I’ve had some thoughts about Disney’s recent live action remakes, so I figured now would be as good a time as any to write them up since The Lion King just came out recently and we’re coming off a four month stretch that saw three total release (and with two more coming in the next four months).
I have my issues with them, I guess. I usually get around to seeing them eventually, but none of them really strikes me as substantially better than the original. Maybe The Jungle Book, since it seemed to have more of a unified through-line the original? But the original was never one of my favorites growing up, so I haven’t seen it in years and might be remembering things incorrectly.
Really, I just don’t have strong feelings about any of them so far. But I know they’re going to keep coming since they make so much money, so I figured I’d throw in my two cents on what I would do, for at least a little bit (since that will clearly influence Disney CEOs and make them restructure all of their plans).
And really, my two cents boil down to “make live action versions of Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire”. And yeah, some of this is that those movies were two of my favorites growing up. But there are plenty of reasons I think remaking these two films specifically would be a good move outside of my personal nostalgia poisoning.
1) Why remake the classics when they’re classics?
Ultimately, this is the biggest reason these movies won’t happen (or, at least, why they won’t be a high priority if they do); the main reason this live action remake trend exists is because people liked Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King the first time and paid a lot of money to see them, so why not try it again?
And, usually, that winds up being my biggest problem with them. I liked the animated Beauty and the Beast a lot! That’s a big part of why the most notable thought I had while watching the live action version is “Gosh, I wish I was watching the animated version!”
The biggest advantage in remaking or adapting older movies is being able to see what didn’t work and trying to improve on that. That’s partly why the new Jungle Book stands out a little more in my mind, or why I walked away from my viewing of Beauty and the Beast much more enraptured with the movie I watched earlier that afternoon, Power Rangers (which still absolutely deserves a sequel, even if it doesn’t look like that’s happening).
Like I said, I enjoy both Treasure Planet and Atlantis….but they aren’t The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. There’s room to try new things there without upsetting an extremely delicate balance.
2) Both could benefit from additional run-time
Outside of Fantasia, the first Disney animated to top 100 minutes in run time was Wreck-It Ralph in 2012. In contrast, the only Disney live action remake to fall below 100 minutes was Maleficent, coming in at 97. Even Dumbo, which was originally barely over an hour, fell just short of two hours in its new version.
This is one of the areas that I feel hit both of Atlantis and Treasure Planet hard in their original releases, with both coming in at just over 90 minutes. An extra 30 minutes or so would allow them to dig deeper into their larger casts, or devote more time to their big science fiction set pieces, or add more to their extensive world building, or expand upon themes they didn’t have time to delve into originally. There’s a lot of potential here!
3) Both of them seem to line up better with the direction of the remakes
This goes in multiple directions. Firstly, from what I can tell, most of the musical elements of the remakes have been scaled back; songs are cut, the ones that are included seem to be scaled back, and so on. Of course, Atlantis and Treasure Planet weren’t at all musicals; they instead utilized big action set pieces, which seems much more in line with what the live action remakes seem to be going for.
It’s not just that, though. As many others have noted, trying to use CGI to make photorealistic animals has the effect of draining any animal characters of recognizable human emotions or characteristics, which makes it difficult for viewers to interpret their facial expressions, distinguish between them, or otherwise connect to them in the way they did to their animated counterparts. There’s a reason movies like Finding Nemo and Ratatouille stuck with stylized animal characters.
The obvious counterpoint in both Atlantis and Treasure Planet is that they weren’t centered around animal characters, which is a benefit, but there is more to it than just that; both tend to rely on things that photorealistic CGI is really good at. Using photorealism to recreate animals that cannot themselves make human emotions seems like a bit of a waste when you could instead be making custom human-like aliens that look like real things. There’s a reason Avatar marketed itself on its realistic alien world, and it did pretty well for itself. And hey, wouldn’t you know it, Treasure Planet has a pretty large number of aliens!
And on the subject of learning from other innovators in the field, robots and such are also more in line with their strengths. Pixar notably avoided showing people when they could in Toy Story because their tech at the time was far better at working with the clearly artificial toys than flesh-and-blood humans, and even today, using CGI for robots feels a lot easier than getting realistic human characters out of the uncanny valley. Once again, Treasure Planet has a lot of robots, and in a world where Pacific Rim can do underwater “giant robots versus giant monsters” fight, I would love to see a live-action Atlantis combine those elements in the Leviathan, a giant underwater robot monster from the original.
It just keeps going. CGI has been great for making disaster movies where the threatening armageddon is somehow still a beautiful spectacle. And hey, wouldn’t you know it, those two movies have so many opportunities to flex those artistic muscles, between tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanoes, supernovae, and imploding planets. Space movies have also been able to take advantage of computer graphics to make the unreachable seem right in front of us, and again Treasure Planet is sitting right there. Visualizing lush, fantastic population centers is another strength of the scale that CGI can achieve, and both movies provide plenty of opportunities for that, from the ruined sunken kingdom of Atlantis to the crescent-moon-shaped city-planet spaceport in Treasure Planet.
Obviously, my love for these movies growing up is a big part of my thinking here, but I do think that the objective reasoning behind this makes sense as well. It’s not going to happen, but remakes of these two could give them a real chance to improve on the interesting concepts and visuals the originals brought to the table.