Sunday, April 12, 2015

Where Are The Elves Now?


I'm sure a good chunk of people who have been reading or have come across this place happen to know about a Walt Disney Animation Studios film that was announced almost exactly seven years that has yet to come to fruition...

The film is titled King of the Elves, it's an adaptation of a story by writer Philip K. Dick. Philip K. Dick also wrote a little story called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Don't know what that is? Well, it's the book that Ridley Scott adapted into his 1982 sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner. Dick also wrote the dystopian novel A Scanner Darkly, which was made into a rotoscoped film starring Robert Downey Jr. among other familiar faces. Also, Total Recall and Minority Report are based on Philip K. Dick stories. His work has had an enormous influence on sci-fi...


King of the Elves, unlike his usual work, is a fantasy story: An old gas station owner named Shadrach Jones lives in Colorado near a highway made obsolete by an interstate. He encounters little elves who are at war with a race of little trolls that live in the nearby mountains, and Jones is named - as you guessed it - King of the Elves by the dying elf king, who predicts that the man will be the one to stop the evil trolls. Complications, of course, ensue, including a major obstacle that gets in the way of Jones' objective.

This is a very cool story. It's got fantasy creatures already living within the human world, but both are uniquely blended. This is not like fantasy creatures coming to the real world, they're already a part of our world and no one knows it. If Disney is to adapt it soon, will they keep a 1950s setting? Or will it be set in modern times? To me, it's ripe for Disney Animation in this day and age, where they are a creative, filmmaker-driven studio and are not swamped with executives who only see animation as insignificant children's-only fare.

Work on the project must've began in 2007. Disney officially announced the film in April 2008, and said that they were intending to release it during the holiday season of 2012. That same day, Disney Animation announced a whole slate that ended with this very film, Pixar announced a slate that ended at summer 2012 with Cars 2.

We of course know that the plans didn't entirely work out...

So why couldn't King of the Elves make it to 2012? Why isn't King of the Elves an existing Walt Disney Animation Studios film right now? Why is it seemingly not on the horizon at the studio?


King of the Elves was originally set to be directed by Aaron Blaise and the late Robert Walker. The duo were the directors of the studio's 2003 film Brother Bear. Their directing work on Brother Bear is nothing short of great, as that film has some jaw-dropping sequences, but the script for that film is borderline-awful. Again, that was because Disney Animation at the time wasn't being run by people who cared about animation as an art form. The suits who were in charge back then wanted Brother Bear to be a kiddie flick, and their excessive and unnecessary notes ruined what could've been a fine work of storytelling. The artists wanted it to be a great Disney classic that would appeal to all ages... Guess who got their way.

Despite that film's poor reception, John Lasseter and company knew that Blaise and Walker were still ideal directors for any project. Like many a Disney film made during the early 2000s, the directors and writers weren't the problem. At all. So he chose them to direct the adaptation of the Philip K. Dick story...

However, the project stalled in late 2009. Feeling that the project wasn't going the right way, Lasseter had Blaise and Walker removed from the film. They left Disney shortly afterwards, but a new director wasn't picked. Usually under Lasseter, a project still forges ahead in reimagined form with a new director attached. Sometimes, however, projects don't move ahead. Pixar's ill-fated Newt is a great example. King of the Elves was shelved, but temporarily...


Chris Williams, director of Bolt, had a project of his own in the works around late 2009. Blue Sky Disney got this news back in the day, and reported that his project was rejected by early 2010. The problem? Supposedly Williams' project aimed squarely at young children and not the whole family. So what happened next? Chris Williams was now set to direct King of the Elves, as he had great success with the acclaimed Bolt. Lasseter reportedly saw/sees a lot of potential in him.

Ahead it went. By 2011, it was beginning to shape up a bit. A writer was attached, Horrible Bosses scribe Michael Markowitz. At the same time, something else was shaping up. Something big.


By late 2011, Disney Animation was intending to release something on the Thanksgiving week of 2013. King of the Elves was one of two highly likely candidates for the slot. Who was the other candidate? A little movie called... Frozen. Since fairy tales were now deemed "appropriate" by the person who used to be the Chairman of Disney's film division thanks to the big success of Tangled, it's obvious that Frozen would be the winner. King of the Elves, the studio felt, still wasn't coming together as a cohesive whole. Frozen arguably wasn't, either... But it was either one or the other, because none of the other projects on the docket (Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, et al) would feasibly be ready for a fall 2013 release.

