It’s hard to say where exactly the hate for Disney’s live-action remakes started. After all, everyone seems to still love 101 Dalmatians, which is a live-action remake of an animated film. Alice in Wonderland was mostly well-received as was Maleficent.
2015’s Cinderella seems like where the shift began. While the film got positive reviews, the original is so beloved and full of magic that people started asking if live-action could ever recreate that magic? Could Cinderella’s transformation into a princess ever be as enchanting as it was in the animated original?
2019 seems to be another turning point. The year boasted a whopping three live-action remakes of well-loved animated films; Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King. All these remakes were directed by respected directors. Tim Burton helmed Dumbo, while Guy Ritchie took on Aladdin and Jon Favreau brought The Lion King to life.
The Lion King especially was the subject of much ridicule because it seemed to prove what many had already suspected; live-action simply can’t do the things animation does. The Lion King, with no human characters, failed to give Simba, Nala or Scar the desperately needed emotive expressions that the animation was able to do.
The best example of this is the scene in which Mufasa, Simba’s father, perishes. The shots are identical in both films as Simba watches in horror as his father falls to his death. In the animated film, Simba screams in visceral terror, but in the live-action remake, his expression is much more muted. Unfortunately, photo-realism doesn’t always give you much emotion.
Not to mention, all of The Lion King’s characters had to be created on a computer screen for obvious reasons. This sparked many to ask if the new film was kind of animated after all?
Then there’s the case of The Little Mermaid, a film that was met with controversy from the moment the cast were announced in 2019. Although much of the complaints were about Halle Bailey’s casting, people were also sick of seeing their childhood favourites being butchered on the big screen.
When the production dropped some character posters earlier this year, all hell broke loose. Flounder, Ariel’s fish friend, voiced by Jacob Tremblay in the remake, looked nothing like his animated counterpart. I’m not sure what people were expecting, but it was something more than what we were given in the final film where Flounder has the emotional range of… well, a fish.
The Little Mermaid, however, is one of the better remakes Disney has produced in recent years. There are also a lot of positives to having new versions of old tales. For one, you can right some wrongs. Not all films have aged appropriately or nicely at all and these remakes are an opportunity to do right.
They also allow new generations to discover these stories. As much as you and I might love the 1961 version of 101 Dalmatians, today’s kids might be more accepting of 2021’s Cruella as their intro to the world of spotty dogs and fashion. If the live-action remakes get families into cinemas, surely that’s worth it? Cinemas are facing tough times as they’re still recovering from the effects of the pandemic and right now, they need bums on seats more than anything.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which we weren’t big fans of, is currently 2023’s highest grossing title. It crossed the magical $1bn line a few weeks back and that’s great news. Sure, a lot of critics thought the film represented Hollywood at its very worst (myself included), but at least it’s keeping the cinema doors open.
Hollywood reached peak Hollywood when it was announced that the latest Disney film to be getting the live-action treatment was 2016’s Moana. They’re now remaking a very well-aged, groundbreaking film that is only 7 years old! Madness! The Rock has already announced he will be returning to play Maui while Auliʻi Cravalho, who voiced the titular heroine, said she will not. “I believe it is absolutely vital that casting accurately represents the characters and stories we want to tell,” she said of her decision to not reprise her performance. She will still executive produce the film.
Live-action will never top animation at its own game and it doesn’t have to. Animation exists for a purpose and with Across the Spider-Verse hitting cinemas soon and a new Pixar film on the horizon, we will be feasting on animated goodies this summer. There are a total of 12 Disney live-action remakes currently in the works, including Snow White and a sequel to The Lion King, which will be directed by Barry Jenkins.
The Little Mermaid is in cinemas now.