On the whole, Disney+ has been an incredible success. It's got some of the most popular films ever made for the viewing. New series like The Mandalorian are massive hits and a lot more, like several Marvel shows, are on the way. However, over the weekend, Kevin Smith let us know about a show that we likely won't be seeing coming to Disney+ anytime soon. The writer and actor was apparently working on an adaptation of the popular Disney-themed YA book series Kingdom Keepers in what was intended to be a launch series for the platform, but the plug was pulled by Disney.
Kevin Smith revealed in a recent podcast that he had worked on the Kingdom Keepers project, and then in a follow up tweet explained that the work he did was a couple of years ago, and the show is no longer an active concern.
What Is Kingdom Keepers?
Kingdom Keepers was a YA series begun in 2005 by author Ridley Pearson which is made up of seven main books, and a trilogy followup series, which follows five teens who are chosen to play the roles of special holographic "hosts" inside Disney theme parks. Through this technology, they discover they also have the ability to transport their bodies inside the parks at night, and there they learn that "Disney magic" is quite real, and the villains of Disney's popular films have come to life and are attempting to take over the parks and harness the magic within.
The books are fun little adventures. The major draw, of course, is that they take place inside Walt Disney World and Disneyland, which means the characters cross paths with popular Disney characters and attractions come to life in new and exciting ways. Most of it works out largely as you probably expect, but there are a few surprises. In the first book, for example, all the dolls of It's a Small World come to life and attack the heroes like a horde of 28 Days Later zombies, which is probably not, what you'd expect, but it's actually pretty awesome.
The fact that all these characters and attractions come to life is what makes the books fun for Disney fans, but it was apparently what also doomed the project. It seems that somebody decided it was all just too much.
It's certainly interesting, and it shows just how much power is wielded by these executives. It's not like the executive who originally brought Kevin Smith on board Kingdom Keepers didn't know how much IP was involved, that was probably exactly the reason the idea was being considered in the first place. However, when somebody new took over, it was decided the volume of IP was just too much and the idea died. This is too bad, because I can't help but feel that Kingdom Keepers or something like it is exactly the sort of chance Disney+ should be taking.
Kingdom Keepers Is A Calculated Risk
If there's a major criticism of modern Disney it's that the House of Mouse plays it too safe. The studio makes Marvel and Star Wars movies, they make live-action adaptations of animated classics, almost exclusively the ones that were already successful. The feeling is that Disney doesn't step outside its comfort zone. Former Disney CEO Bob Iger would disagree somewhat, arguing that Disney takes risks, but those risks are well thought out and calculated.
And this is why Kingdom Keepers would be a good choice for Disney+. On the one hand it obviously doesn't feel like it's all that much of a risk. It's a series of stories that can only be told using previously existing, well known, Disney characters. The idea has the safety of Disney. Every element from the characters to the setting is based on something we already know people love.
That's not to say that combining all those pieces together would obviously work. There's no guarantee it would all fit together in a way that makes sense. How do you balance the tone of something like Dumbo the Flying Elephant with Space Mountain? How scary do you make the Haunted Mansion? Not every animated Disney movie has a similar tone, and if you try to change one too much to match another, it ceases to be what it was. The possibility of it just becoming a cacophony of Disney noise is certainly there, but what subscriber to Disney+ wouldn't want to see them try?
Disney+ Is A Place To Take Chances
And Disney+ is the place where these risks should be taken. The theatrical box office, for Disney perhaps more than any other studio, is a place where movies routinely cost $200 million, and must therefore make $1 billion if they want to see real success. Kingdom Keepers, as impressive as a $200 million feature would be, is probably out of its depth there. But on Disney+, budgets could be kept within reason, and chances could be taken. If it doesn't work, who cares? Nobody is going to unsubscribe to Disney+ if Kingdom Keepers doesn't work when there's another season of The Mandalorian coming down the road.
Most of the characters and locations that you see in Kingdom Keepers are such classics that there's little to no worry that they could be "damaged" in any way. Nobody is going to stop visiting Walt Disney World if they didn't like the series. The show will just find its home next to those direct-to-DVD sequels from the 90s that we mostly forget ever happened.
And if it does work? Just how cool would it be to see an adventure series where heroes fight Maleficent inside Magic Kingdom and It's a Small World comes to life and tries to eat them? At least one person who apparently saw the Kevin Smith treatment thought they actually made it work.
The idea of a Disney Cinematic Universe, a place where Disney characters from all over the company's history come together, is something that a lot of fans have wanted to see over the years. Other projects, like a Magic Kingdom film from Jon Favreau, have teased the concept before. The ABC series Once Upon a Time did something similar and while those characters were certainly inspired by their Disney counterparts, they weren't the same characters. The Kingdom Hearts series is absolutely chock full of anime nonsense, and that doesn't stop the Disney fans from loving it when you summon Genie while in Neverland while standing next to Donald and Goofy.
Maybe Kevin Smith could have helped make Kingdom Keepers work, maybe not. I won't pretend that I really know the answer, but I would have loved to see Disney give it a shot. The "too much IP" problem is an absolutely valid concern, but it's not an insurmountable one.
The fact that the initial swing at Kingdom Keepers was killed off doesn't mean that it, or something like it, isn't still a possibility down the road. This idea of combining a lot of Disney IP together into some sort of story feels like an idea that will be tried at some point. I hope it works. I can't wait until somebody is willing to give it a shot.