King of the Elves was shelved yet again, instead of being saved for a later date. Williams was off the project and did various work on other features in the pipeline, he was an additional story artist on Wreck-It Ralph and a main story artist on Frozen. Then in 2013, he was named director of Big Hero 6, as he was going to pilot that ship alongside Don Hall. So he's been working, and he's probably a story artist or something on all of the current upcoming features.

Blue Sky Disney mentioned in summer 2013 that little to no movement was made on the feature. This is probably due to Williams getting promoted to Big Hero 6 director status...

So we've got Zootopia and Moana next, both open in 2016. Nothing is set in stone for the two dates Disney locked in 2018 just yet, though Giants - based on various reports - is likely to be one of those 2018 releases. Frozen 2 could be a 2018 release given that it's a sequel to a huge film, and that Disney probably wants it out before the iron cools down. Then again, Disney Animation and Pixar are adamant that they'll do a sequel when they are ready. Pixar especially, excepting Cars 2. Don't expect The Incredibles 2 to come out until, what... 2019? Earliest Cars 3 opens is fall 2017, 6 1/2 years after the previous film.

Also, there's that project that visual development artists Brittney Lee and Lorelay Bove are heavily involved with. It was officially announced that it would be one of WDAS' two 2018 releases. My friend/Disney comrade Tyler Kelson met Lee in Seattle at the Emerald City Comicon, this is what he told me...


Like I've said a couple times before, that could mean anything. Either she means "hasn't been announced at all" or "hasn't been announced by Disney". Disney has yet to officially announce Giants to the world, even though other outlets have done that. Same thing applies to Dean Wellins' untitled film. Lee/Bove could very well be heavily involved with one of those, and not something that's new. King of the Elves was announced by Disney and talked about for a few years, so it can't be that. You never know...

(On a sidenote, Lee said to him that Disney is going to release a Blu-ray/DVD of their recent short films, a la the Pixar Short Films Collection sets! I hope it includes the recent short films that aren't available to the public!)

Where does it stand now? It seems like it won't be a 2018 release, but will it still happen is the bigger question...

Anything is possible. If the story just can't be fixed or worked out, the film most likely won't happen. There's always a chance for it to come together. I've been thinking about it recently because Chris Williams has been done with Big Hero 6 and if a sequel is greenlit, it's possible that he won't direct it. Williams doesn't seem to have a film to direct right now, so he can return to the elves. They stopped the film twice, that doesn't mean it can't come back. Honor Hunter at Blue Sky Disney implies that the studio and John Lasseter simply let it rest, instead of abandoning it outright like they did to Newt over at Pixar.

I feel this was probably done because other projects have moved ahead of it. Instead of toiling with a problematic project like King of the Elves, they just let it rest for a while, head over to the projects that are firing on all cylinders, and just wait it out until someone comes up with good solutions that get the project back into high gear. I know this as a writer. I write multiple stories, but some of them stall when I just can't crack them. I look at them and cringe at the mess they've become, and decide to put them to rest, not abandon or cancel them. Let it rest, then get back to it when you have new ideas. Sometimes writing other things helps you solve the problems in the thing you took a break on.

I have a feeling King of the Elves is simply a "take a break" kind of picture, and that Walt Disney Animation Studios will make it eventually. As for Pixar and Newt, it seems like no one was onboard that project, hence them just canceling it outright. Maybe it just wasn't doable, maybe the story wasn't anything special. They just couldn't crack it! Maybe the film will be reimagined completely in the future and won't be what it was intended to be about. Newt was tossed because Pixar appointed Pete Docter to take over as director, but Docter pitched Inside Out, saying he wanted to do that first. Pixar then exed out Newt altogether, rather than throw it on the back burner. I understand the decision, I've actually canceled some stories that I just couldn't feel. But as time goes on, you feel different about things. Recently I've resurrected some of those scrapped projects from roughly 2010 or so, maybe the brass at Pixar one day will think... "Gee, maybe Newt could work if we try, try again." You never know.

I feel that Disney Animation should still forge ahead with King of the Elves, with or without Chris Williams directing. Again, it works well as a fantasy story and it's unique to stories that place fantasy creatures in our world. There's potential for epic set-pieces, lots of great character designs, and even some cool stuff for the human world. It'll certainly fit right in with what Walt Disney Animation Studios has been doing recently: A mix of the classic and traditional with the bold and unexpected...

The question is... Is the story workable? Will John Lasseter, whoever directs, and the story wizards at Disney Animation find a way to crack the story? I think it can happen, I think it should happen, as there's a lot of potential in it. The same people believed in something like Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6, they also believe in something like Zootopia and Dean Wellins' space-set sci-fi project. They believe in out-there ideas, they just have to believe in the actual stories first...

1 comment: