Back in the mid-2000’s, Disney was working on a film called American Dog. Chris Sanders, best known for his effervescently charming Lilo and Stitch, was at the helm. It was a story about a dog who, being a television star himself, believed that he was perpetually on television. He wanders around the desert with a giant radioactive rabbit and a one-eyed cat, looking for…something. I am not quite sure. Strange, to be sure, but Chris Sanders had proven himself over years of working as on the story and visual development of films such as Beauty and the Beastand Mulan, not to mention Lilo and Stitchitself.
In 2006, Disney bought Pixar for 7.5 billion dollars (note: they only paid 4 billion dollars for Lucasfilm). But if one looked at the list of Disney executives after this purchase, it would almost seem to have been the other way around: Pixar executives were launched into Disney Executive positions, and John Lasseter, director of Toy Story and one of the lead creative directors at Pixar, was given the power to greenlight, and cancel, films in production as the chief creative officer.
Here is where we enter the shifty underworld of rumors and potential mudslinging, so please take what is said here lightly and with a grain of salt. Rumor has it that John Lasseter does not like Chris Sanders, or at least doesn’t like his work. They clearly have different ideas of what works and what doesn’t: compare Carsto Lilo and Stitchand the fact that these two movies were made by very different men is evident. And then when you consider that Chris Sanders and John Lasseter both worked at Disney (I don’t think there was a lot of overlap, but within the same era), but one of them was fired and forced to forge his own path at the small weird pet-project of a computer animation division at Lucasfilm, and the other went on to become a director, you start to think perhaps there might be a bit of animosity between these men.
The press release said that Chris Sanders wasn’t producing results, and his film was floundering without really getting towards any finished state. Looking at Lilo & Stitch, it is easy to see this situation being true. So that was the official reason why he was replaced by Chris Williams and Byron Howard (who would go on to co-direct Tangled). After a significant retooling it was turned into Bolt,
a modest film that retains a lot of heart despite the evidence of executive interference. Chris Sanders went on to co-direct How To Train Your Dragon and is currently working on The Croods, both at Dreamworks Animation.
Now, I am not here to talk about the squabble between two men, though I do think it is interesting. And it is not the only time such a replacement has happened: but a year later, Jan Pinkava was replaced by Brad Bird on Ratatouille, and just last year Brenda Chapman was replaced by Mark Andrews on Brave. All decisions made while John Lasseter was in power, though I am sure he was not the first person to replace a director due to a job not being done satisfactorily, and he certainly won’t be the last. Rather, I am here to talk about the story that could have been, almost was, but is not.
It is a beautiful story, perhaps made more beautiful by its elusive nature. There are only fragments of text and snapshots collected from scouring the internet. Certainly, if you were to talk to the people involved with the production they would be able to tell you about its life as American Dog, and what that life entailed. A story exists in the minds of some individuals, but that is not necessarily important, because this film does not exist. It cannot and never will be watched, and its story will not be told to the public. And yet at the same time, it is so very real to me.
There are many stories just like American Dog. Countless stories held in the hearts of countless people, never to be told or never to be heard.
What I am talking about is best summarized in one picture:
In this I have found a gentle understanding, and a profound loneliness.
This is American Dog.