We take a look back at the lost prequel to Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs that never was – due to a fight over one main character.
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs is the film that launched Walt Disney’s cinema empire. In its early development, the main focus of the film was on the dwarfs and the tone was much more comedic than the film we ultimately got. Then Walt Disney decided to develop the character of the Evil Queen. He wanted the central focus of the film to be the relationship between Snow White and her stepmother, and as such many scenes featuring the dwarfs ended up getting cut.
But in 2006, we almost got a movie prequel solely focused on the dwarfs themselves
In the early 2000s, DisneyToon Studios was starting to make sequels and build franchises centred around popular characters. Over the years, the dwarfs had featured in war propaganda, ads and even a stage show. They seemed to be the obvious choice to be the faces of a new franchise.
Long-time Disney animator Mike Disa was asked to come back to the studio to make a new film called The Seven Dwarfs. It would have been his feature film debut as a director. Disa had directed an award-winning short film sequel to Lilo And Stitch and developed much of the storyboard for Nickelodeon’s computer-animated Barnyard. With Jungle Book 2 writer Evan Spiliotopoulous on board, they started to create the movie.
In a huge departure from the original, the entire prequel was going to be in CGI. An early trailer showed that the team kept the same animation style of the dwarfs from the original film but created more detailed features, most notably the individual hairs of Grumpy’s beard. Here it is…
The plan was for the film to be part of a prequel franchise. Its story would combine comic scenes and darker elements. Marketing showcased the comedic aspect of the film rather than its plot. The trailer was very self-referential. Dopey in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs never talks. The humour from the prequel’s trailer came from Grumpy’s persistent efforts to get Dopey to speak in their new film, through many ludicrous means. This ranged from Grumpy playing a gramophone at full blast in Dopey’s face to pretending to remove a frog from his throat.
In fact, much of the humour of the prequel was meant to come from the relationship between Grumpy and Dopey and the clash of personalities. In an early scene, Grumpy is fishing, feels that he’s going to get a big catch and ends up finding Dopey staring sheepishly back at him out of a soaking wet bag. Take a look at the storyboards that popped up on Vimeo, here…
All of this wasn’t going to be straightforward, though. Mike Disa told Animated Views that the plot of the film would subvert expectations. “We came up with a story that on the surface looked like we were telling the origin of the dwarfs and how they met – but it was all a trick.”
He explained that the film would start predictably with Dopey and Grumpy forced together on a quest that leads them to meet the other dwarfs. Through it all, they’re pursued by a wicked wizard. But then the dwarfs meet an enchanting woman called Narcissa. She turns out to be the evil queen and the wizard is actually her father. Narcissa is manipulating the dwarfs so she can get hold of an ancient magic power that only the dwarfs can access. Dopey tries to sacrifice himself to stop her, but Grumpy leads the other dwarfs to a daring rescue. Narcissa betrays her father and imprisons him in a magic mirror. Now, with unlimited power, she takes over the throne from Snow White’s father. The dwarfs are forced to go into hiding in a desperate attempt to escape her.
At first everything seemed to be going smoothly. John Lasseter took charge of Disney in 2006. He criticised many DisneyToons follow-ups but was reportedly pleased with the direction of The Seven Dwarfs. Then everything changed. An executive wanted to completely alter the direction of the film by making Dopey talk at the start.
Disa explained the bizarre new concept to Animated Views. “[He wanted it to be a] light comedy where the comic lead is traumatised into becoming a mute by watching his mother die in the first act and then goes on to an unrelated adventure with his friends.”
Disa disliked the fact that they were creating a storyline that didn’t make sense. But what he hated was their desire to fundamentally change Dopey’s character from the original Disney movie. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Doc actually tells Snow White that Dopey has never even tried to talk. Throughout the film, he’s a happy go lucky character. There’s no hint of a traumatic past.
In the end, Disa left Disney because he was unwilling to continue working on the new version of Dwarfs. “It just comes down to my respect for great films,” Disa revealed to Integrated Catholic life. “Snow White is today still the best animated film ever made. I would never walk into a sequel and do anything to disrespect the core of the characters like making Dopey talk.”
Lasseter disliked the new version just as much as Disa and the project ended up getting cancelled in 2007. But just imagine what could have been if Disa was allowed to make The Seven Dwarfs the way he wanted. In the new Disney+ era, who knows? Someone might just get that opportunity…
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