne as a father / daughter team of possums, “SCTV” vets Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as a put-upon pair of parental porcupines, Nick Nolte as a grumpy old bear, “The West Wing” Alison Janney as the snooty head of the neighborhood association and Thomas Haden Church as a crazed exterminator … And that’s a pretty strong vocal cast.

Luckily, the film’s visuals seem to be just as strong as its voice cast. I got to see one scene where R.J. cons Hammy into pretending that he’s rabid so that the raccoon can then go score some girl scout  … excuse me … trail guide girl cookies as well as a chase sequence (As R.J. and Verne race from backyard to backyard as they’re being chased by a toy-obsessed rottweiler) that shows that Johnson & Kirkpatrick have just crammed “Over the Hedge” full of gags.

Add to that that this DreamWorks Animation release is being produced by an old Disney vet, Bonnie Arnold (Best known for producing “Toy Story” and “Tarzan“) … And I can’t help but think that “Over the Hedge” will be well worth checking out when it hits theaters on May 19, 2006.

Next up is “Flushed Away.” AKA The big experiment. To explain: This is an Aardman Animation film, done in the style of Wallace & Gromit and “Chicken Run.” Only this animated feature isn’t being done with clay figures. But — rather — it’s being produced in CG.

Flushed Away Dreamworks
Copyright Aardman Animation / DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

Based on conversations that I’ve had with a few folks in the industry, there’s supposedly some trepidation at DreamWorks’ executive level about whether or not audiences will actually embrace an Aardman computer animated film. But — based on the little bits & pieces I got to see last week — Katzenberg & Co. can start breathing easier now. Even though it’s done in CG, “Flushed Away” still has that handmade feel, that same quirky quality that all the great Aardman productions have.

So what’s “Flushed Away” supposed to be about? Well, the picture starts out by depicting the high living ways of Roddy, an upper-class rat. Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is lucky enough to share his Kensington pad with a rich English family. And — when they’re away on holiday — the rat has the run of the place.

And Roddy … He loves his upper-class lifestyle. Eating only the best cheese (Which he orders straight off the internet) and being waited on hand and foot by his two hamster butlers, Gilbert (voiced by Simon Callow) and Sullivan (Geoffrey Palmer).

Unfortunately — while Roddy’s human family is away — there’s a plumbing disaster in the apartment. And up out of the garbage disposal comes Syd, a sewer rat (voiced by Shane Richie). Dazzled by his new surrounding, Syd thinks that he’d died and gone to heaven. Whereas Roddy … Well, he just wishes that Syd would drop dead.

Which is why the upper-crust rodent tries to trick the lowly sewer rat into leaving the apartment ASAP by offering him a soak in “the jacuzzi.” AKA the toilet. Ah, but Syd is a lot smarter than he looks. And — at the last minute — he gets the drop of Roddy. Which is why it’s the upper class rat that gets “Flushed Away” deep down into the bowels of the London sewer system.

It’s at this point that this picture’s story truly gets into gear. For — once Roddy finds himself deep underground — he learns that there’s actually a miniature version of London under the city. A vast metropolis that’s been assembled out of the bits & pieces that that all the people above have thrown away.

Flushed Away Dreamworks
Copyright Aardman Animation / DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

And the first “person” that Roddy encounters once he lands in the underworld is Rita, the street-smart captain of the “Jammy Dodger,” a undersized tugboat that’s built out of an old bathtub.

Roddy just wants to escape the world that he finds in the sewers and get back to his posh pad in Kensington. Whereas Rita … She longs to take the “Jammy Dodger” off on a tour of the great drains of the world. See what the sewers of Paris, Rome and Venice look like.

Of course, in order to do that, Rita is going to need money … Which is why this pretty lady rodent (voiced by Kate Winslet) has been doing business with some pretty nefarious characters: Whitey (voiced by Bill Nighy), a rat who’s escaped from a product testing facility after recieving one too many shampoos and Spike (voiced by Andy Serkis), a rat who’d really like to be villainous … Only — because he still lives at home with his mum — Spike can’t quite pull off the whole henchman thing.

Mind you, Whitey and Spike both work for Toad, the James Bond-like super-villain of the Underworld. Voiced by Sir Ian McKellen, Toad has never quite gotten over the fact that he was once Prince Charles’ favorite pet. Only to eventually be flushed down the toilet by the staff at Buckingham Palace because he was … Well …  a toad.

But Toad is now planning on getting his revenge on the world. He’s hatched a diabolical plan that hinges on the United Kingdom being in the World Cup soccer finals, thousands of evil tadpoles and a synchronized bathroom break …

To say much more would give away far too much of the plot of what looks to be a pretty charming picture. To date, I’ve only been able to see several character camera tests, some storyboards and a few work-in-progress scenes. But — that said — “Flushed Away” still has that trademark Aardman look & feel. And even though it’s in CG, this film has the same quirky quality, the same sort of clever staging that made “Chicken Run” and those Wallace & Gromit shorts so much fun to watch. Which is why it will probably be worth your while to go see “Flushed Away” when it finally flows into theaters on November 3, 2006.

And then — on May 18, 2007 — here comes the big one. The animated sequel that everyone (including DreamWorks stockholders) has been waiting for, “Shrek III.”

Shrek 3
Copyright DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

This DreamWorks Animation film pretty much picks up where “Shrek II” left off. With Prince Harold (voiced by John Cleese) now turned into a frog. Which basically makes him ineligable to rule the Kingdom of Far Far Away. So who does this duty fall to now? You guessed it. Princess Fiona and her husband, Shrek.

As you might imagine, the big green ogre just hates the idea of having to deal with affairs of state, sitting on the throne, having to deal with the papparazzi,etc. Shrek just wants to go back to his home in the swamp. Where he and his bride can finally be alone again.

But — before the ogre and his wife can be allowed to return home — Queen Lillian (voiced by Julie Andrews) insists that a rightful heir to the throne must be found. And — as it turns out — Fiona does have one relative who might fit the bill: Her obnoxious little cousin, Artie. But he’s off at school somewhere …

That’s all Shrek needs to hear. The very next morning, the ogre heads off — with Donkey & Puss in Boots by his side — in search of Artie. Shrek intends to go to that school, collect Fiona’s cousin, bring Artie back to Far Far Away, place the boy on the throne … Then just head back to the swamps of home ASAP.

Of course, what Shrek hadn’t counted on is that Artie turns out to be this spoiled, self-centered little brat who’s always pulling pranks on the storybook trio. So it’s up to Shrek, Donkey and Puss  — as they make their way back to Far Far Away — to teach this boy what it’s like to be a decent person. More importantly, what it takes to be a king.

Mind you, as this quartet is making their way back to the castle, Fiona has her hands full back in Far Far Away. It seems that Prince Charming — AKA her jilted fiancee — has decided to launch a hostile takeover of Far Far Away. So — after assembling an army of storybook bad guys — Prince Charming takes over the castle.

But what P.C. hadn’t counted on was that Fiona would dare to fight back. With the help of her mother, the Princess gets the word out to all of Far Far Away’s other princesses (I.E. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White, etc.) that Fiona needs their help. And together … Well, let’s just say this band of princesses become an awesome fighting force …

Again, to say much more would give away too much of the plot (and the fun) of “Shrek III.” But let me at least clue you in on what the button for this picture will be …

After evil has been defeated, good has trimphed and the rightful heir is on the throne … Shrek turns to Fiona and says that he’s going to miss Artie. That — on the trip back to Far Far Away — the ogre learned that he’s actually pretty good with kids. Which was a skill that Shrek had previously thought he lacked.

Hearing her husband say this, Fiona smiles and says: “That’s great news. That you’re comfortable with kids and all.”

Puzzled, Shrek turns to his bride. “Why would you say that?,” the ogre asks.

“Because I’m pregnant,” answers Fiona.

The camera zooms in on Shrek’s dumbfounded face just before the credits rolls … And to learn what happens next … Well, movie-goers will just have to wait ’til May of 2010. When “Shrek IV” (which is currently being scripted by Tim Sullivan) is expected to roll into theaters.

Beyond that … Only thing that’s really worth noting is that DreamWorks has persuaded the entire original cast to return & do voice work for “Shrek III.” We’re talking Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, the aforementioned Cleese & Ms. Andrews as Queen Lillian as well as Rupert Everett. With Ms. Diaz’s main squeeze — former ‘NSYNC member Justin Timberlake — providing Artie’s vocals.

After “Shrek III” cleans up at the box office all summer long, next up from DreamWorks Animation is “Bee Movie.” Written & directed by Jerry Seinfeld, this project promises to have a uniquely New York feel and flair. According to the studio’s own info sheet on the film, “Bee Movie” …

… is the comedic tale of Barry Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), a graduate bee straight out of college who is disillusioned at having only one career choice: honey.

On a rare trip outside the hive, Barry’s life is saved by Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), a florist in New York City. As their relationship blossoms, he discovers humans are mass consumers of honey and decides to sue the human race for stealing bee’s honey.

Copyright DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

I know, I know. That premise seems kind of slender right now. But let’s remember that Jerry is a big cartoon & comics buff (Remember that Superman statue was so prominently displayed in his apartment in the “Seinfeld” TV series. Not to mention those American Express ads where Jerry appeared side by side with an animated version of the Man of Steel). So maybe this multi-millionaire comic really does have what it takes to deliver a great animated feature.

And then there’s “Kung Fu Panda.” A name that even I will admit is right up there with “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence.” And yet there’s something that I find to be very appealing about the premise of this picture …

“Kung Fu Panda” is a CG-animated comedy about a lazy, irreverent slacker panda, Po (Voiced by Jack Black), who must somehow become a Kung Fu Master in order to save the Valley of Peace from a villainous snow leopard, Tai Lung. Set in the legendary world of ancient China, this is the story of Po, our unlikely hero, who enters the rigid world of Kung Fu and turning it upside down. Po ultimately becomes a Kung Fu hero by learning that if he believes in himself, he can do anything.

Copyright DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

I know, I know. This away far from “Kung Fu Panda” ‘s release date, it’s kind of hard to predict whether this picture will be a winner or a loser. But I gotta tell you … I’m really liking the design of the film’s lead character. More to the point, I think that it could be kind of fun to hear Jack Black’s voice coming out of that panda’s mouth.

