As everyone is aware of by now, Disney is really pushing to build franchises out of reboots of their animated classics. News about the production for the live-action The Little Mermaid movie has been circulating for a while, casting choices have been getting tossed around for Mulan for a while now, and Beauty and the Beast is out in March of next year. It’s clear Disney wants to tap into these beloved classics and renew them for a fresh generation. However, the live-action Disney remakes have a pretty tough road ahead of them to succeed.
The new Jungle Book was a huge hit and has already had a sequel announced, but we’ve also seen these remakes aren’t guaranteed for success. Though it wasn’t released by Disney, just look at how little fanfare surrounded the live-action Legend of Tarzan despite the beloved animated version. It’s looking like these Disney remakes could be a gamble that might not pay off once the novelty of them wears off. And even if they do succeed, could they ever really be regarded as highly as the original animated films? We’re thinking the answer to that might be no, so here are our 15 Reasons Live-Action Disney Movies Can’t Live Up To The Originals.
15. NOSTALGIA CAN OUTWEIGH QUALITY
This might just be the biggest factor preventing the success of any remake. Nostalgia has a strong hold on people. Those who wear nostalgia goggles aren’t just measuring the quality of the remake against the original, they’re measuring it against a whole period of time in their life where they look back on everything as idealized because they were younger and happier. It’s kind of hard for a reboot to compete with all that, no matter how good it is.
Sometimes the reboot really is better, though. Detaching all the childhood glamorization we ascribe to movies we grew up with, it’s okay to admit aspects of those movies could probably be improved upon. And even if the movie is bad, it’s not like it erases anything that was enjoyable about the original. It’s just an alternate perspective. Unfortunately some people are so defensive of their nostalgia that they won’t even give a new interpretation a fair chance.
14. YOU LOSE THE ICONIC VOICE ACTORS
Like with any remake, people get attached to the performers behind the characters in the originals. In a way, you could argue that remakes of an animated film have an advantage because the remake is the first movie putting the faces of actors to the characters. No one expects a real life person to have the proportions of a cartoon character, so as long as the broad strokes are right, real actors probably won’t be judged as much on their looks. That might not hold true for their voices, though.
We know animated Disney characters by the voice actors who play them. It may seem easier to replace a voice actor than a real life actor since the character will still look the same, but you can’t duplicate an iconic voice. Dan Castellaneta, better known as Homer Simpson, has technically played Aladdin‘s Genie more times than Robin Williams has, but you’ll find few people who were satisfied with that recasting. Just imagine the flak a live-action actor will face trying to top Williams’ great performance, or living up to James Woods as Hades.
13. MIXING CGI CHARACTERS WITH LIVE-ACTION CAN LOOK BAD
Most animated Disney movies have at least one integral character who could not possibly be played by a real life actor, which means they’ll have to be a CGI creation. And fortunately for the movie industry, the technology for creating computer generated characters has improved tremendously over a short period of time. Nonetheless, every now and then some bad CGI gets put out in a big movie, and it’s a reminder of those dark days when actors looked like they were speaking to video game characters.
Disney has had bad CGI hurt their films before, like Mars Needs Moms, which wound up becoming one of the biggest box office flops ever. And the worst part is bad CGI only looks worse and worse over time. Nobody wants their movie to wind up on a list of worst CGI alongside Birdemic, so it’s a lot of pressure to get the look of these characters right. If it doesn’t work, every scene with the CGI character will just immediately take the audience out of the movie.
12. IT’S HARD FINDING THE RIGHT ACTORS WHO LOOK LIKE THE CHARACTERS
Okay, the voice actors might be the first thing we miss, but that doesn’t mean the physical appearances of the actors are negligible either. Remember how we said as long as the broad strokes were there it would probably be fine? Well, while that is true, some Disney characters definitely have more difficult broad strokes to replicate than others. Quasimodo, for instance? How many big name actors can you think of out there who could look ugly even if they were covered in make up?
There are certainly a few characters who will be easy enough to cast. Hercules just needs to be an actor who is muscular, but others could definitely be a challenge. Mulan could be tricky since the actress will have to be able to double convincingly as a man. And Alice in Wonderland had such a hard time of it that they basically turned the majority of the cast into weird half-human half-CGI hybrids. Even with just the broad strokes, it’s not such an easy task when Disney characters often have such distinctive features.
11. IT’S HARDER TO BUILD A FRANCHISE ON LIVE-ACTION
One of the great things about animated stories is that the characters can be kept around no matter what happens. This allows so many cartoons to continue for years and years without aging up the characters. With live-action stories, it’s just an inevitability that the people playing the characters eventually get old. Or worse yet, live-action performers can hold up production with contract disputes or even refuse to come back. But since animation just needs voice actors, the real people behind the animated characters are simpler to replace if necessary.
Another good aspect of animated franchises is the more flexible budget. With something like Big Hero 6, it obviously looks great because they put so much money into it. For the animated TV series, they can continue the story with a bit of a dip in animation quality, but still keep everything else the same.
Something like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., though? Samuel L. Jackson appeared during the show’s start as Nick Fury, but the series didn’t have the budget to keep him or any of the other big name actors from the MCU around for the long term. So the live-action show winds up feeling cut off from the movies, whereas an animated show could have easily included any characters the writers wanted.
10. DISNEY DOESN’T HAVE EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS TO A LOT OF THE CHARACTERS
We mentioned the live-action Legend of Tarzan earlier, but Disney wasn’t actually attached to that movie. It was a totally unrelated project that just happened to use characters that many people now associate with the Disney brand. That’s because it’s pretty hard to own the rights to old fairy tale characters. This means that other companies can kill or capitalize on interest in Disney characters before they’ve even gotten around to their own live-action remakes.
You might remember that another non-Disney film, Snow White and the Huntsmen wasn’t even 2012’s only Snow White movie. We also had Julia Roberts in Mirror, Mirror, another non-Disney movie. And the live-action Pan that became a box office bomb? Also not Disney. So Disney doesn’t have the typical luxury of not worrying about anyone else using their characters. They also have to contend with other companies making their own fairy tale movies and spoiling the market before they get there.
9. LIVE-ACTION CAN BE ALIENATING TO KIDS
By this point, Disney has become a brand that everyone shamelessly enjoys, with you and many of your friends probably looking forward to the next animated movie as much as any children. That’s good for the company because adults are ultimately the ones who will be purchasing tickets or buying the movies to watch at home. But kids are still the most important audience since, simply put, parents aren’t going to invest in a franchise their children have no interest in. And then who will buy the toys?
It’s not that kids can’t enjoy live-action movies, but a lot of reboots of animated stories tend to be more adult-oriented. Just look at the PG-13 rating for Snow White and the Huntsmen, or how few children you hear talking about Once Upon a Time. People who crave fairy tales that are a bit darker no doubt enjoy these versions, but for kids who are put off by scary elements or more complex plots, it’s no sale. Part of the reason animated Disney movies sell so well is their accessibility to everyone. If the live-action versions start catering to an older audience, Disney could market themselves out of their most important niche.
8. THE SONGS OFTEN GET CUT OUT
One of the things people like most about animated Disney movies is that they are musicals. Sure, the characters are often plucky and endearing, and the visuals usually boast incredible-looking worlds full of imagination. But there’s also the predictable story beats, annoying sidekicks designed to appeal to kids, and a lack of tension since we know Disney movies aren’t going to kill their main character. You know what makes up for those drawbacks though? That moment “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” or “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” kicks in.
We already saw that almost all the songs were cut from The Jungle Book, and those that were left were just abridged versions that felt shoehorned in. Fortunately, The Jungle Book pretty much only has one or two memorable songs. But what about a live-action The Lion King with all the songs cut? No “Circle of Life”? No “Hakuna Mutata“? No “Be Prepared”? Every song in that movie is a hit! Take out the iconic musical pieces from most Disney movies and it severely hampers the overall quality.
7. SOME MOVIES DON’T MAKE SENSE TO TRANSLATE TO LIVE-ACTION
A lot of you may be taken aback by that mention of The Lion King possibly being a live-action movie, but it actually is happening. It’s not like The Jungle Book exactly springs to mind as a movie that could have used real life actors either. There were two human characters in the animated Jungle Book, and the live-action version halved that by only including Mowgli. Every other character, as well as much of their environment, was CGI.
The Little Mermaid movie will likely have a similar ratio of CGI creatures compared to humans, but other animated Disney films don’t have any humans at all. If a live-action Lion King actually does happen, does it even count as live-action when every single character will be digital? Or what about Disney’s Robin Hood, where the residents of Sherwood Forest were all played by animals? Either Disney has to avoid some of their best films being adapted, or else we get an entire cast who was made on a computer screen.
6. SOME OF THE CLASSICS HAVEN’T AGED WELL
For all the praise the live-action Jungle Book received, did you notice how nobody complained when the ending got totally changed? Yeah, that’s probably because even fans of the original movie would have to admit the classic’s ending is anticlimactic, to say the least. Mowgli just sees some random girl in the jungle and decides to abandon his animal friends and chase after her because he thinks she’s pretty. That was hardly a conclusion audiences were clamoring to see replicated.
As much as Disney’s animated movies might have a reputation for being classics, some of them just don’t have much substance. Hence Disney updating the story of Sleeping Beauty when they did Maleficent, or how Snow White basically got turned into a D&D version of Joan of Arc in the lackluster Snow White and the Huntsmen. There are no doubt plenty of good options to be adapted, but it’s not like any animated movie plucked from the past is ready to appeal to a modern audience.
5. SOME FANS WILL WANT ORIGINALITY, OTHERS WILL WANT WORD FOR WORD REMAKES
Remakes always have a rough time being crowd pleasers due to how protective people feel of the originals. Before any info about the remake even comes out, people are already up in arms, predicting the movie will be terrible, and just generally being opposed to the movie they love being remade. It’s already an uphill battle retaining enough elements of the original work to please skeptical fans, but even those unbiased fans can be hard to draw in.
If a remake is too similar to the original movie, people will question the point of its mere existence, as they did with the American remake of Let the Right One In. A remake can’t just be shot for shot, and has to find new areas to explore so all viewers can be surprised and get invested. It’s a tough tight rope to walk, and one that pretty much any remake has to face.
4. STUDIOS SET THEIR EXPECTATIONS TOO HIGH
You remember how Fox didn’t seem to expect too much from Deadpool, so it got a pretty meager budget? Then it turned out to be a big hit and Fox was no doubt thrilled because it exceeded their expectations. Now that Fox knows they have something special on their hands, many are fearful that the studio will pump up the budget to ridiculous proportions until the measuring stick for performing well becomes unrealistic. Look at the response to the profits for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for an example of this problem.
Everyone knows animated Disney films are incredibly popular. And the live-action Jungle Book seems to suggest that remakes of those films are also going to be incredibly popular. That can be a dangerous assumption, though. If Disney becomes overconfident in their success and invests way too much money into a production, they’re not likely to take kindly to a flop. Putting a lot of money into a film means it has to perform huge, or there’s not likely to be a second chance to get it right in a sequel.
3. DISNEY’S TRACK RECORD WITH LIVE-ACTION MOVIES
There’s kind of a reason Disney is synonymous with its animated characters—the live-action work from Disney has ranged from decent to arguably some of the worst movies ever. Sure, Pirates of the Caribbean has become an enormously profitable franchise (though some world debate the quality of those movies as well), but what other successful live-action franchises has Disney created? And no, Disney buying the rights to the MCU and Star Wars doesn’t count as creating them.
It’s not like we’re hoping for Disney’s live-action movies to disappoint, but then something like The Lone Ranger comes out. You can’t really feel anything but disappointment with a movie like that. Perhaps part of the reason Disney is remaking their animated films as live-action might even be because their original ideas haven’t done so hot in that department. Whatever the reason, Disney’s track record is definitely against them when it comes to making a splash outside of animation.
2. LACK OF NAME RECOGNITION
One of the big challenges associated with most Disney movies is they don’t feature the usual types of actors we see. For one, the characters are frequently still adolescents, and there isn’t exactly a huge group of big0name stars to choose from there. So the options are to go the 90210 route and have adults portraying kids, or the studio has to accept the fact they will basically only be able to cast the star of their franchise for one or two movies before they’re too old for the role.
It’s even tougher because kids obviously haven’t built up their acting resumes as much as adults. Macaulay Culkin might have been big in Home Alone, but he wasn’t a massive star right out of the gate. It takes time to build up name recognition, so kids are inherently at a disadvantage. Hence why we saw Johnny Depp basically take the starring role in the Alice in Wonderland movies, despite the Mad Hatter originally just being a bit character.
1. REMAKE FATIGUE
Even though remakes are obviously still profitable for the movie industry, we all have those films that we can’t help but groan when we see that they’re being remade so quickly. Many new movies that come out nowadays are either sequels or remakes, and it leaves people yearning for some originality. So Disney deciding to redo their animated classics in live-action definitely isn’t a move that’s going to appeal to everybody.
The recent Jungle Book remake did well, but how many more live-action Disney remakes can come out before people start getting burnt out on them? Looking at Disney’s release schedule– we’re in for a slew of them and are now waiting for the new Little Mermaid, as well as the new Mulan. Beauty and the Beast is fast approaching. The train has left the station but it seems likely that it’ll run out of tracks someday.
How do you think the live-action Disney remakes will handle these challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments!