Disney’s Death Sentence to Animation

Michelle Gabriel, a senior graphic design major draws on her tablet. Photo by Kamron Meyers/The Jambar

By Kaitlyn Kelley

Whether it was a classic like “Pinocchio” or a more recent film like “The Princess and the Frog,” many people have a favorite animated film that stuck with them throughout childhood.

That feeling of nostalgia while rewatching older animated films is what turned Disney from a studio focusing on new animation into a studio that remakes its classic animated films in live action.

The remakes started with the live-action adaptation of 1951’s “Alice in Wonderland,” directed by Tim Burton in 2010. 

Mikayla Shiels, a freshman pre-nursing major at Youngstown State University, said she was 9 years old when the Burton adaptation was released.

Photo by Kamron Meyers/The Jambar

“It was creepy looking back on it, but I still like it to this day,” she said.

With the film boasting $1 billion in profits despite the mixed reviews, wheels were set in motion for Disney to roll out more live-action adaptations.

Disney also decided to remake its classic princess movies “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella.”

The consecutive releases of “Maleficent” in 2014 and “Cinderella” in 2015 raked in over $750 million and $540 million worldwide, respectively. 

“Why watch a ‘Star Wars’ movie from 1977 or 1980 when you can just remake them with more sophisticated special effects?” Milan Paurich, an adjunct faculty member who teaches a history of motion pictures course at YSU, said.

Five live-action remakes of classic animated Disney features came out in 2019 with varying degrees of success. With a celebrity cast and the promise of new music, “The Lion King” remake grossed over $1.6 billion worldwide. 

“2019’s ‘The Lion King’ pointed out the dangers of live-action remakes of animated films, especially since pretty much the entire film was itself CGI animated,” Paurich said. “Not surprisingly, the Golden Globes actually nominated [the live-action Lion King] for Best Animated Feature.”

But it’s possible that the stylish form of 2D animation could come back in style, according to Claudia Berlinski, a professor in YSU’s art department.

Michelle Gabriel, a senior graphic design major draws on her tablet. Photo by Kamron Meyers/The Jambar

“As is the case with other art forms, there has been a trend back to things that are handcrafted after a surge in digital production. I would imagine that will happen in the field of animation as well,” she said.

Despite this, Disney is going to continue pumping out live-action remakes as long as it can profit from fans’ nostalgia, according to Richard Johnson, assistant professor of film studies. 

“They’ll continue to remake older movies as long as they’re profitable,” he said. “But eventually, they’re going to run out of classic cartoons to convert.”

Animation and traditional artwork have a rich history, having preceded animation by 35,000 years from cave paintings to short films of the early 20th century, according to Johnson. 

Despite this, it seems clear that Disney is headed in the direction of remakes for the time being. Only time will tell if this method will work or run the company into the ground.