Beyond that … Based on how well “Madagascar” has been doing (This DreamWorks Animation release is now just $50 million away from equalling the first “Shrek” ‘s box office take), there’s been a lot of talk lately about possibly producing a sequel to this film. One that would (of course) more prominently feature those psychotic penguins.

But that — my friends — is a brief glimpse at the next four or five years worth of DreamWorks Animation releases. Which I think you’ll agree sounds like a surprisingly strong assortment of animated films.

So what do you folks think? Which of thse upcoming DreamWorks Animation releases are you really looking forward to seeing?

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Film & Movies

“Indiana Jones and the Search for Indiana Jones”



News came late last week that NBC was cancelling the “Magnum PI” remake. This series (which obviously took its inspiration from the Tom Selleck show that originally debuted on CBS back in December of 1980 and then went on run on that network for 8 seasons. With its final episode airing on May 8, 1988).

Anyway … Over 30 years later, CBS decided to remake “Magnum.” This version of the action drama debuted on September 24, 2018 and ran for four seasons before then being cancelled. NBC picked up the “Magnum” remake where it ran for one more season before word came down on June 23rd that this action drama was being cancelled yet again.

FYI: The second half of Season 5 of “Magnum” (10 episodes) has yet to air on NBC. It will be interesting to see when that final set of shows / the series finale gets scheduled.

This all comes to mind this week – out ahead of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” because … Well, if CBS execs had been a bit more flexible back in 1980, the star of the original version of “Magnum PI” (Tom Selleck) would have played the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Which was released to theaters back on June 12, 1981.

That’s the part of the Indiana Jones story that the folks at Lucasfilm often opt to skim over.

That Harrison Ford wasn’t George Lucas’ first choice to play Doctor Jones.

Auditions for Indiana Jones – Harrison’s Not on the List

Mind you, Steven Spielberg – right from the get-go – had pushed for Ford to play this part. The way I hear it, Lucas showed Spielberg a work-in-progress cut of “The Empire Strikes Back.” And Steven was so taken with Harrison’s performance as Han Solo in that Irwin Kershner film that he immediately began pushing for Ford to be cast as Doctor Jones.

Whereas Mr. Lucas … I mean, it wasn’t that George had anything against Harrison. What with Ford’s performances first in “American Grafitti” and then in “A New Hope,” these two already had a comfortable working relationship.

But that said, Lucas was genuinely leery of … Well, the sort of creative collaboration that Martin Scorcese and Robert DeNiro. Where one actor & one director repeatedly worked together. To George’s way of thinking, that was a risky path to follow. Hitching your wagon to a single star.

Which is why – when auditions got underway for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1979 — Mike Fenton basically brought in every big performer of that era to read for Dr. Jones except Harrison Ford. We’re talking:

  • Steve Martin
  • Chevy Chase
  • Bill Murray
  • Jack Nicholson
  • Peter Coyote
  • Nick Nolte
  • Sam Elliot
  • Tim Matheson
  • and Harry Hamlin

Casting a Comedian for Indiana Jones

Please note that there are a lot of comedians on this list. That’s because – while “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was in development — Spielberg was directed his epic WWII comedy, “1941.” And for a while there, Steve & George were genuinely uncertain about whether the movie that they were about to make would be a sincere valentine to the movie serials of the 1930s & the 1940s or more of a spoof.

It’s worth noting here that three of the more ridiculous set pieces found in “Temple of Doom” …

  • the shoot-out at Club Obi Wan in Shanghai
  • Indy, Willie & Short Round surviving that plane crash by throwing an inflatable life raft out of the cargo hatch
  • and that film’s mine cart chase (which was not only inspired by Disney theme park favorites the Matterhorn Bobsleds & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but some of the sound effects that you hear in this portion of “Temple of Doom” were actually recorded after hours at Disneyland inside of these very same attractions)

…  all originally supposed to be in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I’ve actually got a copy of the very first version of the screenplay that Lawrence Kasdan wrote for the first “Indy” movie where all three of these big action set pieces were supposed to be part of the story that “Raiders” told. And I have to tell you that this early iteration of the “Raiders” screenplay really does read more like a spoof of serials than a sincere, loving salute to this specific style of cinema.

Casting Indiana Jones – Jeff or Tom

Anyway … Back now to the casting of the male lead for “Raiders” … After seeing virtually every actor out in LA while looking for just the right performer to portray Indiana Jones, it all came down to two guys:

  • Jeff Bridges
  • and Tom Selleck

Jeff Bridges as Indiana Jones

Mike Fenton was heavily pushing for Jeff Bridges. Having already appeared with Clint Eastwood in 1974’s “Thunderbolt & Lightfoot” (Not to mention that “King Kong” remake from 1976), Bridges was a known quantity. But what Fenton liked especially liked about Bridges when it came to “Raiders” was … Well, at that time, Jeff was just coming off “Heaven’s Gate.”

Mind you, nowadays, because we’ve all now had the luxury of seeing the director’s cut of this Michael Cimino movie, we recognize “Heaven’s Gate” for the cinematic masterpiece that it is. But 40+ years ago, that honestly wasn’t the case. All audiences had to judge this movie by was the severely truncated version that United Artists sent out into theaters. Which – because “Heaven’s Gate” had cost $44 million to make and only sold $3.5 million of tickets – then became the textbook example of Hollywood excess.


