The live-action remake of The Lion King has been released to mixed reviews. With a current score on Rotten Tomatoes at 55%, many disillusioned fans have voiced their issues with the current state of Disney. Alot of people mention that there is nothing wrong with 2D animation, and that by making live action ‘remakes’- Disney are showing their preference. It’s an interesting argument. Do I agree with it? Yes- but it’s complex.
First off, I believe Disney are heavily misguided in their approach. There’s no way to mince around this- Disney are going for the mega bucks. As much as I despise corporate driven filmmaking, I do understand it. Disney is a business, and although we may have ‘nostalgia’ to our childhoods, it’s important to remember that. Disney’s best interests will not mirror our own.
However, I don’t think it is always going to work. Eventually, audiences will tire with the live action remakes, and watch something else. Hollywood is notorious for going through trends and fads. After all, when we watch a live-action remake, we already know how the story is going to end. There is no room for suspense or tension. Just as we know Cinderella will dance with her Prince, we know that Disney has no intention of breaking the storytelling mould.
Of course- Disney loves to ‘update’ their remakes by faux-female empowerment. That being said, it always rings shallow. The original Belle- who was kind-hearted, strong, intelligent- is not a weak-willed character in need of ’empowering.’ Likewise, neither was Jasmine from Aladdin. If anything, Disney alienates their audience by this move. Fans of the originals who identified with such female characters are essentially being told that there are better versions of themselves out there. It’s alienating and rude.
But what does this have to do with animation? Doesn’t Frozen and Brave fall to these tropes as well? Yes! But those do not have an animation counterparts. What Disney is doing is reviving ‘classic’ tales. They can’t do an animated remake of an animation film. That wouldn’t work as effectively. (I’d also argue that Disney animation looks alot worse now than fifty years ago). Because of that, Disney have little options but to make a live-action version of the classics.
It’s disrespectful towards animation because the original animations are just fine as they are. I don’t believe Disney outright loathes animation- but sees it as an annoyance. After all, crafting a lush animation film like The Lion King (1994) can take years and even up to a decade. Disney run on a tight schedule, and want to pump out movies before the remake bubble bursts.
What I like about animation is that it encourages the filmmakers to take time and effort. Good storytelling isn’t born overnight, it can take ages to mature and to nurture. You have to really want to tell a story if you are willing to animate it. I think that ethos of cinema is lost on Disney. That’s a shame, because I don’t want bad movies.
So while I don’t think Disney outright hates animation, I do believe they are dismissive towards it and undervalue their canon. This ultimately does a disservice to Disney. Animation was the brick and cement of classic Disney. Our eyes soften up at mere mentions of Bambi’s mother, after all! It’s fair to assume that animation is what Disney is most associated with. For the brand to steer away from that- and to pump out franchise film- it is quite sad.
That isn’t to say that Disney animation is completely rosy- I remember the horror of direct to video Disney animated sequels. However, fans could forgive that because the original animated film was so fantastic. The live-action remakes do not conjure any loyalty or love among fans, only bitter resentment and weak nostalgia.
There’s alot I didn’t cover- such as the emergence of 3D animation, the power structure of Disney, etc. However, it’s fair to say that Disney’s long term strategy is not effective. It’s not even August and Disney have pumped out 3 live-action remakes this year. Fatigue is going to hit eventually, just like it did for Star Wars. (Before anyone mentions the MCU, I believe it’s going to happen to them as well eventually)
What do you think about Disney and traditional, 2D animation? Comment below!
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