If there is any game in the history of gaming that you know for an absolute fact would end up making a good movie that could end up as a family classic that game would definitely be any one of the Monkey Island games. The LucasArts and later Telltale Games-run franchise of point and click adventures remains one of the most beloved series, combining action and humor in a way that feels like a good Pixar flick. You could argue that they already are more interactive movies than games.
But we will never, ever see a Monkey Island film, and it's all because of Disney.
I'm not just talking about the fact that Disney bought the rights to all LucasArts titles last year, though that is certainly a part of it. The future of several series and franchises remains up in the air. Telltale games haven't made any new additions to their incredible modern entries into Lucas Arts titles like Sam and Max since the Disney acquisition, nor have any been announced.
Flashback Video Game Atlas: Monkey Island
Still, it's not like Disney to let properties to sit around unused, and most critics in the game industry think it's likely that the company will license those properties to proven developers rather than create an in-house games through Disney Interactive (Who generally focus on causal market games). Electronic Arts has already been granted exclusive development license to future Star Wars titles, and Telltale has proven itself uniquely viable with other people's creations like Back to the Future and The Walking Dead so... fingers crossed.
Weirdly, without Disney there would have been no Monkey Island in the first place. Creator Ron Gilbert had two inspirations that led the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood. The first was a 1987 fantasy novel by Tim Powers called On Stranger Tides (Which might sound familiar and weaves this mess even more tangled.) The book is sort of a modern take on Rafeal Sabatini's Captain Blood, and no less an expert on the subject than Orson Scott Card called it one of the best fantasies ever written.
The other inspiration was Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Gilbert has said in that he through that out the ride as an influence only as ambiance, but a lot of aspects of the games betray him. Le Chuck, for instance, and a dozen other tiny touches. Maybe I'm overreaching a bit, assigning connection to an overall pirate theme, but there's no doubt that Monkey Island the famous ride are at least tangentially linked.
In 2000 there was definitely going to be a Monkey Island movie, Curse of Monkey Island. LucasArts were all behind it (And a Sam and Max flick too, if rumor is to be believed), and concept art was created for a full-length animated feature.
Then it was gone.Flashback Poker Night 2 is Incredible! 10 More Characters I Want to Take My Money
In 2003 Dominic Armato, the voice of Threepwood, posted in the SCUMM Bar forums...
Best I heard is that there WAS a script in development, but no longer. There was a department somewhere in the greater Lucas empire that was tasked with developing screenplays for some of the more animated film friendly LEC properties, but the department was scrapped in the big reorganization about... what... a year ago?
Something else happened in 2003, the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl which turned into a surprise summer blockbuster and a billion dollar franchise for Disney. That film, and all three sequels, was written by a man called Ted Elliot, who was also tapped by LucasArts to complete a script for Curse of Monkey Island before the project was eventually cancelled.
It would be wild speculation to say that Elliot's script ended up as Pirates. After all, he's the same writer of Treasure Planet, so he kind of has pirates on the brain. That said, the more I look at Will Turner learning the pirate trade (albeit reluctantly) I can't help but think that I recognize a bit of Threepwood in him. Maybe more than a bit.
Ron Gilbert does not own the rights to his creations like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island. They were works for hire courtesy of LucasArts. The way things are going it looks like he won't even get to make another game any time soon, let alone cross over into the animated film fans would sell their first-borns for.
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Gilbert feels that he can't even make an offer on his creation as the mega-company likely has no interest in letting go of an intellectual property for any price. Certainly not what he can come up with. He told EuroGamer.net, "It's not like I could ever offer them enough money to make it worth their while for them. They just seem to be a company that hoards IP, and that kind of worries me. If it had been anyone else but Disney that bought them, I would try to go put together some money and buy them back. But because it's Disney, maybe not. But we'll see, you never know."
In the end Monkey Island is not just another property for Disney, it's a property that could very well directly compete with its own juggernaut franchise. What incentive would they have to do anything at all with it? Why make a Monkey Island game when you can make a Pirates game? Why make an animated movie when a Pirates movie would do? Most of all, why drain a single dollar out of the potential Pirates market by allowing Monkey Island to grow?
Despite the united nature of the two franchises, and the fact they are ironically all owned by the same company, Disney has forever put the nail in the coffin for a Monkey island film. We can only hope that they will at least let us have the next best thing in a sequel to 2009's Tales of Monkey Island or a reboot from Telltale to appease the hurting gamers. Here's hoping.