The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

November 8, 2013

November 8, 1953

Walt Disney Feature Animation in 2005 dropped their plans for an animated film, the theme of which was a feline spoof of the Alfred Hitchcock films. The plans were well advanced, and a  lead team of animators had put their hearts and genius into the project. This was the partnership of Ron Clements (born April 25, 1953) and John Musker (November 8, 1953) . These were the brains behind "The Great Mouse Detective" and other Disney classics. We have some pictures below from the plans, and an insider's take on why the project was dropped. 
The movie was to be called "Fraidy Cat." The summary goes: "In 'Fraidy Cat' a chubby housecat with frayed nerves is torn off his comfy couch and dropped smack dab in the middle of a Hitchcockian thriller when he is accused of a crime he didn't commit. "

Here are some stills.

According to the article we link to, these photos are by 
Nancy Stadler. And here are excerpts from the article, published August 17,  2005,  which tackles the mystery: what ever happened to the movie called Fraidy Cat?

[Fraidy Cat] was to have been Ron'n'John's first computer animated feature. A comedy thriller that affectionately paid tribute to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. And -- according to WDFA insiders -- the rough story reel version of this picture was playing as well as anything that Ron Clements ...[and]  John Musker had ever produced.

So if a picture that these two guys (with their proven track record) have helped create is playing this well in story reel form, you have to assume that
Walt Disney Feature Animation is naturally going to be putting that project in production, right?

Well, that's where you'd be wrong, folks. "Fraidy Cat" (which was originally scheduled to be released in late 2009) isn't going into production. In fact, this project was actually shelved last month.
[July 2005]. Which is the main reason that Musker ...and Clements -- after 31 years of working for Walt Disney Feature Animation -- are exiting the studio on September 11th and heading for ... parts unknown.

"Wait a minute?," you sputter, "If people inside WDFA are saying that 'Fraidy Cat' actually looked that good, then why isn't Disney then putting this picture into production?" Ah, that's where this cat's tail ... er ... tale gets interesting.

To give you a bit of background on "Fraidy Cat": This concept has been kicking around Walt Disney Feature Animation for about seven years now. ....

 [and]...Clements ....were assigned to develop this project in October of 2004. And these two Disney Animation vets really threw themselves into the "Fraidy Cat" project. According to WDFA insiders, the story ....[and] editorial team that Ron'n'John assembled did an excellent job of developing this project. "Fraidy Cat" was not going to be some lame ....labored Hitchcock parody, like Mel Brooks' "High Anxiety." But a really-for-real comedy thriller.

So Musker ...
[and]Clements got their first pass at "Fraidy Cat" up on reels and then showed it to Disney Feature Animation president David Stainton in late May. David supposedly liked a lot of what he saw, but expressed some concerns with the film's first act. So Ron'n' John promptly went back to work on "Fraidy Cat," tightening up the film's first act as well as fleshing out the second act.

The new, improved version of "Fraidy Cat" was shown to Stainton last month. And -- according to someone who attended that screening -- the story reels for this picture got huge laughs. Even in this incredibly rough form, "FC" was going over as well as "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin" had at this phase in their productions.

And David reportedly did admit that this version of the picture was much improved. That Musker ...
[and]Clements had achieved just the right tone with "Fraidy Cat," that all the necessary elements for an exciting comic thriller were already in place ... Yet Stainton still couldn't bring himself to greenlight this picture.

Why for? The whisperers. The allegedly creative VPs at Disney Feature Animation. Those people in WDFA management who have little or no experience when it comes to storytelling. But since they occupy large offices in the Sorcerer Mickey building and feel like they have to do something..... to justify their over-sized paychecks, these corporate weasels meddle. ...
[And] they bad-mouth.

And this time around, these empty suits chose to bad-mouth "Fraidy Cat." Saying that the premise of the picture was far too obscure. "I mean, who today even remembers who Alfred Hitchcock was? So why would kids in 2009 pay good money to see an animated film that pays tribute to an old, fat, dead movie director?"

And those WDFA VPs ...kept whispering ....Saying things like "This project has such limited commercial appeal. There's no way that we're going to be able to persuade a major manufacturer to make 'Fraidy Cat' toys" and "How is this film going to expand the Disney brand? Are there characters here that we can use for a Saturday morning spin-off? Or for a home premiere sequel?" And eventually, Stainton started listening to the whisperers.

In short, the head of Disney Feature Animation lost confidence in "Fraidy Cat." Based on the way all his lieutenants kept bad-mouthing this project, Stainton began to wonder if this was really the sort of picture that WDFA should be producing at this time.....

So never mind the fact that David had two proven hit-makers -- Ron Clements[and]...John Musker -- riding herd on "Fraidy Cat." Or that this picture was clearly getting better with each new version of the FC story reel that Ron'n'John's editorial team produced. Stainton still chose to listen to his allegedly creative VPs instead (A group of people who have never actually written or directed any movies) and just shut down development of this WDFA project.

In short, David chickened out. ....

So is it any wonder now that ..
.[John Musker and Ron Clements] have decided to leave Disney? After all, why should these two stay at a studio ....[when their]... opinion on a picture isn't considered as important as those of some 30-year-old accountant? Some empty suit who isn't actually looking to build a career at Disney Feature Animation. But -- rather -- is just passing through the Mouse House on his way to landing a corner office at Reebok or the Gap.

.... I miss the old days ...when ... the animators in that building actually out-numbered the accountants. ....When the decision to greenlight a picture didn't hinge on something as ridiculous as "Do you think that kids will really respond to a 'Fraidy Cat' Happy Meal?"

As it happened Musker and Clements returned to Disney in 2006, partly because of Pixar.
But still no "Fraidy Cat."

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