Long story short: Given that being associated with “Heaven’s Gate” had somewhat dinged Bridges’ reputation for being a marketable star (i.e., a performer that people would pay good money to see up on the big screen), Jeff was now looking to appear in something highly commercial. And the idea of playing the lead in a film directed by Steven Spielberg (the “Jaws” & “Close Encounter” guy) and produced by George Lucas (Mr. “Star Wars”) was very, very appealing at that time. Bridges was even willing to sign a contract with Spielberg & Lucas that would have then roped him into not only playing Indiana Jones in “Raider of the Lost Ark” but also to appear as this very same character in two yet-to-be-written sequels.

Better yet, because “Heaven’s Gate” had temporarily dimmed Bridges’ star status, Jeff was also willing to sign on to do the first “Indy” film for well below his usual quote. With the understanding that – should “Raiders of the Lost Ark” succeed at the box office – Bridges would then be paid far more to appear in this film’s two sequels.

That seemed like a very solid plan for “Raiders.” Landing a known movie star to play the lead in this action-adventure at a bargain price.

Ah, but standing in Mike Fenton’s way was Marcia Lucas.

Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones

Marcia Lucas, who had seen Tom Selleck’s audition for “Raiders” (And you can see it as well. Just go to Google and type in “Tom Selleck” and “Indiana Jones.” And if you dig around for a bit, you’ll then see a feature that Lucas & Spielberg shot for “Entertainment Tonight” back in 2008 [This story was done in support of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”]. And as part of this piece, George and Steve share Tom’s original audition for “Raiders.” And what’s genuinely fascinating about this footage is that Selleck’s scene partner is Sean Young. Who – at that time, anyway – was up for the role of Marion Ravenwood) and kept telling her husband, “You should cast this guy. He’s going to be a big star someday.”

And given that George was smart enough to regularly heed Marcia Lucas’ advice (She had made invaluable suggestions when it came to the editing of “American Graffiti” and the original “Star Wars.” Not to downplay George Lucas’ cinematic legacy, but Marcia Lucas was a world-class storyteller in and of her own right), Lucas then reached out to Spielberg and persuaded him that they should cast relative unknown Tom Selleck as Doctor Jones over the already well-known Jeff Bridges.

Now don’t feel too bad for Jeff Bridges. When he lost out on playing the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Jeff then accepted a role in the very next, high profile, sure-to-be-commercial project that came along. Which turned out to be Disney’s very first “TRON” movie. Which was eventually released to theaters on July 9, 1982.

Back to Tom Selleck now … You have to remember that – back then – Selleck was the handsome guy who’d already shot pilots for six different shows that then hadn’t gone to series. Which was why Tom was stuck being the guest star on shows like “The Fall Guy” and “Taxi.” Whereas once word got out around town that Selleck was supposed to play the lead in a project that Spielberg was directed & Lucas was producing … Well, this is when CBS decided that they’d now take the most recent pilot that Tom had shot and then go to series with this show.

That program was – of course – the original “Magnum PI.” And it’s at this point where our story started to get complicated.

“Magnum PI” – Two Out of Three Say “Yes”

Okay. During the first season of a TV show, it’s traditionally the network – rather than the production company (which – in this case – was Glen A. Larson Productions. The company behind the original versions of “Battlestar Galactica” & “Knight Rider”) or the studio where this series is actually being shot (which – in this case – was Universal Television) that has all the power. And in this particular case, the network execs who were pulling all the strings behind-the-scenes worked for CBS.

And when it came to the first season of “Magnum PI,” CBS had a deal with Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television which stated that the talent which had been contracted to appear in this new action drama would then be available for the production of at least 13 episodes with an option to shoot an additional 9 episodes (This is known in the industry as the back nine. As in: the last nine holes of a golf course).

Anyway, if you take those initial 13 episodes and then tack on the back nine, you then get 22 episodes total. Which – back in the late 1970s / early 1980s, anyway – was what a full season of a network television show typically consisted of.

Anyway … The contract that Selleck had signed with Glen A. Larson Productions, Universal Television & CBS stated that he had to be available when production of Season One of “Magnum PI” began in March of 1980. More to the point, Tom also had to be available should CBS exercise its option to air 22 episodes of this new series on that television network over the course of “Magnum PI” ‘s first season.  

Which then made things complicated for George Lucas & Steven Spielberg because … Well, in order for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to make its June 12, 1981 release date, that then meant that production of the first “Indy” movie would have to get underway no later than June 23, 1980.

But here’s the thing: Production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was scheduled to run through the first week of July of that same year (1980). So in order for Tom Selleck to play Indiana Jones in “Raiders,” he was going to need to be wrapped on production of “Magnum PI” by June 22, 1980 at the absolute latest.

So Spielberg & Lucas went to Glen A. Larsons Productions and asked if Selleck could please be sprung from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligations by June 22nd. And they said “Yes.” Then Steven & George went to Universal Television and asked executives there for their help  in clearing Tom’s schedule so that he’d then be available to start work on “Raiders.” And they say “Yes” as well.

