Collider’s own Alyse Wax had the chance to meet the creator and have a conversation while on the set of Henry Selick’s most recent film, Wendell and Wild, which received an Oscar nomination for a best-animated feature.
Wax was able to secure an exclusive interview with director Henry Selick, who has worked on everything from earlier movies like James and the Giant Peach to his current project with one of horror’s newest talents, Jordan Peele. This interview may give Selick’s ardent followers some hope for the director’s upcoming endeavours.
Are there any survivors of The Shadow King? No? That’s because it was abandoned before it could be implemented.
Beginning with the early 1980s, Selick collaborated with Disney on beloved movies including The Black Cauldron and The Fox and the Hound. When Selick was enrolled in painting school on the side, he met a young Tim Burton, and the two later established their own little production company.
Years later, Burton would rejoin their collaboration and sell to Disney, which made it possible for the pair to work together to produce the Oscar-nominated The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Disney had never before attempted something as darkly innovative as Nightmare, and Selick’s collaboration with the master of the macabre in 1993 established stop-motion animation as a major form of animation. The renowned animator has stayed largely out of the spotlight since his work on 2009’s Coraline, which he directed as an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel.
The animator Selick pitched an idea for a movie he had written, initially named The Shadow King, after being hired by Disney Pixar in 2010. Disney ultimately rejected the proposal as being “too bizarre.”
However, the undertaking was initially given the go-ahead in 2011 with a variety of sculptors and designers on board to bring Selick’s upcoming masterwork to life.
Walt Disney reportedly invested $50 million on Selick’s proposal, but after a year of work on sketches, sets, and moulds and a fully developed plot, they abruptly shelved it due to, they claimed, concerns about future costs.
It may not have been a coincidence that this was a turning moment for Disney when customers saw the corporation reorienting toward established franchises and making money off of items. The Shadow King was simply too dark to promote to children, at least from a commercial sense.
“The Shadow King is a delightfully enchanting story about ‘Hap,’ a nine-year-old New York orphan who hides his fabulously strange hands with long fingers from a terrible world.
However, when a living shadow girl teaches him to create fantastic, lifelike hand shadows, his hands transform into amazing weapons in a shadow battle against a voracious monster out to kill Richard, Hap’s brother and ultimately destroy New York.
Selick made an attempt to promote the production of The Shadow King for a brief time in 2013 but failed. It was also suggested that a cast of performers, including Jaden Betts as the lead character Hap, Pamela Adlon (King of the Hill), Brendan Gleeson, Catherine O’Hara, and Jeffrey Tambor, voice the movie. The Shadow King’s budgeting once more proved to be his undoing.
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Selick stated in an interview with Wax, “I had a concept for Disney Pixar that got shut down because it was simply too strange for them, called The Shadow King, and I gained the rights back to it. After many years, the master of animation might finally be allowed to show off his work to his followers.
“A really cool narrative,” he said of The Shadow King. It’s like Dumbo,” he continued, elaborating on how the young boy feels different because of his unusual hands. He didn’t guarantee that the movie will be finished and released, but he told Wax that it is “something [he’d] love to resurrect” when talking about it.
Check out Wendell and Wild on Netflix this October as we wait for Selick’s long-lost passion project to finally surface.