BEHIND THE STORY...
I love animated animal stories. The idea of zoo animals getting loose in the city is nothing new. However, I thought it would be a bit different if it were not just an escape movie. I thought of HOGAN’S HEROES, where the prisoners would come and go as needed. Not only did it seem like a fun idea, it also seemed like an idea that could be built into a franchise. After all, at the time, Disney was thinking strongly of sequels.
The story had been gestating for a while. First I thought of it as a children’s book, then a comic book. After working with Disney for a bit, I thought it might make an exciting feature. As TOM THUMB (see below) seemed to be cooling, I tried to build some momentum on this project.
My first pitch was, as usual, a one pager. It was about animals in a zoo, and about those that did not live in cages. The head of development liked the idea. He also thought that the concept could be a springboard to other venues. At that time Disney was building their “Disney Afternoon” on TV. He thought if THE OUTSIDERS was a hit, it could go directly into a TV series. So I went to work on a full-blown outline. However, he wanted the story to be expanded a bit to include areas outside the zoo. So I created a situation that made the “outsiders” those who went outside the zoo.
After I turned in the outline, the head of development stated he really liked the idea. But unfortunately, the studio was working on a story about a monkey that has to escape the zoo to find his family. He referred to the idea as “An American Tail with monkeys.” The monkey project was later dropped. However 16 years later, DreamWorks released MADAGASCAAR about zoo animals escaping for adventure. And suddenly other studios were also at work about zoo animals getting loose - including THE WILD from Disney. It's about a big cat who has to get out of the zoo to save his son.
And now my pitch...
Pitch by John Cawley – Dated February 11, 1989
An Animated Feature
Not all the wild animals in the zoo live in cages. The Central Zoo is well known for the exotic species on display. Less advertised are the numerous scavengers and small creatures who scamper in and out of the cages living off those on display (the caged animals or “cagers”) and those who play (the human visitors). These are “The Outsiders”. When the escape of a deadly snake threatens the “balance” of nature, some of the outsiders decide to team up and capture it before the “clumsiness” of man destroys them all.
Hatter, a squirrel – The most daring and possibly smartest outsider. He could survive easily living off the natural flora and fauna, but finds the battle of wits with the cagers too compelling.
Marilyn, a cat – A screwball female who lves more off of “human kindness” than the cagers.
Boo, a bird – An egotist who pays little attention to those who “walk”. He enjoys using his gift of flight to irritate those who are unable to fly.
George, a tiger – A bored, lazy beast that can escape, but doesn’t. He prefers the easy life of sunning and being fed over any sort of physical activity.
Hood, a cobra – Vengeful, deadly and on the loose.
Expanded Pitch by John Cawley – Dated March 7, 1989
An Animated Feature
The Central Zoo is well known for the exotic species on display. Less advertised are the numerous scavengers and small creatures that scamper in and out of the cages living off those animals on display (the caged animals or “cagers”), the humans (workers and visitors) and the natural flora and fauna. These are “The Outsiders”, a group of animals who pride themselves in their ability to survive off of others. At night they meet in an abandoned area, similar to a thieves’ den, where they brag to each other about the day’ glories.
When a tiger’s mate is accidentally sent on loan without a needed vaccination, the tiger appeals to the Outsiders to help him take the drug to her at the airport. Since it means leaving the safety of the zoo, where wild dogs, cats and humans roam, none of the outsiders volunteer until a down and out cat and vengeful squirrel agree to join the tiger. Once outside, they lead police and airport officials on a mad chase through the city. Not only must they find and reach the airport before the tigress’ plane leaves, but they must return before daybreak and the workers discover the male tiger missing.
HATTER: A Squirrel. The most daring and possibly the smartest Outsider, he could easily survive living off the natural flora and fauna, but finds the battle of wits with the cagers too compelling. After hatter is betrayed by another Outsider, Hatter agrees to help George if the tiger will come back and punish the traitor, and if Hatter is in charge of the expedition.
