For, Friday, March 29, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: With ‘Dumbo’ opening this week, here’s a column I wrote on the subject of Disney’s penchant for remaking its classic cartoon features, published Oct. 21, 2016, under the headline, ‘Disney goes nuts rebooting animated classis as live-action pictures.’

For its first 30 years or so, the Disney brand was synonymous with cartoons, first shorts, and later, animated features. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Walt Disney ventured into live-action moviemaking.

And now it would seem that Disney has come full circle. In fact, it’s gone a little nuts, readying live-action versions — adaptations? remakes? reboots? — of its own library of classic animated features at such a furious pace that they are threatening to become the linchpins of the studio’s theatrical agenda.

They aren’t all really live-action, of course, since many carry enough computer-generated imagery to dilute the category. They are still, to some degree, animated features.

This was especially true of “The Jungle Book,” which has a live-action boy at its center but is otherwise very much a cartoon in modern, more realistic CGI terms.

In addition to “The Jungle Book,” this year also brought us “Pete’s Dragon,” another live-action/CGI combination, based on Disney’s 1977 live-action/animation film of the same title.

Other live-action remakes of cartoons have included “101 Dalmatians” (and its sequel, “102 Dalmatians”); “Alice in Wonderland” (and its sequel “Alice Through the Looking Glass”); “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (inspired by the Mickey Mouse short in “Fantasia”); “Maleficent” (adapted from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”); and “Cinderella.”


And Disney has announced plans to produce over a dozen more at such a rapid rate that this column may be out of date by the time you read it.

Coming up are “Beauty and the Beast” (to be released March 17, 2017); “Mulan” (November 2018); and “Mary Poppins Returns” (Christmas Day, 2018).

They will be followed by these live-action (or live-action/CGI) remakes with to-be-announced dates: “Dumbo,” “The Lion King,” “The Sword in the Stone,” “Pinocchio,” “Prince Charming” (from “Cinderella”), “Cruella” (an origin story of Cruella de Vil from “101 Dalmatians), “Rose Red” (the sister of “Cinderella”) and “Night on Bald Mountain” (a sequence from “Fantasia”).

Yet another “Peter Pan” remake is also on the list, along with “Tink,” an origin story of “Peter Pan’s” fairy friend Tinkerbell, who has also been the subject of several straight-to-video cartoons.

And a live-action version of “Aladdin” will have to wait for an animated prequel, “Genies,” which will come out first.


Disney is even planning live-action versions of “Winnie the Pooh” and the chipmunk characters Chip ’n’ Dale (from many a Donald Duck cartoon short). Not sure how that’s going to work out, though it’s a safe bet that CGI aplenty will be involved.

And, as you might expect, sequels are in development for “The Jungle Book” and “Maleficent.”

One wonders how Walt would feel about all this. After all, he was an innovator, not a copycat.

And you may recall that his attempt to create the first feature-length cartoon was scoffed at as “Disney’s Folly.” That is, until “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” became a critical and box-office smash in 1937.

Many animated classics followed (including those listed above) and Disney didn’t enter live-action theatrical filmmaking until 1950, with the release of “Treasure Island.”


Many more followed and the Disney brand shifted from being strictly for cartoons to meaning clean family films, and it stayed that way throughout the 1970s.

The studio’s first non-G-rated film didn’t arrive until 1979, the sci-fi thriller “The Black Hole” — and getting a PG rating instead of a G made the studio nervous. But PG-rated movies quickly became part of the studio’s platform, along with its usual G-rated fare.

As movies became more “adult,” however, the studio felt it needed to keep up — without sullying the family-friendly Disney name. So the studio came up with the Touchstone label in 1984, as a releasing arm for “Splash,” its first foray into mature material. And Touchstone also kept the studio’s first R-rated movie, “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” in 1986, from having to carry the Disney name.

One can argue that some of the PG-13 films that now roll out under the Disney banner push the envelope further than parents might like (the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, anyone?), but in general the Disney name over a picture still means it will likely be more family-friendly than anything else out there. (Check out the current, PG-rated “Queen of Katwe.”)

So perhaps all of these remakes of animated classics can be taken as a logical 21st century extension of that.

And if the market becomes oversaturated with cartoons done over as live-action films, maybe Disney will reverse course and do the opposite.

You know, animated versions of “The Absent-Minded Professor” and “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”?

Who says there are no more original ideas in Hollywood?

EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: If you’re wondering what happened to the live-action ‘Mulan,’ it’s still in production, now scheduled for a March 2020 release. ‘Aladdin arrives on May 24, followed quickly by ‘The Lion King’ on July 19, while the others (including ‘Genies’) are in various stages of production or pre-production.