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Decades before Frank Miller’s adaptation of The Spirit landed with a resounding thud in theaters, a group of young filmmakers that included Brad Bird, Gary Kurtz and John Lasseter hoped to bring Will Eisner’s crimefighter to animated life. Now, thanks to producer Steven Paul Leiva, we finally get a glimpse of what could’ve been in a 1980 pencil test “trailer.”
Leiva, who wrote about his involvement in 2008 for the Los Angeles Times, explains, “Quite a few people who read the article contacted me about seeing the film. I did have it on an old VHS, but it was deep in storage at the time plus as I did not really own the film, I told them they would have to look elsewhere to find a copy. Later, I found the VHS and put it aside. Recently Andrea Fiamma, an Italian journalist writing on the subject for the website Fumettologica, asked again if the film could be seen. As it is a small piece of animation history, I’ve decided to post it here.”
Even in its roughest form, the animated “Spirit” looks wonderful. But while everyone involved believed it could be the first $100 million-grossing animated feature — remember, this was the early ’80s — and they had optioned the film rights, Leiva explained in the Los Angeles Times that they were unable to secure financing, although he couldn’t recall the details. “The Spirit” seemed to have all the right ingredients, including a screenplay by Bird that contained “all the action, humor, and revelations of character that he later put into The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille,” but Leiva theorized they were stymied by the state of the animation industry at the time and by unimaginative studio executives.
“Gary shopped the project to all of the Hollywood majors,” he wrote. “The screenplay was praised, but they couldn’t understand why we wanted to make it an animated film. There was no magic, no young and yearning fairy tale royals, no funny animals. Hollywood was filled with the sound of executives scratching their heads. At least one offered to make it as a live-action film — an option Brad would not consider and the rest of us would not support. The whole idea was to make an animated film so different, so revolutionary, it would alter forever the art form. Stupid us, thinking Hollywood would ever back an artistic revolution.”
Watch Bird’s pencil test below, and be sure to read Leiva’s LA Times article.
(via Animation Scoop)