The Lion King Vs Dumbo: Will Disney's upcoming live-action films match up to expectations, nostalgia set by animated originals?

Gautam Chintamani

Nov 24, 2018 18:09:36 IST

The elephant that could fly and the lion cub who would become the king inspired two different generation of audiences and yet in 2019, Dumbo and Simba would hit the screen at the same time but in different avatars. Disney’s decision to transform many of its timeless classics into live action versions has hit the next level with the trailers of two of its all-time greats, Dumbo (1941)and The Lion King (1994) going viral. Add a live-action urchin who becomes a prince with a little help from a giant blue genie or Aladdin (1992) and you may as well consider 2019 the year that changes the live action genre forever.

A still from The Lion King. Image from trailer

A still from The Lion King. Image from trailer

There is a rich legacy of Disney’s animation films in terms of a dedicated audience and nostalgia. In a way, it's just these two factors that play a role in deciding how soon a film could get made. Perhaps this is the reason why Disney decided to reach into its attic and unleash the charm of the evergreen The Beauty and the Beast (2017) and The Jungle Book (2016) as live action films. The initial reaction to the experimentation was mixed. While both the films made money, The Beauty and the Beast did not manage to capture the imagination of the audience the way The Jungle Book could. In fact, the manner in which the live action version played out, it seemed like a completely different film and managed to attract newer audiences (read: grown-ups), which would have otherwise skipped the film thinking of it as just a ‘remake’ of the animation original.

Since the success of The Jungle Book, there has been a sharp rise in the audience's expectations. The news of Disney going ahead with The Lion King, Dumbo, Mulan and Aladdin as live versions was greeted with a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism, and the lacklustre response to Christopher Robin (2018) featuring Ewan McGregor has not helped. The choice of the directors behind these films and the A-list cast attached, such as Tim Burton helming Dumbo, or Will Smith playing the Genie in Aladdin also shows how serious Disney is with the live action market.

Gauging the reactions that the trailers of Dumbo and The Lion King have generated, the jury still seems to be out on the verdict of live action films. As the filmmaker who laid the foundation of the new kind of superhero film following what he did with Batman (1989), Tim Burton is indeed the kind of brain that could transform the live action genre. The impressive cast comprising Michael Keaton, Eva Green, Danny DeVito and Colin Farrell notwithstanding, Dumbo appears to be a bit of a downer. Considering that Burton is the kind of creative genius who could find the macabre funny, one should not jump the gun and judge Dumbo solely on a few close-ups of the elephant with giant ears in the trailer. When compared to the pulsating energy that Jon Favreau instils in the African savanna in The Lion King’s teaser, Dumbo does seem to fall short. Unlike Burton, Favreau’s imagery is majestic and promises to be one great trip.

A still from Dumbo. Screengrab from YouTube

A still from Dumbo. Screengrab from YouTube

The other interesting aspect about the Dumbo-The Lion King face-off is how both the filmmakers handled remakes of reputed films in the past. Burton could be considered the near master of attempting remakes that are beyond anyone's wildest imagination with Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes. Unlike his ‘original’ films, Burton’s remakes can turn out to be bitter pills to swallow. Favreau, on the other hand, attempted the unimaginable with The Jungle Book remake and came out tops and as of now, could be the only filmmaker in the world to make a second live-action remake.

There is no denying that some films should be left alone. Classics and moreover, children's films such as The Lion King and Aladdin are rare instances where it could be impossible to recreate the magic of the original. But the reality of live-action remakes is here to stay and perhaps the upcoming ones could change how we look at the genre just like the original animation versions transformed animation.

Updated Date: Nov 24, 2018 18:09:36 IST