The Psychology Behind Disney’s Live-Action Adaptations

Over the last four years, we have seen Disney produce live-action adaptations of our favorite animated classics. It began with Cinderella and has made it all the way to Lady and the Tramp. In between, there have been some animated versions that have been created to resemble reality, such as The Lion King and The Jungle Book. I think this is highly inappropriate as an art form, but I have theories as to why Disney is following this trend, beyond the fact that corporate Disney wants to rake in as much box office cash as possible.

In order to understand why Disney is seeking to make a profit from this trend, we need to remember the basics of marketing: if the public wants something and we can provide it to them in exchange for money, then that is what we need to do. It boils down to the point that WE, the audience, WANT to see live-action versions of animated classics. And this must be rooted in our natural desire to be entertained.

What has always made us love motion pictures is that they are the culmination of all forms of art: all things visible and all things audible. The movie begins with the script (writing) and is filmed to pick up certain images (visual art), contains performers (acting), and sounds to support (or even contrast) what we are seeing (music). It should come as no surprise that when we fall in love with a piece of art in any form, our first thoughts include the desire to make a adapt it into a movie (this is usually the case with books and plays).

But this happened before the invention of cameras and movies. People still desired to see performances of their favorite stories, and so for thousands of years they attended the theatre, where they would see the story unfold before their very eyes. We do not want our entertainment to be restricted to only our imaginations, we want to see it as we see world in front of us.

But theatre is a limited form of art, it is all depending on the audience being there in that specific location in order for people to be entertained. In order for a resident of Wyoming who cannot afford to attend the original run of Hamilton on Broadway, he must depend on video to see it.

That is the beauty of cinema: it is theatre that is accessible to the whole world. While the stories of J. R. R. Tolkien have been adapted to the stage countless times since they were introduced to the world in 1937, artists always strove to bring it to the big screen (and by the time they did with New Line Cinema and WingNut Films helmed by Peter Jackson, the only way to describe it was miraculous, and as good of an adaptation as anybody would have wanted).

And this proves to be the case with our favorite animated classics that Disney has been turning into live-action films. We want to see these movies as if they were a part of the world we live in. I remember bringing a copy of The Lion King back to my dorm during my freshman year of college as my roommate and a close friend of ours watched it. The roommate commented that Disney should make a live-action version, to which I voiced my disagreement. Nine years later, Disney granted him his wish with their recent release of the iconic movie. While I was impressed by the adaptations of Simba’s presentation to the kingdom, it quickly lost my attention after that.

Why was I not as interested in this? Because the beauty of cartoons is that the artist has the ability to convey anthropomorphic qualities to dumb brutes who express their emotions in manners different to ours. We could not see the comedic effect in Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s performances as Timon and Pumba, respectively, or the fear in Scar’s eyes when he realized he was to die and the “paws” of the hyenas he threw under the bus. There was also the inability to accompany the iconic songs with visual aids that came with them. That was the beauty of the original version, which we cannot replicate if we attempt to make it as realistic as possible.

I will restrain myself from concluding that live-action adaptations of cartoons cannot be done, since there were many who asserted The Lord of the Rings was too complicated to turn into films. However I find it very unlikely that we can achieve the same affection for a live-action as we do for the original animated piece. Not just the fact that it’s a remake, as films such as A Star is Born are incapable of being remade into an awful piece of entertainment.

I will conclude that we should stop giving Disney a reason to make poor updated versions of our favorite movies, and the best way to do that is NOT SEE the new versions. With the pace that Disney is already at, I find it very unlikely that Mulan or The Rescuers will fare any better.

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