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Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The Lost Roles of Tim Allen

After developing his popular stand-up act into the hit sitcom Home Improvement in 1991, Tim Allen became a highly sought-after actor for big screen roles as well. While most sitcom actors try and fail at movie stardom, Tim Allen made this tricky career transition gracefully with back-to-back hits The Santa Clause and Toy Story, each film spawning its own long-lasting franchise. Allen returns to his roots next week, starring in the new show Last Man Standing, a stab at a sitcom comeback on his home network, ABC. Let's take a look at the various parts Tim Allen turned down, wanted but didn't get, and the projects that fell apart altogether.

What Women Want (2000)
The role: Nick Marshall
Who got it: Mel Gibson
Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa, the real-life couple/writing team who penned this movie, sold the pitch to Disney’s Touchstone division under the name Head Games in 1996, with the intention of casting Tim Allen in the lead role. The character was originally written as “a guy’s guy” (which is coincidentally the only type of character Tim Allen can play) instead of the dreamy hunk type that it became. With Tim Allen in the lead, What Women Want would have been an entirely different film and probably would have been legally barred from using that title.

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (2000)
The role: Buzz Lightyear
Who got it: Patrick Warburton
After voicing Buzz Lightyear in the direct-to-video Toy Story spin-off movie that served as the pilot to the animated series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Tim Allen turned down the opportunity to continue doing so for the full-on series. This was a completely reasonable choice since movie actors don't typically reprise their roles in Saturday morning cartoons based on their films. Although this wouldn't have been a massive time commitment, taking this part for the series' full run would have partially distracted Tim Allen away from his other projects. I don’t want to be forced to contemplate a world in which the production of Joe Somebody didn't receive Tim Allen's undivided attention.

Galaxy Quest 2 (never filmed, in development early 2000’s)
The role: Jason Nesmith
Galaxy Quest
is far and away my favorite live action project Tim Allen ever took on. It's a smart, well-executed Star Trek spoof that impressed critics and performed well with audiences. According to Allen, a sequel was presented to DreamWorks, but the studio has little interest in turning Galaxy Quest into a franchise. A shoddy second installment could diminish the original film’s reputation, and the first movie stands alone fine on its own. On the other hand, Galaxy Quest is a movie more worthy of sequeldom than The Santa Clause or Wild Hogs (more on that later).

The Cat in the Hat (2003)
The role: The Cat
Who got it: Mike Myers
Tim Allen originally signed on to play the lead role in the big screen adaptation of Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat in 2000. He dropped out due to a scheduling conflict with The Santa Clause 2, and Mike Myers subbed in for him. This was a smart choice by Allen, as Santa Clause 2 became a huge success and The Cat in the Hat was a complete disaster. Plus, Tim Allen in that freaky cat makeup would been even scarier than the way Mike Myers ended up looking as The Cat.

These Guys (failed TV pilot, 2003)
The role: Narrator
Tim Allen's second attempt at sitcom stardom, Last Man Standing, debuts next week, but he had previously made an effort to return to television in 2003 with the pilot These Guys. Allen created the show with Mark Brazill, the co-creator of That ’70s Show, and it revolved around a group of four middle-aged men who are at various stages in their relationships. Allen wasn’t planning on starring in the show, instead working behind the scenes as a producer and narrator. ABC passed on the pilot, and Allen waited eight years before giving his television return another shot.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
The role: Mr. Teavee
Who got it: Adam Godley
According to IMDb, director Tim Burton considered a slew of famous sitcom dads to play the Teavee family’s patriarch, including Tim Allen, Ray Romano, and Bob Saget, amongst others. This was just a supporting part and likely wouldn’t have netted Allen too much extra career attention, although the movie was a wildly-profitable venture that was showered with awards and nominations.

Amigos (never filmed, in development 2006)
Based on an idea by Tim Allen, Amigos is a family comedy that would have starred Allen and George Lopez as “mismatched in-laws” who must come together to raise their grandson. Amigos never made it into production, possibly due to George Lopez's career starting to falter around this time. In 2007, his sitcom was canceled and his first big movie, Balls of Fury, was released and failed to live up to studio expectations. Oh well, it's no great tragedy that these two sitcom dads never teamed up.

Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)
The role: Dave Seville
Who got it: Jason Lee
Jason Lee wasn’t the first choice to play the human owner of the titular chipmunks in the first installment in this still-going franchise. Tim Allen turned down the role, as did John Travolta, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray. Alvin went on to become a high-grossing film, but the chipmunks are the stars here, not Dave. It didn’t matter who was the lead actor, as kids were drawn in by the computer-generated rodents.

