I recently mentioned the unmade film Ramayana, once rumored to be in the works at the Disney animation studio. I’ve yet to see any artwork for this project; instead, a lot of fan sites on the internet mistake concept art for another project as being from Ramayana. This other project, in development from around 2002-2003, was Nightingale, or The Emperor’s Nightingale, based on the famous story by Hans Christian Andersen.
The Emperor’s Nightingale has been placed in development multiple times at the Disney studio over a period of several decades, dating back to Walt’s time. At one point, famously, there was an attempt to adapt the story featuring Mickey Mouse in a starring role. But when the idea was revisited in 2002 it was placed in the hands of Disney animator Randy Haycock. Writer Robert Reece was brought in to write a treatment, and the film was put into development as a traditionally animated project.
In a story that seems to be far too familiar from that era, the film was re-envisioned as a computer animated project when Disney’s traditional animation unit was shut down in Spring of 2003. The project seems to have been shelved entirely in the Fall of 2003; it’s possible that Disney decided to go ahead with The Snow Queen as its return to animated fairytales instead.
As you might note, the development art for this telling of The Emperor’s Nightingale draws on Indian influences, very different than the Chinese setting of the original story. This explains why the art is so often mistaken as being from Ramayana.
While little else is known about the project, the development art shows that there was a great deal of potential in the story. These lush visuals by artist Colin Stimpson, and appealing character sketches by Disney veteran Mike Gabriel, make one regret that this project was abandoned. At the very least, it makes one hope that Disney revisits the idea of an Indian-themed animated feature in the future.
Some more development art by Colin Stimpson:
And now, some character sketches by well-known Disney artist Mike Gabriel: