Classic Animation versus Live-Action Remakes

by John Onorato
There have been a lot of “live action” remakes over the last few years.  2015 saw Kenneth Branagh’s sumptuous period remake of the classic Cinderella tale.  “The Jungle Book” was remade in 2016 with lavish special effects, and we got “Beauty and the Beast” in 2017.  The latter is a bona-fide hit, with box-office receipts grossing over $1 billion.  There have been more in the past, and those will certainly not be the last.  There are many more remakes to come.
¶ Of course, many people (like myself) remain fond of the originals.  Even 25 year old films like The Lion King are still quite good.  The movie looks as good as it did when it was first released in 1994, and it’ll likely look as good in another 25 years.  Its remake is slated for 2019.  The films will be similar, but it won’t matter how good the remake looks.  They are totally different films.
¶ In other words, the market has plenty of room for new material.

Animation Today

CG animation is ascendant in the industry, however.  Yet traditional animation still survives, despite not having many recent major releases.  It was used, for example, in 2016’s Pacific Island epic “Moana,” to animate the tattoos on the character Maui.
¶ Still, it is accurate to say that hand-drawn animation is being deprecated in today’s workplace.
At the same time, though, traditional drawing skills are still in demand.  They’re especially useful when planning an animation.  Even if the final product will be digital, it’s incredibly useful for an animator to create a thumbnail with clear facial expressions and body poses.
¶ Audiences, too, seem to be favoring CG animation.  Whether the CG manifests photorealistically (as it did in Beauty and the Beast) or as “Pixar style animation” (think “Toy Story,” “Cars” and “Wall-E”), producers are responding to this trend.  Producers make their business decisions based on market data, so the trend is likely here to stay.

On The Making of Films

Making films remains an astonishingly risky business.  Especially since viewers are drawn by over-the-top special effects (which cost a lot of money), the movies with the most spectacle and heft are the ones that draw the biggest crowds.  In 2012, Disney released “John Carter,” which seemed destined to be a big thing.  It had the glitz, it had the glamor, and it had excellent effects work, but it never pulled in audiences.
¶ A much safer proposition is to go through the vault of films that already achieved “hit” status, and remake them using live action.  And why shouldn’t they?  They’ve been tried, and they seem to be true.  People are likely to be more interested, as they’re already familiar with the characters.  Most of the hard concept work has been done already.  If it was a hit before, it can be a hit again, right?

¶ Still, it’s too soon to say if these live action remakes will ever be considered “classics.”


jungle book 2016
Though they have been mixed together since the 1900s, the line that separates animation and live action has become blurred even more since 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”  That’s the first movie this writer can remember which did this.  Since then, some movies are nearly all CGI, with only a smattering of live action.  One example is 2016’s “The Jungle Book.”  In that movie, nearly everything was CG, aside from Neel Sethi who played the boy.  Other movies blend CG and live action even more seamlessly.  Only those with the keenest of eyes would know that the James Bond movie “Spectre,” which came out in 2015 was mostly CG … even the parts that looked “normal,” as if they were shot on location or on a set.
¶ Today’s directors have many more choices open to them, creatively speaking.  They only have to decide how they want their film to look, then gather the right team to realize that vision.  So the question is not about what’s better – it’s more about what’s more true to the director’s vision.



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