Spielberg & Lucas now go to CBS. But instead of the quick “Yeses” that they got from officials at Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television, it takes those suits at the Tiffany Network weeks before they then decided to say “No, they couldn’t release Tom Selleck early to go work on ‘Raiders’ “ because …

I’ve never really been able to get a straight answer here as to why CBS execs dug in their heels here. Why they flat-out refused to release Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation and allow him to go shoot “Raiders.”

Payback from “The Star Wars Holiday Special” Trash Talk

That said, it is worth noting that “The Star Wars Holiday Special” aired on CBS back in November of 1978. And given that – in the years that followed —  Lucas wasn’t exactly shy when it came to saying how much he hated that two hour-long presentation (Or – for that matter – how George really regretted caving into the requests of CBS execs. Who had insisted that television stars long associated with the Tiffany Network – people like Art Carney, Harvey Korman & Bea Arthur – be given prominent guest starring roles in “The Star Wars Holiday Special”). And I’ve heard whispers over the years that CBS executives preventing Tom Selleck from appearing in “Raiders” could be interpreted as the Tiffany Network getting some payback for what George had said publicly about the “Star Wars Holiday Special.”

Harrison Ford Comes to Rescue “Indiana Jones”

Anyway … It’s now literally just weeks before production of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is supposed to begin and Spielberg & Lucas have just learned that that they’ve lost their film’s star. CBS is flat-out refusing to release Tom Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation. So Steven & George now have to find someone else to play Indy … and fast.

The real irony here is … The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists would go on strike in the Summer of 1980. Which then shut prematurely shut down production of the first season of “Magnum PI.” (As a direct result, the first full season of this action drama to air on CBS only had 18 episodes, rather than the usual 22). And because this job action lasted ‘til October 23rd of that same year … Well, this meant that Tom Selleck would have actually been free to start shooting “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on June 23, 1980 because production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was already shut down by then due to that AFTRA strike.

But no one knew – in May of 1980, anyway – that this job action was going to happen in just a few weeks. All that Steven Spielberg & George Lucas knew was that they now needed a new lead actor for “Raiders.” And circling back on Jeff Bridges was no longer an option. As I mentioned earlier, Jeff had agreed to do “TRON” for Disney. And – in the interim – Bridges gone off to shoot “Cutter’s Way” for MGM / UA.

Credit: EW

So this is where Harrison Ford enters the equation. As he recalls:

In May of 1980, I get a call from George Lucas. Who says ‘I’m messaging a script over to you this morning. As soon as it gets there, I need you to immediately read this script. Then – as soon as you’re done – I need you to call.

So the script arrives and it’s for ‘Raiders.’ I read it and it’s good. So I call George back and say ‘It’s good.’ And he then says ‘Would you be interested in playing Indy?’ I say that it looks like it would be a fun part to play.

George then says ‘ That’s great to hear. Because we start shooting in four weeks. Now I need you to meet with Steven Spielberg today and convince him that you’re the right guy to play Indy.’

Of course, given that Spielberg had been pushing for Ford to pay Indy ever since he had first seen that work-in-progress version of “The Empire Strikes Back” … Well, Harrison’s meeting with Steven was very, very short. And just a few weeks later, Spielberg, Lucas & Ford were all at the Port de la Pallice in La Rochelle. Where – on the very first day of shooting on “Raiders” (which – again – was June 23, 1980)– the scene that was shot was the one where that Nazi sub (the one that Indy had lashed himself to its periscope by using his bullwhip as a rope) was arriving at its secret base.

And all of this happened because Harrison immediately agreed to do “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when the part of Indy was first offered to him in mid-May of 1980.  

Before “Star Wars” was “Star Wars”

So why such a quick yes? Well, you have to remember that “Empire Strikes Back” wouldn’t be released to theaters ‘til May 21, 1980. And no one knew at that time whether this sequel to the original “Star Wars” would do as well at the box office as “A New Hope” had back in 1977 (FYI: “Empire” would eventually sell over $500 million worth of tickets worldwide. Which is roughly two thirds of what the original “Star Wars” earned three years earlier).

More to the point, the four films that Harrison had shot right after “A New Hope” / prior to “Empire Strikes Back” (i.e., “Heroes” AND “Force 10 from Navarone” AND “Hanover Street” AND “The Frisco Kid”) had all under-performed at the box office. So to Ford’s way of thinking, taking on a role that Tom Selleck was no longer available to play – one that had the potential of spawning two sequels – seemed like a very smart thing to do. Especially after three years of cinematic stumbles.

By the way, whenever this topic ever comes up, Harrison Ford is very gracious. He always makes a point of saying that he’s grateful to have gotten this career opportunity. More to the point, that he still feels kind of bad that Tom Selleck never got the chance to play this part.

Tom Selleck After “Indiana Jones”

That said, we shouldn’t feel too bad for Tom Selleck. After all, the original “Magnum PI” proved to be a long running hit for CBS. And in an effort to smooth over any residual bad feelings that may have resulted from Tom being forced to give up “Raiders” back in May of 1980, Selleck was eventually allowed to create his own production company (i.e., T.W.S. Productions, Inc. As in Thomas William Selleck Productions). Which – after the fact – was then cut in on some of those “Magnum PI” -related revenue streams.

More to the point, while “Magnum PI” was on hiatus following its second year in production, Selleck flew off to Yugoslavia. Where he then shot his own Indiana Jones-esque film for theatrical release. Which was called “High Road to China” in the States, but – overseas – was promoted as “Raiders of the End of the World.”

