Empire Online have a few tasty nuggets of information concerning a number of upcoming Disney projects, thanks to their interview with Don Hahn, the man behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beauty & The Beast and The Lion King. The producer managed to offer a couple of choice tidbits, despite obviously wrestling with his own binding secrecy contract, and what he revealed is certainly exciting.

Firstly, a producer of the first Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you’d have to expect Hahn’s finger to be on the pulse for the long-rumoured sequel, and Hahn is indeed involved in the project.  News has been pretty scarce since it was announced back in November that the original’s writers were working on the script but Hahn definitely admitted that the project was ongoing (sort of).

Yeah, I couldn’t possibly comment. I deny completely, but yeah… if you’re a fan, pretty soon you’re going to be very, very, very happy.

Still a huge shame that Eddie Valiant supposedly wont be reappearing (according to Bob Hoskins at least) considering the chemistry he had with the animated bunny, and the incredible work Hoskins did in bringing the character, and their interactions to life, but the project has me gripped already. I’d love to think of a plot where Roger and his fellow cartoons are threatened by the influx of new 3D technologies- now that would really get me excited. For now, we’ll just have to make do with Hahn’s implication that we will all have some new news soon.

The second intriguing, and potentially hugely exciting bit of news concerns a 3D release for Disney’s The Lion King:

I’m actually trying to work out a 3D conversion of The Lion King. I’ll be doing that when I go back to the States in a couple of weeks… It’s going to be spectacular – we will do a good job for ya! The technology is tremendous. We did A Nightmare Before Christmas a few years ago and Tim thought it was better than the original because it allows you to walk onto the set.

Empire added that Hahn was quick to point out that we shouldnt expect to see Simba, Zazu, Timon and Pumba for quite some time yet, as the boffins were taking their time to make sure they get it right.

This, of course, is not the first time 3D has been mentioned for a Disney feature-length cartoon- as far back as 2008, Hahn was talking confidently of a re-release of Beauty and the Beast for the format, and from what he was saying back then, the process is obviously possible:

By going back to the original animation files, which have been carefully archived for 17 years, and using the separate background, effects and character animation elements, we’re able to come up with a fun and unique 3-D experience for existing and new fans of the film.
Sadly, we havent yet been allowed to find out whether that effect worked, thanks to the mooted release dates so far going past without so much as a peep, even despite the critical reaction that came outof ShoWest in March 2009 when Disney first showed off footage from the 3D version of the classic. With the Blu-Ray release of Beauty & The Beast now set for October, it seems Disney will follow it with the 3D cinematic release sometime in 2011, so the proof in the 3D pudding will have to wait until then.

If it is possible to achieve a gorgeous 3D version of a 2D cartoon successfully, I predict the result will be astounding. My only fear is that the 3D dollar may be having too much of an influence on the men who pull the strings, and that this new development may be a step too far. It is fair enough that features like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast were some of the first to include elaborately computer-generated backgrounds, an thus will lend themselves better to the 3D re-rendering, but I have to wonder how the traditionally created scenes will translate. My worst nightmare would be to have a classic re-configured to look like something out of Paper Mario. The ShoWest reaction to the Beauty & The Beast sequence would suggest otherwise, but the niggling fear will remain until I see something more concrete from either 3D project.

3D re-releases are a bit of a contentious issue. I was lucky enough, back in 2006, to see the re-released 3D version of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas at my local cinema and I am happy to say it was a beautiful experience. I fear I may not be the most unbiased of commentators for that particular project considering my long-standing love of the film (and utterly preposterous level of dedication to the merchandise), but I can say, as objectively as reasonably possible that the film worked well for the treatment.

But then, Burton’s stop-motion projects cannot realy be classed in the same breath as a straight Disney animation- even barring the CGI-enhanced sequences, it is difficult to imagine that particular medium translating as well as Burton’s models did. They already had an element of 3D about them, having been filmed on a 3D set with 3D characters, to try and reanimate a 2D film to incorporate 3D elements is a different prospect entirely. So, Hahn’s likening of that 3D treatment for The Lion King to Burton’s re-release in the interview would seem slightly odd.

Elsewhere, Hahn was quite forthcoming on the fate of Disney’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen, which was rumoured to be the mouse house’s next hand-drawn offering:

It’s actually been tabled right now. It’s on the low shelf – we can’t reach it! But seriously, we don’t have the story. It’s a bit like Beauty And The Beast, which sat there for years. We cracked Beauty finally by putting in the objects and creating more plot. The Snow Queen we’ve had a lot of trouble with and I’ve spent years on it. I love it and I think it’s one of the last great fairy tales. It’s kind of crappy that it’s just sitting there right now.

And finally, though not quite as forthcoming here, Hahn did manage to give a little morsel away concerning the live action version of Maleficent, rumoured to be helmed by Tim Burton and starring Angelina Jolie:

That’s another one I can’t talk about! All I can say is that it’s in active development and will be pretty fun. It is great working again with Tim on Frankenweenie, though: I love that he’s back to doing puppets. But Maleficent is a way off and it’s a little too early to talk about it, except to say that it’s happening.

All very exciting stuff, so thanks to Empire and to Don Hahn’s ability to somehow tell secrets while at the same time keeping schtum! It is a shame about The Snow Queen, as it would be great to see Disney on fairy-tale ground again after the success of The Princess and the Frog, but I’m sure they’ll work out the problems and get it out in the coming years. For now, I’ll take the most excitement from the implied promise of more Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2 news coming soon, and pray that the 3D re-rendering of The Lion King does the masterpiece the justice it deserves.