Due to its difficult and time-consuming nature, stop-motion animation is a rare treat. It takes a certain passion and dedication since its painstaking process requires filmmakers to shoot each incremental movement. However, the time and effort put in leads to absolutely beautiful results that leave fans reeling for more. That is just one reason Wendell & Wild was the first feature film fans saw from prominent film director Henry Selick since his smash hit Coraline in 2009. The critically acclaimed The Nightmare Before Christmas director had other projects lined up before joining up with Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, who are best known as the comedy duo Key & Peele. Between successes, a passion project of Selick’s called The Shadow King failed to off the ground. Disney canned the project that was planned for 2013, but he recently revealed that he has reacquired the rights to the canceled film. If Selick can find the right home for his project, production on The Shadow King could one day resume.
Selick’s work with Disney dates back to the early eighties, with classics such as The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron, but his partnership with Tim Burton on 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and later his work on James and the Giant Peach in 1996 cemented his unique, macabre style. His adaptation of award-winning author Neil Gaiman’s Coraline further proved an audience fascination with his work, so when the director pitched the idea behind The Shadow King to Disney Pixar it was initially greenlit in 2011. After reportedly putting $50 million into the project, Disney ultimately deemed the project “too weird” and gave it the boot. Selick refused to give up hope though and for a brief period of time in 2013, he tried to revive the project which included Jaden Betts, Pamela Adlon, Brendan Gleeson, Jeffrey Tambor and Catherine O’Hara as voice actors. He even took The Shadow King to the European Film Market for potential buyers, but that’s where its production timeline halts. While visiting the set of Wendell & Wild, Collider‘s own Alyse Wax discussed the shelved film with the Oscar-nominated director. Following the release of Netflix’s Wendell & Wild, the legendary stop-motion director revealed even more details of what happened to his passion project The Shadow King in an interview with Double Toasted via YouTube.
“Guess what? I got the rights back from Disney and maybe if… [Wendell & Wild] is considered a success, maybe I’ll revive The Shadow King,” Selick said. “It’d be different, it’d be like my original story, which they claimed they loved, but then changed everything in it… in my mind it was sort of like a darker in tone Dumbo. You know, Dumbo is made fun of for his big ears and turns out, ‘my god, that elephant can fly’, well this was a kid with deformed hands and maybe they’re not as cute as big ears and that was their problem, but that’s a really messed up thing. He’s gonna get taught by a living shadow girl how to use those hands to not only make the greatest hand shadows in the world, but hand shadows that can come to life. I thought that was a good story and still think it is.”
Now that Selick has the rights to The Shadow King, it seems that the world-renowned director will give his passion project another shot. Based on its synopsis and the success of Selick’s past work, there is a waiting audience for The Shadow King even if Disney didn’t see it. Check out the original official synopsis for the film:
“The Shadow King is a deliciously magical tale about a nine-year-old New York orphan ‘Hap,’ who hides his fantastically weird hands with long fingers from a cruel world. But when a living shadow girl teaches him to make amazing hand shadows that come to life, his hands become incredible weapons in a shadow war against a ravenous monster bent on killing Hap’s brother Richard and ultimately destroying New York.”
Check out the trailer for his latest film below: