2D to 3D Disney’s circle of life
July 19th, 2019
Looking at the new trend of live-action adaptions of beloved animated films, why are audiences still eager to see them, are they superior?
The dramatic red and orange burnt sky. The epic African lyrics bursting through the speakers. The shrouded yellow sun, filling the scene. It is one of the most famous openings in film history and one that is ingrained in the minds of a generation who grew up on The Lion King.
As one of the highest-grossing animated films of all time, holding the top spot until 3D came along, The Lion King is a part of what is often referred to as the Renaissance era of Disney, which saw some of their biggest and most iconic films released.
For children born and brought up in the 90s, it was a special time, as many of these 2D animated films influenced and shaped their childhoods.
For the past few years, however, Disney has heavily profited from the nostalgia of these audiences, with this year seeing them take two of their most beloved franchises and sifting them through their live-action machine.
Both Aladdin and The Lion King have a special place in my mind with the former having a live-action remake released on May 24th and the latter having one released on July 18th. The original Aladdin came out just a year after I was born and The Lion King two years later. Their stories and characters are synonymous with growing up.
My mum always recalls The Lion King as the first film I ever saw in the cinema. I was quiet and captivated the entire way through… Well, nearly.
About 10 minutes from the end I started banging the seat up and down until I was distracted with ice cream. Not much has changed as far as my film going habits are concerned. Cinema seating is a very important factor and part of the reason I abandoned my local Showcase. And who doesn’t love ice cream?
So how do I feel now that these two films are being remade? Both were a critical part of my journey as a filmmaker. Two films that helped me appreciate and love film.
Seeing them now as just soulless carbon copies. It’s frustrating.
From what we have seen so far with trailers and Disney’s previous live-action remakes, it is clear they are playing it all very safe. Rather than re-adapting the original fairy-tale, the films simply tell the same story beat by beat or often even shot for shot. Losing not only the vivid 2D visuals but also the iconic voice cast and charm that can only be conveyed in traditional animation.
As a core part of the company’s renaissance era, many of these animated classics have been cherished by those who grew up re-watching their VHS tapes on Saturday afternoons in Disney pyjamas eating Cheestrings, Penguin bars, and Sunny D.
Disney’s tampering of people’s childhoods is a frustration that has been shared by many who grew up on the likes of Aladdin and Lion King and appreciate their craft.
Take, for example, fan and animator Sean Jones - “My view may be affected by my love of animation and the originals, but I just expect more from the studio who was originally pushing boundaries and giving us new and interesting ideas. Here they just have the same films just made with modern technology.”
With 106,000 dislikes on YouTube and the negative comments thrown at the likes of Will Smith’s Genie and a younger, far less sinister Jafar, its apparent many fans are not happy with the new version of Aladdin.
Viewers have also been quick to raise issues following the full trailer for The Lion King. With many citing their dislike to Scar’s change of appearance and even the villain’s lack of sex appeal (yeah…).
“The target audience seems to be the same audience that Disney always aims for… They’re a household name and audiences’ familiarity with the source material will make them go since they are drawn to ‘safety’. What can be safer than a film you have already seen/heard of? It’s marketed to look exactly like the same film you enjoyed as a child. They’re benefitting from being uninspired,” says Jones.
In 2015’s D23 Expo (Disney’s biennial fan event) they showcased the main pillars they now stand on, with banners highlighting everything from Marvel to Pixar to Star Wars.
The main banner titled simply “Disney” featured Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen, Angelina’s Jolie’s Maleficent and Lily James’ Cinderella all representing their live-action brand. The Expo showed us our first look at 2016’s Jungle Book along with Alice in Wonderland sequel, Through the Looking Glass and the massive 2017 hit that was Beauty and the Beast.
Four years later and the live-action Disney brand has only grown in scale with Disney planning up to 20 different live-action adaptations, spanning their entire 80 years of animated films.
Two people close to the original content are mother and daughter, Paula and Lauren Kidner, the latter of which was responsible for me rediscovering the classic Disney films I watched as a kid when we both studied together at A-levels.
As an illustrator and lover of animation, Lauren continued to watch the animated classics as inspiration and something to pass down to her nieces and nephews.
“As a child, you don’t really understand what you’re watching but when you realize, they’re drawings and cartoons, something you can do yourself; it changes everything. Those films had a big impact on who I am today” says Lauren.
