Why New Age Disney Live Action Films Suck

You can probably tell from the title that I have some pretty strong feelings on this subject. Feelings that were recently more solidified by watching The Jungle Book (Jon Favreau, 2016). And after watching that I just need to go on a rant, so brace yourselves.

Some context then, before we begin. First of all, I'm a massive animation geek, with a particular affiliation with the Disney animated classics. There are a lot of perfect movies in that line-up, and even the not-so-perfect ones are never outright crap. There's always an air of whimsy and fun about all of the films, and whether or not the film hit a home run you can never deny that much of them.

Secondly, everyone has said The Jungle Book is an incredible movie, really something special and a must-see. When I say everyone I am of course talking about the Internet, but theirs is usually an opinion I trust. I listen to movie podcasts and YouTubers and check out Rotten Tomatoes before I go see a film just so I can set myself up for what I'm about to see.

Let's get back to it then. I'll begin with The Jungle Book because my loathing for the thing is still so fresh in my mind. The scab hasn't completely healed yet so let's pick at it a little. I fucking hated this movie. HATED. And, let's get this straight, I'm not a giant fan of the original Disney animated version. I think it's OK, has some cool songs and fun voice-work, but definitely would never feature in my top 10. But oh my god, the 2016 version is awful. What's wrong with it? Let's break it down:

The animation - if you single out the animation, so for instance, Shere Khan the tiger, it looks incredible. Some of the most detailed and visually convincing CGI you'll ever see. But then when it's all smooshed together it looked vulgar. Really disjointed and ugly. Add to that the weird shiny gloss that the recent Disney live action movies insist upon and you're left with something super unpleasant and distracting. And the colours. Oh my god. I thought this was meant to be a kids story? There is one section in this movie that has any life or colour at all, the rest of the movie is a palette of dreary greys, browns, blacks and whites. And it's depressing to look at. And boring. And yh, I hated it.
The original animated versions managed to come alive with colour and still maintain that air of mystery that comes with being deep in the jungle and I don't know why this movie couldn't either.

The voice acting - this was the single most distracting thing for me. Any time any of the celebrity voice acting came into play I was taken straight out of the movie. That's not Kaa, that's Scarlett Johansson. That's not King Louie, that's Christopher Walken. That's not Baloo, that's Bill Murray. I didn't think any of the casting was a good fit for the characters and all of the voices were so recognisable that I couldn't distract myself way from picturing the real actors instead of the characters they were supposed to be playing. And that's bad, right? It means they're not acting well enough to convince me they are who they're trying to be.

The tone - this movie could not make up its mind what kind of tone it was trying to be. Light-hearted and whimsical or dark and brooding? Or, how about both? Yh, well you can imagine why that doesn't really work. There was one particular scene that built up to some dark scary shit, proper Apocalypse Now style, and then out of nowhere, the funky beats of I Wanna Be Like You. WHY?! It made no sense, totally ruined any mood that the last 5 minutes had built up to and made me laugh out loud (and not in a good way.)

The child actor - OK, I get that he was essentially acting to nothing and that's why he's kind of weird and jittery sometimes, but that wasn't my issue. My issue was that they made Mowgli a spoiled, entitled little brat. He's supposed to be an innocent with the misunderstanding nature of a child that we forgive because hey, he's just a kid, he doesn't know any better. This Mowgli was an extremely unlikeable little shit whose relationship with the animals and the forest just didn't connect in the same way the original animated version did.

So yh, suffice to say I really did not enjoy this movie and cannot fathom for the life of me why the critics whose opinions I usually trust were so off kilter with my own. I guess I'm cynical. I don't for one minute believe these films are being made because there's so much more we can get out of these stories. They're made because they're sure-fire box office smashes for the studios because of the legacy of the Disney animated classics and in turn breathe a new lease of life into the old animated classics, meaning Disney can release them on Blu-Ray again and make even MORE money.

Which I'm not criticising, it's a solid business model and anything that keeps Disney in business is fine by me. What I cannot abide is quite how poor the quality of these movies has been. We know Disney can make excellent films, and still are. Just take a look at Zootopia (Bryan Howard, 2016). It was released just a few weeks before and it is excellent. The voice-work is spot on, the screenplay is hilarious, witty and engaging, it knows exactly what it wants to be and just does it. So why doesn't this transfer over to the live-action reimaginings?

I definitely think there's an air of trying too hard to subvert the original story in the new tales. Like Maleficent (Robert Stromberg, 2014), or even Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh, 2015). The new films take these classic stories that have worked so well in their simple form for literally centuries and add so much exposition and explanation that the magic and mystery is basically sucked out of it. We don't need to know Mowgli's backstory. We don't need to be told that Maleficent is actually a 'goodie'. These stories are classics for a reason, because they're perfect as they are. Mess with that formula and then add a dollop of weird, shiny CGI, mis-judged celebrity cameos and weird subversive tone and you're left with one Frankenstein of a fairytale.

And now, I hold my breath and wait to see what they've done to my precious Beauty and the Beast. Sigh.

Thanks so much for reading! What do you think of the new Disney live action movies? Are there any animated classics that you're dying for a live-action remake of? Leave me a comment, I'd love to have a chat!

Talk later xoxo



  1. I hated it too. It was completely void of the magic and the charm of the original movie, too focused on being dark and gritty to believe itself "epic". Some defend it by saying it's closer to the book (typical..) but if anything I think this was even furder from the book than the original cartoon.

  2. I think you are right on the money. Disney's live-action remakes are nothing more than supplementary dairy pumps for their cash cows. It's really a shame, too, because each one seriously thumbs its nose at what should be an obvious conceptual opportunity: offer a more faithful adaptation and a more accurate historical setting of the original story which nevertheless blends into the "Disney Classic" interpretation. THAT would be interesting.

    Alas, each film is overloaded with not-subtle CGI to assault the eyes, destroys the personalities of its characters by thereby forcing its actors to interact with unnatural interlocutors, and twists and subverts the tales to fit modern Social Justsice Warrior themes so in vogue so that critics won't notice its blatant and cynical commercial motives, losing itself in the process. These films are clearly crafted for modern audiences, and this shows right down to Cinderella's, Aurora's and Belle's ball gowns, which look like cheap 21st-century prom dresses. In many ways 'Beauty and the Beast' was the culmination of everything that is wrong with these films. Emma Watson is completely miscast: the only reason they would put a non-singer in that role is so they can say "Come see Hermione play Belle!" and it worked brilliantly.

    That said, Cate Blanchett is excellent as evil stepmother Lady Tremaine, and she really deserved a better script. OTOH, I now have to call into question her taste and judgment for agreeing to boost that monstrosity.

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