Formula for Success
When viewers think of Disney, they most likely picture Donald, Mickey, Mulan, or Ella.
But children's cartoons aren't the only forte of the massive company. Touchstone Pictures (originally Touchstone Films) was created in 1984 to cater to a more adult audience, creating movies that could go a little more serious (and darker) than the typical Disney fare.
Their first film, the mermaid-romcom Splash, was a giant success. It was followed by hits like Pretty Woman, Sister Act, and Armageddon among (many, many) others.
When they acquired the script for Dead Poets Society from Tom Schulman, they originally intended to make it into a musical (think High School Musical, only moodier). But ultimately, their formula of drama/comedies with hearts of gold proved too successful to change. Thank goodness (not that we don't love a good musical.)
That's not to say the film didn't face a few more potential changes before filming started. The studio was set on Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, but it took a couple of directors before they found someone who agreed. (Dustin Hoffman was initially set to direct and play Mr. Keating, and another director had Liam Neeson in mind for the role.)
The studio also initially planned to film in Georgia instead of Vermont, though they had to scrap that in order to get snow.
Just imagine: Dead Poets Society could've been set in the South, with some musical and dance numbers and an Irish-accented Mr. Keating.