With multiple attempts to transfer classic Disney movies to live-action, it might be worth wondering what source material can survive the jump.
For more than 20 years, Disney has embarked on a campaign to gradually transform its animated classics, which marked the childhood of many fans, into more modern live-action productions. Although some good films were born from this project and they were unquestionably profitable, most of the releases were overwhelmingly rejected by fans and audiences.
Currently, the next two Disney live-action remakes that have captured the public’s attention are Robert Zemeckis’ version of Pinocchio, and Dean Fleisher’s Lilo & Stitch. None of these movies have been released yet, the last one doesn’t even have an announced date, but the topic has become mainstream. With dozens of these adaptations behind the company, there have been plenty of opportunities to learn.
The first example of this phenomenon is the totally forgotten version of The Jungle Book from 1994. However, during this period, live-action Disney films were few and far between. The studio did two live-action 101 Dalmatians, then shelved that process for a decade. The real kickstarter for this technique was the 2010 adaptation of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. The film grossed a billion dollars, despite lackluster reviews, and paved the way for the rest of the franchise. .
Disney’s live-action movies haven’t all been financially successful, but the ones that have exploded have ended up with piles of comedic cash. Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King were smash hits, despite widely varying critical reactions, mostly due to name recognition. Although Jon Favreau’s adaptation of The Lion King is unquestionably not a live-action film, it is a remake, and is the seventh highest-grossing film ever made. So the technique works often enough not to die out, but perhaps choosing a better source material could help movies.
After many other projects with the mouse, the creative duo John Musker and Ron Clements finally got together the project of their dreams: a science fiction adaptation of the novel Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson . It took three presentations for the project to be approved by Jeffery Katzenberg, director of Disney at the time. The film is one of the most visually awe-inspiring projects Disney has ever undertaken, a true creative masterpiece that took an inordinate amount of work and talent to complete. Unfortunately, it became one of the costliest flops in film history, leading to decades of societal reorientation and a gradual move away from 2D animation.
The failure of Treasure Planet is the kind of Greek tragedy that makes it hard to be a general movie fan. It’s fair to say that the modern cinematic landscape would be fundamentally different had this movie been anything but a disaster. It’s also fair to say that visual art and fast-paced kinetic action wouldn’t have been possible with 2002’s live-action VFX. Modern cinematic effects and techniques, however, could absolutely create something brilliant. from this starting point. Treasure Planet deserves another chance, and audiences deserve to see it unfold with the kind of effects that are only possible today.
Atlantis, The Lost Empire
Released only a year before Treasure Planet, Atlantis, The Lost Empire by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t a hit either. It’s Disney’s first sci-fi animated film, and it’s a landmark in the genre. It tells the story of a young university student, passionate about Atlantis, and tries to convince the academy to finance an expedition to find this mythical place, but they take him for a madman. A man, Mr. Whitmore, contacts Milo and gives him a book, an inheritance from his father. Whitmore, who was friends with Milo’s father, offered to finance the expedition. Milo and a team then embark on an adventure full of dangers to find Atlantis, an empire lost until then.
The film used more CGI than previous Disney films, but was still bested by Shrek. This one is also a masterpiece with one of the best sets in an animated film. The argument is pretty much the same: modern visual effects could make a brilliant work of art out of fantastic source material. Both films received excellent reviews, and the modern fanbase would surely push the work to success.
Welcome to the Robinsons
This 2007 CG-animated movie is another smart sci-fi movie that takes a simple idea and executes it with near-perfect creativity. And, once again, it was not rewarded with box office success, despite good critical reception and cult status. Welcome to the Robinsons tells the story of a brilliant boy who meets a time traveler who seeks to protect him. The majority of the film is devoted to exploring the clever retro-futuristic aesthetic of the film universe. Rather than blowing minds with magical visual effects, a live-action adaptation of this cult classic would be an opportunity to incorporate countless visual gags and clever aesthetics.
The elements that would make for a good live-action Disney remake are cult classic status, lack of appreciation for the era, and a visually captivating art style. Let’s hope that, since the technique does not leave us, society will make better choices.
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Disney animated films that could benefit from a live-action adaptation
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