MONKEY: Pixar's First Abandoned Movie Project - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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MONKEY: Pixar's First Abandoned Movie Project

No monkey business here.
With Luca, Pixar's 23rd animated feature length production arriving shortly, and a hefty selection of short films under their belt, Pixar have led the way in CGI animation for the past 35 years. But not every project they've begun work on was completed as originally intended as across the years many ideas morphed into entirely different films, and given Pixar's track record it was probably for the best how they developed. As well as that, some projects that Pixar considered developing were cancelled entirely. Many of these are shrouded in secrecy, with not a lot is known about them outside of the studio's doors, and others were in the very early stages of development. One of those could've been Pixar's very first full-length CGI animated movie and its origins start way back in 1985 when the core team who would go on to form Pixar were still a part of Lucasfilm...
Pixar had taken their name when a colleague at Lucasfilm suggested calling their new digital compositing computer the "Picture Maker". Designer Alvy Ray Smith then suggested that the laser-based device have a catchier name, and came up with "Pixer", which after a meeting was changed to "Pixar". During their time at Lucasfilm, the team of CGI animators worked on a whole host of digital graphical effects for blockbuster movies, and with John Lassiter had created what would retroactively be known as the first Pixar short The Adventures of André & Wally B. This 1983 production inspired the Pixar team to attempt to create a full-length CGI animated movie, and they looked to bring a Chinese and Japanese legend to the screen

The book The Pixar Touch details how the Pixar team of the day, Edwin Catmull, Malcolm Blanchard, Alvy Ray Smith and David DiFrancesco along with "interface designer" John Lasster, started plans to produce an adaptation of a book called "Monkey", which was based on the tale of the Monkey King (also referred to as Sun Wukong) and itself adapted from the 16th Century Chinese novel Journey to the West. The idea first came about in 1985, when Pixar were still part of Lucasfilm. The following year they spun-off as a corporation, with funding from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs who became its then majority shareholder, and Pixar took the Monkey project with them.
In the original 16th Century novel Journey to the West, the Sun Wukong is a monkey born from a stone who acquires supernatural powers through Taoist practices. After rebelling against heaven, he is imprisoned under a mountain by the Buddha. After five hundred years, he accompanies the monk Tang Sanzang and two other disciples on a journey to retrieve Buddhist sutras from the West (the Indian subcontinent), where Buddha and his followers reside.

Many adaptations had appeared across the years, in both tranditional text and Manga form. It seems that Pixar's version was inspired by one of the latter and would have the feel of a buddy-movie road trip. The character of monkey was described as being a trickster and magician. Together with a priest the pair have adventures on their trek from China to India. The Japanese publishers of the Manga, Shogakukan, were in negotiations to finance the film, and John Lasseter designed some sketches for the title character.
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At this point in time, Pixar as a company were primarily focused on developing their RenderMan software, their own proprietary platform to create 3-D realistic computer animation. Aside from The Adventures of André & Wally B they hadn't been overly concentrating on producing CGI animation productions themselves. Of course, that would very soon change, and Lasseter's Luxo, Jr. would arrive in August 1986 (eventually becoming the company's mascot, replacing the original design at the top of the page). But Luxo, Jr. ran to just two minutes, and as Pixar went into talks with Shogakukan it became clear just how much of a time commitment a feature-length CGI animated movie would be for them. And equally Shogakukan discovered just how expensive it would be too. Both sides came to an amicable agreement that the time wasn't right to continue, and so Monkey never even made it to the storyboard stage.

So, Monkey wasn't to be, but given that in 1986 Pixar were just two years away from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film for their third production, Tin Toy, its a tantalising thought as to the direction they could've gone with Monkey once their RenderMan software had proved a success. Of course, within a decade of the talks with Shogakukan breaking down Pixar had developed a full-length CGI feature film, this time with the backing of Walt Disney Pictures and to the tune of $30 million. And the eventual third installment of Toy Story would see Pixar introduce their own monkey to the franchise, one which definitely didn't look as cute as the sketches on John Lasseter from over 20 years earlier...
Monkey King he most certainly wasn't!

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