This week’s release of “Wendell & Wild” marks “The Nightmare Before Christmas” director Henry Selick’s return to stop-motion feature filmmaking after a 13-year hiatus. Featuring the reunited voice talents of Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, it tells the story of mischievous demons who befriend a human girl in an attempt to reach the Land of the Living. The film was a huge hit with audiences when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, with many critics praising it as a return to form for the stop-motion legend.
The reception has been so strong that many casual fans have wondered why Selick hadn’t made another film since “Coraline” hit theaters in 2009. His hiatus can be partially attributed to to the famously labor intensive process of stop-motion animation, but Selick also devoted quite a bit of that time to working on a project that never saw the light of day.
In 2009, it was announced that Selick would direct “The Shadow King,” an original fantasy film about a boy who uses his extremely long fingers to craft shadows that could be used to fight monsters, for Pixar. It was set to be the first stop-motion film in the animation studio’s history, but it was ultimately scrapped before Selick could complete it.
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Selick spoke about the brief rise and eventual fall of his unfinished Pixar film.
“They screened ‘Coraline’ at Pixar and everyone liked it, and they offered me a deal to make a stop-motion film,” Selick said. “It had to be for a much lower budget than the CG films. Stop-motion films have never out of the gate been as successful as big CG films. The best stop-motion films live forever, though. And, as we see with ‘Nightmare,’ make billions in merchandising.”
While Disney hoped that “The Shadow King” could become another stop-motion classic, Selick’s auteur methods ultimately clashed with Pixar’s famously collaborative approach. The director claims that interference from former Pixar boss John Lasseter and his famous brain trust soon derailed the project.
“They rip things apart, they rebuild, rip things apart, rebuild,” he said. “[Lasseter] really couldn’t support my vision. He thought he could make it better. And so we kept changing and changing and changing.”
The proposed changes ultimately caused the film’s budget to inflate to the point that Disney ultimately scrapped the film. The experience made Selick consider quitting filmmaking, but he ultimately shifted his focus to working on “Wendell & Wild.”
“Basically, John Lasseter couldn’t help himself,” Selick said. “He tried to Disney-fy it until the budget went through the roof. It got shut down, and I was kind of down, I wasn’t sure I was going to make another movie again. But then the ‘Key & Peele’ show started on Comedy Central, and it was Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele who kind of inspired me to do another film.”