Indulge me if you will to have a bit of a rant. Walt Disney Studios is flying higher perhaps than ever before, owning as it does the box office bulkheads Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. Needless to say Disney’s acquisition of these three pillars of imagination allows for a near-monopoly on cinematic entertainment over blockbuster season. They are the modern film studio.
The pool of creativity Disney has access to is truly enviable, and they can do more or less anything. So why, in the name of good old Uncle Walt, are they so fixated with remaking their animated back catalogue – all still perfectly satisfying as they are – in live action?
We’ve already been subjected to THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, which had HARRY POTTER aspirations but padded a short to within an inch of its life; MALEFICENT, which featured several moments that were staggeringly inappropriate for children but also unashamedly featured a shot-for-shot redo of the most famous sequence in SLEEPING BEAUTY. Last year saw the release of CINDERELLA, still to come we have BEAUTY AND THE BEAST; THE JUNGLE BOOK; MULAN; PINOCCHIO and the just-announced THE SWORD IN THE STONE.
So Disney have had a few knockbacks. More-or-less every big project not drawn from in-house, safe-bet material has been considered a flop by Disney bigwigs. The real failures of TRON: LEGACY, JOHN CARTER, THE LONE RANGER and TOMORROWLAND may have been exaggerated (at least they all took risks) but for Disney anything less than a mega-hit just wasn’t good enough. Is this really reason enough to give up and fall back on extravagant remake after extravagant remake?
Even putting aside the monotony of this particular production cycle, the quite frankly depressing lack of new ideas (even sequels require some innovation, remakes not so much), for me the most worrying thing about Disney’s current creative preoccupation is that it diminishes, even dismisses, the films and immensely talented artists behind them that built the company from the ground up. It almost seems to say “cartoons are OK, but imagine how good it would be if it is real?”. Animation is not a lesser form of artistic expression, and it never will be. All filmmaking is a simulation of reality, and live action has no more claim to truly representing the world we live in than animation does.
Perhaps this latest production announcement particularly rankles with me because Disney are remaking my personal favourite of their back catalogue. The Sword in the Stone is the perfect Disney cartoon in my opinion, balancing warmth, humour and limitless imagination and bringing the complete package to us in an unfussy, endearingly scruffy and free animation style. It’s simply magic, and holds a very special place in my heart. Disney can’t make it better, and certainly not by simply putting flesh-and-blood actors on the screen.
Disney are in danger of becoming a bloated, self-obsessed yet self-hating, and above all an irrelevant force in the movie business. Even if their risks in the past haven’t quite paid off, you might as well aim high and stay brave when you have THE AVENGERS, STAR WARS and every wonderful thing Pixar dream up to soak up any shortfall. In those terms, where is the risk? SSP