Brad Bird's "The Spirit"—What Could've Been

brad-bird-the-spiritBack in early 2006, a hot rumor was going around that Brad Bird was writing and directing a movie adaptation of Will Eisner's The Spirit, to be animated by Pixar. I was one of those people who got prematurely way too excited by this. It was put to rest that July, when Frank Miller was officially announced as the writer/director for the project.

The rumor started because of a Time article that simply stated Bird's long-standing intention to do an adaptation of the comic. What was not mentioned is that Brad Bird already wrote a screenplay for a Spirit movie nearly 30 years ago.

Writer/producer Steven Paul Leiva (pictured with Brad Bird and the late Will Eisner, taken in 1981) wrote on the LA Times blog about an experience he had in 1980, where he came across a brilliantly animated mock movie trailer for The Spirit while working as a publicist for animators. Leiva quickly asked to meet the guys responsible and was introduced to a young man named Brad Bird, who directed the trailer and produced it with a few former Cal Arts students.

Leiva immediately jumped on board to make the project a reality and managed to get Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz to join the project, who then helped them secure the film rights from Eisner. Oh, and a young talented animator named John frakkin' Lasseter also joined the team. This had the making of a fantastic animated film, but after several years in development, they failed to secure financing and the project fell apart.

What happened? Simply put, nobody wanted it. Leiva wrote:

Gary shopped the project to all of the Hollywood majors.  The screenplay was praised, but they couldn’t understand why we wanted to make it an animated film.  There was no magic, no young and yearning fairy tale royals, no funny animals.

Hollywood was filled with the sound of executives scratching their heads.  At least one offered to make it as a live-action film -- an option Brad would not consider and the rest of us would not support.  The whole idea was to make an animated film so different, so revolutionary, it would alter forever the art form.

Stupid us, thinking Hollywood would ever back an artistic revolution.

Imagine if this had actually happened. Would Brad Bird become a household name sooner? Would The Simpsons be what it is today? Would Pixar? Looking at an even bigger picture, would Batman: The Animated Series still be considered as groundbreaking to American animation as it is today if The Spirit had preceded it?

We can only dream what the end result would've looked like, but it's safe to say that Brad Bird's The Spirit wouldn't look anything like this:

Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for


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