Conceiving the story of a Disney/Pixar movie is tough and has been widely touted as the hardest part of the production process by the creators themselves. Because of animation's inherently imaginative nature, a strong concept needs to be established. Ideas are then thrown around by storyboard artists, directors, writers and more. Unlike live-action production, more people of different roles are involved with the story. One of the primary rules of Disney/Pixar is to scrap an idea that is clouding the creators' vision. Employees can sense this when reviewing test footage, checking for universal suitability and evaluating appeal. These ideas must, overall, transition well into the animation medium.
Amendments to the script or a shift in direction can have the greatest effects on an animated movie. Some are small changes while others are huge. Many beloved Disney/Pixar flicks have undergone great transformations in setting, characters, and plot. Most of these storyline changes will make you grateful that they never happened. On the other hand, they may leave you wondering whether some of these differences could have made them greater.
In this article, you will find out about the deepest and sometimes darkest areas of the creative process. Be assured that most changes were made for quality rather than financial gain. From the failed sequels of the division Circle 7 Animation to the untapped potential of Zootopia, there will be plenty of ideas to both despise and imagine. Here are the 25 Disney/Pixar storylines that were completely abandoned in their respective movies.
25 Frozen: Coolly And Ice-Hearted Elsa
Most people thought Elsa was a compelling anti-hero. If you preferred her darker side, however, the original draft of Frozen is for you. Elsa was originally conceived as a downright nefarious villain. The movie was planned to end with an epic battle between Elsa and Anna, fit with an army of snow monsters for good measure.
Still—an epic, Lord of the Rings-styled battle between Elsa and Anna would have been awesome.
When Let it Go was written, director Jennifer Lee decided to rewrite the character and plot because of the sympathy the song conveyed for her character. You can check out a clip of this revelation here.
24 Moana: Moana And Maui
The two main characters of Moana underwent various changes. Moana was originally going to be a part of a family with tons of boys—herself being the only girl. This change would have seen the movie explore gender roles as its central theme. For Maui, he was originally written as an apathetic character; "kind of given up," as co-director Ron Clements states in this Hollywood Reporter interview. Finally, Moana was going to be Maui's biggest fan. Ultimately, the finished movie concocted terrific character chemistry that would not need further changes.
23 The Lion King: Slouching Simba
Imagine a Lion King without the epic journey that Simba undertakes? Well, this was the original draft of the movie. After Mufasa passes, Simba stays merely in Pride Rock while Scar acts as his regent. There is no need to introduce Timon and Pumba because they are Simba's childhood friends. Ultimately, it is the "earthbound" version as co-director Rob Minkoff puts it in this Collider interview. Without the changes, The Lion King would not be the sprawling, Shakespearian classic we all know and love to this day.
22 Toy Story: A Different Woody
Woody was kind of a jerk what-with his profound jealousy of Buzz in the first Toy Story, but he was still extremely endearing. During the early '90s, the vision for Woody was that of pure toxicity. He consistently put down other toys and even makes Slinky his worker. In an infamous storyboard dubbed "The Black Friday Reel," Woody purposefully throws Buzz out of the window instead of trying to hide him from Andy. What ensues is an overthrowing of power, with many of the toys grouping up to get rid of Woody. To see a beloved character act like this is surreal.
21 Toy Story 2: No Jessie?
The character of Jessie is widely considered one of Toy Story 2's best aspects. It may be bewildering to think that Woody's Roundup, the forgotten gang of toys, was going to be complete without the inclusion of Jessie. Instead, a character named Senorita Cactus was in Jessie's place. She sounds ridiculous and seemed to be a villain alongside Stinky Pete. We are glad that Nancy, wife to director John Lasseter, encouraged such a great female character to be made. You can read the early script here.
20 Toy Story 3: Out With Day Care, In With Spooky Attics
Kind of like The Lion King's early draft, this initial idea was going to ruin the movie's sense of scope and whole objective. Originating from the useless Circle 7 Animation division (a place to make sequels for Pixar movies), Toy Story 3's original premise was going to be that of the toys ending up in Andy's grandmother's attic. What lies in the old attic were a cast of colorful characters including an angry garden gnome and a pair of sock puppets. Further reading can be found at this blog.
19 A Bug's Life: A Ragtag Group Of Circus Bugs
Even if A Bug's Life is one of the lesser outings in Pixar's filmography, Flik and his fellow ant colony are quite likable. The focus, in the script, was on a deceptive group of circus bugs that would be the main heroes of the story. They would be led by Red the Red Ant, the protagonist. The directors concluded that these characters were too unlikable to be center stage in the story.
There was, however, a hilarious group of circus bugs in the finished movie led by P.T. Flea.
Fact: P.T. Flea is a reference to the famous showman P.T. Barnum, of whom you may have recently seen portrayed in The Greatest Showman.
18 Monsters, Inc: The Past That Haunts
One of the more intriguing ideas on this list is Monsters, Inc's original premise. It followed a man around thirty who had monsters under his bed and in his closet. They came into his life in childhood and still live in his room. Each of the monsters symbolizes some sort of trauma from that time and the protagonist would have needed the courage to face them head-on.
Those monsters in that guy’s room sound like slackers. Do they even pay rent?
This concept has bright and emotional ideas and themes that would be similarly explored in both the finished movie and future flicks like Inside Out. Check out a revealing interview about these changes.
17 Monsters University: Childhood Friends And Mike’s Parents
The relationship between main monsters Mike and Sulley could have been introduced during their time in Elementary School. Unlike in the version we saw, they would have first met in fourth grade rather than a scarer university. This version of the movie showed them falling out before reconnecting at the titular university.
Another version was going to show Sulley wanting to break his family tradition of scarers to become a dentist. Coco, much?
By having Mike and Sulley not know each other beforehand, the transition from rivalry to friendship worked well in the finished movie. Nevertheless, this rendition of the story is still fascinating. Mike’s Parents might have been included too. Check out director Dan Scanlon’s interview about the making of their backstory.
16 Finding Nemo: Gill Helps Marlin Find Nemo
In Disney/Pixar movies, characters are the main driving force. Even if the story remains untouched, character roles can drastically change the feel of a movie. Case in point, a further veteranized version of Gill assisted in the search for Marlin’s titular son instead of Dory in an early draft.
Gill had the perfect role in the finished movie—a gang leader who befriends Nemo and devises a plan to escape a dentist fish tank. Genius.
This classic would have been more downbeat if Dory did not serve as the comedic relief and heart of Finding Nemo. Thankfully, Dory went on to become one of the most beloved Pixar characters in recent memory. Peruse a great interview with director Andrew Stanton here.
15 Inside Out: Guiding Joy
This case is a very similar repair of narrative, Fear was meant to embark upon the trip into the far reaches of Riley’s mind instead of Sadness. The main problem with this can be summed up by a quote regarding Joy from director Pete Docter in this excellent interview: “What action is she going to take based on what she’s learned from Fear? And it just wasn’t anything.”
What Joy learns from Sadness is a profound lesson. One can only ponder what Fear could have meant for the movie’s core message.
Further interesting script changes include a premise revolving around Riley’s part in a school play and up to 26 emotions.
14 Cars: Ugly Duckling (Or Carling)?
In a completely different vision of what we now know as Cars, there was The Yellow Car instead. This version follows a small, foreign three-wheeled car as he arrives in a small American town. He is disparaged for his looks but eventually befriends the townsfolk. It was deemed by Pixar to be too thin for a feature-length project but who knows how it could have turned out? A Grand Prix held in Radiator Springs could have made its way in the story too. Speaking of tournaments...
13 Cars 2: More Races
In the finished movie, there were three races in the Grand Prix. They took place in London, Italy, and Tokyo, respectively. This tournament was initially made to be a world tour which meant more races. Germany and Paris were to be included in the lineup of locations but was scrapped. DVD extras further confirm that Prague was meant to open the movie but was switched to the oil rig set-piece we can see today. Maybe less is more, but Cars 2 did not match that proverb, proving disappointing to some Cars fans.
12 Wreck-It Ralph: A Fourth Virtual World
Lets continue scrapped locations. In this case, there was a fourth world Ralph would have visited in his movie. It was called ‘Extreme Easy Living 2’ which was a referential cross-breed of Grand Theft Auto and The Sims.
Who knows? Maybe Disney will reuse this world in Wreck-It Ralph 2.
This world would have been used as a sorrowful escape for Ralph after he wrecks Vanellope’s kart in ‘Sugar Rush.’ We could have seen our hero drink away his worries and indulge in all the pleasures that world had to other. It was removed for convoluting the movie. Check out this interview from director Rich Moore about the cut virtual world.
11 Ratatouille: More Remy And A Rat Village Square
While most of the story beats remained untouched during production, Ratatouille was going to focus more on protagonist Remy’s double life. With a lesser emphasis on the humans of the story, more time would have been spent on Remy and his hometown. The latter aspect would have demonstrated more anthropomorphized elements with a fully-functioning, rat-occupied village square. These changes in focus could have made the movie even greater since Remy was the main appeal. Getting more of a glimpse into how the rats lived would have been fascinating too. Take a look at this interview for more delicious developments.
10 WALL-E: Alien Blobs
It is hard to think of Wall-E in any other way, but it almost had a very different storyline. Instead of the last remaining humans inhabiting the Axiom spaceship, there were jelly-like aliens. Like the humans, the jellies would unravel a long-lost secret—that they evolved from humans. This reveal was going to be a homage to Planet of the Apes.