FYI: Warner Bros. released “High Road to China” stateside 40 years ago this year. On March 18, 1983, to be exact. It didn’t do all that great at the box office. $28 million in ticket sales versus $15 million in production costs.

And over the years, there’s even been some talk of finding a way to maybe set things right here. By that I mean: Finally finding a way to officially fold Tom Selleck into the world of Indiana Jones.

Could Tom Selleck Work with Indiana Jones?

The way I hear it, between the time when “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was theatrically released in May of 1989 and when “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” debuted in May of 2008, there were a number of ideas for Indiana Jones sequels tossed around. And from what I’ve been told, there was at least one treatment for a fourth Indiana Jones film written that proposed pairing up Harrison Ford & Tom Selleck. With the idea here being that Selleck was supposed to have played Ford’s brother.

Obviously that film was never made. And – no – I don’t know what state Indiana Jones’ brother was supposed to be named after.

This article is based on research for Looking at Lucasfilm “Episode 80”, published on June 29, 2023. Looking at Lucasfilm is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

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Film & Movies

Will “Metro” – that “Cars” Spin-Off Which Disney Developed – Ever Get Made?



Will Metro Ever Get Made?

First came “Cars” in June of 2006.

This Pixar Animation Studios production did so well (Of all the high grossing films released that year, “Cars” was No. 2 at the box office. Only “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” sold more tickets in 2006) that Disney execs asked John Lasseter to develop a sequel.

“Cars 2” came out in June of 2011 and also did quite well at the box office (It took the No. 7 slot in the Top-Ten-for-ticket-sales that year). Which is why Disney then asked Pixar to prep a follow-up film.

“Cars 3” would eventually arrive in theaters in June of 2017. But in the meantime, Disney & Pixar began exploring the idea of expanding this film franchise. Largely because the amount of money that the Mouse was making off of the sales of “Cars” -related merchandise was … To be blunt here, mind boggling.

Don’t believe me? Well, then consider this: In just the first five years that the “Cars” film franchise existed, global retail sales of merchandise related to these Pixar movies approached $10 billion. That’s billion with a “B.”

So is it any wonder that – while Pixar was still trying to get a handle on what “Cars 3” would actually be about – the Mouse (through its DisneyToon Studios arm. Which produced home premieres like those “TinkerBell” movies) began actively looking into ways to expand this lucrative franchise?

“Planes” – The First “Cars” Spin-Off

The first “Cars” spin-off to arrive in the marketplace was “Planes.” This Klay Hall film (which was set in “The World Above Cars”) was released theatrically in August of 2013, with the Blu-ray & DVD version of “Planes” hitting store shelves in November of that same year.

“Planes: Fire and Rescue” followed in the Summer of 2014. And while a “Planes 3” was definitely put in development (At the Disney Animation panel at the 2017 D23 Expo, John Lasseter not only shared a clip from this film. But he also revealed that this project – which, at that time, was entitled “Space” – was slated to be released theatrically in April of 2019) … This animated feature was abruptly cancelled when DisneyToon Studios was shuttered in June of 2018.

But wait. There’s more … In addition to the aborted “Planes 3,”  Disney had other “Cars” spin-offs in the works. One was supposed to be built around boats. While yet another was supposed to have shined a spotlight on trucks.

“Metro” – The World Below Cars

And then there was “Metro.” Which was supposed to have been set in the inner city and focused on what went on in “The World Below Cars.” As in: Down in the subway system.

Just in the past week or so, a few pieces of concept art for “Metro” have surfaced online. Giving us all an intriguing look at what might have been. These preproduction paintings suggest that this “Cars” spin-off would be far grittier than … Say … the sort of adventures that Lightning McQueen & Mater would typically have out in Radiator Springs.

Metro - Cars Spin-Off Movie Poster
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney

That said, it’s worth noting here that – just in the past year or so – we’ve seen Disney & Pixar attempt to expand the turf that these two characters could comfortably cover. Take – for example — “Cars on the Road,” that nine-part series which debuted on Disney+ back in September of last year. This collection of animated shorts literally sent Lightning McQueen & Mater off on a road trip.

So who knows?

Given that Bob Iger (at Disney’s quarterly earnings call held earlier this week) revealed that the Company now has sequels in the works for “Frozen,” “Toy Story,” and “Zootopia” … Well, is it really all that far-fetched to think that – at some point further on down the road – Disney & Pixar will put yet another sequel to “Cars” in the works?

One that might send Lightning McQueen & Mater off to explore the gritty inner-city world that we glimpsed in all that concept art for “Metro,” that never-produced “Cars” spin-off.

Time will tell.

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Film & Movies

Park’s Closed: “Vacation ’58” Inspired by Seasonal Closing at Disneyland



This year is the 30th anniversary of the release of National Lampoon’s “Vacation.” Warner Bros. released this Harold Ramis movie to theaters back in July of 1983.

John Hughes adapted his own short story (i.e., “Vacation ’58,” which had run in “National Lampoon” magazine less than four years earlier. The September 1979 issue, to be exact) to the screen.

