We’ve reached Disney live-action fatigue, and no one’s feeling it more than the directing duo behind some of the biggest Disney animated classics. Disney Legends John Musker and Ron Clements have directed acclaimed Disney animated films like Aladdin and The Little Mermaid and they have a few opinions about the House of Mouse’s slavish recreations of their greatest animated hits. Not all of them good.
Disney has been making bank on our nostalgia for the beloved animated films of the ’90s, but what of the actual animators behind those films? The animation industry is notoriously thankless and unkind to its many workers, but Disney directing duo have come out of it okay, earning the two of them Disney Legends status and a right to speak candidly on the Disney live-action remakes.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Musker revealed that they are “bemused” at best by the inexpressive, shot-for-shot remakes of classics like Aladdin and The Lion King, and called for more creative reinterpretations like Maleficent:
“I love to see new techniques being explored in animation. I also like the idea that the medium has enough elasticity and potential that there are many types of stories that have yet to be done in animation, and I am hoping in the coming years they will be. I am bemused by the live-action remakes, although the more successful ones to me are the ones ironically that reinterpret the source to a greater degree, like Maleficent.
I think Favreau’s a brilliant filmmaker, but the shot-for-shot fealty to the hand-drawn Lion King, as well as the inexpressive animation in his film, left me uninvolved. In general, I would rather see more original content, and fairy tales particularly by their nature don’t seem to accommodate or demand the extension and/or repetition of their self-contained narrative arcs. But Frozen 2 just made more than $1 billion, so what the heck do I know?”
Musker and Clements certainly know a lot, with more than 40 years of animation work under their belt, and Disney Legend status for helming films like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, as well as The Great Mouse Detective, Hercules, Treasure Planet, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana. The two of them have long been credited with reinvigorating Disney animation and helping to build into the giant of pop culture it is today — if you’ve seen the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, you’d know that their 1989 film The Little Mermaid almost singlehandedly saved Disney Animation from the brink of collapse and ushered in a new golden age for the studio.
“John and I were in our early 30s when we started the project, and we were some of the oldest on it. We all knew the stakes were very high,” Clements said of that fateful film. “And I’ve always identified with Ariel. I know she’s taken some heat about giving up her legs just to get a guy, but I never saw it as that. Coming from a small city in the Midwest and dreaming of one day going to Hollywood to work for Disney, to me she was like anybody dreaming about being part of a world very different from their own, no matter how impossible that seemed.”
Now we only have to wait a few years for Disney to attempt to recapture that magic of The Little Mermaid in a lesser, live-action version.
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