'Grease' was almost an animated movie that could have looked like this

The original high school musical celebrates its 40th birthday this weekend.

Released on June 16, 1978, Grease helped establish John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as bona fide superstars and went on to become the highest-grossing movie musical of all time (a title the film held until last year, when it was passed by Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast). Adapted from the hit Broadway musical of the same name, written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, the Grease we know and love almost didn’t happen in the first place.

Once the film rights became available, Hollywood came calling. The first person to inquire about doing a movie version was writer, director, and producer Ralph Bakshi, best known for the X-rated cartoon Fritz the Cat and the animated Lord of the Rings.

Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment, Grease co-creator Jacobs detailed how Bakshi’s movie version might have been very different. “They wanted to do it as a cartoon like Fritz the Cat, and they had certain changes with the script,” Jacobs tells us. “I said, ‘How does it end?,’ because Warren and I were kicking each other under the table; they said, ‘Well, Danny Zuko commits suicide.’”

Although he didn’t lock down the rights to Grease, in 1982, Bakshi came out with an animated film called Hey Good Lookin’. Funny enough, the movie takes place in the 1950s and focuses on a guy named Vinnie, who’s the leader of a gang called the Stompers, along with their lady friends. One of the characters in the film also commits suicide.

Vinnie from <em>Hey Good Lookin’</em> and Danny Zuko from <em>Grease</em>. (Photo: Courtesy of Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Vinnie from Hey Good Lookin’ and Danny Zuko from Grease. (Photo: Courtesy of Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Does that look and sound kind of familiar?

While Bakshi’s movie doesn’t follow a plot similar to Grease, it does have Grease-like characters, with slicked-back hair, leather jackets, and involvement with gang rumbles — all more in line with the tougher earlier conception of the stage show.

“In the movie, they made the guys kind of goofy,” says Jacobs, whereas the theater production was much grittier and raunchier. For the original production of Grease on stage at the Kingston Mines in Chicago in 1971, Jacobs told the cast that if anyone was sitting in the first row and they put their hands or feet up on the stage, to “Step on them. Spit on them. Hit them. Kick them.” He’d tell them, “You guys are tough!”

Barry Bostwick (the original Danny Zuko) performs during the high school dance contest scene in <em>Grease</em> on Broadway in 1979. (Photo: Richard Drew/AP)
Barry Bostwick (the original Danny Zuko) performs during the high school dance contest scene in Grease on Broadway in 1979. (Photo: Richard Drew/AP)

Eventually, the film rights were purchased by producer Allan Carr, and Grease became the global phenomenon that it is today. Still, Jacobs says, “I just wish as many people that have seen the movie would get a chance to see it live on stage.”

Never say never!

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