It seems Disney finally found a magic formula for taking their animated products and turning them into live-action films. While that was clearly evident with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, it’s been more of challenge making live-action remakes directly from the animated classics. With Glenn Close the best things about the “101 Dalmatians” remake, the thought of doing live-action remakes of everything else seems dreadful. This isn’t going to stop anyone, though, and Disney already has a live-action take on “Cinderella” already filmed by the directing hand of none other than Kenneth Branagh.
Now it’s onward to “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Jungle Book”, which has an interesting precedent: Both were done in live-action before, except at different studios and in different countries. And both of those are considered almost equal in superiority to the animated versions Disney put out in 1992, and 1967, respectively. Take a look at the comparisons between each version and see whether Disney will use the original live-action productions for some kind of influence in the look and design.
“Beauty and the Beast” (1946) vs. Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1992)
The French were so far ahead of the curve in filmmaking that it’s not surprising they managed to make an adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” first. Known as “La Belle et la Bete”, this mesmerizing 1946 gem is from the directing hand of Jean Cocteau who managed to show how ethereal you can make a production despite a low budget. Filmed in black and white, the film used to get more TV airplay years ago, though seldom does today. Once in a while, you’ll see it air on Turner Classic Movies in its original uncut edition.
It’s the dreamlike production of this movie that will always stick with you, including some ingenious camera tricks to give the illusion of opulence. If you ever saw the movie as a kid, you may have thought you dreamed seeing it since it plays almost like a lucid dream in black and white. The Beast is also one of the eeriest ever done, albeit the story having some added plot twists not in the original book.
Would Disney take from this and give a more ethereal appearance rather than copy from the original 1992 musical? Don’t be surprised if there’s some nods to Cocteau, even if the live-action take has to copy the famous ballroom sequence. Seeing that in live action form might be worth the price of admission, which is already incorporated into the stage musical. It’s not easy, though, to convey the beast today in live-action form without the dangers of being laughable. They also don’t want to go overboard and have him look like a creature out of a horror movie.
Disney shouldn’t be afraid to show the Beast in the same haunting way that Jean Marais played the Beast/The Prince almost 70 years ago. The French knew how to make a character intimidating while also sympathetic at the same time.
“The Jungle Book” (1942) vs. Disney’s “The Jungle Book” (1967)
If you’ve never seen the original live-action “The Jungle Book” from 1942, you’ve missed an iconic part of film’s past. Produced and directed by Alexander and Zoltan Korda, it’s one of the crown jewels within all their exquisite productions from that era. Those who’ve seen any of the Korda productions from those days know how unique they are and made with a timeless feel that still holds up for the most fickle audiences today.
Filmed in color in 1942, this was a faithful adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling and starred Sabu as the Mowgli. Sabu Dastagir was a huge young star from India back in those days and who continued to be a major presence in Hollywood despite a young death at the age of 39. You can see a slight resemblance in the animated Mowgli in Disney’s excellent 1967 animated version of “The Jungle Book.”
Ironically, the swing music score used in Disney’s “The Jungle Book” was very popular when the live-action take was done in 1942. They almost seem backwards in the years they were made, yet no singing in the Korda production. And that’s the question of whether Disney should do a straight live-action remake in the vein of the Korda movie, or incorporate the legendary score from Richard and Robert Sherman?
They could possibly incorporate both elements, as surreal as it might be. Yet, the key to a successful live-action “Jungle Book” is making it look like the jungles of India rather than a replica of the animated surroundings from the animated film. Disney will have to go for a careful balance here, including the remake of the music. Considering it’s all swing music, will we see unfortunate attempts to incorporate some contemporary songs into the mix from the hands of other composers?
As much as “Maleficent” turned out to be the perfect vehicle to explore a notorious Disney villainess, each live-action remake is going to need its own careful tweaking and a re-watch of the original live-action movies to see how the Disney style sometimes collides when things look too real.