Calum Marsh August 5, 2013
If you are a 7 year old child or in the very least the parent or sibling of one, you may have heard that next week sees the release of Disney’s “Planes”, which Wikipedia helpfully describes as a “3D computer-animated adventure sports comedy film” and “the first film in the ‘Planes’ trilogy”. “Planes” is, naturally, a spin-off of Pixar’s “Cars”, and while it is not itself a Pixar product, it will happily sell a ticket to any family fooled into thinking it is. If “Planes” seems like it should have been relegated to the VOD or direct-to-video market rather than thrust overzealously into theatrical wide release, that’s because it was indeed intended to head straight to DVD, presumably before some inspired Disney executive realized they could jerry-rig a quick Real-D conversion and reap the rewards of a $3 surcharge. For those keeping track, that means that by the time the trilogy comes to a close the average family of four will have spent an additional $36 just for the added pleasure of seeing planes whoosh toward them more dramatically.
It seems as likely, of course, that nobody but John Lasseter will even remember “Planes” by the time “Planes 2” arrives, which will place the film in a long and substantive tradition of Disney movies nobody remembers or cares about. It turns out that this is a much richer tradition than you might think. DisneyToon Studios, the small production arm of Disney proper responsible for “Planes”, has more or less built their legacy on forgotten obscurities, producing more than 60 feature films over the course of the last 23 years without even a single bona fide hit to their name. To wit: “Planes” is the company’s first theatrical release since “Bambi 2” in 2006, which, seriously, who even knew there was a “Bambi 2”? Other hits in their repertoire include such fondly recalled direct-to-video classics as “Mulan 2”, “Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch has a Glitch”, and “Beauty and the Beast: One Enchanted Christmas”, so in other words mostly a lot of sequels to movies that by their very design seem to preclude the possibility of one.
But DisneyToon is hardly alone in shoveling out obscurities—they just happen to do it with more regularity. The company proper has yielded more than enough forgotten hits and outright flops to fill a Disney vault twice over, a fact nostalgia for the animated past conveniently elides. Here, then, in honor of the soon-to-be-forgotten “Planes”, we offer a testament to those Disney movies whose legacies never took hold.
The Film: “The Black Cauldron”
Release Date: July 24th, 1985
The Story: “The Black Cauldron” was considered such a disaster upon release that it is better known today for its storied production history than for anything that happens in it. Delayed at the last minute from its original release date of Christmas 1984 to the summer of the following year, the film was extensively revised and edited at the insistence of then-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, who disliked the film so intensely that he demanded an entire reel’s worth of footage excised. The final product clocked in at under 80 minutes, and the box office receipts were similarly undersized: at a hair over $20 million, its grosses made it an infamous flop, which may account for why it’s been swept under the rug by Disney’s marketing forces ever since.
The Film: “Dinosaur”
Release Date: May 19th, 2000
The Story: “Dinosaur” is a bit of a strange case: though it was not exactly received with enthusiasm upon its initial release, it wasn’t slammed either, and in terms of box office the film was considered a great success for Disney. And yet something about the picture—the speed with which the CGI dated itself, maybe, or the overall airlessness of the thing—made it disappear from the popular imagination than any successful Disney film before or since. It isn’t often these days that you hear of anybody remembering “Dinosaur” with much fondness, if at all, which is in some ways a worse fate than abject failure. It’s unlikely that anybody really hates “Dinosaur”. But is there a single person alive who loves it?
The Film: “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”
Release Date: June 3rd, 2001
The Story: Like “Dinosaur”, “Atlantis” came at the very tail end of what is considered Disney’s 90s renaissance, when a string of massive successes beginning with “The Little Mermaid” and lasting until roughly “Mulan” found every new release accepted as an instant classic. Time bears that out: it seems self-evident that “Aladdin”, “The Lion King”, and “Beauty & The Beast” are better remembered and more well-loved today than this, “Atlantis”, one of the more forgettable films of the era. The Mike Mignola connection has made it a favorite of nerds and comic fanboys the world over, to be sure, but that hardcore niche appeal seems to actually confirm the film’s forgotten legacy rather than counter it.
The Film: “The Rescuers Down Under”
Release Date: November 16th, 1990
The Story: Let’s chalk this one up to bad timing and unfavorable comparisons: released between “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast”, both considered cornerstones of the Disney renaissance, “The Rescuers Down Under” just has the poor luck of being sandwiched between much better movies. Even if you consider it part of the same overall trend of success, as some (generously) do, it received far and away the worst reviews and made the least money of any film of that period, which is to say that it is a failure by most measures.
The Film: “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court”
Release Date: “August 11th, 1995”
The Story: A kid is in King Arthur’s court—that’s literally the whole story. Knights are suitably nonplussed by this smarmy 90s brat’s cavalier attitude and, um, CD walkman, which he plays at a banquet to much alarm. The wikipedia entry really says it best: “The movie debuted at number 9. In the movie’s second week it fell to number 10.”
The Film: “Operation Dumbo Drop”
Release Date: July 28th, 1995
The Story: It’s a family movie designed to indoctrinate children with the idea that Americans won the Vietnam war…or something. It stars Danny Glover and an elephant. The 90s were troubled times.
Here’s the German trailer, just for fun:
The Film: “John Carter”
Release Date: March 9th, 2012
The Story: To be honest I’d never even heard of this one, but apparently it cost something like $250 million dollars, somehow, and was released only last year! Huh.
Categories: FeaturesTags: Black Cauldron, Calum Marsh, Disney's Planes, John Carter, Operation Dumbo Drop, Pixar, Planes, The Rescuers Down Under