Key difference between “Vacation ‘58” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” is that the movie follows the Griswold family on their epic journey to Walley World. Whereas the short story that Hughes wrote (i.e., “Vacation ‘58”) follows an unnamed family to a different theme park. The actual Disneyland in Anaheim.

Let me remove any doubt here. Here’s the actual opening line to John Hughes’ “Vacation ’58.”

If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever.

What’s kind of intriguing about the plot complication that sets Act 3 of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in motion (i.e., that – just as the Grisworld arrive at Walley World [after a harrowing cross-country journey] – they discover that “America’s favorite family fun park” is closed for two weeks for cleaning and to make repairs) is that … Well, it’s based on something that Hughes learned about the real Disneyland. That – from 1958 through 1985 [a total of 27 years] the Happiest Place on Earth used to close two days a week during the slower times of year. To be specific, Mondays & Tuesday in the Fall & early Winter as well as in the late Winter / early Spring.

Want to stress here: Two days a week versus the two weeks each year in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

Sorry folks. Park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.

When Did Disneyland Start Opening 7-Days a Week?

It wasn’t ‘til February 6, 1985 that Disneyland Park formally switched to being a seven-day-a-week operation. This was just four months after Michael Eisner had become Disney’s new CEO. And part of his effort to get as much profit as possible out of Disney’s theme parks.

Which is a trifle ironic. Given that – back in December of 1958 – Disneyland deliberately switched over to an open-five-days-a-week-during-the-off-season schedule in an effort to get Anaheim’s operating costs under control. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Early Disneyland Operations – Ticket Books and Ticket Booths

So let’s start with the obvious: When Disneyland Park first opened in July of 1955, there had never been one of these before. So the Happiest Place on Earth was a learn-as-you-go operation.

So things that are now closely associated with a visit to Disneyland back in the day (EX: Having to purchase a book of tickets before you entered that theme park. Which then pushed Guests to go seek out various A, B, C & D Ticket attractions around the grounds) … Well, that form of admission media didn’t come online ‘til October 11, 1955. Some three months after Disneyland Park first open.

Prior to this, if you wanted to go on a ride at Disneyland, you had to first get on line at one of the Park’s omni-present ticket booth. Once you got to the front of that line, you then had to open your wallet and purchase enough tickets for your entire family to enjoy that attraction. Only then could you go over to the actual attraction and get in line for that experience. Where – just before boarding that ride – you then surrendered that ticket.

Disney Parks Getting Too Expensive

Interesting side note: It’s now an established part of the on-going Disney theme park narrative that “Going to the Parks has just gotten to be too expensive and/or complicated,” what with the institution of Lightning Lane and then forcing people to use virtual queues if they want to experience newer attractions at the Parks like “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind” at Epcot or “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” out in Anaheim.

Walt Fixes “Expensive” Impression

What fascinates me about the parallels here is that … When Walt began to see the same thing bubble up in press coverage for his new family fun park (i.e., All of those Summer-of-1955 stories in newspapers & magazines about how expensive it was to visit Disneyland. How – whenever a Guest visited this place – they were constantly being forced to repeatedly open their wallet), his immediate reaction was “We need to fix this now. I don’t want people coming away from their visit to Disneyland with this impression.” And by October 11, 1955 (less than 3 months after Disneyland Park first opened), they had a fix in place.

Lightning Lane – Raising Prices

Counter this with Lightning Lane. Which was first introduced at Walt Disney World in October of 2021. Which has gotten miserable press since Day One (and is a large part of people’s growing perception that it’s just gotten too expensive to take their family on vacation to WDW). Disney Corporate knows about this (hence the number of times questions about this perception has bubbled up in recent surveys that Resort has sent out).

And what does the Company do with this info? During the 2022 holiday season, Disney Parks actually raised the prices on individual Lightning Lanes for popular attractions like “Rise of the Resistance” to $22 a person.

Conclusion: Disney knows about all the bad press the Resort is getting lately but doesn’t care. They like all of the short-term money that Lightning Lane is pulling in right now and are deliberately overlooking all of the long-term implications of the narrative getting out there that going to WDW is getting too expensive.

“Spend Dollars to Get People Back” – Disney Cutting Corners on Projects

Which reminds me of something Walt once said when an Imagineer suggested that the Company could save a few bucks by cutting corners on a particular project: “If people ever stop coming to the Park because they think we cut corners on a project, the few cents we saved ultimately aren’t going to matter. We’re then going to have to spend dollars to get those people back.”

That’s what worries me about Disney’s current situation. What’s the Company ultimately going to have to do convince those people who now think that a trip to WDW has just gotten too expensive for the family to come back.

Disneyland Parking Closing on Mondays & Tuesdays

Back to Disneyland Park closing on Mondays & Tuesdays during the off-season … When did this practice start? Let me share something that I just found in the 1958 edition of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. This document (which was published on December 23, 1958) states that:

While the gross income of Disneyland was greater this year than in any prior year, the operating expenses for this family fun park were likewise up substantially primarily to two factors.
(1) Operating a seven-day week throughout the 1957 – 1958 week against a six-day week the year before.

(2) Increased costs due to rising salaries and the
inauguration of a 40-hour week. This resulted in lower net profits compared to the prior year.

