Walt Disney

Expect to see a lot more live-action remakes of Disney animated classics

The Jungle Book is latest example of studio repackaging animated favourites for the Pixar generation; Beauty and the Beast and Alice Through the Looking Glass coming soon, and plenty more expected

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 April, 2016, 1:16am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 April, 2016, 1:15am

Disney’s production line for the coming years will see the company doubling down on live-action remakes or reboots of its animated classics – a strategy that has so far netted more than US$2 billion.

The latest offering, The Jungle Book, debuted in the United States on April 15 and has extended Disney’s winning streak, grossing more than US$300 million worldwide over the weekend and trouncing the competition in North America.

Over the coming months, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Beauty and the Beast will fill cinemas, and several more adaptations are reportedly in the pipeline.

Even casual movie-goers will have spotted that Disney’s back catalogue of fairy tales has been raided in recent years for money spinners like Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella and Maleficent, which made a combined US$2.5 billion.

Shawn Robbins, a senior analyst at BoxOffice.com, said it was “not a stretch of the imagination” to envisage the company revisiting most of its classic animations.

The Hollywood trade press have been buzzing with rumours and half-confirmed stories about Dumbo, Pinocchio, Cruella, Genies – a riff on Aladdin – and many other fairy tales which could make it once again to the big screen. Disney declined to comment on its long-term strategy, but analysts say the writing is on the wall for the future.

“In Disney’s case, the appeal of remakes to moviegoers is still in its prime. Twenty years from now, that may not be the case. Twenty years after that, who knows?” Robbins said.

Producing a successful remake, according to Robbins, is a delicate balancing act between coming up with new and interesting ways to tell familiar stories, and honouring “the heart and spirit” of the original characters.

“The general assumption is that Hollywood remakes things because it’s an easy way to make money, but it’s far from easy to be successful on both the artistic and commercial fronts,” he said.

Starring newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli, The Jungle Book employed the talents of Hollywood heavyweights Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley and Idris Elba for the voices of Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther and Shere Khan the tiger.

The film’s director, Jon Favreau, who was also at the helm for two of the Iron Man movies, said that modern-day Disney was merely following what the likes of its co-founder Walt Disney and Star Wars director George Lucas had always done.

“Take old myths, old stories, old archetypes, old characters and do it using cutting-edge technology,” said Favreau, 49, who has producing credits for numerous blockbusters, including both Avengers films.

Star Wars, he says, repackaged elements of Arthurian legend, westerns and the films of Japanese master Akira Kurosawa – “the princess being rescued and the loveable rogue, the father who’s the king, the dark prince and the struggle between good and evil.”

“Walt Disney would do the same thing. He would find the old fairy tales like Snow White – these are old stories,” he said.

Hollywood producer Suzanne Todd, who was behind 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and has been producing its sequel , said there was “something lovely” about fairy tale adaptations, and particularly last year’s Cinderella.

“There’s a charm to the original movie and there’s an inspirational quality that comes out of it,” she said at a recent event to publicise Disney’s Alice Through The Looking Glass, which comes out next month. “I just thought Kenneth Branagh made it lush and romantic and accessible.”

Early sequences from the new Beauty and the Beast – due out in March 2017 – also looked “amazing and incredible”, she said.

Advances in technology have allowed age-old and beloved stories to reach new audiences who might have been turned off by the dated originals, says Todd, whose body of more than 20 films includes the Austin Powers spy spoof trilogy.

“I don’t know that my three children would be as entertained sitting and watching the old animated versions because they’ve grown up as a Pixar generation,” she said.

Looking Glass director James Bobin made two hit Muppets live-action movies for Disney and is the co-creator of spoof characters Ali G, Borat and Bruno with British comic Sacha Baron Cohen, who stars in the new Alice movie.

The film isn’t strictly a remake, as Disney never produced a stand-alone animated version of the second of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland books, Through the Looking-Glass , and What Alice Found There.

But the studio will be hoping to benefit both from the success of 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and the cultural cachet of the source material.

“Lewis Carroll for me is a guy that was sort of a surrealist satirist in many ways. The books he wrote were often commentaries about people he knew and Victorian society as a whole,” said Bobin.

“I felt that you could almost trace a brand of English comedy – starting with him, going through Edward Lear and the Goon Show in the ‘50s and Monty Python in the ‘70s – which has never really gone away.”

The Jungle Book opens in Hong Kong on May 26