Last week’s announcement DreamWorks Animation that it was shutting off the lights on its CG/2D mix Me and My Shadow might have surprised some. But it was hardly the first time a major production suddenly found itself back on the shelf. DreamWorks technically announced that it was putting the picture “back into development,” but as memory serves, that is what it also said about Tusker.
Don’t remember Tusker? You’re probably not alone.
Back in 1998 Tusker, a story about the adventures of an Indian elephant and featuring the voices of Morgan Freeman and Jodie Foster, was being hyped as the studio’s third animated feature, after Antz and The Prince of Egypt, and the second collaboration between DreamWorks Animation and digital shop PDI. Jeffrey Katzenberg had this to say about it:
“Tim [Johnson], Brad [Lewis], and the entire PDI team brought an enormous amount of creativity and energy to Antz. It will be fun to see what they can do with bigger things––like elephants. We think Tusker has all the right ingredients to make a great movie, and PDI is just the team to make it happen.”
That last part wasn’t quite accurate, though; Tusker never did happen. It looked like it might rise from the dead a decade later when the indie studio Imagi International took over the project; unfortunately, Imagi went out of business the next year, in 2009. Tusker went to the elephant’s graveyard for good.
All of this got me thinking about the tidal wave of development that occurred during the “Toon Boom” of the mid-1990s, when every studio in town was announcing an ambitious slate of animated feature films. After spending some time mining through my files of that era, I’ve come up with a list of intriguing animated feature projects that were trumpeted at the time, but disappeared like smoke. These include:
- Nexus, based on a character from Dark Horse Comics, which Hanna-Barbera was developing.
- October Moon, announced in 1994 as the first animated werewolf movie.
- Noah, a toon treatment of the classic Bill Cosby comedy routine that was in development at MGM until Cosby himself sank the ark.
- The Thief of Always, based on the novel by Clive Barker, scripted by Barker and Peter Sauder, which was being developed by Canadian toon shop Nelvana for Kennedy/Marshall Productions through Paramount.
- Frankenstein, in development by Universal and Industrial Light & Magic, which was intended to be ILM’s shift from effects work to storytelling (its R&D ultimately informed 2004’s Van Helsing).
- Dracula, an animated version of the horror classic developed by Fox Animation…as a musical, no less!
- Cats, an adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Weber smash musical, which was in development for years at Turner.
- There Goes the Neighborhood, a live action/animated take on Romeo and Juliet, in which a human girl falls in love with an animated boy, that was to star Dustin Hoffman.
What made all these films go kaboom? Any number of reasons could be at fault, though given the varied range of subject matters and willingness to try something different in many of them, it’s a shame they died.
But as they say: that’s showbiz.