Disney’s live-action remakes have become a very polarizing subject among fans. There are some that have been well received like Tim Burton‘s Alice in Wonderland or Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella. But then there are some that have garnered mixed to negative reception like Niki Caro’s Mulan or (most recently) Robert Zemeckis’ Pinocchio.
Overall, there are a few problems fans seem to have with the remakes. One is that a lot of them just feel like shot-for-shot remakes of the original. The worst offender being Jon Favreau’s The Lion King. The appeal of seeing these stories in more realistic settings only lasts for so long before people realize that they’re probably better off just watching the originals.
Now, there are some exceptions movies, like Cruella and Maleficent. They aren’t really remakes of 101 Dalmatians or Sleeping Beauty respectively. Instead, they’re movies told from the perspectives of the villains, which is actually a much better and creative idea.
Still, there’s one other problem that all of company’s live-action adaptations have, especially the best ones: at the end of the day, they’re all just rehashes of bankable classics. They’re all the same stories that seen before, the same stories that helped build the studio, with little to nothing new to say or show us.
Filmmaking is a craft that requires tons of work, effort, and care. Yet, there seems to be a lack of care put into most of these with the assumption that just having the songs and costumes being featured is enough. It feels as if Disney thinks making these stories in live-action somehow “legitimizes” them or makes them better. If true, that is pretty disrespectful to the team of animators who worked on those originals. The original animated version of Beauty and the Beast was the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture. That’s not the case with any of the live-action adaptations.
With all of that said, and given that Disney shows no sign of slowing down with their remakes, I had the idea of pitching several existing properties that have yet to get the live-action treatment at the House of Mouse. After all, I hope Disney does eventually adapt all of its animated films, even some of their lesser-known properties or that weren’t the most successful at the time they were originally released.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis: The Lost Empire was released in 2001 and had a story reminiscent of Indiana Jones. Set in 1914, it followed a man named Milo who gains a book he believes will lead him to the lost city of Atlantis and takes part in an expedition to find it. Apart from its stories and iconic characters, its unique art style stood out compared to other Disney films. Comic book artist Mike Mignola, famous for creating Hellboy, was a production designer for the film. Unlike so many other animated Disney films, this wasn’t a musical. Instead it was an action-adventure film, which is why I think it would actually lend itself well to a live-action format. Sadly, Atlantis was a box office disappointment upon its original release. It also received mixed reviews. In the two decades since its release, it’s gained a strong cult following.
Treasure Planet came out the following year, in 2002. What was so unique about it was that it was an adaptation of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson novel “Treasure Island,” and told in a science fiction setting. It was the passion project of directors Ron Clements and John Musker dating back to 1985. The studio finally agreed to let them make it after they completed Hercules in 1997. Similar to Atlantis, the film was another box office disappointment. It only grossed $38 million in the United States on a budget of 140 million, making it one of Disney’s biggest bombs of all time. Also similar to Atlantis, the film has garnered a deeper appreciation over the years. Many who watched it as kids have developed a deep fondness for it. Just looking at the poster, you can tell that it would make for a perfect blockbuster.
This one is a little different because it’s a television series and not a movie. But I bring it up because there’s always been hints that this one could actually happen. Gargoyles was an animated series that premiered all the way back in 1994. It was about Gargoyles that turned to stone by day, but by night were protectors of New York. The show stood out because of its dark gothic tone. At its height, it even earned comparisons to Batman: The Animated Series. Like Atlantis and Treasure Planet, the series also has a huge fanbase. As I mentioned before, there were actually plans for a live-action film at one point. Series writers Greg Weisman and Michael Reaves wrote a script for a film after the series ended. Just a few years ago, Academy Award winner Jordan Peele pitched a film adaptation to Disney. Both were rejected for reasons I’ll never understand, but hopefully the studio will one day realize the potential the series has to be a live-action franchise.
The Black Cauldron
This is the big one. And I say that because not only is it probably the most obscure title on this list. It’s also the one that the actual Walt Disney Company might have the most disdain for. The Black Cauldron was released in 1985. The film was intended to be a loose adaption of the fantasy book series “The Chronicles of Prydain.” It was the first Disney animated film to be rated PG, and their first attempt to try something very different from what people expected of them. The whole thing was a disaster. In addition to bombing at the box office, it put the studio’s entire animation department in jeopardy of being shut down. In some circles, it’s still referred to as “the film that almost killed Disney.” The studio actually didn’t release the film on home video until 1998, and even though one of the main characters is a princess she’s never been mentioned alongside the other Disney Princesses.
The studio rarely acknowledges the film to this day. Granted, there are legitimate problems with the movie. The biggest problem being its overly dark tone and genuinely creepy moments that had to be edited down because they terrified children in early test screenings. Some of the film’s cuter characters are clearly only there to try and counteract the horror aspects, but not even they are done properly.
In 2016 it was reported that Disney actually wanted to take another stab at adapting the Prydain series, but there have been zero developments since. While I understand Disney’s hesitation to go back to the property, I think this film deserves a live-action do-over more than some of the other films already in production. Not only could it give the film its own redemption arc. It could help it finally shake its unofficial status as a black sheep among the rest of the studio’s catalogue.
What do you think of this list? What animated films or shows would you like to see get the live-action treatment? Sound off below!