Disney is no stranger to adaptation, just take any fairytale and it’s probably been taken, changed and put on the big screen so the House of Mouse’s idea of reimagining the Catcher in the Rye shouldn’t be too surprising.
The Disney animation retold the JD Salinger novel of the same name and was set to star German Shepherds, but the film never made it out of the studio.
The novel, published in 1951, tells a coming of age story about wallflower Holden Caulfield focusing on his loneliness as a young teenager as he says away from the “phonies”.
Howard, director Don Hahn’s film about lyricist Howard Ashman, has a moment where we see a flash of a letter Jeffery Katzenberg sent detailing projects they could work on together.
It’s so fast you barely see the films listed, but there’s The Little Mermaid, which Ashman went on to win an Oscar for Under the Sea for, a Mary Poppins period sequel and a new addition, Dufus.
“I’m glad we had a chance to get together,” he writes. “The prospect that you and Disney will be able to co-conspire on some projects is exciting to all of us.
“The combination of Ashman’s talent and Disney name is a home run waiting to happen.”
He then follows it with a list of what they’d like.
“The Little Mermaid ‘five or six songs’, Dufus – another animated film, Mary Poppins – a period sequel.”
It turns out Dufus was “Catcher in the Rye with German shepherds” – and given Ashman was being offered it we’d assume the dogs would have sung too.
Hahn told Collider: “Michael [Eisner] loved Catcher in the Rye and he said, ‘We ought to do Catcher in the Rye.’ And we told him the truth, which is [JD] Salinger‘s never going to do Catcher in the Rye for anybody. And he said, ‘Well, let’s just do that kind of story, that kind of growing up, coming of age story.’ So it was that.”
Eisner was the CEO and chairman of the Walt Disney Company who had been brought in just a few years before. He also brought in Katzenberg, who had previously been at Paramount.
Dufus isn’t the first film to never see the light of day, there was a Terry Pratchett adaptation of Mort that also was binned, Where the Wild Things Are even had tests done but never made it either. There was also the Beatles Yellow Submarine that was sunk after Mars Needs Moms failed so badly at the box office and The Gremlins based on the Roald Dahl book made it to a screenplay in the 40s but no further.
Since the project is only seen in that letter briefly there’s no indication of how far along it got – or why it all ended. Of course, Mary Poppins stalled and was only recently picked up for Mary Poppins Returns starring Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda.
While there’s plenty of films that were sadly consigned to the metaphorical bin, perhaps it’s best the singing dogs of Catcher in the Rye never made it to the movies…
Howard arrives on Disney+ on 7th August. Sign up to Disney+ to watch Howard for £5.99 a month or £59.99 a year.