A company that spans nearly 100 years of history, Disney is absolutely massive. Not just on a media front, but a global one. While we could discuss the fact that Disney World could very well justifiably annex itself from Florida, we’re here to discuss what we all know and love Disney for: movies. With one of the largest film catalogs available, Disney’s legacy is one that spans decades and features next to no consistency in terms of both quality and production. You’ve probably seen your fair share of movies that you had no idea were affiliated with the mouse himself.
Specifically, we’re here to discuss those Disney films that got away and those that are on their way. For every Disney classic, there are two movies that were ultimately scrapped during production. Some got quite far, nearly making it to their release. Others never made it past proof of concept. With that in mind, it’s not impossible that any given upcoming Disney film could be canceled. It certainly happens, and more often than you think. It’s an interesting history, one that shines quite a bit of light on Disney’s conquest of the cinematic world.
26 IN PRODUCTION: Onward
Although a Pixar movie, it’s important to remember that Disney and Pixar are one and the same now, to the point where both utilize very similar art styles. Onward is Pixar’s latest production under Disney Studios and it imagines a world where humans don’t exist. Not a morbid one, mind you, just a fantastical one filled with elves, gnomes, and other Tolkien-esque creatures. Why not, though? Who says us humans are the only ones who get to stick around? As far as premises go, Onward is easily one of Pixar’s most creative. Here’s hoping it doesn’t meet the same fate as so many others on this list.
25 CANCELED: Gigantic
Very rarely do films in the Disney canon get canceled these days. While these cancellations happen, they happen in the background. Gigantic is quite different, though. It had a poster, marketing push, and a proper proof of concept that was made available for the public. We knew what it would look like and we knew it was coming.
Not the sequel to Big we were all hoping for.
Come 2017, though, and Gigantic was quietly canceled due to creative difference. This does happen, of course, but keep in mind that Disney isn’t opposed to swapping writers in and out due to creative differences. In fact, it happened recently with Toy Story 4 (although we’ll touch on that film a bit later.)
24 IN PRODUCTION: The Lion King (Remake)
It's worth noting that The Lion King remake is just that: a regular remake. It is not a live action remake, it does not have live action actors, and it does not take place in a live action world. Where The Jungle Book could get away with the title thanks tot he fact it had human actors playing human characters, The Lion King has no such benefit. It is a genuine remake of The Lion King simply animated in a different style of animation, if you want to call it that. With that in mind, temper your expectations. It's one thing to see an animated film re imagined in live action, it's another to see a 2D film brought into 3D.
23 CANCELED: King Of The Elves
King of the Elves is a bit of a sad tale as it actually had quite a long development cycle. Not only did it have actual directors attached, the movie had a legitimate release date ready: Christmas 2012. During development, however, the movie was put on hold some time in 2009, delaying all immediate production.
It's hard to believe this film almost opened alongside Frozen.
Against all odds, Disney actually did pick the film back up, but both directors were replaced. Chris Williams was chosen as director and it seemed as though King of the Elves would finally gets it 2012 release, albeit cut close. Sadly, Williams left the project to work on Big Hero 6, putting the final nail in King of the Elves’ coffin.
22 IN PRODUCTION: The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (Live Action Remake)
On one hand, Disney’s desire to produce live action remakes of their animated films does mean said movies stay in the pop culture lexicon longer than they otherwise would. On the other hand, Disney seems to treat each live action remake as a replacement of sorts. The next victim in line seems to be The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Of all the Disney Renaissance films to pick, this is the one that needs the most delicate touch. Hunchback has a serious tone problem and it’ll only be made worse in a live action retelling. At the same time, it shouldn’t be too dark as the Disney adaptation is very much its own beast. But it should be faithful and serious. But it needs to respect the tone. Starting to see the issue?
21 CANCELED: Pinocchio 2
Disney’s direct to video sequels are notoriously awful to the point where you have to imagine there isn’t much quality control being taken into account on the other side of the pond. Interestingly, that doesn’t mean some ideas aren’t off limits. There was a direct to video sequel planned for Pinocchio, appropriately titled Pinocchio 2, that never made it past conception. Considering how airtight of a film the original is, and just the fact that Pinocchio really isn’t much of a marketable character, Disney abandoned the idea fairly early on.
20 IN PRODUCTION: Moana 2
Of all the modern Disney animated films, Moana is the one to come the closest to capturing that Disney Renaissance energy. Whether or not that’s a good thing is certainly debatable, especially since modern Disney very much has an identity of its own, but it’s a trait that does make the movie appealing to longtime fans.
Moana demands more of your money.
Naturally, Moana did well enough to garner a sequel in Disney’s eyes. While we know next to nothing about the movie other than that it exists, we can assume that it’ll largely feature the same voice cast while giving Lin-Manuel Miranda another chance at an Oscar. If nothing else, Disney’s sequel track record has been pretty solid lately so what’s the worry?
