Story * Interesting Facts * A Cancelled Project * What Really Happened
WildLife was described as a retro-1960's New York version of
Fair Lady (1964), but this time around Eliza Doolittle is an elephant.
A Disney insider also referred to this project as a computer-animated version
A bunch of self-centered club-hopping kids get banned from their favorite night spot, a trendy club called "Wild Life." They are appalled when they get thrown out of this club -for they know that the only way that they'll ever get back into the club is if they're accompanied by a celebrity.
Unfortunately, these kids don't know any celebrities... Until -while moping around the Central Park Zoo- they notice a lady elephant who can sing and dance. The club hoppers then get an idea: they'll break the pretty pachyderm out of the zoo. Then, through clever use of hype and promotion, they will convince the world that the elephant is actually a celebrity. As members of her entourage, they'll then be able to gain entry to all the most exclusive night spots in the city -including their beloved "Wild Life."
But something unexpected happens: these heartless club kids come to
actually care about the elephant, who has a rough time handling life in
the spotlight, but hates it even more when her celebrity starts to fade.
The movie was to be entirely CG animated and possibly Toon Rendered; toon rendering is a technique that gives 3D models a 2D outline effect. By featuring characters that are badly drawn 2D nonsense and therefore moving away from the traditional Disney style, Wild Life tried to be cutting edge, with design influences from Klasky Csupo, Nickelodeon and James and the Giant Peach.
The studio was looking for a young voice cast, such as actors from Dawson's Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other WB series. An insider also revealed: "Don't be surprised if the singing Elephant mentioned is voiced by a current 'popular' top 40 sensation".
First rumours had it that WildLife was a much stronger and better rounded movie project than Dinosaur -which apparently still wasn't strong enough!
An insider revealed in March 2002 that "some people hated the design of it but I thought it was incredibly cool. Hans Bacher was the production designer and Brian McEntee (Beauty and the Beast, The Quest for Camelot) was the the art director. It was a real departure, design-wise, from anything the studio had done before. I think that it was allowed to progress too far in the wrong direction. The directors were first timers and were not delegating and making timely decisions. The producer [Chris Chase, Return to NeverLand] was also a first timer and did not reign them in. And so, after almost two years (!) of pre-production, it was decided that the film wasn't working, costs were spinning out of control, and it should be shut down. I don't think it was just Roy Disney that made the call, though. It is an awful shame because it would have been just wrapping up production about now."
There was supposed to be a very gay influence on some of the characters
-including a particularly effeminate cowboy. Some rumoured that this along
with poop jokes prompted the Mouse House t ocan this project. We missed
a welcomed controversy, didn't we!
Wildlife, originally scheduled for a 2002 theatrical release date, was officially put into turnaround on 9/26/2000. Though a spokeswoman declined to comment, sideliners suggest the Disney scion raised objections after seeing the final budget for box office disappointment Dinosaur, and that several dozen layoffs of project hires or full staffers accompanied the film's recent shelving.
Disney animation chief Tom Schumacher said in a 10/6/2000 interview with the online magazine Inside that he--not Roy Disney--made the decision to pull the plug on the film Wild Life, and that he did so simply because the story "just wasn't strong enough." Animators familiar with the project said Roy Disney had declared that the film was not appropriate for Disney. The project was killed after the studio spent about $20 million, according to animation sources. Schumacher said that number is too high but declined to elaborate, and denied that "an inappropriate adult sensibility" had anything to do with the expensive cancellation.
Tom Schumacher confirmed though that after spending heavily to develop its Northside animation facility, Disney has no computer-generated film in development. But he said there is no pressure to move forward with a feature since Disney has the luxury of its partnership with Pixar. "I don't need to make one until there's one that's a good enough idea," he said. "I'm not in need of more animated product. If Pixar does a picture every year and I have (studios in) California and Florida going, I don't need to put a CGI film into production."
Tom Schumacher said the project was set "in a high-style urban setting," and acknowledged that "there were things in it that might have gone beyond the wink" that is accepted in other Disney movies. But Schumacher said the film was a work in progress, and material that crossed the line could have been excised. For that matter, the film could have been released under the Touchstone banner (as were The Nightmare Before Christmas and Who Framed Roger Rabbit) if it was deemed too adult for the Disney label. But while acknowledging that Roy Disney recently saw a story reel, Schumacher said he's the one who decided that he didn't like the progress on the project enough to proceed.
One central question is how the film got so far along in the pipeline if it wasn't working. "You want to make sure you've given the film every possible break," Schumacher said. Two of his favorite hits, Mulan and the mighty Lion King, also had production difficulties, he explained, and he didn't want to make any hasty decisions. But eventually he decided that this project wasn't gelling.
Schumacher didn't deny that the directors had ignored some of his notes. And he addressed the concern raised by certain animators that he has been distracted by Disney's theatrical productions, especially Aida. "WildLife did not suffer from not getting enough of me," he said. Despite his work on theatrical productions, he said he has spent "the vast majority" of his time on animation. If he has seemed less present to the staff, he added, it's because he is spread among many pictures that are in production.
Schumacher said Disney chairman Michael Eisner has been aware of WildLife since its inception, and he dismissed reports from animators that Eisner has stepped up his review of projects in development since Wild Life ran aground.
As for rumors that Disney will trim its animation output in light of a prolonged slump, Schumacher pointed out that Tarzan cleaned up with a $175 million gross just last year. But he added that he's watching costs carefully; he declined to make long-term predictions about Disney's production schedule.
"I'm going to make my business healthy," he said. "I'm not going to
let happen today what happened in the '50s, when the business sort of tanked
because (pictures) were too expensive. I'm cautious about making big pronouncements
about stuff that's too far out."
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
Taken from a January 2003 Jim Hill Media article
When it became apparent that there was no need to begin production of a sequel to Dinosaur, Disney didn't know what to do with the Secret Lab. That's when WDFA executives decided to put a picture that still had a lot of story problems on the production track.
So the staff of the Secret Lab spent at least six months (and as much as $20 million) working on Wild Life, the bizarre tale of an elephant who somehow became a sensation on the New York City club circuit. Wild Life directors Howard Banks and Roger Gould weren't actually out to create your typical Disney animated film. They were hoping that--once Wild Life was completed--this CG feature (with its adult-tinged humor) might be released under the Touchstone Pictures label or even (perhaps) through Miramax.
Unfortunately, the project never got far enough along in production
for this option to even be seriously considered. In the fall of 2000, Roy
Disney caught a work-in-progress screening of Wild Life and, appalled
by the film's adult humor (one joke in particular--where one gay character
teased another gay character, as they were entering the New York City sewer
system, for claiming that he'd never been down a man hole before--really
set Roy off), immediately ordered that production of the picture be shut