This past weekend, Disney’s live-action remake of Cinderella cleaned up at movie theaters, making over $70 million dollars just at the domestic box office alone. This follows up last year’s surprise hit Maleficent, and before that, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. The next couple of years see live-action versions of Beauty and the Beast as well as The Jungle Book hitting cinemas. It’s clear now that Disney now has yet another tentpole “franchise” in the form of live-action retellings of their classic animated movies. That’s in addition to Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and their own Walt Disney Animated Studios. Throw in Pirates of the Caribbean and a potential Indiana Jones reboot, and it’s clear that this is just Disney’s world, and we all just live in it.
So the question remains, which of Disney’s other animated classics are ripe for live-action re-invention? I’d definitely stick to movies that had human protagonists, because any “live-action” versions of say, The Lion King, Lady and the Tramp or The Rescuers, to name but a few of Disney’s many animated films with animal characters as leads, would just be CGI versions of previously hand drawn movies- one cartoon remaking another cartoon, to which I say, what’s the point? (and yes, I include the recently announced Dumbo in that list.) When you take away the likes of Bambi and The Aristocats, the list gets much shorter. (Disney made a LOT of talking animal movies over the decades.) With that in mind, here are five animated classic tales from the Disney Vault the studio should definitely look at next when considering which movies to adapt to live-action.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of the most important films in the animated Disney canon, if not the most important. For starters, it was the first full length animated feature ever, and such a massive hit it launched Walt Disney as a brand name. You can say that the Disney empire is built upon the backs of those seven little men. After Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, Snow White is the most famous fairy tale from back in Walt’s day that has yet to be made into live action from the studio.
This one might take a few more years to make it to the big screen, if only because Universal’s Snow White and the Huntsmen came out just two years ago, and was a pretty big hit (although I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually liked it, outside of Charlize Theron’s amazing performance as the wicked Queen). But in our ADD society, in five years no one will even remember that movie, leaving Disney space to do their own version. And truth be told, Disney owns SO many things we associate with Snow White that no other studios can do-the seven dwarfs’ names as presented in the movie, the visual looks of both Snow White and the Evil Queen, the song “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and more. Because of Huntsmen, this one might be a couple more years down the road, but you know it’s just a matter of time.
The Little Mermaid
This one is also probably a few years off from going into production, only because so much of it would by neccessity take place under water, and that’s gonna be expensive to produce and make look even remotely realistic. (Warner Brothers is going to be facing this same problem when making their Aquaman movie.) But this film is easily one of the most beloved Disney animated movies in their library, and was the beginning of what we now call the “Disney Renaissance” that restored the luster and box office success of the studios’ animated output throughout the rest of the ’90s , making this one almost a certainty to happen at some point down the line. Much like Beauty and the Beast, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s musical score is so iconic that it must be kept if this one goes to live-action. The underwater kingdom of The Little Mermaid could look especially spectacular if done correctly, so Disney should take their time with this one till they know they can get it right.
If I were to pick an animated fairy tale to adapt right after Beauty and the Beast, it would almost certainly be Aladdin, and not just because it was the animated follow-up to Beauty back in the day. For starters, although the movie has an iconic princess in it in the form of Jasmine, it’s just as much an action/adventure comedy story with a male lead as it is a traditional princess story, making it different from the previous few adaptations. It has the biggest chance of attracting both a male and female audience. (The audience demographic was predominantly female for both Cinderella and Maleficent, which is completely fine, but you know Disney wants some of those boy dollars too if they can get them.)
Much like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, I would highly suggest that Disney keep the score from Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, the last of the three scores they produced for the company. I can’t imagine Aladdin without “A Whole New World” or “A Friend Like Me”, can you? If Aladdin can be adapted as a successful stage musical on Broadway, then it can certainly be adapted as a live-action movie.
Another classic from the early Walt era, Pinocchio is another no-brainer for live-action adaptation. The problem is, there is currently two competing versions of a live-action Pinocchio said to be in the pipeline, although not a peep has been heard about either of these for some time now, leading me to wonder if one or both of these has been shelved. One is a stop motion version from Guillermo del Toro, so you can add that to pile of things he wants to make that might never see the light of day, and the other was set to star Robert Downey Jr. as both Geppetto and Pinocchio, directed by Tim Burton.
With Burton now doing Dumbo, this whole project seems up in the air again. If I were Downey, already cozy with Disney due to Iron Man/Marvel, I’d take the Pinocchio project to Disney over Warner Brothers, where he can do a version that contains so much of the iconic imagery we associate with the fairy tale, from the looks of the characters like Jiminy Cricket to the song “When You Wish Upon A Star.”
Although there have been several live-action iterations of Peter Pan over the last two decades, starting with Steven Spielberg’s Hook, then the 2003 live-action version from Universal which flopped, to next year’s Pan, this is another Disney fairy tale in which so much iconography we associate with the story is owned by Disney. As a result, all other versions of the story seem like the cheap knock off versions. Warner Brothers’ Pan is coming out next summer with Hugh Jackman and Garrett Hedlund, so this is another one that might want some distance from a competing version of the same story, but the House of Mouse is almost certainly going to want to make their own version of this in live-action at some point. It helps that next year’s version is an “origin story” of Peter Pan and not a straight up version of the J.M. Barrie story, which is something Disney could do to differentiate.
Got a favorite animated Disney film you’d love to see made into a live action feature? Or should Disney leave well enough alone and stop mining your childhood for new hits? Let us know in the comments below!