6 Reasons Disney's Live Action Remakes Are Actually Working Disney’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book blew away the competition this past weekend, providing a sure sign that their recent trend of retelling classic stories in a new medium is actually working. But this success isn’t merely by chance or brand loyalty. In fact, there are a couple really good reasons as to why the live-action renaissance at Disney is working out in their favor. Here now are the six reasons why Disney’s gamble on bringing their animated classics into the world of live-action has been nothing short of amazing.
They’re Opportunities To Expand On The Stories / CharactersWhile Disney’s animated classic canon is still legendary in both its artistry and its musical legacy, their depth of character and story was still an Achilles heel until the second golden age in the 1980’s. Disney couldn’t be faulted for this, as animated films were barely long enough to craft a basic story, much less a deeply layered deconstruction of stories like The Jungle Book or Alice In Wonderland. But thanks to the craze of live-action remakes, the canvas for those stories has expanded to a point where plots and characters we once knew as simple song factories have turned into poignant stories. Most impressively, the film Maleficent gave a deeper understanding to a one-note villain from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, providing a better reason for the titular villain’s scorn other than not being invited to a royal christening.
We Have The Technology To Make The Films Look More RealisticThe world of animation, as gorgeous as it is, can only convey the imagery of stories such as Cinderella or Alice Through The Looking Glass to a certain degree of quality. However, with the advent of CGI technology, the imagination has a much bigger sandbox to play around in. A full-blown digital effect spectacle such as Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book can take the Disney animated classic, which was undoubtedly limited by animated technology and storytelling models, and turn it into something much more tangible for the non-animated film audience. Baloo, Shere Khan, and all of the other animal characters of Rudyard Kipling’s literary classic now look just as realistic as Neel Sethi’s impressive performance as Mowgli. No longer is the action relegated to mere watercolors, as the story jumps into the physical medium, helping the audiences of today find a way to identify with the stories of yesterday.
The Films Are No Longer Just Vehicles For Musical NumbersMusical numbers in a Disney film are so standard at this point that even Disney poked fun at the convention with their live-action comedy Enchanted. As we stated before, you don’t walk away from a classic Disney movie reciting the dialogue. Chances are, you’d be walking out humming or singing a song from The Sherman Brothers, Alan Menken, or any of the other composers and lyricists that Disney has had at their disposal. Yet while The Jungle Book did port over two musical numbers from the animated original, the film wasn’t built as a vehicle to deliver just the message of those numbers. With a more modern, story driven spin on the source material available, kids are more likely to recite the Law of the Jungle than the Bare Necessities. Though that’s not to say that kids won’t love the songs, it’s just that there’s so much more than just a jaunty tune for everyone to take away from The Jungle Book’s more recent incarnation.
There’s Usually An Edgier Take On MaterialSpeaking of The Jungle Book, since when was Shere Khan a raving psychopath? Idris Elba’s fantastic performance as the menacing tiger of Jon Favreau’s re-interpretation is just one of the many signals that Disney is allowing the remakes of their animated classics explore more serious, and in some cases much edgier, material than the animated source material. While Alice’s incarceration in a mental institution during Alice Through The Looking Glass is another fine example of pushing the Disney envelope, the most brutal is perhaps the thinly veiled violation during the events of Maleficent. With the main character losing her wings through a pretty brutal sequence, Disney isn’t allowing the same old fairy tale constraints to hamper their modern interpretations of classic tales. Should Disney ever decide to remake animated films such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, they’ll be able to correct the storytelling decisions that were made to sanitize the material for the animated iteration.
Great Casts And Great Directors Are InvolvedOf course, a glossier and/or more edgy interpretation of animated classics from Disney’s past is going to still need fantastic talent behind it. Anyone can throw money and technology at a story, and still come up short if the vision and the performances aren’t there to back it up. For instance, take Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, which is a film that got right what most other live-action adaptations of the same story forget to even include: the farcical comedy. Without Branagh’s vision, and the stellar cast of actors like Lily James, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Cate Blanchett to bring that vision to life, Cinderella could have been merely a very pretty princess tale. But with the conviction to both the serious and the silly, the film manages to remain a magical experience, without being an empty, shallow affair. It’s that approach to the Disney classics that make any modern remake worth the time in the theater, as they aren’t merely relying on the shadows of the past. Rather, they’re using the best talent available to build upon the already present foundation.
The Films Expose New Generations To The ClassicsFor as much as we’ve taken a couple of digs at the Disney animated canon, we still recognize that without those original masterpieces of animated artistry, we wouldn’t have the newer, more improved versions we’re seeing hit theaters today. If The Jungle Book wasn’t such a hit back in its day, Jon Favreau would have never been inspired to remake that film into the action-adventure that we’re lucky to have on our screens today. Not to mention, the remakes of films like Alice In Wonderland and Cinderella also have fans returning to the original films as not only sources of comparison, but also so that the children growing up today can share the visions that the rest of us had grown up with. Inspiration is two-fold when you take a classic and reimagine it, so just as we look to the future of The Jungle Book’s new franchise bid, we’re also happy to look back and remember the animated renditions that set our imaginations aflame – only for that torch to be passed to the live-action pioneers of today.
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