Wall-E was also going to have a robot revolution against these pieces of gel.
By changing the ship-dwellers into human “big babies” as director Andrew Stanton explained, this aspect held grounded significance regarding human nature and helped tell a timeless story.
9 Up: Floating City
Another case of grounding happened in this far-out initial concept of Up. Not much is known about this idea apart from an hour-long interview with co-director Pete Docter. However, what we know is that the premise revolved around “two princes who lived in a floating city on an alien planet.” Pete Docter wanted to establish more relatable circumstances and a meaningful motivation. What resulted is a premise with a character on another floating surface, but it made for one of the best movies of 2009.
8 Brave: No Scotland And Merida Romance
Brave is distinguished for its exposure of Scottish culture but it was going to be originally set in a generic Northern European location. This could have taken away some of the movie’s immersive feel. For protagonist Merida, the Pixar team wanted her to have a romance with Young Macguffin, one of the suitors competing for her hand in marriage. In the finished movie, she stays single, subverting typical Disney princess character expectations. Check out this interview with co-director Brenda Chapman to learn more.
7 Coco: Alternate Openings
The opening to Coco is effective as it establishes the plot without ever feeling like a dumping of exposition. This is because of the awesome art style implemented as well as the engaging telling of narrator and protagonist Miguel. However, there were two different endings left on the cutting room floor. One was a musical explanation of the Day of the Dead, fit with a stage and dance numbers. The other one was starting the movie within a scene of an old de la Cruz movie before focusing on Miguel’s adoration for the actor. Check out the quotes from director Lee Unkrich here.
6 Tangled: Modern-Day Setup
According to an excerpt from the Pixar book Creativity, Inc, Ex-CEO of Disney Michael Eisner suggested an opening to modern-day San Fransisco before somehow transporting Tangled’s heroine into a fairy tale world. There was also a version of Tangled called Rapunzel: Unbridled of which original director Glen Keane described as a Shrek-like version of the movie (You can check out his interview here).
Kind of like the plot of 2007 movie Enchanted, but the other way around.
Overall, most people are glad how the finished movie combined a classic fairy tale with modern sensibilities (without the real-world premise).
5 The Incredibles: Fly Home, Buddy
The Incredibles’ villain, Syndrome, has been consistently heralded as the greatest Pixar villain. What would have happened to the movie’s quality if he was not even a villain? Well, a character named Xerek was going to fill Syndrome’s shoes.
All I think of when I see this character, is Vortex from Crash Bandicoot.
After reviewing the movie up to that point, Syndrome appealed more after making his appearance in the opening. This villain, however, appears in ended The Incredibles comic book series published by BOOM! Studios. You can check out concept art by Lou Romano here.
4 Peter Pan: A Different Pan
During an alternate scene for the 1953 movie, the Lost Boys are captured by native Americans. Peter Pan then makes peace with them to ensure their safety. Subsequently, the Lost Boys criticizes Pan and beg him to go to the real world. Pan then promises to steal “a mother” for them. A future scene shows Pan stealing Wendy. A lot of the innocence of Pan might have been lost, but this is still in line with the brashness his personality is known for. Check out a storyboard video here.
3 Alice In Wonderland: Alice And The Mysterious Mr. Carroll
In the vein of Song of the South, Walt Disney was interested in making a live-action movie with animated segments. Aldous Huxley, the writer of A Brave New World, wrote a scrapped first draft for a reimagining of Alice in Wonderland. It follows author Lewis Carroll and a real-life Alice as they both deal with the people who control their lives. Escapism, like in the Caroll’s book, plays a big part and is mirrored through animated Wonderland sequences. It was considered “too literary” by Disney but it sounded like a superb and ambitious storyline for a kids’ movie. Read an extensive article regarding this here.
2 Most Of The Original Fairy Tales (Mostly Their Endings)
Many classic authors were not afraid to get dark since the demographic for fairy tales did not primarily consist of children. Storytelling techniques were very different in the 19th century. so some questionable grimness was seen as commonplace literary at the time. Here are some that you may or may not know about: In Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Aerial throws herself into the ocean and dissolves into foam. In The Brothers Grimm’s Cinderella and Snow White, the villains of each story have their eyes gouged out and are subjected to dance in iron-hot shoes until they pass, respectively. Ew.
1 Zootopia: Wild Times
In this rendition of the modern great, Nick Wilde is the protagonist. This version of Zootopia also had a new solution to the problematic divide between predator and prey: tame collars. Each time a predator got aggressive, a shock was given. After a visit to the doctor for his collar, Nick feels free when he briefly has it taken off. He envisions a place specifically for predators, making way for the plot of the movie—Nick trying to set up an illegal amusement park called ‘Wild Times.’ This is one of the greatest abandoned storylines of all-time.