This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
The late John Hughes had a reputation of being someone whose films the studios were very keen in, even if they found the man himself difficult to work with. His tolerance levels were hardly sky high, as even some of his most fervent collaborators would concede, but conversely, who else could do what John Hughes could do?
When he died, tragically young, in August of 2009, he left behind an incredible body of work. His last directorial effort, though, wasn’t one of his strongest. The film Curly Sue, released in 1991 by Warner Bros, came nowhere near matching the huge success of Home Alone the year before. But then Warner Bros had been the original home for that film, and opted to pass. Fox picked it up, and earned the runaway hit of 1990.
Warner Bros was thus keen to get back into business with Hughes, come what may. Curly Sue thus was pushed ahead, while the studio also acquired the rights to Charlie Brown and the Peanuts characters for Hughes to develop into features. The resultant films never happened, and ironically, when a Charlie Brown movie did eventually appear, it was released by 20th Century Fox a few years back. It was said to be the failure of Dennis The Menace, also at Warner Bros, and that Hughes had developed from the US comic strip that likely ended the Peanuts getting their outing.
Comfortably the most expensive project that Hughes was looking to develop with Warner Bros though was The Bee. This was to be a family comedy that followed one man doing battle with a bee over the course of a single day, and was said to be something of a pet project for Hughes. It wasn’t a cheap movie to make, with the budget said to be around the $50 million mark. To put that into context, the budget for Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, one of the biggest blockbusters of 1991, was $48 million, and that had ballooned due to overruns and difficulties with the English locations.
The reason for the bill was the technical demands. In the current era, it’d be a fairly straightforward CG job (Hughes wanted the movie to be live action, which didn’t help). But it was a far different challenge back in the early ’90s, not least because Hughes envisaged a large bulk of the film to take place from the viewpoint of the bee itself. ILM duly began work on constructing a mechanical bee to be the centre of the film.
The other reason that Hughes chased such an expensive project was reportedly that he was looking to upscale the movies that he made. That he’d been encouraged by the stunning financial success of Home Alone, and wanted to try his hand at something more ambitious.
But then Hughes was at the height of his commercial powers, and able to do so. Unusually, he had side by side development deals with both Warner Bros and Fox at the time. Fox took some projects – Only The Lonely was another that got made – while Warner Bros took others. It gave Hughes some leverage. Fox wanted a Home Alone sequel most urgently from Hughes, and work begin on readying that for a Christmas 1992 release.
Under the terms of his Fox deal, Hughes was able to greenlight and have creative control on projects that cost up to $15m. Thus, while The Bee began its development under the auspices of Fox, its budget required the studio brass to make a decision. In early 1993, it passed on the film, and let Hughes take it to Warner Bros.
By this stage, Hughes had been working away on the project during the long and complicated shoot of Home Alone 2, which was centred on location in New York, as per the subtitle of the film. During that time, he became firm friends with actor Daniel Stern, who of course played one of the Wet Bandits in the movie. As Stern would recall in a Reddit Q&A a year or two back, “John had written me such funny stuff to do and this time he came out of his writing cave to see it for himself. John and I became great friends and loved to make each other laugh.”
“About halfway through the filming John gave me a script he wanted me to direct called The Bee. It was a hysterical comedy about a man trapped in his house with a bee. John and I worked on the script over the course of the rest of the movie.”
Stern hadn’t directed a feature at this stage, and it was a testing project for him to cut his teeth on. Nonetheless, once filming was complete on Home Alone 2, he was invited by Hughes up to his farm, where the pair spent a few days with each other’s families, taking time to work on the script too.
The script was reported to have just ten pages of dialogue in it, and the film’s tone was said to be of a knockabout cartoon. Steve Martin, amongst others, was considered to star, given his skill as a physical performer.
But the movie wasn’t going anywhere fast. Stern went off to direct Rookie Of The Year, but after the second Home Alone film, things between Hughes and Fox appeared to sour. And things with Warner Bros didn’t seem to improve either. Come 1994, and there was little sign of The Bee heading into production. Then, out of the blue, came the news that Warner Bros was putting the film into turnaround. By this stage, Hughes was set to direct the movie – on top of writing and producing – and the plan was to get filming underway in the autumn of 1994. Up until May of that year, it was a Warner Bros project. Then, suddenly, the trade press announced a change of studio. Disney, a new home for Hughes, had opted to pick the film up.
For Disney, Hughes would work on the screenplays for 101 Dalmatians and Flubber, amongst others (while also developing and writing Home Alone 3, sans Macaulay Culkin, for Fox). But The Bee was an odd fit for what was then a very frugal studio, and the date the project changed hands was notable. For it was also in 1994 that Hughes upped sticks and left Hollywood, relocating with his family to Ohio instead. It’s unclear if he knew then that he’d directed his last film, but it seems that with his move away from town, so went the final buzz of The Bee. Instead, his bigger budget film would be Baby’s Day Out, a 1994 family movie that was roundly savaged by critics. This cost nearly $50 million to make, and grossed just $16m in the US. It was released on July 1, 1994, again just a week or two before the announcement that The Bee had changed hands. Disney would have been pleased to have Hughes on its books, but it’s hard not to see that Baby’s Day Out’s performance put a huge dent in The Bee’s chances of happening.
The finished screenplay for The Bee was never made available, and Hughes was believed to have a plethora of unproduced screenplays at the time of his death, at the age of just 59. The Bee is a particular curio though, a dramatically ambitious film that was pushing boundaries at a time when James Cameron was struggling to drag the visuals of Terminator 2 onto the screen. You can imagine it today instantly being classed as an animated project, and going into the pipeline in that form.
But Hughes didn’t want that. He wanted to push technical boundaries, and in the end he only did that to a minor extent with Baby’s Day Out, a movie he didn’t even direct himself. The Bee, while on the surface sounding a fairly easy to dismiss family movie, may just have been the fascinating Hughes project we never got to see…
One or two facts crosschecked with John Hughes: A Life In Film by Kirk Honeycutt, published by Race Point and available now.