Disney, Death, and the Discworld: Uncovering Disney’s ‘Mort’

in Entertainment, Movies

Josh Kirby's illustration of Mort

Credit: Josh Kirby

Of all the words of tongue and pen, the saddest are “it might have been.” Disney’s brief foray into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series would have been a marvelously macabre masterpiece, but much more has just been revealed.

Death in Disney's Mort
Credit: Claire Keane

Although Walt Disney Animation Studio is responsible for some of the most magnificent animated masterpieces, only some projects make it out of concept and development. As much as everyone loves projects like Frozen (2013) and Zootopia (2016), several Disney dreams died on the storyboards. Case in point, Musker and Clements’s adaptation of Mort.

Related: John Musker, co-director of “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” retires from Disney

The project would have been an animated screen adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s novel in which Death (a popular character in Pratchett’s series) takes on a human apprentice who falls in love with his adopted daughter. While a fascinating prospect, the film never emerged from the conceptual stages. However, a recent article by Collider sheds a little more light on this dark Disney feature.

Digging Up Disney’s Mort

Musker and Clements working on Treasure Planet
Credit: D23

Collider’s Lisa Laman shared the following in her article about the shelved project,

“In the early 2010s, Walt Disney Animation Studios and two of its most iconic filmmakers (Ron Clements and John Musker) nearly embarked on yet another adaptation, though this time the source material would be more modern. Clements and Musker were eager to adapt Mort, a Terry Pratchett fantasy novel that served as the fourth installment in the Discworld franchise. This project was released in 1987, hundreds of years after the creation of many of the stories Disney Animation Studios had previously adapted. It temporarily looked like this could be an exciting melding of very distinctive creative sensibilities…but Mort ended up going nowhere.”

Laman later explains that the primary reason for Mort’s failure was obtaining the rights for the Discworld itself. Terry Pratchett was notoriously “allergic to Hollywood,” this wasn’t the first time a cinematic universe was attempted (with or without Disney).

Related: ‘Good Omens’ Season 2 Finally Has A Release Date

Additionally, the version of Mort Disney had in mind reportedly axed Death from the main storyline, despite appearing in concept art and being a central figure in the novel. Naturally, Pratchett vetoed the idea from the get-go. However, out of the ashes of Mort arose something magical for Disney.

Moana holds an oar.
Credit: Disney

Because Musker and Clements had to walk away from Mort, the Disney director duo was forced to take things in a new direction. In short, after Mort came Moana (2016).

That’s all well and good, and it’s nice to see things tied up in a neat little bow, but there’s no denying this was a missed opportunity. If Disney had stuck to the script, fans might have received a dark yet delirious affair that could have been the next Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

Related: Finding Fairytales: Predicting the Next Film from Disney Animation

This writer believes this is a concept the studio should revisit. With an audience that is more accepting of strange and unusual ideas, a true-to-form adaptation would do wonders for Disney. It might be worth a second try if they can negotiate with the Pratchett estate and promise to stick to the text.

Would you have watched Disney’s Mort? Tell us at Inside the Magic in the comments below!


in Entertainment, Movies

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