So I watched Maleficent last night *takes a bow* I know I know, I’m like wonder woman and stuff. Kids should make dioramas about my life, ya’ll should sing songs about me, just be a lamb and leave “Doro” out of my first name. Maleficent has received mixed ratings and while this is not a review (keep your fingers crossed for that one) I left the movie theatre with no doubt that Angelina Jolie was simply born to pay the wicked witch.
It did get me thinking, over the course of nearly a century, the animated films created by Disney Studios have become instantly recognizable components of our cultural backbone. Many of these movies have become more than just iconic – they have often become the definitive, modern versions of the stories and folktales they set out to adapt.
The (close to $200 million) success of Maleficent could open the door to yet more “new” versions of older Disney stories. As such, we have compiled a list of 5 more Disney animated feature films that could work well as either as live-action adaptations or reboots.
5. The Sword in the Stone (1963)
Viewed without the rosy spectacles of childhood, The Sword in the Stone is a notably odd entry in Disney’s canon. One part earnest historical drama and another part goofy episodic comedy, The Sword in the Stone has a rambling narrative that belies its mythic underpinnings.
Nonetheless, The Sword in the Stone remains a fairly iconic piece of Disneyana. Its relentless love for quirky characters, interesting set-pieces, and wall-to-wall magic that could make it a prime candidate for a modern, effects-heavy reimagining.
Given that the story of King Arthur has already been adapted into almost countless action/adventure and drama films, retaining the comedic edge of The Sword in the Stone is probably imperative. A smart adaptation could update the original’s focus and comedic cadence for a contemporary audience. It doesn’t need to be a shock-humor flick that rolls its eyes at its source material (see: Your Highness); recent family flicks such as The LEGO Movie prove that one can create a multi-generational comedy that truly caters to the entirety of its audience.
Then again, we may simply be channeling our deep, nerdy love of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
4. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
On paper, Atlantis: The Lost Empire sounds like one of the most ambitious productions in modern animation – much less something from the Disney stable. It’s a quasi-steampunk, two-fisted adventure with more in common with Indiana Jones than the typical Disney flick. It even sports character and environment designs by Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy and veritable impresario of latter-day pulp illustration.
And yet, the movie itself doesn’t quite work. Atlantis is a movie filled top to bottom with barely missed opportunities.
Bluntly put, the script ideas, design, and overall aesthetic of Atlantis would probably play better as a live-action blockbuster than a traditional Disney animated feature. While a stone-faced, self-serious adaptation of the film would probably work out poorly, the elimination of some of Disney animated films’ trademarks (wacky humor, one-joke characters) could help alleviate the original movie’s tonal issues. Of course, the slapdash plotting and characterization would have to be ironed out beforehand as well – even the transfer to live action wouldn’t be able to clean those up automatically.
3. Mulan (1998)
Much of the charm of Disney’s animated resume is their ability to take archetypal old tales and translate them skillfully for contemporary viewers. For instance, the story of a woman who disguises herself as a man to fight for her family is as old as war – and in the case of Mulan, is also one of China’s most beloved folktales.
Other than some jokes that fall flat, there’s very little we can hold against Disney’s Mulan. That said, imagine a version of the story in the grand tradition of Chinese martial arts cinema – whether as a kung fu flick or with wuxia (wire-fu) swordplay.
Additionally, an updated version of Mulan could tackle aspects of the legend untouched by the animated film. For instance, in the original telling, Hua Mulan stayed in the Imperial Army for many years and eventually became an esteemed general.
NOTE: Admittedly, a live-action version of the legend of Mulan has already been made. The Chinese production, titled Mulan: Rise of a Warrior in the West, starred Wei Zhao (Kung Fu Soccer) and was released in 2009. Fortunately for our speculative purposes, the film was not terribly well received. If Disney sees a future in re-adapting its own material, it would be fascinating to see how they might take a crack at it.
2. The Reluctant Dragon (1941)
If we can reasonably classify The Sword in the Stone as “odd,” The Reluctant Dragon is straight-up bizarre. Initially framed as a “filmed tour” of the Disney animation offices, the movie features live footage of comedian Robert Benchley (playing himself) as he pratfalls through the company. The movie centers on the titular cartoon segment, a 40-minute-long short that follows a dragon more interested in reciting poetry than he is in fighting knights-errant.
Though the kind of compilation film The Reluctant Dragon epitomizes is as alien to modern viewers as Vaudeville, the actual animated segment shows much promise as the centerpiece of a larger, comedic feature. The short film-within-a-film is light and sleepily paced, but is also weirdly charming.
Changing the tone of The Reluctant Dragon would probably be poisonous to that aforementioned charm. Just as with The Sword in the Stone, it might have the makings of a “big-budget comedy” that combines both quirky humor and CGI-aided visual gags.
1. Aladdin (1992)
For many Millennials, Aladdin represented the apex of Disney’s animation empire; perhaps only The Lion King is as unabashedly adored by those that came of age in the 1990s. Aladdin remains a slick, exciting adventure-comedy whose visuals are undeniably some of the best to come out of the House of Mouse.
That said, Aladdin is also starting to show its age. Though the film is barely old enough to buy a drink, its gags (especially those thrown out by Robin Williams’ manic Genie) are fairly dusty at this point. Additionally, the movie contains elements that edge uncomfortably close to racist caricature (a charge Aladdin had to deal with upon its release).
At the same time, Aladdin is a rather broad – and one might say “homogenized” – adaptation. The original tale (from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights) is set in China, and involves multiple genies, multiple sorcerers, and a magic ring to complement the magic lamp.
This rich source material could be mined for a more faithful – or at the very least, differently imagined – live-action adventure. Heck, one could throw in further elements from the stories surrounding “The Wondrous Lamp” for a full-on epic based on one of the planet’s greatest repositories of folklore. In an increasingly multicultural world where movie profits pull heavily from an international box office, this kind of adaptation could be the future of Disney filmmaking.
That’s it people! Now it’s your turn to tell us what you think? Any Disney purist in the house that would rather these classics live on unspoiled and untouched? Sound off in the comments section.