Not long ago, Walt Disney Pictures announced the latest addition to its slate of upcoming releases: Jon Favreau’s live-action (or “hyper-real animated”) remake of 1994’s The Lion King. While this news was infuriating to many Disney – and animation – lovers, it was hardly surprising. After all, remakes are Disney’s new favorite thing; The Lion King is only the latest in a long, long line of similar announcements. It seems that Disney is bound and determined to gift each of its animated films with a live-action remake.
Naturally, this course of action has caused large amounts of anguish among animation fans. However, all the hoopla has raised a couple questions in my mind (and, I’m sure, in the minds of others, too). Are these Disney remakes really harmful to Disney Animation and Disney overall? Are they worth all the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth that they’ve provoked in the animation fandom?
More concisely stated, the real issue behind the Disney remakes is this: Are they really that awful?
In this article, we’ll take a look at Disney’s remake roster from both sides of the argument. It’s my hope that, by looking at all the viewpoints, each of us (including myself) will be a little more resolved in how we feel about Disney’s current state!
So, with no further ado, away we go!
Why the Remakes May Not Be that Bad
In 1977, Paris Reviewcorrespondent David Zinsser visited the home of famed crime novelist James M. Cain. In the 1940s, several of Cain’s novels were adapted into films (including The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce). While interviewing Cain, Zinsser asked what the author thought of the film version of Double Indemnity. While replying, Cain said this:
“People tell me, don’t you care what they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf. They paid me and that’s the end of it.”
Of course, Cain was talking about novels, but the same thing applies to films and their remakes. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad a remake is; it doesn’t affect the quality of the original film at all.
Let’s take the impending Lion King remake as an example. Let’s say that Jon Favreau’s version happens to stink on ice. Does it lessen the quality of James Earl Jones’s portrayal of Mufasa? Does it blunt the emotional impact of Mufasa’s death scene in the 1994 film? Does the remake rob the “Circle of Life” sequence of its power? Does it detract from the animators’ work on the original film? Of course not. Favreau, his cast, and his crew can’t do anything that will lessen the quality of Disney’s 1994 epic.
On top of that, Disney Animation’s original films will always be there, easily accessible and always ready to watch. Disney executives aren’t going to break into our homes, grab our copies of The Lion King off the shelves, and burn them in a bonfire in the middle of town. Those DVDs will remain on our shelves, ready for us to revisit and to introduce to our kids whenever we wish.
In fact, let me make a controversial statement: the remakes may even do a service to the original films!
Before you string me up, let me explain. Let’s say that a bright-eyed six-year-old kid is taken to see the impending remake of Beauty and the Beast. He loves it. On the way home from the theater, the boy’s parents tell him that Disney made another movie about Beauty and the Beast. The boy is still riding high on his love of the remake, so he’s excited to see the 1991 animated film. Soon after, the boy’s parents show him the ’91 film. The boy falls in love with Belle, with the Menken/Ashman music, the emotional conflict… everything. In fact, the boy loves it so much that he seeks out other Disney animated films (and more animated films in general).
Imagine that scenario playing out all over the world. It would make the viewership for these animated masterpieces explode. Tons of people would be newly introduced to these beautiful animated flicks that we already love. That’s definitely a good thing!
It doesn’t matter how good or how bad the Disney live-action remakes turn out to be, because the original animated films will always be there. They’ll always be masterpieces and, because of that, they will ALWAYS have an audience. They aren’t going anywhere!
On the Other Hand…
Give this video a watch, and pay special attention to what’s being said between 0:24 and 0:38. Something was said that irked many an animation lover. Can you tell what it is?
During that part of the video, Bill Condon addressed a question many Disney and animation fans must have been asking themselves: why remake a film that was arguably perfect before? This is how Condon responded:
“The answer is technology has caught up with the ideas that were introduced in that movie.”
So animation wasn’t good enough for Beauty and the Beast? Huh, Mr. Condon? Huh?
As I’ve said, many animation lovers were troubled by this, and I’m one of them. The idea that animation is inherently lesser than live-action film-making is nothing more than a wrong-headed idea that stems from the stigma that animation is only for kids. That’s my mindset, anyway. Since you’re here at the Rotoscopers website, I’m assuming that your attitude is similar.
Unfortunately, most people (in the United States, anyway) assume that animation is a kids-only enterprise. When a Disney-hired director says that animation is an inferior form of film making, that only strengthens that misconception in people’s minds. After all, to many, Disney IS animation. When the big D itself ridicules animated film, it carries a lot of weight.
The live-action remakes don’t just hurt animation. They also do major damage to the rest of Disney’s live-action slate. What do I mean, you ask? Well, sit back, friend, and I’ll tell you.
Cast your mind back to this past summer (the summer of 2016, that is). On July 1st, Disney released The BFG. If there was any summer movie with a better pedigree, I can’t remember it. The BFG had a LOT of star power in its corner: Steven Spielberg directing, a script by the writer of E.T.based on a beloved Roald Dahl novel, and a lead performance by an Academy Award-winning actor. All of these elements add up to a film that’s a pretty big deal.
Disney treated The BFG like it was nothing, producing little marketing beyond a few poorly-made trailers and a couple posters. As a result, the film bombed.
Why did The BFG get such shoddy treatment? Because Disney focused on promoting its remakes, especially Pete’s Dragon and Beauty and the Beast. A marketing crew can only do so much and, when Disney is banking so heavily on their remakes, any film outside that circle is going to suffer, even a prestigious project like BFG.
So, now that we’ve looked at both sides of the remake argument, we come to the million-dollar question:
Can Disney Animated Films and Their Remakes Co-exist?
Of course they can! As we’ve discussed, the remakes and their quality don’t effect the original animated films in any way. The originals will always be there, just as great as ever, ready for us to revisit and ready to be introduced to new generations. The quality of the animation will always be beautiful and awe-inspiring, and it will continue to inspire future animators. On top of that, if the remakes are good, they can help people discover the animated originals.
However, if this co-existence is going to happen, Disney needs to play fair. If Bob Iger and the rest of the Disney execs want to re-imagine their animated stable in live-action form, that’s no big deal. However, there’s absolutely NO reason to disparage animation or make animation fans feel stupid while marketing these remakes.
How should we feel about these remakes? For me, the answer is still a definitive ‘I don’t know.’ However, in making this decision, it’s important to look at both sides of the issue. Hopefully, we’ve been able to do that here!
What about you? What do you think of Disney’s live-action remakes?
AJ's love of movies began when his mom took him to see The Lion King on a warm California day in 1994. He left the theater with his mind blown and with a strong desire to become a filmmaker. AJ's fascinated with films of all kinds, but animated films have always held a special place in his heart, particularly Disney animation, the work of Chuck Jones, and Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson's Peanuts specials. His favorite animated films include (but aren't limited to) Frozen, Beauty And The Beast, Surf's Up, The Bugs Bunny/RoadRunner Movie, and Toy Story 3. Along with films, AJ also loves pop and rock music, hiking, the beach, comic books, traveling, writing, acting, and baseball.