Despite Kingdom Hearts’ seemingly endless capacity to continue existing, its relationship with Disney beyond the literal games themselves has always been a little distant — at least on the Disney side of things. You’re not going to see Sora in the theme parks perhaps any time soon, but once upon a time that wasn’t always going to be the case.
Animator Seth Kearsley, who once served as executive producer on a planned animated adaptation of the first Kingdom Hearts game, recently revealed that he’d found a long-thought-lost VHS recording of the series’ animatic pilot, used to pitch executives on the idea of a Disney adaptation of the action-RPG series. Now, just weeks after finding it, Kearsly has released the 11-minute short online for fans to see what might have been.
The series was greenlit shortly after the launch of the first game, but never made it to air after being scrapped by Disney and Square Enix. Kearsley, who has spoken about the project openly here and there for years, recently reflected on his intent to share more about the unseen work after being in a near-fatal car accident. “I almost died, and there’s some shit I wanna put out in the world that almost never got to be put out in the world,” Kearsley said in a video made after the discovery of the animatic recording. “So I’m gonna put it out in the world. That’s a lot of stuff, I know — maybe that’s a little too personal, but everything is a little too personal for me now.”
The 11-minute storyboard animatic, titled “Agrabah,” is a quick, loose approximation of some of the early beats of the original Kingdom Hearts, first released in 2002. The short opens with a brief explanation of original characters Sora, Riku, and Kairi being separated from their island home by an attack by mysterious creatures known as the Heartless, before Sora and Riku find themselves going down different paths to rescue Kairi. Much of the game’s cast returned to voice their roles — save for Haley Joel Osment as Sora, replaced by actor Bobby Edner due to scheduling commitments, according to Kearsley — and it’s by and large a surprisingly direct take on the series.
The different floating worlds based on classic Disney movies; Sora, Donald, and Goofy’s fight animations; the way the heartless explode into clouds of neon, toylike stars on defeat; and even some of the game’s eventual darkness — Riku being brought under the thrall of Maleficent, who is working with the Heartless — are touched on. Completely out of nowhere, there’s even a teeny bit of iconic Hikaru Utada banger “Simple and Clean” in there for good measure!
Alas, this is likely all there ever will be of a Kingdom Hearts animated adaptation. The games themselves have long since diverged into original stories, with the Disney elements acting more as set dressing to their often-memed-upon plots. The idea of a Disney-made Kingdom Hearts show now would look very different to what Kearsley and his team ever planned, but at least we now, decades later, get to see what could’ve been.
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