Posted on Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 by Russ Fischer
How much do you know about Circle 7 Animation? Depending upon your level of interest in Disney projects that never were, the answer may be ‘nothing.’ Circle 7 was an animation house set up in 2005 with the intent to create one sequel per year for Pixar-created films that were owned by Disney, but the studio only existed for a year.
Toy Story 3 was to be the first project, and Monsters, Inc. 2 would have been the second. We’ve covered the latter film before; it had the working title Lost in Scaradise, and you can see concept art above. Neither of those films happened — not in their Circle 7 incarnations, anyway — because the mid-aughts rift between Disney and Pixar, created by then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, was bridged. Eisner stepped down earlier than planned, Bob Iger became Disney CEO in his wake, and Iger set up a deal to buy Pixar. Two months later, in March 2006, Circle 7 was closed without ever finishing a film.
Bob Hilgenberg and Rob Muir, known colloquially as Bob & Rob, pitched a script for the Circle 7 version of Toy Story 3, and were hired to write the Circle 7 Monsters, Inc. sequel. They turned in a very well-liked script, which got them a gig working on the early, never-produced Toy Story 3 after all. Now Bob & Rob have consented to an interview in which they detail the history of Circle 7.
Animated Views has the interview, and it is interesting stuff for those who like to know the full scope of behind the scenes decisions that happen well before films get made.
AV’s work is great, and you should head there to read the site’s full account of Circle 7, as well as the full interview with Bob & Rob. But let’s highlight a couple points. I’ll start with Bob & Rob’s efforts that led to association with Circle 7: a pitch for Toy Story 3. The screenwriters explain,
A year before Circle 7 was created, we had been sent some material and asked to come up with a “take” for Toy Story 3 from a new division forming that wasn’t Pixar, obviously, but was a division of Disney… We came up with an idea that was rejected and wasn’t close to what the ultimate Circle 7 version would become.
Though that pitch didn’t work for Toy Story 3, with Jim Herzfield being hired to write that movie instead, the two were remembered by Andrew Millstein, and when Circle 7 started working to produce further Pixar-less sequels the duo were called back in. They didn’t realize quite how the whole Pixar/Disney/Circle 7 separation was working, saying “we thought it was all part of one big, happy family. That, of course, changed once we started working at Circle 7.” The two quickly realized that things weren’t all hunky dory, but work was work, so they took meetings about further Pixar sequels.
They gave us a choice of coming up with sequel ideas for one of two films: Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc. We immediately gravitated to Monsters, Inc., because of our comedic style with Mike and Sully bantering, etc… We went away for a few weeks and came back to pitch. It went as well as any pitch meeting we’d ever had. We learned later that we were the first writers to pitch a Monsters, Inc. 2 idea. It took a month for them to hear all of the 30 or more pitches, but eventually they called us back. Andrew told us that they knew we were the guys for the job, and they had flipped over our story, but they needed to hear all of the “takes”.
That hire went very well, and with half their Monsters, Inc. sequel drafted, the studio “absolutely flipped” over Bob & Rob’s work. But there was a problem with Toy Story 3: the Jim Herzfeld draft needed a rewrite, fast, and Bob & Rob’s Monsters work placed them as the best guys for the job.
We had about three or four weeks to do a really significant rewrite. Suddenly, we had left Mike and Sully and were thrust into the world of Buzz and Woody and the gang! It was a very exiting time. They were in a time crunch, but they let us go alone and go through our usual writing process. When we finished, we remember showing up to the studio the following day. As we walked toward our office, we were stopped by the director, Brad Raymond, who literally hugged us! We knew we were going to be working for Disney for a long time at that point. Long story short, we launched into polishing Toy Story 3 and then dropped back into Monsters, Inc. 2, occasionally being asked to view story reels and polish up the script that was in full story production at this point.
The duo’s Toy Story 3 script was never used, but there are elements of Michael Arndt‘s Oscar-nominated script for the Toy Story 3 that was produced (story by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich) that seem very, very similar. Bob & Rob’s draft had the toys trapped in a “nightmarish Daycare center,” and concluded with “Buzz, Woody and gang, along with all of the other recalled and defective toys, are being sent down a conveyor belt to be destroyed by a HUGE crushing machine.”
To their credit, the two don’t lob any grenades at Arndt or Pixar. They seem to assume that someone at the studio was familiar with their draft, but aren’t dwelling on it.
And what about the end of the studio? That’s where the story almost gets weird, and can tug at the heartstrings a bit. People at Circle 7 knew that things were changing thanks to Disney’s purchase of Pixar, but the assumption was that the studio would continue to work in tandem with Pixar. Bob & Rob say:
The prevailing thought was that the sequels would continue – after all, Iger and Cook were on board – and that Pixar would send down some people to get involved in the sequels! Yippee, cool! Then came Vomit-On-Your-Shoes Day! As writers, we always came into the studio a little later than the rest of Circle 7. On this particular day, we showed up and walked into what was typically a bustling animation studio. A huge, cool place, by the way. On this day, instead of being met by the friendly faces of the executives’ assistants, we were met with dead silence. Twilight Zone silence… Finally, we asked a security guard what was going on. He told us that all Circle 7 employees were called to the main lot for a meeting. It was too late for us to drive over. We’re wimps, so we just stayed at Circle 7 and nervously waited. It didn’t take long before everyone returned to the building – and it didn’t take long to learn that the unthinkable had just happened. It was like a moving wake.
They go on to describe how the news actually came down:
With everyone gathered on a giant sound stage, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull were introduced by Bob Iger. A lot of different departments throughout the company were addressed and reassured their jobs were safe – but, no mention of the fate of the Circle 7 employees. Then a lone voice from the back of the sound stage asked, “What about Circle 7?” As it was told to us, Ed Catmull did not hesitate to deliver his answer, “We’re shutting that down, immediately.” We were also told that John knew Ed may have been a little too direct with his no-nonsense approach. John stepped in and tried to soften the blow by saying everyone will have jobs, etc., and they were still figuring things out. I’m just not sure if any of the Circle 7 people could hear his words, as they were busy trying to stand without collapsing to the ground.
As it happens, Catmull came by Circle 7 days later to talk to the staff, and Bob & Rob note that “a lot of Circle 7 artists and animators were given jobs at Feature Animation.” Animation Views says that 136 of 168 employees were placed in Feature Animation: quite a respectable number. Not quite a happy ending for the fledgeling studio — nothing like a happy ending, really — but not as bad as it might have been. In the full interview, Bob & Rob mention one guy who had just been hired, and had moved his family to work at the studio, but probably never even got to turn his workstation on, as he arrived just in time for the studio to die. That’s rough. Hopefully he was one of the 136.
Again, if this piques your interest, please read the entire piece at Animated Views, as it is far more detailed than this very condensed rundown.