Nostalgia reigns king in Hollywood these days. One only has to look at the list of movies playing at their local theater to see that everything seems familiar. A new wrinkle to this development is the remaking of animated films as live action movies. Disney, in particular, is spearheading these efforts with their lineup of classic animated films that are set to be remade. The first in this plan is The Jungle Book directed by Jon Favreau. Due to some strong marketing, positive reviews and glowing audience feedback, it’s gone on to be a massive success. What does that mean for other animated films though, even outside of the Disney umbrella? Will they, too, be considered for live action remakes?
What Jungle Book represented, and an essential contributing factor to its success, was a giant step forward in live action CGI. Everything except for the child actor was CGI, all the environments, animals, etc. This raises the possibility of many animated film remakes, that might previously have seemed inconceivable. Many audience members after seeing Jungle Book were surely clamoring for their favorite animated classics to be reimagined for the big screen, and in that line of thinking we have put together a list of some potential candidates; some are pretty ambitious, perhaps some unnecessary, but all of them with the right creative team would be a whole heap of fun to watch.
10 Spirited Away
Created by the living animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away is an internationally adored film. The story follows a ten year old girl who, upon a family move, enters a new world of spirits, witches, gods and creatures. It was released in 2001 and has remained a staple of animated film since, a standard with which all others are held. Though some might view a live action remake of Miyazaki to be sacrilege, it wouldn’t be the first. In 2014, there was such a remake; it was Kiki’s Delivery Service, directed by Takashi Shimizu and released in Japan. So the possibility might not be as far-fetched as one might think. Spirited Away has all the elements of a dazzling visual live action film, a basis of which any filmmaker would kill for.
Spirited Away could work cinematically much in the same way that Pan’s Labyrinth does. Even in its animation, it already has a similar sense of magical realism. It’s hard not to imagine how powerful it could be to see some of those surreal elements, such as the spirits, appearing next to a real girl. With the right director, it could be hauntingly beautiful. It’s such a powerful coming of age story and seeing it realized as a live action film is too enticing of an opportunity to pass up.
9 Curious George
This world famous curious little explorer is destined for the big screen. First introduced in the French book Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, Curious George has gone on a great many adventures in a number of books and animated TV shows and films. The character’s story is fairly simple; the man in the yellow hat captures him in Africa and brings him back to the zoo in New York. Curious George escapes and the man in the yellow hat brings him back to his home, and the two go on a series of adventures. The stories are, as the character name suggests, driven by George’s curiosity with this new environment and all the unfamiliar people around him. George constantly gets himself into trouble, setting up the conflict.
The one adaptation missing from the impressive various iterations of the character, is a live action film. It could be a quite engaging family adventure, if the right tone is struck. It couldn’t be too self serious; it would have to know that its very concept is a bit absurd. It could explore this quirky style in the way that the recent Muppets movie did, complete with an absurd villain and over the top conflict. This would work because of it would poke fun at itself. Throw in a little subtextual adult humor for the parents and an emotionally resonant story, and we might have a hit on our hands.
8 The Illusionist
No, not the film with Edward Norton. We’re talking about the French animated film by Sylvain Chomet, The Illusionist. It is based on an unproduced screenplay by famous French filmmaker and actor, Jacques Tati. Originally, it was actually set to be a live action film. Tati had written it for his estranged daughter as a sort of method of reconciliation. It was never produced, however. Years later, Chomet took up the story and brought it to life through beautiful animation. Due to the material’s origin though, this story is excellently suited to be produced as a live action at some point.
Sitting at a lean 79 minutes, there is plenty of more story material to explore. It would be interesting to flesh out some of his interactions with his fellow performers, as well as some of the jobs that he has to do now that he struggles to get paid for his act. The film, in its current form, is almost entirely nonverbal (as were Tati's live action films), and it could be reimagined with a little more dialogue. It would be important though to maintain the spirit of Tati and his approach.
A bold and delightfully creative animated film, Coraline was very well-received by both audiences and critics alike. It was created by the innovative, Oregon-based Laika Studio, whose work continues to astound. The film is based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name and because of this, there are numerous possibilities for adapting the source material into a live action film. The story follows a young girl/doll who, upon moving to a new apartment, discovers a new world through a door in the building. There she finds copies of characters she knows in her real life, like her parents, who have buttons for eyes but are much more attentive there. It’s an interesting, dark and imaginative story that demands your attention.
Coraline and the story’s journey between two worlds, draws two immediate comparisons to films we’ve seen before: Alice in Wonderland and The Imaginarium of Dr.Parnassus. The latter might be most applicable, with the possibility here for the actor to change appearance when entering the other world. There could even be nods to the animated iteration, with the character’s appearance shifting into a doll as she enters the new world. The environment could also share similarities with the wacky larger than life worlds of Wonderland and Dr. Parnassus. Regardless, the story is already there to draw from, and if combined with the quirky mind of the right director, it could be a must see movie.
6 The Incredibles
While fans eagerly await the sequel to the wildly successful film The Incredibles, we’re more curious what a live action version would look like. With superhero films all the rage these days, it’s interesting to consider a team of heroes who, instead of being some sort of grand collective, are simply a family who happen to have powers. The story itself, for those who aren’t familiar, starts with a world full of superheroes who are thriving and are a boon to their communities, before they are gradually forced into hiding. Two of these heroes marry and have kids. It’s such an intriguing starting off point for a live action film, with the beginning possibly being full of cameos with actors who are or have starred in other comic book movies. It also is a concept that allows for some self referential humor; there is also a lot of flexibility on what style it takes on.
The Incredibles as a live action film could be the ultimate team up. It has the potential to bring some levity to the genre in the same way that Guardians of the Galaxy did. The story seems like one which would be perfectly suited for the Marvel franchise. There is such excellent world building in the original animated film too, that this could make way to an entire live action franchise.
5 The Secret World of Arrietty
Yet another story borne from the mind of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, The Secret World of Arrietty, is another excellent candidate for a film worth revisiting. In this film, however, Miyazaki was the screenwriter and it was helmed by first time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The story is centered around the Clock family who are four inch tall people who live in the walls and floors, who live off their findings in the house that they live. The story is propelled forward by the discovery of the Clock family daughter Arrietty. She forms a friendship with a human boy, Shawn, while the rest of her kind try to avoid detection.
This sort of story could excel as a live action film in the genre of magical realism. It also in many ways feel similar to some of the 90s family adventure movies, such as The Indian in the Cupboard. Along that line of the thinking, the story is framed as a recollection, one the main character has of a summer he spent in his great aunt’s house. It has a sort of feel good tone to it, but with substance, which would represent a live action family film that isn’t often made these days.
4 Lilo and Stitch
Set on the island of Kauaʻi in Hawaii, Lilo and Stitch is essentially a story about a kid and her love for pet companion. It is how it approaches this familiar story, however, that distinguishes it as a creative animated film and an intriguing live action possibility. The familial element, first, is unique to common family tales; Lilo is being raised by her older sister, because their parents died in a car accident. In order to try to make her little sister feel better, Nani takes Lilo to go get a dog. What Lilo chooses though, is not a dog. She picks Stitch, who is an escaped alien impersonating a dog. They bring him home and they get into all kinds of shenanigans, all as part of the culminating conflict of Stitch being discovered as an alien and sought after by the powers to be.
Lilo and Stitch originated as an animated film, but has since spawned numerous direct to video and TV film sequels as well as a television series. A live action film would surely be a welcome addition to the franchise. It represents an opportunity to make a fun family family which truly embraces Hawaiian culture, with hopefully even some regionally correct casting. Not to be understated as well, is its important message about family. It would be a fresh take, to see the subplot of an older sister raising her younger sibling. Throw in an alien as best friend for our child protagonist, and we have an exciting film worth seeing.
3 The Last Unicorn
An incredibly moving and powerful animated film of the 80s, The Last Unicorn represented an innovative approach to the genre. It pushed the boundaries on how adult children’s films could be. As the title suggests, the story follows the last unicorn as our protagonist as she seeks out the reason for what has happened. She, along with allies, fight evil King Haggard, who seeks to possess all the unicorns and wields his Red Bull as an attack animal. It is movie with a message, exploring the meaning of what it means to be mortal and feel love and regret. As an animated film, it excelled with these themes and as a live action film it would as well. If it were to be placed within the confines of a category, it would sit perhaps unclearly between arthouse and Hollywood blockbuster. The budget of such a film would demand it to be a wide release, but it would have to retain some of its more contemplative/reflective ideas to be successful.
One such director who would be perfect to balance those two restrictions would be Spike Jonze. With his wide mainstream releases of Where the Wild Things Are and Her, he defies conventions. Jonze’s films at first would seem to have the style of films more frequently released on a smaller indie level, but he’s somehow transcended the system in order to access a larger audience. That’s what The Last Unicorn would require, in order to be made. With CGI rapidly developing and moving forward, as seen with The Jungle Book, this adaptation isn’t too far fetched. Especially as it does still involve human characters. It could be even reimagined to lean more heavily on that side of things. It also has the novel of the same name to tap into for inspiration. The possibilities are endless for this live action adaptation and though some may think a film about unicorns is laughable, the emotional resonance of this story would suggest otherwise.
2 Iron Giant
Brad Bird’s classic animated film Iron Giant, has spawned many rumors of sequels over the years but never a live action remake. This might change as the animated to live action movement takes off. It’s a story of a kid and his friend, who just so happens to be a giant robot from space. Though it was met with middling box office success, it is universally adored as a cult classic. There many directions a new iteration of this story could take, especially due to the different choices the animated film faced in its creation. Some might not know that it was at some point set to be more of a musical, with contributions by Pete Townshend. Also, it might not be common knowledge, that it is based off of the book The Iron Man by the late Ted Hughes and takes great creative liberties with that source material. This leaves the future filmmakers with a lot of room for growth and exploration.
Environment and atmosphere would be a central point in this reimagining, as the Iron Giant in the original is found in the woods and the story strongly features its setting as a character. A direct comparison in both visuals and tone would be Spielberg's E.T could be made. In fact, he would be a perfect director for this film, if Brad Bird wasn’t interested.
1 The Lion King
The worldwide phenomenon animated film The Lion King, will inevitably be reimagined as a live action film. The only question is: how does it fit into Disney’s future plans? The story, famously based on or inspired by Hamlet, follows a young Simba as he loses his father and has to ultimately stand up to reclaim his homeland from his evil uncle Scar. The classic has inspired scores of sequels and television follow ups, as well as a Broadway musical. A live action adaptation, with the incredible amount of pressure from the millions of fans, would come down to a strong sense of direction and vision. It’s safe to say, based on audience and fan response, that the Jungle Book has proven that CGI has advanced to a point where people can emotionally engage with digitally created animals in a recreated live environment. Jungle Book however, did have a human actor in the film whom audiences could engage in the story through. The Lion King, unless wildly reimagined, wouldn’t have such a luxury.
Are audiences ready for an all CGI live action film? Is the technology there yet? Those are the questions that really drive the timeline on when we could possibly see such a film. Additionally, the original strongly featured musical numbers and an all CGI live action film would face the challenge of incorporating some of our favorite tunes while still maintaining a strong and consistent tone. Having a bunch of CGI animals singing “Hakuna Matata” might not work. Bottom line, it probably wouldn’t be a word for word remake, so it would need a team of passionate filmmakers with a creative vision for the material. We’ll just have to wait and see.
What do you think? What animated film would you like to see remade as live action? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. As digital technology continues to evolve, almost anything is possible.