No, they are not just for kids.
Disney is a magical brand. But lest we forget, it is also foremost, an entertainment business. The mouse house has brought to life its cartoons in many ways, and roped in the archetypal power of timeless fairy tales to continue the legacy of love, friendship and hope.
Techniques moved from hand-drawn animation to 3D wizardry, and so the only next step was to make their titles live action. One by one, from sleeping princesses to swinging forest child, they came alive. The latest — our beloved flying elephant, Dumbo, is currently playing in Singapore
It’s essentially the ugly duckling formula — a new baby elephant comes with grotesquely large ears, but the become an asset when it turns out that he can fly with them. Disney’s titles with animal leads have always been especially successful, and Dumbo looks primed for a soaring box office performance.
How do the other seven live action titles rank compared to Dumbo? Plus, we take a look at the two upcoming projects and gauge their success.
Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil is incontestable as one of Disney’s ultimate villain. With her cackle and insatiable appetite for canine fur, she manages to keep the two films watchable — but just barely — by our own need to see justice served.
The 1996 has a stronger plot of the two, which makes it the better of the two, but if you’re a fan of camp, go for the sequel. Its zany approach will have you loving or hating it, which is probably why it was the second lowest in box office earnings.
Where to watch: Netflix (for 1996), Amazon (for 2000)
Disney’s first-ever live action film was The Jungle Book (1994), and the attempt to approach it with a refreshed perspective may have doomed it from the start. With a decidedly more Indiana Jones flavour than a whimsical piece on self-discovery, easily attributed to casting a sexy Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli, the original seemed too detached from the source material and Disney’s take, and kept it in limbo.
Learning from their mistakes, the 2016 version featured lush settings, a charming Neel Sethi and yes, talking animals voiced by famous stars. It may sound ridiculous but the verdant visuals, familiar storyline and amazing CGI held everything together.
Where to watch: Amazon (for both 1994 and 2016)
If there’s an example of disparity, Tim Burton’s effort with the curious Alice is it. Alice in Wonderland (2010) benefited from Tim’s experience in the bizarre, and his remarkable artistry is showcased to good effect in the first chapter. The darker twist fits the tale like a glove, and his stellar casting featuring Johnny Depp at the Mad Hatter, Anne Hathaway as The White Queen and Tim’s then-partner Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen carries the crazy beautifully, raking in five times the investment of two million.
But retreating to the producer seat for Looking Glass (2016) and dealing with an entirely new storyline, the richness of Carroll’s classic becomes warped into a meaningless CGI-fest. And lacking the novelty of the first appearance, the sequel barely recouped itself. This brings down the series so much that it may not see a continuation.
Where to watch: Amazon and iTunes (for both 2010 and 2016)
While it did not make much of a mark profit-wise, this title features some amazing work around the lovable Winnie the Pooh. First of all, it’s got the incomparable Ewan McGregor as the titular boy, except that he’s all grown up now. In this remake where a cynical Christopher rediscovers his child-like wonder (even if a little bit too late in the film), director Marc Forster crafts the film with a depth that makes this one of the most mature titles in the list.
The CGI is incredible, and as the stuffed animals reappear, the sense of nostalgia and their collective charm is enough to win out the dreary tone. Veteran voice actor Jim Cummings is amazing as the bear, with plenty of unassuming philosophy and charming wit to keep you smiling.
Where to watch: Amazon and iTunes
The classic is so indelible, Disney decided to stick closely to their 1991 cartoon. It broke many grounds, least of all with their feminist Princess character Belle, but the infectious tunes are what really made this an iconic Disney piece.
Beauty and The Beast fared incredibly at the box office, becoming Disney’s highest grossing live action number ever, breaking the one billion mark. Part of the reason has to be the casting of it girl Emma Watson, along with the controversial bromance between Gaston and sidekick, Le Fou. But even with the stellar performance, it fails to top the pack because as beautifully recreated as it was, it lacked the imagination that inspires rewatching.
Where to watch: Amazon, iTunes
It’s magical without being fluffy, funny without being cheesy, and edgy without going dark. And you gotta admit, having Cate Blanchett’s austere actions as the stepmother juxtaposed against Helena Bonham Carter’s spacy fairy godmother is a genius formula to give the 2015 movie gravity, and levity.
Even though the story stuck closely to the original, the vibrant CGI and outstanding cast pushes this live action remake into the top. The scale and opulence of the set also gives this film a grandeur that is more rooted in actual cultural royalty, making this almost feel like a historical myth than a fairytale. Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.
Where to watch: Amazon and iTunes
Topping the whole list, is none other than the wickedly good Maleficent (2014). Not only was it a milestone piece for Disney by turning their attention towards a villain, it showed them what a good backstory (and some amazing prosthetics) can do.
Angelina Jolie is the perfect sorceress, evoking sympathy and intimidation in equal measure. Her commitment to the character manages to pay homage to the villainess, while keeping her own slice of steely grit that is amazing to see turn human. Director Robert Stromberg understands the Sleeping Beauty iconography all too well, and presents them to full effect for a delicious story of revenge that goes oh so… well, well. A sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, is set for release in October this year.
Where to watch: Amazon and iTunes
It created quite the stir in the States when Will Smith was revealed as the genie. Somehow, the presentation left viewers more freaked than geeked out! I wouldn’t blame them — having a skinny Ariana Grande-esque ponytail doesn’t sit well on the Smurf-blue, not to mention bald and bulky, Will.
Luckily, new trailers have eased that trauma, promising a delightfully vibrant production with musical numbers to soothe the fans. Directed by Guy Ritchie, there seems to be an extraordinary amount of action scenes, reasonable given the storyline, but let’s hope this stays more Aladdin than Avengers. Lion King’s magnitude might dilute some of the excitement for Aladdin so we predict a modest box office here.
Where to watch: In theatres May.
From the universal message to the memorable characters, The Lion King is easily one of Disney’s most anticipated live action remake. It leaped frogged earlier titles to become a Broadway play, and the longevity on-stage is an indication of its appeal.
From a chest-thumping soundtrack to the exotic sceneries, Jon Favreau (who also directed The Jungle Book) aims to recreate the magic he did with that title, into the similar-themed Lion King. One thing’s for sure, the stellar CGI seems to be in place. The trailers have kept things basic but poignant, and the sustained buzz will definitely give Disney a roaring success with this one.
Where to watch: In theatres July.
By Morgan Awyong, March 2019 / Updated by Muneerah Bee, April 2019
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