While Paula believes there’s a big difference in what generation you were brought up in, saying- “For me, I wasn’t surrounded by it like Lauren was. You’d go to the cinema to see Disney films and that would be it. It was more of a one-off event. We didn’t have all the merchandise and ease of access you’d have on TV. Playing with the toys, watching the videos, that’s what gives kids those memories.”
“I’ll always remember going to Tesco and getting to buy a new video. It was another part of it, that our parents wouldn’t have had, and kids won’t have today” says Lauren.
With Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast both earning over $900 million at the global box office, there’s undoubtedly an appetite for audiences reliving their favourite animated classics, brought back to life with realistic and revolutionary VFX.
While Disney’s live-action revivals could be seen as cold cash grabs, there is certainly an argument to be made in how they play a role in passing these films on to the next generation. And considering the increased popularity of visual effects and 3D films, can we blame Disney?
With the top 10 grossing films of all time all being live-action and the animated movies below them all being 3D, such as Frozen, Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 3, Disney is giving the people what they want. Previous attempts to capture audiences with traditional animation have, unfortunately, failed, with the general public, leaning towards the more realistic and less art like-approach of 2D animation.
But Lauren and Paula both believe there is a wonder and imagination you lose with live-action. “With Pocahontas, I always remember there were these biscuits the raccoon keeps eating and I’d imagine to myself they tasted like a digestive biscuit. Someone else might have seen them as tasting like a cheese scone, but that’s what 2D animation gives you, there’s more room for the imagination. Whereas live-action won’t have that because it’ll look exactly like what it is,” says Lauren.
While that is a very personal example for Lauren, that translation from 2D to live-action will lose much of the awe and spectacle in the films coming out this year. The remake of The Lion King presents itself as a realistic nature documentary, making anyone wonder, how they could possibly show the bright and colourful songs like I Just Can't-Wait to Be King or Be Prepared. “How can they ever make the animal tower? It loses the wow factor and the idea that anything could happen” says Lauren.
“I feel a lot of the new live-action films are aimed at the adults who grew up with them because they can often be a lot darker. Like the new Jungle Book or the new Winnie the Pooh film; Christopher Robin. Watching them before I showed my niece, I realized they were too scary for her” says, Lauren.
Paula agrees and worries that seeing what looks like a real-life Lion dying with Mufasa’s infamous death in The Lion King will be a lot harder to explain to a child than with the animated version, where it isn’t real.
So, is it necessary to retell the same stories as Disney keeps doing?
Many see the films as a way of keeping them alive and passing them on to the next generation. One such person is YouTuber and Disney aficionado, Dave Lee. “These films are for the younger generation, they may be marketed towards us but it’s because we’re buying the tickets, it’s for the kids and that’s totally fine.”
“I don’t have a problem with any of these movies existing, what so ever. I think it’s great that they’re redoing these films for a new generation… You have to have the mindset of them being two very different films. Just because the live-action exists, it doesn’t mean the original doesn’t” says Lee.
This point is further backed up by a lot of parents, who grew up on these animated films and now have children of their own.
Mother of two young girls, Jessica Davies says- “passing on the movies was always very important for me, right from when my girls were just babies. My oldest took an instant shine to the original Cinderella while my youngest preferred films like Finding Nemo… It gives us a chance to watch movies together as a whole family.”
Davies goes on to say- “my oldest, Hope, whose seven, prefers the live-action films because she likes how they’re more real. The girls will happily sit there and watch Frozen or Tangled, but if I was to put on say Dumbo, they would get bored a lot faster. The style of animation has a lot of influence.”
Davies’ daughter Hope says herself; “I really like the new Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. I like the dancing and the songs, and I can’t wait to see the new Aladdin.”
We all have films that shape us and appeal to our personal taste. For Hope, she loves to see Lily James as Cinderella and Emma Watson as Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Lauren Kidner loved how Mulan went against the grain of a Princess and saved China. A great opportunity for representation and diversity when Disney adapts it next year.
For me, the likes of Hercules and Hunchback of Notre Dame made an impact on how creatively bold they wanted to be.
A generation may grow up with these new live-action films, as their Disney. But it won’t change the films that kids of the 90s grew up on and it won’t change the memories.
But seriously Disney leave Hunchback alone.