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Your first look at “Shrek the Third,” DreamWorks Animation’s Summer 2007 release

The third film in the “Shrek” series held its very first test screening this past weekend. And a JHM reader who was in that audience filed this highly detailed report on this still-in-production picture. WARNING! Spoilers abound in this article



It’s one of the most highly anticipated films of 2007. The third installment of the very popular (and highly profitable) “Shrek” series.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

But is “Shrek the Third” actually any good? DreamWorks Animation execs obviously want to know. Which is why they held a test screening of this still-in-production picture this past weekend.

Lucky for us, loyal JHM reader Buddy Glass actually managed to attend this screening. And what follows is his highly detailed look at this very early version of “Shrek the Third.” WARNING! Spoilers abound in this particular article. So if you want to avoid learning too much about this animated feature a full eight months before it hits theaters, you probably want to bail out of this story now.

Still with us? Okay. Buddy Glass’ story starts with he & his family picking up tickets for a test screening …

…. thinking we were going to see a slightly early preview of “Flushed Away” and were absolutely stunned to get into the theater and be told we were going to be the first audience ‘ever’ to see “Shrek The Third”. The kids and adults in the audience went wild but we were told the movie was only about 40% done and some would feature animation without lighting and a fair amount would be just storyboards (in some cases, extremely rough storyboards). They had metal detectors and were very firm on security (couldn’t bring in cell phones with cameras or recorders – understandable).

My impression is that they have a lot of work to do – especially making this movie a lot funnier. My kids agreed and thought it was just okay, definitely worse than the first two. The story is actually fine, although it drags seriously in the middle, and the ending is kind of ho-hum. They seriously need to hire some folks to bring in more gags – especially for the adults. As it is now, they have a film with a decidedly different tone than the others, with flashes of good material in amongst a more adventure-oriented script interested in hitting a fair number of plot points more than giving the audience some chuckles. I think it is definitely salvageable but they need good joke writers – there are so many lines where I was just trying to write their jokes in for them because they hadn’t bothered to include one!

The film’s opening introduces a subplot that sounds funnier on paper than in action. Prince Charming is shown riding through the forest, proclaiming the wondrous actions he’s going to do (sounds like saving Fiona) and we pull back to find out he’s actually on stage, performing a skit at a pub. After a moment, another actor in a rough but obvious Shrek costume wanders onto stage and, to Charming’s dismay, the crowd cheers. The whole thing stage apart after that and every starts to laugh as he rushes off stage and into his dressing room (which is actually an alley door and his setup is out there – cute joke). He vows to claim the throne of Far Far Away.

Soon, we’re up in the castle and find out that Shrek and Fiona are filling in for the king, who is sick. So, they are showing up to events, knighting people (Shrek accidentally stabs a guy he then dubs “Sir Bleed-a-lot”), and it all culminates in them being dolled up with Elizabethan-looking costumes (complete with face-makeup) and they cannot move their arms. Shrek and Fiona are waiting on stage and he gets a page to take a stick and scratch his rear (since he can’t reach it), which, of course, leads to someone opening the curtain and revealing them as this page is poking at Shrek’s posterior. The whole place goes slapstick and it is pretty funny. In fact, this whole “Shrek covers for the King” sequence is good, although, like the rest of the movie, it needs those wall-to-wall gags like in Shrek 2 (which, for my money, was a hilarious film that was much funnier and much more clever film than the first). Donkey and Puss run around but with very little to do and not much that is funny (a couple of good jokes but these are great characters and they aren’t used very well here).

But, then they find out that the king is dying. There is a funny (although, again, could be funnier) sequence where the frog king (still done nicely by Cleese) keeps almost dying. Before he finally croaks (and they don’t use anywhere near the frog puns they could), he tells them that Shrek should be king but if he really doesn’t want to do so, then there is a cousin, Arthur, who is the next in line.

