With Toy Story 4 coming soon, and Frozen 2 in November, it feels like a year of sequels and remakes for Disney and/or Pixar. It’s extending to streaming service Disney+, with a TV series set in the world of Monsters, Inc. What happened to the studios that gave us great original ideas like Up, Coco, and even Frozen?
A few months ago, Pixar announced hope for 2020: Onward, about a family of elves in suburbia. This week, they released photos to People and Entertainment Weekly, featuring Chris Pratt and Tom Holland as elf brothers, whose mother is voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. The brothers leave home in a van to search for what magic might be left in their world, and it sounds fun. Except it also nagged at my brain, that it sounded like a project announced for Walt Disney Animation years back that then disappeared, based on renowned sci-fi author Philip K. Dick’s short story, “King of the Elves.”
Reading synopses of the two stories reveals two different paths from a perhaps similar idea: what if elves lived among humans? PKD’s story, a rare foray into straight up fantasy originally published in 1953, concerns a gas station attendant in Colorado who finds himself crowned King of the Elves and must lead them against the local Trolls. That’s literal, not a metaphor for the internet. (Though Onward might not have human characters at all, there’s definitely a whiff of mundania about their plight.)
Disney tried to develop PKD’s story twice — King of the Elves was announced in 2008, then shelved. Then it came back again in 2010, before director Chris Williams officially decided it was not the movie he wanted to make. It’s probably coincidence that Pixar has an elven film coming, but it’s an interesting connection. Onward looks fun, and King of the Elves might have been — but definitely doesn’t quite have that youth appeal.
The short story King of the Elves seems to be out of print at the moment. A few PKD anthologies have included it, and Amazon has a few used book options if you’re interested in reading it. All I’m saying is that if you wonder where Pixar’s ideas come from, they’re not entirely out of the blue.