Henry Selick Still Hopes Disney Will Release Shelved Film “The Shadow King”

Who can recall The Shadow King? No? That is due to the fact that it was abandoned before it could be released. Alyse Wax from Collider got the chance to meet the director and animator Henry Selick while touring the set of his most recent film, Wendell and Wild, which received an Oscar nomination for best animated feature. Wax was able to secure an exclusive interview with director Henry Selick that might provide longtime fans of Selick some hope for his upcoming projects, ranging from earlier works like James and the Giant Peach to his present collaboration with one of horror’s most up-and-coming talent Jordan Peele.

Beginning with the early 1980s, Selick collaborated with Disney (Kiss Sixth Sense Season 2) on beloved movies including The Black Cauldron and The Fox and the Hound. Selick met a teenage Tim Burton while attending art school on the side, and the two later started their own little production firm. After some time had passed, Burton would rejoin their collaboration and sell to Disney (Moon Knight Season 2), which allowed them to work together to produce the Oscar-nominated film The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Henry Selick Still Hopes Disney Will Release Shelved Film "The Shadow King"
The Shadow King © Disney+

Disney had never done anything like Nightmare, a deeply original movie based on Burton’s artwork, and in 1993 Selick’s collaboration with the maestro of the macabre popularized stop-motion animation. The renowned animator has largely remained out of the spotlight since his work on 2009’s Coraline, which Selick directed as an adaptation of the novel by award-winning author Neil Gaiman.

After joining Disney Pixar in 2010, Selick pitched an idea for a story he had written that Disney ultimately rejected as being “too odd.” The story was originally named The Shadow King. However, the project was initially approved in 2011 and had a number of sculptors and designers on board to bring Selick’s upcoming masterpiece to reality before being shelved.

After reportedly investing $50 million, Walt Disney canceled Selick’s concept, cutting its wings before it could take off, citing concerns about future expenditures. For a year, sketches, sets, and molds were created, along with a fully developed plot. It may not have been a coincidence that this was a turning moment for Disney, when consumers saw the firm reorienting its efforts toward successful, already-established franchises. The Shadow King was simply too gloomy from a marketing perspective to appeal to children. The film’s initial official summary, written by Selick:

“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.”

For a brief time in 2013, Selick made another attempt to promote the production of The Shadow King. Pamela Adlon (King of the Hill), Brendan Gleeson, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jaden Betts as the lead character Hap were among the performers whose voices were considered for the movie. Budgeting again proved to be The Shadow King’s undoing.

“I had a proposal for Disney Pixar that got shut down because it was simply too odd for them,” Selick said in an interview with Wax. “I got the rights back to that.” The brilliant animator might finally be able to show off his work to his followers after many years. The Shadow King is “a pretty cool story,” he said of it. It’s like Dumbo,” he continued, elaborating on the feeling of otherness the young kid has as a result of his unusual hands. He didn’t guarantee that the movie will be finished and released when talking about it, but he told Wax that it is “something [he]d love to resuscitate.”

Wendell and Wild, which will be available on Netflix (Sweet Home Season 2) sometime in October, is something to watch while we wait for Selick’s long-lost passion project to eventually surface. Watch the video below to see some of the finished work from The Shadow King, as well as a little segment from the movie: