A Ferdinand Horvath concept drawing of Don Quixote which dates back to before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which suggests that Disney Studios -- at one time -- seriously considered turning Don Quixote into a Silly Symphony.

Don Quixote was a film based on the 1605 Spanish novel, "Don Quixote", by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Although it was in development at the Disney Studio for four times from the 1940s up until the 2000's, it never saw completion.


A man named Alonso Quixano (or Quijano), a retired country gentleman nearing 50 years old, lives in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and a housekeeper. He has become obsessed with books of chivalry, and believes their every word to be true, despite the fact that many of the events in them are clearly impossible. Quixano eventually appears to other people to have lost his mind from little sleep and food, and so much reading. He decides to become a knight-errant, and with his fat, food-loving, squire Sancho Panza, sets out on an hilarious misadventure.



In 1946, a proposed short, Don Quixote: Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character for Large Orchestra is another take on the Don Quixote tale. This time, the Disney animators set it around Richard Strauss' tone poem.

The initial work on this quixotic film was done around 1940 by a crew led by Bob Carr. A prolific artist, Carr did dozens of watercolors of situations and characters, many of them inspired by Velazquez and other Spanish artists. His initial studies for the Duchess, the Bachelor of Science (Samson Carrasco), et al. are as carefully detailed as the costume designs for a historical live-action film. Carr also did hundreds of drawings for preliminary storyboards, working in an elegant, calligraphic style.

Around this same time, another artist (or artists) prepared two additional sets of simpler but more vivid preliminary studies. Carr did finished, elaborately rendered paintings; the anonymous artist employed a looser, less detailed style, using small areas of color to suggest highlights on a piece of armor or a flaring pastel line to suggest the folds of a cape. Don Quixote was probably derailed by the war and the studio cutbacks that followed the box-office losses of Pinocchio and Fantasia.

In 1946, a second crew, under Jesse Marsh, returned to Don Quixote. This version would have been set to an adaptation of Richard Strauss' tone poem "Don Quixote: Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character for Large Orchestra, Op. 35." Marsh prepared hundreds of neat pen-and-ink and watercolor cartoons, noting the musical themes that would accompany the action. He did enough rough storyboards for an entire film, beginning with a shot of the book resting on a table flanked by suits of armor, and concluding with a sort of apotheosis: After Don Quixote's death, he, Dulcinea, and Sancho Panza would ride through the clouds to a glittering castle beneath a rainbow. Like the earlier version, this incarnation of Don Quixote was apparently shelved before story meetings were held or dialogue prepared.



In 1951, a proposed feature film adaptation had the same basic plot as the 1940 take on the Don Quixote story, but the animation would have had a similar style as seen in UPA animated shorts and features of the time.

Preproduction work began for a third time in April 1951. This crew used an even simpler style that reflects the influence of such New Yorker cartoonists as Saul Steinberg and Otto Soglow: The rounded characters consist of little more than a few ink lines with monochromatic highlights in dull green or tan. Work on this film must have ended soon after it began, as only a few dozen drawings were completed. In each case, the artists tried to preserve the major events of the story: Quixote's dubbing as knight by the innkeeper; his battles with the windmills and the sheep; the burning of the books by his niece and housekeeper; the visit to the Duchess; the adventures with Cardenio and Dorotea; the encounters with the puppet theater, the lions, and the Cart of the Parliament of Death. No one seems to have noticed just how much screen time these adventures would require; although it was not unusual for the Disney artists to storyboard more material than they needed. Veteran story man Bill Peet recalled that on "Pinocchio," "If they had animated everything on the storyboards, it would have gone on for two days." Another factor that the artists apparently failed to consider was how to make a sympathetic character out of a lunatic. The Don Quixote the artists depicted was the farcical caricature of the novel -- not the moonstruck idealist of "Man of La Mancha." The preliminary designs stress the incongruous appearance of the Knight of the Rueful Figure, playing his scrawny physique and flaring mustache against absurdly outsized armor.
The Disney That Never Was: The Stories and Art of Five Decades of Unproduced Animation[[[1]|[src]]]


In 2001, yet another attempt at making this a feature film that ran into the same obstacle as earlier.[2] In the late 1990s, fresh off their stunning work on the opening sequence for Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Paul and Gaetan Brizzi were tasked with taking another run at Cervantes's episodic tale. Before they locked in the look of Don Quixote & Sancho Panza. So they asked Sandro Cleuzo and John Watkiss to both take a stab at designing these characters. In the end, though the Brizzis may have settled on a fairly cartoonish look for Don Quixote & Sancho Panza and Paul and Gaetan opted to go with a fairly adult take on Cervantes's tale. "How adult?," you ask. So adult that -- even though everyone at Walt Disney Animation Studios admitted that the preproduction artwork that the Brizzis had produced was stunning -- Mouse House managers still pulled the plug on the project. Which is why -- sometime immediately after that -- the Brizzis decamped for DreamWorks Animation.

As described in a 2020 interview, the Brizzis' story would have had Sancho Panza finding a rusty sword in his barn and Don Quixote insisting it must be reunited with its owner Charlemagne. The duo would be joined by Carrasco, the psychiatrist that tried curing Quixote's madness in the original novel, reimagined as someone wanting to study Quixote's madness for academic glory, only to find Quixote's optimistic dream stronger then rational thinking, becoming one of his defenders when Quixote is set to be locked in an asylum.[3]


In December of 2012, Walt Disney Studios bought a pitch for a movie from Jeff Morris & writer-director Steve Pink, which is supposed to be produced by Disney's favorite pirate, Johnny Depp and his sister Christi Dembrowski's company, Infinitum Nihil.

In October 2016, it was announced Disney is developing an adaptation of the classic Spanish novel about a man who believes he is a knight, with Gordon Gray and Billy Ray producing. Billy Ray is also writing the script. Some sources that the plan is to adapt the work in a tone that recalls the madcap and fantastical nature of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.[4]



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