Leaving Fiona & the Queen back at the castle, Shrek, Donkey & Puss in boats sail off to a place called Worstershire – a joke they belabor (in Shrek 2, that would have been a throwaway line but the jokes are in short supply so they need to put up signs). It turns out, this is a high school, which gives then a chance to make a lot of jokes about a medieval-fantasy high school, some funny (D&D geeks, stoners falling out of a van with ‘frankincense and myrrh’, some Valley Maiden-talk) and some bits that are boring (everything else).

They eventually find Arthur (“Artie”) in the exact circumstance out of Screenplay 101 – they find a tough knight on the high school jousting a small guy who falls over and they assume the rough-and-tumble guy is Arthur (turns out, he’s Lancelot but they miss the chances for jokes here). The sad-sack little guy is Artie and he slinks away, people call him names as Shrek and Donkey/Puss pursue, and when Shrek says he is the new king (and someone says he should only be the king of losers or something – need good joke, please!) eventually it is decided he should run over to try and take out the Sword In The Stone (which is, conveniently, on school grounds and just outside the room they are in – why isn’t there a joke here!?!? They just rush past it).

So they get out by the Sword and just as Artie is about to try and give it go, Shrek says he needs ‘inspiration’ and Puss suddenly conducts the school band to distract them while Shrek tries to loosen it up for him. The loosening idea is terrific, but ‘striking up the band’ and all is really boring, not funny and is a stretch to make any sense at all. My eight year old actually leaned over and said, “why would the band start playing?” I didn’t say it but I thought, “Um, lazy screenwriters?” So he pulls the sword out, Shrek grabs him and they are off.

On the trip back, Artie and Shrek fight a bit and eventually end up crashing the boat (at some point, their Viking-for-no-reason captain just disappears but whatever) on an island. They eventually find their way to a door (by now, Artie is furious and doesn’t want to go back to be king) which Artie bangs on and proclaims that he is being kidnapped. This part was storyboarded so I can’t tell you how it will look but some big apparition comes out and a loud voice says something about fearing whoever-something. Then, it short-circuits a bit and the real guy comes out. Ho-hum. I’ve seen the Wizard of Oz.

We find out that this old guy is Merlin (Artie says he used to be a teacher at the school but had a nervous breakdown – not funny at all! Can’t they come up with something better and a term that means something to eight year olds?) He is voiced by the great Eric Idle (although some of the work was in progress). This character, second only to Artie, is so underdeveloped that this whole sequence, despite one funny joke about underwear stew, just drags and drags. Typical second act problems but since they focus on Artie and Merlin, two uninteresting and underdeveloped characters, you are practically begging for Donkey and Puss to cut up or Shrek to be his usual grumpy self (this is in short supply throughout the movie, but it is funny when he does act like himself – like Donkey telling him to change his tactic of yelling at Artie to get him to be king and Shrek picking up a big log to beat him with). Shrek bonds with Artie when it is revealed that he was abandoned by his parents. Shrek eventually says that what people think of you is not the same as what you are (oh, they say it in a nicer way, but you get it) and Artie finally thinks maybe he could be king.

So, after wasting some time on the island there, they suddenly decide to head back and have Merlin teleport them back to Far Far Away and it works.

But while all of this is happening, Charming has gone back to the nasty pub in the second movie and rouses all the villains there to join him in taking over Far Far Away. He appeals to them by saying a version of the same homily Shrek convinced Artie with – “Why should we be denied our Happily Ever After because some else says so!?!” The idea here, again, is great and some of the lines he uses to convince them (the evil queen is there, Captain Hook) but so much more could be done! And, yes, Regis is here as the Uglier Stepsister. That works okay but it is hardly a revelation. They agree to join in storming the castle. Yay, we have our villains. Nowhere near as interesting as the way things work out in Shrek 2 but oh well.

Meanwhile, Fiona meets with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and the Ugly Stepsister (now reformed) there. This scene is some fun, although there are frequently chances for funny jokes that are just lost. Almost everything out of a character’s mouth in Shrek 2 was funny. If only that were the case here…still, there are some good bits.

As the villains descend on the castle, the princesses go off to hide in the bowels of the castle (and there is an inspired joke here in the moving wall and statuary they are hiding behind where they come together and make the Frog King kiss a Horses rear – why aren’t there more wonderful throwaway jokes like this!) There is one funny scene where they confront the highly-underused minor characters (Gingerbread Man, Wolf, Three Little Pigs, and Pinochio) and, in the funniest bit in the film, Charming tries to get Pinochio to tell them where Shrek is by saying he can’t possibly lie but Pinochio combats this with a bunch of confusing double-triple-and-quadruple negatives. This is wonderfully done and a window into the level of often sophisticated humor in Shrek 2. But it is short-lived.

The Princesses, Queen and Fiona wander around (for too long) but eventually come out and Rapunzel betrays them to Charming so she can be queen. What a missed opportunity to say that she was made she didn’t get her own movie! (Rapunzel Unbraided notwithstanding – what a lovely in-joke) The princesses are all captured and put into a cell.

Shrek and gang return but as they confront Charming, Artie runs off when Charming reveals that Shrek is supposed to be king but wanted to ‘pawn it off’ on Artie – and that he loosened the sword for him back at school. The kid takes off and Shrek is captured by the villains. The most striking thing here is that Shrek seems so weak! In the past, he always kicks butt but he’s strangely subdued in this one. It doesn’t work to well, especially when you think he should be winning these fights.

The princesses and Fiona whine a bit before the Queen inexplicably breaks down the wall with a shrug (“Didn’t think you got your fighting skills from your father, did you?” Whatever) and they get out. Suddenly, they start kicking butt and it is fun with Snow White sending the birds that come when she sings to attack an evil tree, Cinderella using her glass slippers as boomerangs, and Sleeping Beauty tripping people by falling asleep in front of them while they run up to her. Some good bits here (with a sort of reference to the new Charlie’s Angels in the actions and the Kill Bill ladies in the music).

In the midst of all this, Artie wanders off and finds Merlin again in the forest. Suddenly, he’s told the real Sword in the Stone is nearby and he pulls it up and realizes he IS supposed to be king. Boring, slow scene! Not funny at all. All of this was storyboarded so hopefully they will come up with some better writing here.

They end up breaking up a reenactment of the show at the beginning of the movie, with Charming now using the real Shrek all tied up. This sequence was all in storyboard so it was hard to tell what was going on but, essentially, they all fight a bit until Artie comes in and tells Charming that everything is fine because you don’t need to be what other people say you are (the lesson Shrek taught him). Merlin pops in, everything works out and Artie becomes king.

So, there you go – an idea of where they are with Shrek The Third. My impressions:

  • Mike Myers is so subdued here that he almost disappears from the movie for long stretches – but it’s not his fault. Few lines give him much to do.

  • Cameron Diaz does well with what she has. No problem there.

  • Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas are in the same boat –talented voice actors wishing they had more and better lines. Why don’t they use the comic duo and have a lot of fun with them? Too much exposition for the gags.

  • Justin Timberlake barely registers. It is not a horrible misfire but also nothing special at all. Again, the script doesn’t develop Artie at all. Why make him a sort-of wimp but not really very interesting. He’s just a dull character. Why not an ADD fratboy or something more inclined to give us laughs? Some kind of traits that would make him funnier would be nice. As it is, Artie gets plenty of screen time but not much development. Their take on characters like Fairy Godmother and so many others have been so inventive. Why is Artie such a bore with nothing to do?

  • Eric Idle – What a waste that they don’t give Merlin more. They could have some fun with it but they miss the chance. Eric Idle is one funny guy but they don’t give him anything to do (seems like a lot of his lines are not in there yet anyway, so maybe he’ll help them out with some adlibs). This character needs to be seriously redeveloped – just a crotchety old guy who lost some of his abilities. What a bore! They need to find a way to reimagine Merlin in an interesting way – not just toss him in there with no development. Artie and Merlin are so carelessly and humorlessly shoehorned into this movie, they hardly seem to be from the Shrek universe.

  • Charming – Rupert Everett gives it a good try but the character that was so witty in Shrek 2 is reduced to little more than a revenge-minded buffoon. I wish they’d let him be a little more inspired like he is when recruiting the others. I wish his plan would be more interesting than running in there and taking everything over. He ends with a whimper, too. Ho-hum again.

  • Saturday Night Live Princesses – A funny idea and, in action, it works okay. These are hysterical ladies and they could do a lot more if given better material. As it is, they make do with occasionally witty lines that mostly lack bite. Maya Rudolph (Rapunzel) is the only one that seems a little out of it. Tiny Fey might have been better.

  • Minor characters – Most of the best humor is from the minor characters and they just don’t get used. The Three Blind Mice are barely in one scene. The rest of the other characters are so rarely show it is just a shame (making way for the one-joke princesses (although it is a good joke) and the underdeveloped Merlin and Artie. The Gingerbread Man is hysterical but other than one brilliant moment of his life flashing before his eyes (another absolute high point and one of the few times I laughed out loud), he’s not given much to do.
That’s a lot, I know. But the biggest problem with the movie is that it lacks the fast and furious humor of the others (especially Shrek 2), the witty songs (like the Be Our Guest parody), and the endless throwaway gags that made people NEED to see Shrek 2 over and over again. This is their main problem and they need to hire some funny script doctors that can bring in a lot more gags-per-minute than they have now. My kids were really fidgety during a lot of it and I became bored numerous times, rarely laughing heartily. Asked afterward to name favorite moments and they had a hard time.

As it is, they have a long work-in-progress that they need to tighten, strengthen in the middle and make a lot funnier. If Artie and Merlin are going to take up so much space, they will need to be more compelling if they plan to obscure so deeply the guy who the movie is named after – Shrek, who really is submerged in the second and third acts. I’m stunned Mike Myers didn’t give them more good ideas.

But let’s not be too harsh! They still have months and months to work on it. They have the parts, they just need writing help to work those characters out and inject some humor. Then, they will have another blockbuster on their hands.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

So there you have it. “Shrek the Third.” Which sounds like it still needs a lot of work before its May 18, 2007 release.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill

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.

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.

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Film & Movies

How Disney’s “Bambi” led to the creation of Smokey Bear



When people talk about Disney’s “Bambi,” the scene that they typically cite as being the one from this 1942 film which then scarred them for life is – of course – the moment in this movie where Bambi’s mother gets shot by hunters.

Which is kind of ironic. Given that – if you watch this animated feature today – you’ll see that a lot of this ruined-my-childhood scene actually happens off-camera. I mean, you hear the rifle shot that takes down Bambi’s Mom. But you don’t actually see that Mama Deer get clipped.

Now for the scariest part of that movie that you actually see on-camera … Hands down, that has to be the forest fire sequence in “Bambi.” As the grown-up Bambi & his bride, Faline, desperately race through those woods, trying to find a path to safety as literally everything around them is ablaze … That sequence is literally nightmare fuel.


Mind you, the artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios had lots of inspiration for the forest fire sequence in “Bambi.” You see, in a typical year, the United States experiences – due to either natural phenomenon like lightning strikes or human carelessness – 100 forest fires. Whereas in 1940 (i.e., the year that Disney Studios began working in earnest of a movie version of Felix Salten’s best-selling movie), America found itself battling a record 360 forest fires.

Which greatly concerned the U.S. Forest Service. But not for the reason you might think.

