The Disney Animated Musicals That Still Need to Be Made
With the recent hoopla surrounding Disney’s announcement that Gigantic, based loosely on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, will have a score by Frozen’s Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, I began thinking, what other fairy tales, folk tales and mythological stories would be the perfect fodder for an animated musical courtesy of Mickey Mouse. After pouring through lists of titles, these are the animated film musicals I would love to see happen:
It really surprises me that this one hasn’t been done yet. A girl, put in an impossible situation where her life depends on being able to spin straw into gold, must negotiate her valuables and her first born child with a sinister dwarf who can manage the deed. The opportunities for songs are myriad. A ditty that reflects on the idea that “All that glitters is not gold” and a song for guessing the title character’s name would both be ideal and story-driven. It takes place in a castle (standard Disney locale) and there are opportunities for caring servants and the occasional anthropomorphic animal to help her out. A little sinister and dark for Disney in tone, but after their successes with edgier fare like The Princess and The Frog, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the live-action Into the Woods, Rumpelstiltskin is a well-known enough fairy tale that it deserves a Disney musical film.
The Iliad and The Odyssey
Maybe, at first, this doesn’t sound as interesting, but when you consider that both epic poems are steeped in adventure, romance, mythological creatures and an inspiring premise, it seems like an ideal fit for the Disney musical makers. In fact, you could get two movies out of this idea, if the first one is a success, you have a built-in sequel. It also gives Disney that rare opportunity to make a male character the focal point of an animated movie musical. The epic battle scenes would be exciting to animate and think of how much fun they will have creating mythical beasts such as the Hydra and the Cylops? Think back on the work they did on Hercules: lots of potential!
The Tinder Box
Not many people know this Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, but this would give Disney a chance to redeem themselves for the botch-job they did on fairy tale The Snow Queen (no, not everyone loved Frozen as much as you did). The Tinder Box may well be Anderson’s darkest of tales, but it has all the ingredients Disney fans love including a princess, a witch, a romantic soldier, three magical dogs, and the title prop which yields mystical powers. Sure, there is a beheading and a near execution, but everything comes out alright in the end, and who better than Disney writers and artists to find a way to shape a violent fairy tale into a family-friendly musical. Walt made his fortune doing that.
The Selfish Giant
Playwright Oscar Wilde wrote a series of children’s stories, none more enchanting and moving than The Selfish Giant. Though it has a Christian plot point at the end that some people might find off-putting, there is a larger message about love, trust and kindness that permeates the story. A giant has left his castle and beautiful gardens to visit a friend and doesn’t return for years. The local children begin to play in his orchards and, when he returns, he is incensed by their presence. He builds an enormous wall around his property to keep the kids out. When it is clear there is no love within the walls, the Winter comes and invites her friends The Frost, The Hail, and the North Wind to join her. The Giant’s home is immersed in perpetual cold and the deepest snow until he learns his lesson, tears down the wall, and invites the children to play in his garden. Hallmark made a 30-minute animated film version (with a few songs) back in 1970s (it’s on Youtube, check it out) that is exquisite, though the animation is very simple. Disney could make a colorful musical out of this lovely story and our ability to change.
Once on this Island
The Lynn Ahrens – Stephen Flaherty Caribbean-flavored musical about a young woman who goes on a journey across an island to find her true love is already written and ready to go. The atmosphere of the locale and island mythology would give animators lots to work with and the story is packed full of such memorable characters as Erzulie (The Goddess of Love), Asaka (Mother Earth), Agwe (The God of the Water) and Papa Ge (The God of Death). If a film is ever going to be made of Once on this Island, why not see what Disney can do with it? And who wouldn’t love to see how the opening hurricane scene is animated?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Disney has never tackled Shakespeare, and I think it is about time that they did. Four romantic young people wandering around a forest in search of love, a band of talentless mechanicals trying to put on play, and a dozen or so mischievous fairies who use magic to mess with them, who can’t see the musical possibilities in that? It would be a great way to introduce youth to the idea of Shakespeare, but in a way that doesn’t scare them off. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is his most accessible play: full of comedic possibility and plenty of places for love songs and character ditties.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Disney certainly gets a lot of mileage out of their princesses and most of this has to do with the fasciation we all have for a royal in a pretty dress. If one princess can inspire the enthusiasm created by Snow White or Cinderella, and two can conjure the frenzy of Frozen, can you imagine the excitement (and merchandizing) that could come from an animated musical version of the German fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses? It’s actually a very compelling story about a dozen princesses who are locked into a room each night to sleep and each morning their shoes have worn out as if having traveled a great distance. The king offers any man who can find an answer to this mystery the chance to marry the princess of his choice. It turns out that a soldier learns they are slipping out through a secret compartment and dancing the night away.
The Pied Piper of Hamlin
One of Disney’s earliest animated shorts was of The Pied Piper of Hamlin and they did a wonderful job telling the story of a town, overrun by rats, who turn to a magical piper who says that, for a bag of gold, he will lead all of the vermin away. When he succeeds, they stiff the piper, so he uses his magical charms to lead all of the town children away. I’ve always felt that more could be done to flesh out this story and a full-length animated musical version would be just the ticket.
The Elephant’s Child
Disney Studios has a lot of luck turning Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book into an animated musical. I have always found Kipling’s short story The Elephant’s Child an even more compelling fable that tells the story of how the elephant got his trunk. In this story, elephants have little stub noses, and an overly curious baby elephant is the first to receive a trunk when a Crocodile gets a hold of his nub and stretches it into the trunk we know today. It’s full of colorful animal characters that the baby elephant meets on his journey across Africa (all a part of his nosy behavior). Kind of like The Wizard of Oz, but in the end, instead of getting a brain, heart or courage, the kid gets a nose for his efforts.
The Life and Adventures of Santa Clause
Speaking of The Wizard of Oz, Rankin & Bass made a stop-motion animated holiday special of L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Clause, an interesting story about the origins of Santa Clause and the traditions surrounding him. The Rankin & Bass effort was abridged, and frankly, a little creepy. It was also a musical with some catchy (if corny) songs. Disney could go back to the book and create a more faithful musical adaptation that would be must-see holiday watching. Just do us a favor, Santa. Please don’t let Elsa sweep in and wreak her frozen havoc on your poor little elves.
I keep telling myself…just “let it go” Mark…just “let it go!”