The Emperor’s New Groove is so irreverent and zany that it sometimes feels out of place with other Disney movies. But that’s partially because for many years, it was going to be an epic musical romance on the level of The Little Mermaid. The movie’s first title was Kingdom of the Sun, and it was going to be a take on The Prince and the Pauperset in the Incan age — and Kuzco was a supporting character. Sting even wrote eight original songs for the movie (including this Eartha Kitt gem) tied to the main characters, who were going to be voiced by Owen Wilson and Laura Prepon. After Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dameunderperformed, Disney decided to make a funny movie, not a sweeping tale, and the Kingdom of the Sun concept was reworked into a hilarious comedy. Sting — who only ended up having two songs in the movie — went on to make a documentary about the dramatic production process called The Sweatbox, which features the rest of the original music.
One of the most classic Disney animated films from the ’90s was almost known by a completely different name: Its working titles included King of the Kalahari, King of the Beasts, and then King of the Jungle. And before The Lion King got its eventual name, its plot was unrecognizable. The original script was described by a Disney executive as bearing “more than a passing resemblance to an animated National Geographic special.” In the DVD commentary, animators said that it was going to be about a battle between lions and baboons, where Scar was a baboon and Rafiki was a cheetah. Needless to say, they scrapped that idea and decided to just do Hamlet on the Savannah.
Peter Pan is such a classic now that it’s hard to believe how different it almost was. Disney animators originally considered plots like telling the whole story through Nana the dog’s eyes and completely leaving John Darling behind. Even weirder? Walt Disney himself wanted the movie to be about Peter kidnapping Wendy (!) to be a mother for the Lost Boys, according to The Peter Pan That Almost Was, a DVD feature that accompanied the movie’s 2007 rerelease. Pretty dark stuff for a children’s movie. Walt eventually scrapped all of these ideas — thankfully — and created the iconic movie we now know, saying, “We ought to get right into the story itself, where Peter Pan comes to the house to get his shadow. That’s were the story picks up. How Peter came to be is really another story.”
Disney movies often get ragged on for not including moms — or, worse, killing them. Aladdin is one of Disney’s many maternal orphans, but the movie originally had a mother character! That is, until then-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg said, “Eighty-six the mother. The mom’s a zero.” Not only that, but the setting was initially supposed to be Baghdad, and not the fictional city of Agrabah; the start of the Gulf War in 1991 changed those plans.
Disney tried for nearly 80 years to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Snow Queen into a movie, and clearly their efforts were worth it. Along the way, though, they ran into some obstacles. As recently as 2008, the movie stuck close to Andersen’s dark tale — the queen killed people with her powers — and was going to be traditionally animated and star Megan Mullally as Elsa. Bette Midler was the physical inspiration for that original Elsa, seen above. More importantly, it featured a dominant romantic storyline, had nothing about sisters, and showed Elsa as an unsympathetic villain. After animators decided to ~let it go~ of those elements, director Jennifer Lee came on board the film in 2012 as a screenwriter and revolutionized it, constructing Anna and Elsa’s sisterhood, Hans’s reveal as a villain, and Olaf as a fun, not annoying, sidekick.