If you want to see a good argument for enforcing antitrust policy against mega-sized media corporations, here’s one. Along with so many other change-ups, delays and cancelations, add Fox’s big-(estimated $170 million) budget Mouse Guard movie to the list. The writer, artist, and visionary creator of the Mouse Guard universe, David Petersen announced the news back in April, two weeks before the scheduled filming date. Reportedly Disney directed new subsidiary Fox to cancel the film. No reasons were announced, but it’s difficult to surmise any reason other than a coordinated effort to own the theater box office with its own projects. Just how much work had already been done? How big was this film going to be? Director Wes Ball (The Maze Runner) and Petersen released two videos over social media this week (and more participants have since released even more great pre-production content) that paint a picture that will leave you feeling like audiences have been out-right robbed.
The first video includes a pan of the offices where the pre-production previz work was already completed, including miniatures, maquettes, dioramas, costumes, performance capture and CG-mock-ups, and thousands of pieces of compelling concept art lining the work area walls. You really get a sense for what audiences will be missing with the second video, another development piece for sure, yet even as a demo or “sizzle reel,” anyone who is a fan of fantasy movies can see this was going to be something entirely new. Matt Reeves (The Batman, Planet of the Apes reboots) was producing. Artist Darek Zabrocki was one of many artists who created thousands of pieces of concept art (see above and below) to push the film forward (see Zabrocki’s Instagram account here for several images). Rogue One: A Star Wars Story screenplay writer Gary Whitta′s script was in-hand (he’s now released it via his Twitter account for everyone to read here). Composer John Paesano had his first theme in play with a warrior’s quest-evoking theme in a James Horner/Randy Edelman vibe (listen to it here). It was all just ready for Weta to step in and take over with production, and wham, that House with the Mouse slammed the door. But it looks like no other mice will suffice for Disney. So Fox will either sit on the rights, sell them, or the rights will revert in a few years. All these pre-production pieces will likely get warehoused until they get auctioned off for space reasons down the road as happens with studios (studio storage is expensive!), unless another studio or filmmaker steps in with some money (Peter Jackson? Guillermo Del Toro? The Jim Henson Company?). But we seem to already be past the eleventh hour for that to have happened. On the one hand, outsiders will never know why the decision was made, corporations make these calls for all sorts of business reasons. But what is clear is that without the approval of that mega-merger of behemoth media empires, this expression, this idea, this story, this vision, would be coming to your local theaters soon.
Voice actors enlisted for the film included Idris Elba, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Jack Whitehall, Samson Kayo, and Andy Serkis. In the meantime, Petersen keeps creating, new Mouse Guard and other worlds. Petersen’s comics and compilation hardcover editions, along with his version of The Wind and the Willows, are the picture books I have purchased more than any other for gifts–ever. His artwork is fantastic, fantastical, and magical, and it came as no surprise when he announced a film in the works back in 2016. Petersen’s Dark Crystal and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic cover art also has him as a contender for the year’s best cover artist. Mouse Guard is one of those rare worlds in my lifetime that evokes the wonder of Jim Henson, the creativity of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the gravity and import of Mr. Rogers.
Enjoy the little of the film we get to see, these great videos released by Ball and Petersen:
Since we can’t have a movie just yet, take the time to check out some of Petersen’s many books:
Mouse Guard coloring book
and his strategy game based on Mouse Guard here, and his roleplaying game Mouse Guard: Swords & Strongholds here, all available now at Amazon. Follow David Petersen and check out his online shop at his website here. If you really want to learn even more about Petersen (and see him during my many convention visits), check out my decade of coverage of his work here at borg.