MARILYN: A Cat. A screwball female who lives more off of “human kindness” than the cagers. Because of this, and because she is the only domesticated animal loose in the zoo, the Outsiders take a dim view of her and often taunt and tease her. Feeling she has no real friends in the zoo, and since she is the only one amongst them to have lived outside of the zoo, she agrees to accompany George to the airport.
GEORGE: A White Tiger. A bored, lazy, slightly dim beast that can escape his pen but doesn’t. He prefers the easy life of sunning and being fed over any sort of physical activity. His one passion is his mate, MARIAN (a white tigress). When he discovers the vaccination error, he offers the Outsiders “anything” if they will help him protect her.
MARIAN: A White Tigress. The mate of George, she is being temporarily loaned to another zoo across the country. Due to an unexpected ruckus, she is not given a much needed vaccine to protect her in the new zoo.
BOO: A Bird. An egotist who pays little attention to those who walk. He enjoys using his gift of flight to irritate those who are unable to. Though he lives outside of the zoo (because cages make him nervous and the Outsiders aren’t his “type”), he knows most of the animals. He lends some aerial support to the trio.
MANX: a Cat. A resident of the airport, he is the area’s equivalent of Hatter. Manx knows every inch of the airport, and proves to be a valuable fighter.
As the sun begins to set on another average day at Central Zoo, the activities include a few last guests leaving, shop workings beginning to close up, and zoo workers checking over the animals on exhibit. Lights begin to come on as doors are being locked. Looking closer, another daily activity is also taking place, one unknown by all the humans in the zoo; the Outsiders are beginning to gather.
The Outsiders are the various animals who live in the zoo but are not on display. Birds, squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, rats, and others who have made the zoo their home. They could easily live off of the bountiful foliage, but often prefer to simply take food from the caged animals, that they call “cagers”. On the way to the gathering, several make last minute gatherings from various cagers.
They meet nightly in an empty, long neglected lions’ den. Once, this lion’s den was a showcase for the zoo, but several years ago, a new more extravagant home for the lions was built elsewhere. In disrepair, it offers excellent shelter for those who don’t have homes behind bars or water barriers.
As they gather, each one eyes the other warily. Some of them are possible future meals when the cagers cannot be robbed. Others are competitors for the same food source. Cautious conversation deals with the success or failures of the day. A veritable “thieves’ den”, some members boldly boast of their day’s adventures of pirating food. Others talk of the fate of those not there, some having become meals rather than thieves of one. The area gets more and more crowded and soon most are looking around for one of their members is missing, HATTER.
Hatter, a wily squirrel, is considered to be king of the thieves. He is the boldest and smartest of the Outsiders who willingly tackles the most dangerous caged animals for the sport of taking their food. Usually an early attendee, his absence makes some begin to wonder if he has finally gotten too close to the mouths of those that he steals from.
As the Outsiders look around, the room suddenly grows quiet. MARILYN enters. A dirty-white cat, Marilyn obtains most of her food from the zookeepers who leave plates of cat food out. This is fortunate since she really is not well versed at fending for herself. The only battles she must fight are when another Outsider attempts to take if from her. Because she is “fed” by humans, many of the Outsiders don’t consider her a true member of their community. They continually heckle and chide her. Her comical remarks mostly hide the loneliness she feels.
Done teasing her, the group goes back to discussing the status of Hatter, while across the zoo, his latest adventure is in progress. He has cleverly hidden under the food dish in the wolves’ woods. As soon as the wolves turn away, he will not only get away with the remaining food, but the dish also. (The wolves are Hatter’s favorite targets for they are some of the smarter and faster beasts.) His eyes dart back and forth waiting for an opening. As he glances around, he notices a peacock talking to one of the wolves and both are looking his direction.
Nearby in the zoo, a team of keepers work at finishing a special task. GEORGE and MARIAN, the white tiger couple, are about to be temporarily separated; Marian is to be loaned to another zoo for a few months. As the workers coax her in the cage for her journey, one prepares to give her a special vaccine to make certain she remains safe during the loan. However, as the worker goes to give the shot, there is a large commotion.
