Disney’s failures in live-action

The re-making of animated films as live-action ones is not a new practice. However, it feels like we have seen more of these remakes in recent years, especially from one studio in particular: Disney. 

Champion of fantasy — and owners of seemingly one-in-three production companies — Disney was, and still is, a foundational part of the childhoods of many, myself included. 

“Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Dumbo,” “Lady and the Tramp,” it feels like every Disney animated classic is slowly but surely getting its very own live-action remake. There is never the question, “Will we be getting another one?” However, there is the question, “Should we really be getting another one?” 

Reimagining a beloved movie can be exciting when it doesn’t feel like something that has been done to death and then some. With the tireless releases of these remakes, it feels less and less like a movie studio trying to do something special and increasingly like wanting to show off its disproportionately large CGI budget while simultaneously attempting to cover up for the fact that they have not had a new idea in months (or even years). 

Can one really call something “live-action” if the audience barely sees a single living actor the entire time, if they even do at all? When it comes to old Disney movies, the animation allows for characters, settings and situations that could never exist in a non-fantasy world to come to life before the viewers’ eyes. This whimsical otherworldliness was part of the company’s signature “magic.” 

When they watch one of the remakes, though, a person cannot get four minutes through a scene without being able to practically touch the excessive amounts of money that Disney executives seem to be desperate to prove they have by throwing as much as they can into CGI. While the obvious goal is a high-quality end product, what they actually end up with is something that looks so real that it no longer has the style and beauty present in the artistry of the original. 

All that is left is a visually stunning but emotionally distant scene. Just because it looks “real” does not mean it is automatically superior to animation. 

Suppose you can look past the expensively showy yet lacking visuals of live-action remakes. In that case, you will soon reach the following problem: they also lose much of the charm their original animated counterparts had, especially the ones with animals as featured characters. When artists animate animals, they have freedom and room to include humanlike expressions and mannerisms within the nonhuman character. 

This later helps the audience connect with it and see it as a free-thinking fantasy character instead of something they might see out in the world. When you take that away and instead insert something that looks like a real-life animal, much — if not all — of that personification is lost. Audiences will have much more trouble seeing the love between two everyday dogs, something that was glaringly apparent between the original Lady and Tramp. Flounder goes from being Ariel’s cute, juvenile companion to your average expressionless fish. Aladdin’s snarky and impassioned sidekick, Abu, is reduced to the limited movements of a real monkey. The animals may still have human voices as they did in the original movies, but without the stylized characterization of animation, all they are is poorly dubbed-over clips pulled from Animal Planet. 

Finally, in the quest to remake as many old movies as they financially can, Disney appears to have found a loophole in the movie-making business that they seem to think no one will notice: if you remake all your “classics,” you very rarely need to have an original idea. It feels like we see fewer truly new Disney movies every year, and those we do see are overshadowed by whatever the latest remake will be. 

The fact that getting an original, brand-new movie from one of the most well-known fantasy studios is a special occasion is beyond disappointing, to put it simply (and likely understated). Though I am sure they have many live-action remake plans already waiting for production, if Disney wants to maintain its reputation in the movie-making business, it should stop treating animation as a lesser medium by trying to remake their classics into something “better.” 

They should consider diverting some of that CGI budget into the brainstorming of original ideas and finally move on from the past; face it, remaking a masterpiece will not guarantee another masterpiece.