For all the Will Eisner fans out there who are steeling themselves for the outrage to come when Frank Miller’s film version of The Spirit hits theaters, here’s an extremely detailed, highly readable and utterly infuriating chronicle of how Brad Bird, two decades before establishing himself as the god of animation with The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, tried to launch an animated version of The Spirit.
Bird’s vision encompassed a film that would not simply revitalize animation (this was 1980, remember, when Disney had essentially abandoned the field to junk like The Care Bears Movie) but revolutionize it by going beyond talking animals and cutsie-pie stuff. It didn’t work out that way, of course: Brad Bird toiled in the vineyards of The Simpsons for years, Don Bluth left Disney to launch his own animation company and Disney returned to animation a few years later with The Little Mermaid. But once you appreciate the level of talent at work, and the ambition of Bird’s concept, the what-ifs start multiplying like nano-rabbits.
As for the movie that did get made, the Frank Millerized Spirit really does sound like death on stale toast. A little Christmas coal from Frank Miller.