Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What Happened to the Elves?

In April 2008, Walt Disney Pictures announced a big animation slate that went from the summer of 2008 to the holiday season of 2012. Yes kids, back in 2008, this slate was massive. It's not like today where Disney or DreamWorks comes out and says, "Here's what's coming out in the next five years!"

Still, this slate was pretty huge in retrospect. It covered four years of completed films, films that were in development and other projects. So, what did this slate look like? Well… Walt Disney Animation Studios had Bolt, The Princess and the Frog and what would become Tangled all in place (2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively) while nothing was slated for 2011. Pixar had two films taking up that year, the ill-fated Newt in the summer and what would become Brave in the autumn/winter. WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3's dates stayed the same since those three were pretty much ready without big issues to iron out. Then in 2012, we had Pixar's Cars 2 in the summer (where it should've stayed) and Disney Animation's King of the Elves in the holiday season.

Yes, a lot has changed since then…

Anyways, notice anything on this slate? You know, other than the canceled Newt?

King of the Elves

What in the world happened to King of the Elves?

This Walt Disney Animation Studios project is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (whose stories were adapted into the likes of Blade Runner and Total Recall), a tale of an elderly Colorado gas station owner who learns of a race of little elves who are at war with trolls, who name him their king after their ill king passes away. This story seemed like it would really work as a Disney animated film. You have elves, trolls, mystical lands, a war between the two (potential big action there), to name a few things. It seemed like it would make for a quintessential Disney animated fantasy adventure!

King of the Elves was to be directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker, the team who brought us Brother Bear. (Blaise recently worked on a lavish Brother Bear meets Watership Down-esque commercial for British department store John Lewis.) In December 2009, the project was unexpectedly halted most likely due to story problems, Blaise headed to Digital Domain's ill-fated Tradition Studio shortly after and was set to direct an animated elephant tale called The Legend of Tembo with Brother Bear producer Chuck Williams. The two are now directing a very promising project called Art Story, made possible by a Kickstarter campaign.

The elves languished for a little while until Bolt director Chris Williams took a crack at it in 2010. According to Honor Hunter of Blue Sky Disney, the film was in a "race" of sorts with Frozen by 2011, for the holiday 2013 spot. King of the Elves proved to be riddled with too many issues, so Frozen moved forward. Williams left the project to work on other films as a board artist. The project was shelved, and as of today, it hasn't been re-evaluated since its last shelving. He assures us, though, that it's not dead.

So could it possibly re-enter development? Could it possibly show up some time this decade? What were the story problems?

The project isn't unique. Multiple Walt Disney Animation Studios films have been through phases where they don't seem like they'll make it. Walt Disney once looked into stories like… Well… The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Projects like Chanticleer made it far enough, but never materialized. Walt wanted to adapt the likes of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass a while back, but a film based on those stories wouldn't make it to the silver screen until the early 1950s, long after Walt decided that he wanted to tackle that story.

In the post-Walt years, there are many examples. The Snow Queen was on and off until it failed to move forward after 2003, only for it to be revived in 2008 by the Lasseter crew and then to be shunted aside after The Princess and the Frog underperformed over a year later… Then it got revived again in 2011 after Tangled did well, we got the movie as Frozen nearly a month ago. Ron Clements and John Musker's super cool "Treasure Island In Space" project was pitched in 1985 and shot down, but lo and behold it ended up hitting screens in 2002!

King of the Elves is just another one of those. Dean Wellins' "Space Race" film is another, as projects that were pitched after it have moved ahead of it in the development pipeline. This of course means that both aren't dead, it also means that the lizard film up at Emeryville isn't dead either. So the bigger question is… When will we get this epic fantasy?

Well, for now, it seems like Zootopia, Giants and Moana are all in place. These three films span three calendar years, two films are coming out in 2016 while another one comes out in 2018. Another film is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2018, but since "Space Race" is down for the count, we have no idea what film will be opening on that day. Right now, there's enough time to reboot King of the Elves so that it'll be ready for the spot. After all, Frozen got its reboot in 2011 and took two years to make.

If that happens to the elves, then...

Zootopia (3/4/2016)
Giants (11/23/2016)
Moana (3/9/2018)
King of the Elves (11/21/2018)

Or the late 2018 film could be the Mickey Mouse feature-length film that Burny Mattinson talked about in 2011, since the mouse turns 90 in November 2018 and one is long overdue. Maybe that first, and then King of the Elves in 2019. That is, if Pixar won't hog up 2019 with two releases.

Zootopia (3/4/2016)
Giants (11/23/2016)
Moana (3/9/2018)
Mickey Mouse (11/21/2018)
King of the Elves (Christmas 2019)

That could very well happen, but I have heard that many new projects are being pitched and some of them might be in fine shape, the "Ready for Lasseter Approval" state of course. Again, it seems like King of the Elves just needs something of a fine tune-up from someone (or two people) who can make something of the supposed mess. Ditto "Space Race"…

Who and when? We still play the waiting game…


  1. I think the second variant is more believable. However, something tells me that a Wreck-It Ralph sequel will happen, and if it will, it could take up any of these dates!

  2. I agree with gimychael. The second schedule you listed seems more reasonable. I don't know about the Wreck-it Ralph sequel though. By the way Kyle, are you a Disney stockholder? I thought I'd ask because I've owned Disney shares for years.

  3. I think "King of the Elves" sounds like what I want to see. Theyhould release it in the Summer to avoid confusion with Christmas movies.

  4. Man I swear I saw a trailer for this not too long ago and thought I missed it's release or aomething they just keep shelving it what a bummer. One of my favorite short stories from my favorite collection of short stories from one of my all time favorite writers