Written by Theron Abell
Recently, Disney has seemed to have a penchant for adapting their old animated movies into live-action remakes. They may have been doing this purely to make more money, or to make it look like buying Marvel and Star Wars aren’t the only things that they can do inconsequentially. The problem with the way that Disney has been adapting their movies is that they have been reimagining their most popular classics with a mixed bag of results. The Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, and Aladdin remakes had a fair amount of overall success and were pretty well received by their audiences. Though with Emma Watson, Jon Favreau, and Will Smith directly involved with their respective films, that much can be expected. However, with the new Beauty and the Beast being a personal favorite, the lower you get on that list, the larger the underlying negative response. And then you get to the recently released remake of Mulan. The movie is at best described as a letdown and at worst considered the worst Disney remake to date as it deviates drastically from the original animated film and overall has a very pandering tone to it that comes across as a little grating.
That is the risk that Disney has taken in adapting its more popular classics. They do this while having a guaranteed audience because of the popularity of the original movie and the Broadway show to also work off of in some cases. Adapting their most well-known and popular movies also meant they would be relying heavily on nostalgia towards the original movie.
Adapting a movie means the audience will have members who have already “seen the movie”; however, the expectation to see something new as well as something familiar gives the creative team some room to work. Especially if the movies are less known but still have cult-followings.
- The Sword in the Stone – 1963
The oldest out of the three movies I humbly recommend Disney dust off is The Sword in the Stone, the classic tale of Arthur but more closely based on a novel by T.H. White. Following a young Arthur, we watch as he grows not only more knowledgeable, thanks to a scholarly Merlin, but wiser too due to his adventures. Filled with magic, The Sword in the Stone would be a nice coming of age story for a younger audience in a post-Harry Potter universe.
What Disney has to worry about with this movie is pandering too much to a “younger audience” and animal CG with magic scenes. The movie places a hefty emphasis on the message that knowledge is power with Arthur spending most of the movie being taught by Merlin. The titular sword is not seen until late in the movie. The magic used through most of it is Merlin transforming them into various creatures in an attempt to teach Arthur. If done in a way that doesn’t come across as a movie aimed at preschoolers, I think that this movie could be a hit and a family favorite.
- Atlantis: The Lost Empire – 2001
One of my favorite animated movies, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, came at a time when Disney was very experimental in its style of animation and the types of films it made. Atlantis is Indiana Jones meets 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We follow Milo Thatch as he begins to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps as an archaeologist and explorer as he searches for the lost civilization of Atlantis. Filled with adventure, action, magic, and just a hint of romance, Atlantis: The Lost Empire would have something for everyone. The themes of power, knowledge, and morality would make it critically compelling as well.
Atlantis has a bit of a cult-following that Disney should be aware of; turning the movie into a trademark specialty blockbuster would work in their favor. Atlantis is filled with action scenes that are perfect for live-action adaptations. It has enough of a character focus that the audience is kept interested in more than just the explosions and pretty lights. To get the correct vibe for Atlantis, Disney would have to adopt a more classic steampunk approach. As everything “modern” in the movie seems to have steam coming out of every crack and more knobs than I can count. The “Atlantian” pieces of technology have a more magical native feel to them that Disney can do well if it keeps both hands on its original movie for reference. Lastly, Disney would have not to overdo its inclusivity and representation prerogative as the cast and crew of characters in Atlantis are already widely representative and varied with a near-even mix of all racial, gender, age, and social class backgrounds that we get to know over the course of the movie.
- Treasure Planet– 2002
One of my personal top three movies ever, Treasure Planet, came just after Atlantis and is one of the most fun films ever made. Treasure Planet is a sci-fi adaptation of the classic book, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, that plays a little hard and fast with the more typically ironclad rules of space travel. Adventure and mystery abound as we follow James Pleiades Hawkins aboard the R. L. S. Legacy as it sails for the infamous Treasure Planet and “the loot of a thousand worlds”. One of the best coming of age adventures to come to the silver screen, Treasure Planet is fun and engaging for all ages.
Treasure Planet is jam packed with action and adventure with exploring the stars and an alien planet, highlighting all the risks that both space travel and traditional sea voyages include. One of my leading concerns for a Disney live-action remake of Treasure Planet is the alien characters. Only two characters in the entire movie are entirely human. Only the main character and his mother are human, so there would be many CG characters to make hopefully well. Disney would also have to be careful not to let the modern cyberpunk aesthetic of sci-fi into the movie. It is all about the wonder of the stars and freedom of sailing, aesthetically similar to a Pirates of the Caribbean in space. Lastly, Disney would have to make sure that the Goo Goo Dolls are available to make the soundtrack as they were a key element of the original animated film. Treasure Planet, like Atlantis, has a cult-following, but as long as Disney does as I said and does a generally good job, the fans will be more than happy to support its return to the big screen.