19 CANCELED: Mort
There once was a time where Disney was actually going to adapt a Discworld novel. The first entry to heavily feature the character Death, said adaptation would be helmed by Disney mainstays Musker and Clements and would actually heavily feature traditional animation. Unfortunately, said project never made it off the ground as Disney was focusing their efforts toward CG based animation. In a way, it does make sense. Not only does it do little good to adapt a series four novels in, Discworld, in general, doesn’t jive well with Disney’s aesthetic. Even if it likely would have resulted in a great film.
18 IN PRODUCTION: Sky High 2
Disney’s very own piece of Ubermensch propaganda, Sky High is actually, against all odds, getting a sequel. Announced in 2016 and everything, Sky High 2 has entered pre-production. Interestingly, a sequel was planned years ago, reportedly titled Save U, but it was canceled before it could move any further. Time will tell if this sequel will actually release, but all signs do point to Disney, at the very least, intending to make a real sequel this time around. Eventually. Maybe.
17 CANCELED: Alice In Wonderland (Original Draft)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves holds quite the important legacy in cinematic history, effectively ushering in the modern age of western animation. It very nearly wasn’t the genesis of Walt Disney’s animated career, however. Originally, Disney had wanted his first animated film to be an Alice in Wonderland adaptation.
Walt would get his chance to make Alice in Wonderland later, don't worry.
The first had actually entered some form of pre-production, but was canceled very early on into production. An Alice was even cast for the role. It wouldn’t be until 1937, four years after attempting to adapt Alice in Wonderland, that Walt Disney would finally get around to releasing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
16 IN PRODUCTION: The Sword In The Stone (Live Action Remake)
Although The Sword in the Sword isn’t the most remembered entry in the Disney canon, it is remembered fondly by those that actually do keep it in mind. While Disney is very much in the money making game, sometimes you need to cater to your most diehard of fans even if it might not be the most financially safe decision. Disney is, in fact, proceeding with a The Sword in the Stone live-action remake. Funny enough, it’s almost guaranteed to do better than the live action Hunchback if only because it’s a film that’ll inherently translate better from animation.
15 CANCELED: The Seven Dwarfs
There was once a time in history where Disney genuinely wanted to make a “Lord of the Rings” style prequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Let that sink in. Truly, allow that concept to sink in. The comical seven dwarves participating in Middle Earth esque combat and adventure. Good execution can salvage any concept, but there cannot be a scenario where Disney managed to make The Seven Dwarfs anything even remotely worth watching. The cancellation speaks for itself.
14 IN PRODUCTION: Disenchanted
Enchanted is a very interesting piece of Disney history. A film that explicitly satirized the Disney animation canon, releasing at the perfect time considering the canon’s stagnation, the film was met with quite a bit of praise before immediately being forgotten. Pop culture simply did not latch onto Enchanted. Interestingly, that isn’t stopping Disney from producing an actual sequel. Where a prospective Sky High sequel makes sense considering its beloved status, Disenchanted can really go either way at this point.
13 CANCELED: Fantasia 2006
It’s hard to believe there’s a world where we could have been getting Fantasia as an anthology series. Unfortunately, Fantasia 2000 was not the follow up to Fantasia that fans were hoping for. Bogged down by celebrity cameos and less than inspired shorts, the film simply could not capture that same magic. As a result of the movie’s financial and commercial performance, Disney ended up pulling the project. Instead, 2006 was retooled into several animated shorts, arguably a better fate for the project.
12 IN PRODUCTION: Frozen 2
There was a time where we could say that Disney rarely ever did mainline sequels, but here we are. Gone are the days of sequels being exiled exclusively to direct to video. While Moana 2 is still a pipe dream at this point, Frozen 2 is very much coming and it’ll be out sooner than we all think.
Elsa demands even MORE of your money.
It makes sense, though. Frozen is easily one of Disney’s biggest properties at this point. Not only did it do gangbusters at the box office, but it’s also a merchandising behemoth. We are at a point where Frozen literally cannot fail. It would actually be crazier if Disney DIDN’T make a sequel to the film.
11 CANCELED: The Nightmare Before Christmas 2
The Nightmare Before Christmas 2 is the rare cancellation as it’s one of the few on this list that Disney REALLY wanted to produce. Forgoing the stop motion animation in favor of traditional CG, Disney was all set on producing the sequel, but Tim Burton wasn’t too keen. Reportedly, Burton came to Disney about the idea and convinced them that a sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas wasn’t worth the effort. Considering how critically acclaimed the original is, and the fact the sequel would lose the signature art style, it’s perhaps fair that Disney respected Burton’s concerns.
10 IN PRODUCTION: Toy Story 4
Toy Story 3 is often considered to be one of the greatest endings of all time. Rarely to trilogies end well, but Pixar had pulled it off. The finale was emotional, poignant, and introspective. It was a love letter to all things Toy Story that never forgot to move the narrative forward, ending the plot not by bringing it full circle, but by looking towards the future.
Franchises aren't allowed to end anymore.
Which makes Toy Story 4’s role in this all the more perplexing. Although the trailers are harmless enough, it’s hard not to feel cynical. The series ended and it ended well. What more can be done with these characters, with this world, with this story? It feels like a money grab above all else, especially in lieu of Pixar’s string of sequels this past decade.
