Why Disney Live-Action Reboots Just Don’t Work
It's gotten to the point where it hurts your soul and you can't seem to pinpoint why.
If you’re like me, you have a spot soft in your heart for both animated TV and movies. You grew up watching 90s 2D Disney films and Nickelodeon on TV. It was a great era! There was no separation of the real and the fantastical and everything was a fairytale. Not to say that these movies and shows did not provide life lessons, but they lacked the gritty realism that went with the movies your parents were watching at the time. They were colorful and bright, instilling in you a sense of happiness and awe.
As you got older, you still enjoyed watching these movies. There may have been less awe, but more appreciation. Unlike the 3D movies Disney has been releasing, every character looks different and has recognizable facial features that go with their personality. No same face syndrome around here (especially with the women!). Then, the 2010s reboot phase began and you weren’t quite sure how you felt about it. These were the movies you knew and loved up on the big screen, but something was different, and you couldn’t quite seem to put your finger on it.
The Reboot Boom of the 2010s
Animated movies and shows are an art in their own right. While a few TV shows have been jacked up by their own movies (looking at you, Avatar the Last Airbender), there seems to have been a laser focus on remaking 90s and early 2000s animated movies. Though generally ignored by the public save for a few, Disney seems hellbent on churning these babies out. Why?
Money, of course.
If you take a movie people have a nostalgic childhood tie to, they’re more likely to shell out money to watch that rather than something completely new they would have to take a gander on. It makes sense, monetarily, with how Disney operates. However, these movies seem to be flat and lacking appeal once you watch them.
For those who watched these movies in their childhood, it is fun to see a reboot of something you loved. But it’s just missing something you can’t quite put your finger on.
This seems silly, of course, but that’s something the reboots can’t manage to capture — the essence of the original films. While I have quite a few criticisms of the newer movies, one thing stands above all the rest: the lack of being an animated movie.
If you tend toward the creative side, maybe this has been evident to you all along. You miss the quirky mannerisms of characters created by Glen Keane, and the funky dance sequences that didn’t have to follow any semblance of logic. They seem like two movies that have nothing to do with each other except the vague plot.
If you were going to create a reboot that you wanted to go in a different direction, that makes sense. Disney has often done this with books to movies. For example, The Princess Diaries book series is completely different from the movies. In the book series, the grandma is incredibly mean and Mia’s dad is still alive, he just had prostate cancer and couldn’t have any other children. Disney took the premise of the story and turned it into their own. Fans of both don’t argue which was better, because they are perceived as two different entities. While this wasn’t a transfer of visual mediums, the premise still rings true. If Disney had gone about reboots with this mindset, it would have still held the nostalgia of the story while leaving less room for fans to nitpick.
Why Don’t We Resonate with CGI?
For the rest of us, it’s more minuscule things. The facial expressions are less exaggerated, less pronounced, and do less to set the mood of the scene. This is exceptionally noticeable in The Lion King because no matter how realistic those CGI lions look, they can’t portray the look of horror and fear as Simba watches his father die. The tone doesn’t hit you as heavy, and you invest less emotionally, whether you mean to or not.
Animators had such freedom with animal characters by being able to give them human qualities. Dumbo looks more sympathetic, Mushu is funnier, and Simba is more triumphant. That’s why you relate to them! Take these inherent human qualities away, and what do you have? Something less than exceptional that is hard to naturally relate to.
While this is just the forefront of the issues with reboots, it’s an intrinsic one. It runs through the veins of each movie and mars everything it touches. While this seems pessimistic, unfortunately, it rings true. It affects movies to their core. For instance, did you even watch Lady and the Tramp? No, you most likely didn’t. While that particular movie didn’t have the fanbase or draw that The Beauty and the Beast did, you watched the trailer and you didn’t feel anything. You didn’t see any emotion!
While CGI is understandably required to make these sorts of movies, the directors of each of these films still made the choice to be lifelike rather than expressive. If they had leaned more into this manner while making these films, maybe some of that magic would still exist. We’ll never know.
Another issue that seems to tack onto that is the gritty realism that seems to come with the movies. They took these bright, colorfully styled movies, and made them dark and realistic. I hate to break it to you, Disney, but when people come to watch your movies with their six-year-olds, they don’t need to see the realism that plagues HBO.
When you’re faced with human characters in a live-action, you need to find actors that can act and sing! Disney struggles with finding these as they tend to prefer names that will draw people to theaters rather than actors that can act and sing.
For instance, Emma Watson was the perfect Belle when it came to acting. When it came to the singing, a common opinion is that the autotune isn’t the best choice for the lead actress of the movie and takes away from the credibility of their cast. If Beauty and the Beast can succeed on Broadway, surely you can find a Belle that can do both well. At the very least, pull a Zac Efron in High School Musical.
What Makes Good Reboot Material?
The most unfortunate thing is that there are movies that are movies that are the perfect material to be adapted into live-action. Atlantis? Treasure Planet? Road to El Dorado? Anastasia? All of these movies have a mostly, if not all, human cast. No CGI required! A few tricky dance sequences, maybe, but since when has Disney not been up for the challenge? People relate with real people, and you can’t take that away.
If Anastasia was a smash hit on Broadway, surely it would make a halfway decent movie (There is a live-action Anastasia, but it isn’t affiliated with Disney and has a completely different storyline). If you’re going to extinguish the 2D animation department, they could at least placate the fandom and get a few good reboots out of it.
Overall, these reboots that have come from the past 5 years or so have been less than spectacular. It’s unfortunate because there are so many different approaches they could try, but they insist on taking the same path every time. By taking away the stylistic choices of animators, Disney takes the heart out of each of their movies.
Imagine the movies we could be watching if they still made 2D movies! At least we still have Netflix churning out animated shows and movies with differing animation styles and storytelling tactics. If this doesn’t prove that Netflix will be at the forefront of the upcoming animation boom, I don’t know what does. Take some notes, Disney.