Protecting the Forest for World War II

I mean, yes. Sure. Officials over in the Agricultural Department (That’s the arm of the U.S. government that manages the Forest Service) were obviously concerned about the impact that this record number of forest fires in 1940 had had on citizens. Not to mention all of the wildlife habitat that was now lost.

But to be honest, what really concerned government officials was those hundreds of thousands of acres of raw timber that had been consumed by these blazes. You see, by 1940, the world was on the cusp of the next world war. A conflict that the U.S. would inevitably  be pulled into. And all that now-lost timber? It could have been used to fuel the U.S. war machine.

So with this in mind (and U.S. government officials now seeing an urgent need to preserve & protect this precious resource) … Which is why – in 1942 (just a few months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor) – the U.S. Forest Service rolls out its first-ever forest fire prevention program.

Which – given that this was the early days of World War II – the slogan that the U.S. Forest Service initially chose for its forest fire prevention program is very in that era’s we’re-all-in-this-together / so-let’s-do-what-we-can-to-help-America’s war-effort esthetic – made a direct appeal to all those folks who were taking part in scrap metal drives: “Forest Defense is National Defense.”

Source: Northwestern

And the poster that the U.S. Forest Service had created to support this campaign? … Well, it was well-meaning as well.  It was done in the WPA style and showed men out in the forest, wielding shovels to ditch a ditch. They were trying to construct a fire break, which would then supposedly slow the forest fire that was directly behind them.

But the downside was … That “Forest Defense is National Defense” slogan – along with that poster which the U.S. Forest Service had created to support their new forest fire prevention program didn’t exactly capture America’s attention.

I mean, it was the War Years after all. A lot was going in the country at that time. But long story short: the U.S. Forest Service’s first attempt at launching a successful forest fire prevention program sank without a trace.

So what do you do in a situation like this? You regroup. You try something different.

Disney & Bambi to the Rescue

And within the U.S. government, the thinking now was “Well, what if we got a celebrity to serve as the spokesman for our new forest fire prevention program? Maybe that would then grab the public’s attention.”

The only problem was … Well, again, these are the War Years. And a lot of that era’s A-listers (people like Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, even Mel Brooks) had already enlisted. So there weren’t really a lot of big-name celebrities to choose from.

But then some enterprising official at the U.S. Forest Service came up with an interesting idea. He supposedly said “Hey, have you seen that new Disney movie? You know, the one with the deer? That movie has a forest fire in it. Maybe we should go talk with Walt Disney? Maybe he has some ideas about how we can better capture the public’s attention when it comes to our new forest fire prevention program?”

And it turns Walt did have an idea. Which was to use this government initiative as a way to cross-promote Disney Studio’s latest full-length animated feature, “Bambi.” Which been first released to theaters in August of 1942.

So Walt had artists at Disney Studio work up a poster that featured the grown-up versions of Bambi the Deer, Thumper the Rabbit & Flower the Skunk. As this trio stood in some tall grasses, they looked imploring out at whoever was standing in front of this poster. Above them was a piece of text that read “Please Mister, Don’t Be Careless.” And below these three cartoon characters was an additional line that read “Prevent Forest Fires. Greater Danger Than Ever!”

Source: USDA

According to folks I’ve spoken with at Disney’s Corporate Archives, this “Bambi” -based promotional campaign for the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention campaign was a huge success. So much so that – as 1943 drew to a close – this division of the Department of Agriculture reportedly reached out to Walt to see if he’d be willing to let the U.S. Forest Service continue to use these cartoon characters to help raise the public’s awareness of fire safety.

Walt – for reasons known only to Mr. Disney – declined. Some have suggested that — because “Bambi” had actually lost money during its initial theatrical release in North America – that Walt was now looking to put that project behind him. And if there were posters plastered all over the place that then used the “Bambi” characters that then promoted the U.S.’s forest fire prevention efforts … Well, it would then be far harder for Mr. Disney to put this particular animated feature in the rear view mirror.

Introducing Smokey Bear

Long story short: Walt said “No” when it came to reusing the “Bambi” characters to promote the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention program. But given how successful the previous cartoon-based promotional campaign had been … Well, some enterprising employee at the Department of Agriculture reportedly said “Why don’t we come up with a cartoon character of our own?”

So – for the Summer of 1944 – the U.S. Forest Service (with the help of the Ad Council and the National Association of State Foresters) came up with a character to help promote the prevention of forest fires. And his name is Smokey Bear.

Now a lot of thought had gone into Smokey’s creation. Right from the get-go, it was decided that he would be an American black bear (NOT a brown bear or a grizzly). To make this character seem approachable, Smokey was outfitted with a ranger’s hat. He also wore a pair of blue jeans & carried a bucket.

As for his debut poster, Smokey was depicted as pouring water over a still-smoldering campfire. And below this cartoon character was printed Smokey’s initial catchphrase. Which was “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!”

Source: NPR

Which makes me think that this slogan was written by the very advertising executive who wrote “Four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.”

Anyway … By the Summer of 1947, Smokey got a brand-new slogan. The one that he uses even today. Which is “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

The Real Smokey Bear

Now where this gets interesting is – in the Summer of 1950 – there was a terrible forest fire up in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. And over the course of this blaze, a bear cub climbed high up into a tree to try & escape those flames.

Firefighters were finally able to rescue that cub. But he was so badly injured in that fire that he was shipped off to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and nursed back to health. And since this bear really couldn’t be released back in the wild at this point, he was then put on exhibit.

And what does this bear’s keepers decide to call him? You guessed it: Smokey.

Source: USDA

And due to all the news coverage that this orphaned bear got, he eventually became the living symbol of the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention program. Which then meant that this particular Smokey Bear got hit with a ton of fan mail. So much so that the National Zoo in Washington D.C. wound up with its own Zip Code.

“Smokey the Bear” Hit Song

And on the heels of a really-for-real Smokey Bear taking up residence in our nation’s capital, Steve Nelson & Jack Rollins decide to write a song that shined a spotlight on this fire-fightin’ bruin. Here’s the opening stanza:

With a ranger’s hat and shovel and a pair of dungarees,
You will find him in the forest always sniffin’ at the breeze,
People stop and pay attention when he tells them to beware
Because everybody knows that he’s the fire-preventin’ bear

Believe or not, even with lyrics like these, “Smokey the Bear” briefly topped the Country charts in the Summer of 1950. Thanks to a version of this song that was recorded by Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy.

By the way, it was this song that started all of the confusion in regards to Smokey Bear’s now. You see, Nelson & Rollins – because they need the lyrics of their song to scan properly – opted to call this fire-fightin’-bruin Smokey THE Bear. Rather than Smokey Bear. Which has been this cartoon character’s official name since the U.S. Forest Service first introduced him back in 1944.

“The Ballad of Smokey the Bear”

Further complicating this issue was “The Ballad of Smokey the Bear,” which was a stop-motion animated special that debuted on NBC in late November of 1966. Produced by Rankin-Bass as a follow-up to their hugely popular “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (which premiered on the Peacock Network in December of 1964) … This hour-long TV show also put a “THE” in the middle of Smokey Bear’s name because the folks at Rankin-Bass thought his name sounded better that way.

And speaking of animation … Disney’s “Bambi” made a brief return to the promotional campaign for the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention program in the late 1980s. This was because the Company’s home entertainment division had decided to release this full-length animated feature on VHS.

What’s kind of interesting, though, is the language used on the “Bambi” poster is a wee different than the language that’s used on Smokey’s poster. It reads “Protect Our Forest Friends. Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.” NOT “Forest Fires.”

Anyway, that’s how Disney’s “Bambi” led to the creation of Smokey Bear. Thanks for bearin’ with me as I clawed my way through this grizzly tale.

Jim Hill

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.

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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.

Jim Hill

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.

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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.

Jim Hill

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.

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