9 CANCELED: Which Witch?
Which Witch? is an interesting entry as it very well might still be in production despite the fact that it was also quite explicitly canceled. A film adapting Eva Ibbotson’s novel about a witch who realizes he wants a wife before he retires, Disney quietly canceled the project in 2003, pursuing the concept no further.
That said, 2014 revealed that the Jim Henson Company had partnered up with Billy Crystal to complete the scrapped movie. Since then, however, we’ve gotten no info from either the Henson Company or Billy Crystal. While the film may not be technically canceled anymore, that seems more like a formality at this point.
8 IN PRODUCTION: Artemis Fowl
An adaptation of a beloved book series roughly fifteen years too late, Artemis Fowl is Disney’s attempt at diving deep into their own cinematic universe. Or at least that’s what we can assume all things considered. To be fair, although the series’ heyday is long past, this might genuinely be the best time to adapt the series.
No time like the present.
With the series completed since 2012, Disney can take their time adapting the books properly. Nothing has to be cut, a new ending doesn’t have to be edited to work around a lack of ending, and there’s genuine potential to tie in later plot points into the earlier entries. It’s late, yes, but this does have potential.
7 CANCELED: The Frog Prince
Disney loves their fairy tales so it’s really no surprise there’d be quite a few adaptation sitting on the cutting room floor. What’s particularly upsetting about The Frog Prince’s cancellation is less the story it’s adapting, but the fact it was meant to be a satire on Grimm fairy tales in general. Pitched in 2001, the movie wasn’t greenlit due to Disney executives fearing that audiences would neither understand or appreciate the satirical tone. Which is a pity as Shrek dominated the box office shortly thereafter and Disney’s modern-day self-awareness has been met with near universal praise.
6 IN PRODUCTION: Mulan (Live Action Remake)
Disney sure loves their live action remakes, huh? Between The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Sword in the Stone, there’s really no shortage when it comes to animated classics Disney won’t give new life just for some extra revenue. As you could perhaps expect, Mulan’s getting the same treatment.
This isn't the Mulan you're familiar with.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the film will lose quite a lot of its charm in the transition from animation to live action. Not only has Mushu been cut, but the film also will not be a musical. Although Mulan stops utilizing music halfway through, part of why it’s so beloved is the soundtrack. It may as well be a different movie at this point. Which these live-action remakes kind of are.
5 CANCELED: The Wizard Of Oz
Following the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Walt Disney’s next film was envisioned as none other than an animated adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. As far as follow-ups to the start of animated career goes, The Wizard of Oz is an excellent choice. Its creative imagery lends itself quite well to animation.
Unfortunately, MGM was in the process of producing their own adaptation of the film which resulted in Disney needing to scrap the project. A shame as it would have been quite the inspired film, but the MGM Wizard of Oz in itself managed to be one of the most important movies of all time nonetheless.
4 IN PRODUCTION: Cruella
You know what the world needs? A Cruella de Vil origin story. 101 Dalmatians’ resident villain. Considering the popularity of Disney’s live-action remakes and their emphasis on more dynamic antagonists, it only makes sense that Disney would sooner or later try to sympathize a character who literally wants to skin dalmatians so that she can make fur coats. On second thought, it seems like this one should be in the canceled pile, doesn’t it? There’s really no world where Disney can pull off this Cruella movie properly.
3 CANCELED: The Emperor And The Nightingale
Yet another fairy tale that slipped through Disney’s cracks, The Emperor and the Nightingale is a Hans Christian Andersen that follows a Chinese emperor and his deep infatuation with the song of a nightingale. A more emotional fairy tale than most, the emperor’s failing health prompts one of his kitchen maids to seek the nightingale so it may sing for the emperor in his final hours. While an interesting story, and one that would make great use of a Chinese aesthetic ala Mulan, Disney did not proceed with the project. It’s entirely possible that Mulan’s preexistence prompted Disney to choose something a bit more “original” for their next film.
2 IN PRODUCTION: Untitled Lin-Manuel Miranda Musical
Lin-Manuel Miranda has been on a massive hot streak for the past few years. Although In the Heights was critically acclaimed enough to garner more than a fair share of Tony nominations, it was Hamilton that really put Miranda on the map. Soon after, he started working closely with Disney.
The man just wants that EGOT.
As to be expected, Lin-Manuel Miranda is working on an untitled musical for Disney. Whether or not said musical is live action or animated is still up in the air, but it’s good that Disney is keeping Lin-Manuel Miranda active, especially since he didn’t quite nab the Oscar he was aiming for with Moana.
1 CANCELED: Toy Story 3 (Original Draft)
The Toy Story 3 we all know and love is not the Toy Story 3 Pixar had originally envisioned. The original draft heavily featured Buzz Lightyear in the lead role. The film would follow the toys as they left for Asia to find Buzz’s manufacturer. While we don’t know too much else about the plot, we can at least deduce that the film would focus quite heavily on existentialist themes.
Buzz is Buzz, but he is not the only Buzz. Does that make him any lesser of a Buzz? Is he who he really is? Was he designed to be Buzz Lightyear inherently, meaning his personality is one that is shared and not- in truth- his own? You know, maybe it’s for the best Pixar scraped this storyline.