Both men look up as one yells, “Tit’s the wolves’ pen!” They each run out, leaving the vaccine on the ground. George goes up and tries to console his mate when two strangers come in and break the pair up. While one puts George away into a room behind the exhibit, the other puts Marian in a truck for the airport. The strangers then drive away.
It is several minutes before the previous two zoo workers release George. They see that the tigress has been taken to the airport and begin to leave as they verbally wonder why the wolves had gotten so noisy. George walks out into his exhibit and lays down next to a log for a lonely night when sees the vaccine, still unused, on the ground.
He quickly jumps up and begins to look around. The zoo workers have apparently gone for this growls and pounding at the door go unnoticed. Looking out over the river and walls that separate him from the outside, he begins to pace. Gaining speed, he gets into a run and is soon running in circles. At on point, he runs to his log, runs along the top and takes a leap. The stunt allows him to soar over the river to the edge of the wall, which he grabs with his enormous paws. He begins to pull himself slowly up the wall.
Back at the old lions’ den, the Outsiders have settled down somewhat. There is now more general talk with only an occasional question as to Hatter’s fate. One peacock comments that he had head that Hatter was going to make another attempt at the wolves. Some begin to remember that they had heard a commotion at the wolves’ woods a few minutes back. As a few begin o speak kindly of the squirrel, George walks into the den and the room goes silent.
The tiger sits down and slowly lowers his head to the floor. He opens his mouth and releases the vaccine container. Before George speaks, a small figure enters slowly from the other side, unseen by the others. George tells of the problem and the possible danger his mate is in. The Outsiders state their concern but ask what they can do. George claims he is going to try to get to the airport to give the vaccine to Marian and needs the help of the group since he knows little of the world outside of his exhibit.
The Outsiders are all taken aback. Of course, they could probably find the airport, but there are too many dangers out in the real world. They talk of the masses of humans, wild dogs, cats and large vehicles that could crush them. George states he understands, but he must go. He offers to grant them anything within his power, yet still the group remains quiet.
“What a group,” states the small figure. From out of the shadows steps Hatter to the surprise of the crowd. He is rough up with scratches and tooth marks. Someone says they thought the wolves had gotten him. He loudly regrets that that wasn’t the case, even though the wolves did have help from an Outsider. This announcement brings a gasp from the crowd as Hatter looks around eyeing everyone. Hatter asks, “Whatever happened to honor among thieves?”
George clears his throat, bringing attention back to him. The tiger again asks for help. The room draws quiet. He gets up to leave when Marilyn says she will go. The room bursts into laughter. They begin to tease her again for her inability to do anything. She comes back stating that at least she has been out of the zoo and can act a bit as a guide.
Hatter steps forwards and warns the tiger that if he is found outside the zoo, he will be shot. And if he doesn’t return by the early morning check, the workers will brand him a danger and move him away where he will never see Marian again. George admits he is aware of the dangers but must do it for her. Marilyn says goodbye to the group as the pair start to leave. “With luck,” she says they will return by morning.
The group laughs again claiming it will take more than luck. It will take brains and cunning, something the pair is obviously lacking. They talk of how the streets out there aren’t safe for animals of the zoo. “Besides,” states a peacock, “it would be impossible to do anyway, you’ll both be dead by daybreak.”
Hatter looks at the peacock then asks if George’s promise to do anything is still valid. The tiger says yes, and Hatter thinks a second. “It’s a thousand to one shot, but I’ll go too,” says Hatter, “if when we return you help me seek revenge against the Outsider who turned on me tonight.” George says he is against violence, but will do what he can upon their return. Hatter agrees as long as it is he who is in charge of the expedition. George quickly agrees, though Marilyn is a bit reluctant. Noting how late it is, the trio head out into the night as the Outsiders take, what they feel, will be their last look at the trio.
Sneaking out of the zoo proves to be easy, if noisy, for the group. Marilyn states that the zoo is on a hill and they must go down to reach the city. When questioned about the airport, she is uncertain. BOO, a bird sitting on a fence overhears them and tells them that the airport is due west and points. “If you get lost,” he tells them, “follow the man-made birds.” He points to a plane, lighted for night, flying overhead. Hatter says that will make it easy and thanks him. As the trio head off, Boo decides to keep track of the odd group for laughs.
Getting to the bottom of the hill is less trouble than they thought it would be. The coyotes, a continual problem to most small animals immediately set up the group. Once Hatter convinces George to appear tough, though, the coyotes are intimidated by the size and look of the tiger and run. At the bottom though, they find a mass of roads and buildings.
As they begin to walk among the buildings a gang of teens spots them. Rather than being frightened by George, they decide they want him for their motorcycle club. The group begins to circle. Hatter is able to thwart them with some fast thinking, footwork and the police. Unfortunately, the police also notice the white “ghost tiger”.
Following the “man-birds” proves to be a slow process and after some time, Hatter decides they had best turn back. He doesn’t want to take a chance of George getting back late. However George states that they must be close since there is a man-made bird very close. He points to a hot air balloon over a car dealership across the street.
Boo suddenly flies in and laughs. The trio is surprised to see him. He laughs and says that the balloon is not the man-made bird they want, and he again points to a plane passing over. He tells them it will take hours to walk there. Hatter finds that to be the final straw. The trio had done well, getting out of the zoo, getting down the hill and avoiding the kids. They must now concede defeat.
Marilyn is less willing. She says they’ve risked too much to give up now. George agrees that he cannot give up. Boo laughs and say the only way the could get to the airport in time would be to fly, which only birds can do. Hatter, angered by the bird, tells him if they wanted to fly, they could. Boo laughs louder. Marilyn looks at the balloon and asks Hatter that if man-made birds fly with men in them, why couldn’t the man-made bird across the street fly the three of them to its home?
Hatter jumps and shouts as he says “yes!” All they have to do is get George up to the roof to jump in the balloon. As they enter the lot, the police arrive and a mad chase occurs until the trio get to the balloon. Once inside, Hatter has George bite the main rope. The police, baffled at the disappearance, don’t notice the balloon is floating away until it is some distance form the lot. They then run for their radios.
In the balloon, the three are in high spirits. The wind is taking them towards the airport, they are moving fast and even Boo is impressed with the time they are making they don’t take much stock in the large amount of activity following them on the roads below. As they near the airport, helicopters come out to stoop “the menace”. Boo makes a beeline away from the trio who now seem to be close to being captured.
Out of desperation, George takes a swipe with paw but only manages to rip the balloon sending it quickly towards the ground. Luckily, though it keeps it out of the helicopter nets and lands just inside the airport grounds. The three jump out and run for one of the hangers as the helicopter spotlights capture a brief glimpse of the trio.
Once inside the hangar, they begin to catch their breath when they hear a sound. They turn and see MANX. He begins to hiss at them when he notices George and is take aback. Marilyn comes forward and explains their dilemma. As he finishes, they hear airport security starting to enter the building. Manx leads them to a luggage treadmill and they evade the officials.
George asks where they can find Marian. Manx, only knows of one animal holding area and says he’ll take them there. Hatter demands to be in charge, at which Manx threatens to walk out. Marilyn intervenes and says that it was her idea to use the balloon and Manx’s to use the treadmill. She insists they’ll do better working as a team. All agree, but also agree that only one will give the orders when a plan is reached.
At the holding pen, they see the cage with Marilyn. George is so thrilled that he runs up and says hello to her. Manx and Hatter are taken off guard and scramble after him with Marilyn behind. Once there they begin to argue when the officials again enter the seen. Manx shouts for George to run for it, which he does. The men assume the tiger in the cage (Marilyn) has escaped and make pursuit.
Hatter asks for the vaccine only to be told by Marilyn that George has it. Manx and Hatter run off after George calling for him to come back. Marilyn sits and stays to comfort Marian. Outside the area, George is leading the men on a wild chase when reinforcements in the wary of police and airport security arrive. Manx uses his knowledge of the airport to throw the men off the trail, while Hatter uses his skill in traveling unseen to help create confusion.
George returns to Marian and drops the medicine at her feet. He tells Marilyn they must run for it and try to find Manx and Hatter. The two leave, but as Marilyn goes, she unlocks Marian’s cage, but please with her to remain inside. “It might help us,” claims Marilyn.
The four are able to meet up just outside the building and take refuge in some trash containers. Inside the building, the police and group arrive only to have one of the animal handlers shout that the tiger has gone back in its cage and he quickly locks it. At that time a handler notices the vaccine and reads the packaging. He states they must have missed it when they first got the tigress at the zoo. Since it hasn’t been used, they assume the zoo did not vaccinate her, so they will.
George is relieved, though not certain his own fate will be so easily solved. Manx, though sees that the men are too busy arguing so that they can make their escape in the early morning light. Hatter and Marilyn both realize that it is too late to get George back in time. They wonder if there is any man-made war of getting to the zoo. Manx says he is aware of a bus that goes that way.
Finally reaching the bus zone, Manx points out the bus and tells them to sneak in to the back door. George and Hatter run to the bus, but Manx pulls Marilyn back. He asks her to stay at the airport with him. She thanks him, but says she really must go to her home, such as it is. She runs and gets in with Hatter and George who are hiding between the rear seats. The bus driver closes the doors and drives off.
A short time later, the bus approaches the bottom of the hill where the zoo is located and begins to pass it. Startled, George sits up and becomes visible to the driver and passengers. The driver immediately stops the bus and tells the passengers to exit. George, hatter and Marilyn race out and bound over the fence and race up the hill to the amazement and shock of the people. As the trio makes their way to the zoo, they hear a large commotion from within.
Once in the zoo, they find all the animals are making noise and creating disturbances. Boo has arrived early and asked the cagers to assist George. The zookeepers are so busy settling the animals down hat they miss the trio sneaking back in.
At George’s exhibit, the keeper is walking towards the back door with a contingent of police and city officials all stating they know a white tiger must be loose because it was seen all over the city last night. The keeper says he thought the only loose tiger was the one at the airport, and that was a different one than this one. Finding the door jammed, the keeper continues to push on it with the help of the others until it finally gives.
Inside they find the exhibit empty. The keeper and officials are horrified that such a dangerous animal has escaped. All agree that when it is captured it will be transferred to a different zoo. At that moment, George comes up from out of the water with huge “puff” and climbs on land. The police and officials all back out quickly as the keep laughs that George was just in having a morning swim.
All leave relieved except for one keeper who suddenly stops and notices that the door had been jammed by sticks stuck in the hinges. He then looks over and remembers leaving the vaccine over by the stump, and wonders how it ended up in the cage at the airport. He looks over at George who merely smiles.
That night, the Outsiders have their usual meeting. Center speakers for the night are Marilyn and Hatter who explain their amazing journey. Suddenly George walks in and sits down. He says he has come to fulfill his bargain with Hatter and punish the turncoat Outsider. All at once a peacock throws itself on the floor and begs for mercy, crying and carrying on.
As the peacock confesses, George realizes the bird was the cause for the commotion which resulted in Marian missing her shot at the zoo. Angered, he raises his paw, but Hatter stops him. Hatter says the bird was not the only one responsible for the wolf ruckus, since he had been in the cage at the time. He also says that the scare was probably enough punishment for the peacock.
Hatter looks to Marilyn, who seems a bit distant. He asks if she is thinking of Manx. She says yes, but that she made the right decision to come home. At that moment, Manx walks in saying he agrees. The Outsiders are taken aback at the appearance of another cat, especially one so formidable. Manx walks over to Marilyn and rubs up against her. He apologizes for being so late, but it took awhile for the next bus.
The Outsiders begin cheering the foursome. George asks if this might make the Outsiders a little less divided and selfish. Hatter responds that respect is always a good way to unite anyone. He then thinks a second and states that “after last night’s adventure, we four are the only true Outsiders.” Hatter then tells the tiger “I’ll walk you home.” They walk past a newspaper full of headlines about a mysterious “ghost tiger” walking the city streets. “See,” says Hatter, “it’s just like they said, the streets aren’t safe for the likes of us.”
text, image and format © John Cawley
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