Wild Hogs 2: Bachelor Ride (never filmed, in development circa 2007-09)
The role: Doug Madsen
Wild Hogs was such an overwhelming financial success that Disney started developing a sequel right when the box office receipts started to come in. It's a little baffling as to why the first film was so popular, since the public hadn't seemed very interested in most of the other projects by Tim Allen, John Travolta, and Martin Lawrence just prior to this, and none of them have found much success since. Also, it just doesn't feel like a film that captured the hearts and minds of audiences in the same way that Knocked Up, Superbad, and Juno did, three comedies that all grossed significantly less than Wild Hogs but seemed to have had more a cultural impact. One popular box office conspiracy theory that seems to hold some weight suggests that Wild Hogs only performed so well because the R-rated movie 300 was out at the same time and teenagers bought tickets to Wild Hogs in order to sneak into 300.

Nevertheless, Wild Hogs was more than a big enough hit to warrant a sequel. The studio greenlit a second installment entitled Wild Hogs 2: Bachelor Ride, in which the Hogs would have traveled to Europe for William H. Macy's character's bachelor party. Disney execs pulled the plug before production began, because of the failure of Old Dogs, another Disney movie with a similar name also starring John Travolta and directed by Walt Becker. I remember seeing the trailer for Old Dogs two years ago and saying to myself, “Nothing good can come of this.” Boy, was I wrong.

Other cancelled projects

  • Hosting SNL (1991) – If this person posting under Tim Allen’s name on the actor’s official website isn’t an impostor, then Allen was invited to host SNL during Home Improvement’s first season but he was “too busy to accept.” It’s surprising that during Home Improvement’s wildly-successful eight-year run, Tim Allen never hosted SNL, but I can’t really imagine him playing different characters. SNL has certainly had less capable hosts over the years, though.
  • Star Child (in development circa 2001) – Tim Allen and Mel Gibson joined forces to develop this sci-fi comedy – a subgenre that has brought Allen success with Galaxy Quest as a potential starring vehicle for Allen. He would have played “a socially challenged CIA agent who helps a friendly alien get home after an interstellar battle.”
  • Untitled Kevin Pollak movie (in development circa 2002) – Actor Kevin Pollak sold the pitch to this high-concept family comedy to Disney, who bought it for Tim Allen to star. The story has been kept “under tight wraps,” but the vaguest of plot summaries was released: “a wealthy man… comes across an unusual character who ends up having a positive influence on his life and character.”
  • Father Knows Best (in development circa 2003) – A feature film adaptation of the classic 40’s/50’s radio and TV sitcom, Father Knows Best was announced in 2003 as a new Tim Allen project, but little activity has happened on the proposed film since then. Perhaps the failure of turning Bewitched, another old sitcom into a feature, contributed to the loss of interest.
  • In the Pink (in development circa 2004) – Allen was to star in this comedy as “a wealthy exec who loses his job and is forced to sell cosmetics door to door.” Bette Midler, Cher, and Wanda Sykes signed on to co-star, with Britney Spears even circling the project at one point.
  • Yosemite 3 (in development circa 2007) – Disney bought a pitch to Yosemite 3 as a vehicle for Tim Allen. The story followed three guys on a company retreat who get bored and sneak off into Yosemite National Park. The trio is reported missing and become the subjects of a major news story.
  • Q School (in development circa 2009) – Tin Cup director Ron Shelton was all set to direct Q School, a comedy that would have starred Tim Allen and Dennis Quaid as pro golfers competing in the PGA tour, from a script he penned with his Tin Cup writing partner John Norville. Production on the independent film was set to begin in 2010, but the project fell apart and everyone moved on.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles, who became fascinated with Tim Allen’s official website while researching this piece. Allen has a message board where he interacts with his fans, often divulging his inner-most thoughts. My favorite is this entry, in which Allen shares his theories on what happens to us after we die. We were all wondering.

  • Jeremy Woodcock@twitter

    That Tim Allen website is a nice, soothing, not-looking-away-from-an-eclipse-properly shade of yellow. Luckily I still get to see it on my retinas while I'm back on this page.

    Dennis Quaid should still star in some project called Q-School, if only a reality show where he becomes a teacher.

    Another excellent Lost Roles!

  • iamjustryingtolive

    At the cinemas once me and my buddy were behind a couple middle-aged women in line for movie tickets and with a very thick eastern-european accent one said "two tickets for old dogs please". This immediately became the funniest thing to us. Don't know why we thought/think it was/is so funny. #thanksforsharing #youdontneedtocommentoneveryarticle

  • Brooks Johnson@facebook

    Regarding your comment that it didn't matter who the human lead was in the Chipmunk movies: There are viewers who suffer — I mean enjoy — the squeaky chimps BECAUSE Dave Seville is played by Jason Lee.

    • Nikolas Ehren Nelson@facebook

      @Brooks Johnson@facebook
      Exactly.