Steven Spielberg Wanted to Direct Harry Potter Movies as an Animated Series
Today in hypotheticals: As the geek world gears up for the international theatrical release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 on November 18th, the Los Angeles Times informs us that none other than Steven Spielberg wanted to direct the Harry Potter films way back in 2001.
Spielberg was even offered the director’s chair by Warner Bros., but one notion of his caused the studio to pass on him, ultimately settling on middling Home Alone director Chris Columbus for the first film: Spielberg wanted the Harry Potter films to be animated by DreamWorks.
Once the books became a sensation, greenlighting the first “Potter” film became a major priority at Warner Bros., where Alan Horn had recently taken over as president and Barry Meyer as chairman (replacing longtime studio chiefs Terry Semel and Bob Daly). DreamWorks circled back and proposed a partnership, but Horn wisely declined. There was one aspect of the DreamWorks talks that did intrigue him, however.
“I did think it would be worthwhile for Steven Spielberg to direct,” Horn said. “We offered it to him. But one of the notions of Dreamwork’s and Steven’s was, ‘Let’s combine a couple of the books, let’s make it animated,’ and that was because of the [visual effects and] Pixar had demonstrated that animated movies could be extremely successful. Because of the wizardry involved, they were very effects-laden. So I don’t blame them. But I did not want to combine the movie and I wanted it to be live action.”
Whether that’s an “if only” or a “glad that didn’t happen” depends largely on your opinion of Spielberg’s recent work, of DreamWorks, and of the Harry Potter movies as they’ve actually turned out. I would contend that the first two Harry Potter movies as directed by Chris Columbus weren’t very good, but that the series picked up after that in different hands; directors for franchises that big come and go, but the decision to go animated would have locked the Harry Potter films into one format for a decade to come.