So – reading between the lines here – in Disneyland’s second year of operation (July 1956 – June 1957), the folks down in Anaheim experimented with keeping Walt’s family fun park open six days a week during the slower times of the year. Which – I’m told – resulted in all sort of angry people at the entrance of Disneyland’s parking lot. Who had to drive down to Anaheim for the day to experience the Happiest Place on Earth only to find said place closed.

Okay. So for Disneyland’s third year of operation (July 1957 – June 1958) on Walt’s orders, Disneyland is then kept open seven days a week all year long. Which proves to be a problem on the off-season, given that there are days in the late Fall / early Spring when there are more Cast Members working in the Park than there are Guests coming through the turnstiles.

Which explains this line in the 1958 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. Which – again – I remind you was published on December 23rd of that year:

This current year, we are operating the park during the winter months on a five-day schedule with resulting savings in operating costs and in the hope that a full week’s business can be compressed within the five days.

So did this change in the way that Disneyland Park ultimately operated off-season ultimately work out? Let’s jump ahead to the 1959 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. In that document (which was also published on December 23rd of that year) states that:

Again this year, as in each year since Disneyland Park first opened in 1955, new records were set for total attendance and per capita spending of park visitors.
The change to a five-day operating week during the 1958 – 1959 winter season from the seven-day schedule in effect the previous year has worked out very well. Reduced operating hours helped to control operating costs in the face of increased wage rates and other rising costs.

Making it Right for the Disneyland Hotel

Okay. So this change in the way that Disneyland Park operated during the off-season made things easier for Walt and Disney’s book-keepers back in Burbank. But what about Jack Wrather, the guy that Walt went to back in the Late Winter / Early Spring of 1955 and begged & pleaded for Wrather to build a hotel right next to Disneyland Park?

What happened to the Disneyland Hotel in late 1958 / early 1959 when – in the off-season – Disneyland Park goes to just a five-day-a-week operating schedule? At this point, the Disneyland Hotel is the largest hotel in all of Orange County with over 300 rooms.

It’s at this point that Walt personally reaches out to Jack and says “I know, I know. This operational change at the Park is going to affect your bottom line at the Hotel. Don’t fret. I’m definitely going to make this worth your while.”

Extending the Monorail to the Disneyland Hotel

And Walt followed through on that promise. In June of 1961, he extended Disneyland’s monorail system by a full 2 & a half miles so that this futuristic transportation system rolled right up to the Disneyland Hotel’s front door. Which was a perk that no other hotel in Orange County had.

And just in case you’re wondering: The cost of extending Disneyland’s monorail system over to the Disneyland Hotel was $1.9 million (That’s $19 million in 2023 money).


Magic Kingdom Golf Course at Disneyland Hotel

That very same year, Walt had some of his staff artists design a miniature golf course that could then be built on the grounds of the Disneyland Hotel. This kid-friendly area (called the Magic Kingdom Golf Course) featured elaborately themed holes with recreations of attractions that could be found right next door at Disneyland Park.

  • Hole No. Three was Sleeping Beauty Castle
  • Hole No. Five was Matterhorn Mountain

Other holes featured recreations of popular Disneyland attractions of the 1960s. Among them the TWA Moonliner, the Submarine Voyage, the Painted Desert from Frontierland (this is the area Guests traveled through when they experienced Disneyland”s “Mine Train thru Nature’s Wonderland” attraction), Tom Sawyer Island, the Fort in Frontierland, not to mention Skull Rock as well as Monstro the Whale from Disneyland’s Fantasyland.

This area was specially illuminated for night-time play. Which meant that the Magic Kingdom Golf Course at the Disneyland Hotel could operate from 10 a.m. in the morning ‘til 10 p.m. a night seven days a week.

Additional Disneyland Hotel Expansion and Offerings

It’s worth noting here that – from the moment the monorail was connected to The Disneyland Hotel – that hotel achieved 100% occupancy. Which is why – even after Disneyland Park switched to a 5-day-a-week operating schedule during the off-season – Disneyland Hotel launched into an aggressive expansion plan. With its 11 story-tall Sierra Tower breaking ground in 1961 (it opened the following year in September of 1962). Not to mention adding all sort of restaurants & shops to the area surrounding that hotel’s Olympic-sized pool.

All of which came in handy during those Mondays & Tuesdays during the Winter Months when people were staying at the Disneyland Hotel and had nowhere to go on those days when the Happiest Place on Earth was closed.

It’s worth noting here that the Disneyland Hotel (with Walt’s permission, by the way) on those days when Disneyland was closed would offer its Guests the opportunity to visit Knott’s Berry Farm as well as Universal Studios Hollywood. A Gray Line Bus would pull up in front of that hotel several times a day offering round-trip transportation to both of those Southern California attractions.

Likewise the Japanese Village and Deer Park over Buena Park. It was a different time. Back when Disney prided itself in being a good neighbor. Back when the Mouse didn’t have to have ALL of the money when it came to the Southern California tourism market. When there was plenty to go around for everyone.

Walley World Shooting Locations

And back to “National Lampoon’s Vacation”… The Walley World stuff was all shot at two Southern California attractions.

The scenes set in the parking lot at Walley World as well as at the entrance of that fictious theme park were shot in the parking lot & entrance of Santa Anita Race Track (Horse Track).

Any scene that’s supposed to be inside of the actual Walley World theme park was shot at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

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