Sometimes there’s too much news to cover for just one Animated Anarchy. But we’ll try to do all of that today discussing one of Hollywood’s most incessant, irritating practices to the world of animation and film. I’m just going to say in advance with this article, the words will get pretty salty.
There are two words that send shivers down every single pop culture fan’s spine when they hear about a cartoon coming back: “Live Action.” Nothing is more ghastly or eye rolling as the inclusion of real life to proprieties we once loved. This isn’t even coming from an animation bias perspective, as an overwhelming majority of these conversions are poorly made and badly written. I don’t know why producers think toning down the animation and larger-than-life features to highlight typical teenage tropes and stars somehow makes the films good.
What hurts is that these never seem to stop. We’re at a glut of these remakes that try to cash off the nostalgia of our childhood and they keep working. It’s not just with The Smurfs either. Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, Casper, and The Pink Panther are just a few of the terrible titles repackaged in movie form. I believe geeks are getting better at judging a branded property before throwing down their money, but it’s still too common a practice. I’ve hit that point personally that if you came out of Transformers 4 mad, they followed the exact same formula…that’s your own fault for not realizing how much the producers don’t care.
Which leads to the most curious story to come out amongst the animation world, the announcement of a CGI/Live Action hybrid of the Disney Classic Dumbo directed by Tim Burton with a script penned by Ehren Krueger.
Attaching Tim Burton to the project is not hopeful as the original stories use several tropes that the director nearly fetishes with the circus atmosphere and the ostracizing of the abnormal. After all, we found out that a softball project for him such as Alice in Wonderland turned out to be quite a mess with his view on the universe. What’s scarier is the inclusion of Ehren Krueger, who single-handedly may be the worst screenwriter in Hollywood. If you don’t know him, you may remember his brilliant, scholarly work on Scream 3, Reindeer Games, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon and Trans4mers: Age of Extinction.
They are going to get the man who developed Mudflap and Skids to write one of the most controversial Disney movies ever. Let that sink in.
So we already know ahead of time that this movie will be a train wreck. But I want to point out that the conception of this movie is apart of a bigger problem with Disney and current re-interpretations in general. Many studios have spent too much time over the last few years of turning magical or unnatural cartoons into live action films. The cheapness of appealing to new demographics and pop culture fads has always put a real bad taste in my mouth as the quality never manages to pay off.
They’re not just getting a remake of Dumbo. The Beauty and The Beast’s live-action remake is around the corner and The Jungle Book is slated for 2016. Over the course of writing this article, we’ve had a slew of announcements for live action adaptations for several cartoon properties including:
For some brands, I understand they are part of public domain. It works perfect for people like Disney, but I believe any studio would jump on a fable the sake of brand/name recognition. That’s why Snow White, Pinocchio, and Peter Pan have had so many adaptations out already. Disney has certainly revitalized its princess movies to the modern age with Cinderella and Maleficent, but those work because all of the major roles can be played well by real actors. Even with massive failures like the Jack and the Beanstalk remake two years ago, they don’t want to stop.
With Dumbo, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around a redesigned, live action version of it. The film is going to have to rely completely on CGI to create a life-like, cute, flying baby elephant. Iconic scenes of his initial flight and the Pink Elephant Parade are going to be awfully difficult to make and can easily spiral into uncanny valley territory. You can’t rely on a single actor to play the role of the Ringmaster or the taunting kid.
There’s a myriad of bad movies in this genre of “cartoon in the real world.” The earliest predecessor of the fad is Masters of the Universe with Dolph Lungren and Frank Langella. A big action movie set in a craggy, medieval style planet with skeletons and technology set in the 80s? This was a license to print money, but what did Hollywood do? “Let’s put the Prince of Eternal on Earth, deal with teenage nonsense with Courtney Cox, and have his villain follow him.” We don’t remember this re-interpretation because it’s boring and lame, not even because it’s so bad it’s good. The idea of taking out everything that made the cartoon successful just to make a cheaper film with actors is almost spiteful.
I know what you want to say, “What about Who Framed Roger Rabbit? That movie is a classic! Or Tron or James and the Giant Peach or Pete’s Dragon or Osmosis Jones? Roger Rabbit and those other films are exceptions to the rule. They were not made for the sake of franchising or keeping a brand relevant. Keep in mind, the opposite side of the coin of those movies are films like Cool World and Monkeybone. By focusing on the fish-out-of-water nature of having a normal human being deal with the absurdity and made-up rules of the cartoon world, they were schizophrenic, aggravating movies.
We only remember the true turkeys for infamy’s sake, making film fans scratch their heads and go “How in the hell did this get made?” Rocky and Bullwinkle is remembered as that weird lapse in judgment when we began to doubt Robert De Niro’s credibility. Dragonball: Evolution and The Last Airbender are viewed as bastardizations that completely misunderstood the point of the original series. And a film like Underdog is held in the same camp as other bizarre, talking dog films like Santa Buddies or Airbud rather than what the original created.
And this doesn’t just affect animation, but think about turning comic books or video games into film. Mortal Kombat is the only successful video game movie because it understood how to expand on the simple concepts of the game to film. Many of the other major misfires from the Resident Evil series, to Super Mario Bros. to Tomb Raider to Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li fail for two reasons. They completely do not understand the purpose of the source material or the people in charge decide to change the property for their own accord with a mish-mash of strange ideas.
Off the top of my head…the best films you have using the two methods together would include Space Jam, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and Fat Albert. And that’s a damn stretch to find a few movies amongst this genre that are passable. With those movies, there’s at least a balance of using cartoons separate from the real world. There isn’t a real emphasis on the zany unless it is necessary. One of the reasons I enjoyed the recent Spongebob movie was because of its simplicity and using the CGI scenes for a fraction of the running time.
So how do we fix this problem? I believe the best solution is to commit to one visual medium. If you want to use the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in real life New York City, put them in suits and get someone who understands the franchise.
One of the best examples of this is The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn. Directed by Spielburg with writing from Joe Cornish, Steven Moffat, and Edgar Wright, that movie understands the adventure-heavy aspects of the comic book. It was a fun thrill ride, managing to make all the CGI characters and set pieces to look great every step of the way. You might argue that it is invalid because it’s 100% animated, we could still recognize the great work Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, and Andy Serkis could put into their mocap and vocal performances.
Everything boils down to people behind the camera. We don’t remember the visuals if we are shown them through a really terrible script. Enchanted specifically has really typical princess/prince/fantasy aesthetics, but it’s remembered for it’s quality over everything else. In normal, live-action films even good actors can shine through hokey dialogue. But in an animated movie, all the real and voice actors have to die with the ship. If one person feels off, the entire production feels off because you wonder why couldn’t someone record the same line again.
I’m frankly burnt out on franchising. I’m even worried for Disney at this point with their reliance on remaking old films because they are afraid they’ll never have another Frozen-level success. There’s a legacy to those animated films that keeps us re-watching them over and over. Live Action is not always bad, but if major studios continue to use it for an excuse to be lazy, then I really fear that traditional will continue to transition out of our cinemas.
What are your thoughts on all of these remakes? Think some will work? What’s a remake you would like to see? Think I should chill! Leave your comment below and tune in for the star-studded spectacular next time on Animated Anarchy!