The Walt Disney Company has, without a doubt, changed the landscape of children’s films, with films being produced which have captured the imagination of the entire world.
Ever since 1923, when the company was founded, films have been churned out, to which children and adults alike have found themselves drawn. It would be difficult to find anyone who does not have a Disney film, even just one, which stands out in their minds and which they hold deeply in their hearts.
It therefore comes as no surprise that many of the films which emerged from the Disney Company several decades ago have now been introduced again to a modern audience, allowing a more recent generation of children to see what the fuss was all about the first time around, while enjoying something slightly different from what came before. The remakes we see in recent years tend to be live-action versions of the animated originals.
One film which has undergone such treatment is the film, Beauty and the Beast (1991). This film, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, tells the story of a book-loving woman, Belle, taken capture by a monstrous Beast. When they fall in love, the Beast turns out to be a handsome prince. A happy ending is had by all, including the Beast’s household objects who turn out to have been human beings all along.
Starring Robby Benson and Paige O’Hara as the titular couple, the film won two Oscars in 1992 for the title-named song.
Two decades later, the world welcomes the live-action film, Beauty and the Beast (2017). With Bill Condon in the director’s chair, Emma Watson takes on the role of Belle and Dan Stevens performs the role of the Beast.
Both films received acclaim, with the 2017 film receiving significant praise for its faithfulness to the original. Controversy erupted over both films for its insinuations of Stockholm Syndrome- a condition in which prisoners subconsciously ally themselves with their captors. Further attention was drawn to the new film’s use of a gay character, LeFou. For all the outrage that may well have been caused, it must surely be a positive thing for people, both young and old, to be discussing such issues rather than ignoring them.
Another animated film from Disney is The Jungle Book (1967). In this film, a human child, Mowgli, is raised by wolves in the Indian woods, making friends and enemies of many of the other animals along the way, before returning to his own kind at the end of the film.
A family connection is at the root of the film’s production: Wolfgang Reitherman, the director, is the father of Bruce Reitherman, who stars as Mowgli.
This film was followed, after nearly forty years, by a live-action The Jungle Book (2016). Jon Favreau directs, and Neel Sethi takes over Bruce Reitherman’s lead role, along with Bill Murray taking on Phil Harris’ role as Baloo the bear.
The new film differs in a number of ways from the original. There is a mafia-related theme running through the 2016 film, absent from that of 1967. This is seen most prevalently in the storyline of King Louie, played by Louis Prima in the original and by Christopher Walken in the new version.
Also present in the live-action film is a more brutal end for the primary antagonist, the tiger Shere Khan. The 1967 film sees the character, voiced by George Sanders, flee the scene due to his pyrophobia. Idris Elba’s character in the 2016 film dies when he falls into a fiery pit. Are today’s audiences psychologically capable of surviving such brutality in comparison to the original? One hopes that, for the film’s sake, the answer is yes.
Another of Disney’s animated classics is Tarzan (1999). Similar in some ways to The Jungle Book, a human child, whose parents have fallen victim to a leopard, is raised by gorillas. The child, Tarzan, grows up and meets his own kind, leading to conflict between the character’s human origins and his love for the character Jane, and his loyalty to his primate family. Tension, then unity, ensues between the two groups.
Directed by Chris Buck and Kevin Lima, the film stars Tony Goldwyn as Tarzan and Minnie Driver as Jane.
The 21st-century, live-action version came in the form of The Legend of Tarzan (2016). This film receives direction from David Yates, with Alexander Skargard as Tarzan and Margot Robbie as Jane. This film is, in fact, set after the events of the 1999 version. The more recent film sees Tarzan having left his jungle origins behind him, with the emphasis of this film being on the slave trade being forced upon Africans at the time in which the film is set.
Character differences are also present between the two versions. In the 1999, the main antagonist is the hunter Clayton, voiced by Brian Blessed. The name Clayton is given to Tarzan himself in the 2016 version, the name being that of Tarzan’s family. The primary villain of this version is Captain Leon Rom, played by Christoph Waltz. This character is a Belgian captain, working on the behalf of King Leopold of Belgium to take control of the African nation. As with most of Disney’s films, both animated and live-action, mature themes are a recurring theme.
Other live-action versions of animated Disney films are still to come in forthcoming years. These include The Lion King (2019), following The Lion King (1994). Also coming is Aladdin (1992), taking its lead from Aladdin (2019). Audiences will see for themselves how the new versions compare and contrast to the older versions, both with these films and with the others that are in the pipeline, as well as ones which are still yet to be devised by film executives all over the world.
When a film is loved, it makes sense that people will want to see more of it. Parents will want to share it with their children, and it becomes a source of family bonding. When new versions of the original are announced, excitement is rife amongst the film’s fans. When that new film comes, the original fans formulate their opinions, while new fans are drawn it, often going back to the original to appease their curiosity.
If Disney continues in its prolific production of much-loved films, then movie buffs all over the world can only find all the more satisfaction and joy.
–Luke Mayo, Editor (Arts)