Disney has recently been increasing the publicity for its Maleficent live-action feature due to be released on May 30, 2014. It is obviously based on Disney’s earlier feature cartoon classic; the 1959 Sleeping Beauty.
This is not something new for Disney. It has previously produced the 1996 101 Dalmatians live-action remake and its 2000 live-action 102 Dalmatians sequel, based on its 1961 One Hundred and One Dalmatians cartoon feature. The 2007 Enchanted, although an original story, was clearly inspired by Disney’s first three “Princess” features; the 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; the 1950 Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. The 2010 The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was an original story “inspired in part” by the Mickey Mouse sequence in the 1940 Fantasia. And from the theme parks – there have been the four (so far) big hit Pirates of the Caribbean movies and one disappointing film based on The Haunted Mansion (2003). Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland is next.
With Maleficent, Disney clearly intends to keep the “live action cartoons” coming. Can we expect eventually live-action features inspired by all of Disney’s animated hits?
This column looks at Disney’s live-action features that are spinoffs of its cartoon classics. Jerry probably won’t like it (because he likes to keep it strictly animated on this blog), but a live-action version of an animated classic has some pertinence here. It is always interesting to imagine what a cartoon would look like if it had been filmed in live-action, especially one containing a lot of fantasy – although with today’s CGI technology, the most fantastic animated stories seem to hold no problems for a live-action movie with lots of VFX shots.
101 Dalmatians (November 27, 1996; 103 minutes) was basically just a remake of the January 25, 1961 cartoon feature. The contemporary setting offered few CGI problems. Roger Radcliffe was updated from a songwriter to Roger Dearly, a video-game designer, and his wife Anita was turned from an old classmate of Cruella de Vil to a fashion designer working for the House of de Vil. Some names were changed; besides Roger Radcliffe/Dearly, Perdita became Perdy. The film was written by John Hughes, the author of the Home Alone movies, and a major criticism of this version of 101 Dalmatians was that the slapstick mishaps that befall the villains are too close an imitation of Home Alone. Also, the live-action puppies do not talk, resulting in a more serious criticism of the movie being that, whereas the 1961 movie felt mostly about the anthropomorphized animals and was a children’s movie, the 1996 movie felt mostly about the human actors with the animals in a supporting role. As such, it felt like a movie for adults with a too-juvenile plot.
102 Dalmatians (November 22, 2000; 100 minutes) was a sequel with an original plot. Glen Close, who everyone agreed was the best thing about 101 Dalmatians, reprised her role as Cruella de Vil. Cruella has spent three years in prison, getting therapy from Dr. Pavlov to cure her of her obsession for fur and her criminality. When she is declared cured, Probation Officer Chloe Simon cannot justify not releasing her although she does not trust her. Cruella buys the Second Chance dog shelter to prove that she is cured. Coincidently, the Second Chance’s former owner, Kevin Shepherd, has bought Dipstick, one of Pongo’s and Perdy’s now-adult Dalmatians, who has three puppies of his own. Dr. Pavlov does not reveal that his cures sometimes break down, and Cruella’s of course does. She enlists a famous but crooked furrier, Jean-Pierre LePelt, to steal the 102 puppies (she has designed a hood for the coat) and frame Kevin for the theft. Kevin escapes from jail with the help of Dipstick and his mate, Dottie, and his talking parrot, Waddlesworth, and they plus Chloe (who has fallen in love with Kevin) pursue Cruella and LePelt to Paris and rescue the puppies just before they are skinned.
Enchanted (November 21, 2007; 107 minutes) was an original romantic comedy-fantasy based upon and poking gentle fun at the Disney “Princess” stereotype. Enchanted was a cartoon/live-action hybrid, the cartoon set in the stereotypical Disney animated fairy-tale kingdom of Andalasia, and the live-action set in New York City. The main characters in Andalasia are Prince Edward and the beautiful peasant maid Giselle, and Giselle’s loyal talking chipmunk friend, Pip; and the wicked Queen Narissa and Nathaniel, her comedy-relief henchman.
Narissa is Prince Edward’s step-mother, and she rules the kingdom until he gets married. When she sees with her magic Edward’s first meeting with Giselle and their immediate falling in love, Narissa magically sends Giselle to another world (NYC) before she and Edward can wed.
In NYC (live-action), Giselle comically mistakes real-world things for their fantasy-world counterparts. She is rescued by Robert Philip, a cynical divorced lawyer who lives with his young daughter Morgan, and is engaged to marry again with Nancy. Morgan insists that they help Giselle, and Robert lets her stay in their apartment. It turns out that even though Giselle is not a magician, she can use her Andalasian aura to create simple magic. For instance, she tries to ask any friendly animals to clean Robert’s messy apartment, as Snow White asked the friendly forest animals to clean the Dwarfs’ cottage, and she gets an army of friendly pigeons, rats, and cockroaches.
Meanwhile, Pip has seen what happened and he tells Edward, who uses the same magic to send himself and Pip (now a CGI “real” animal) to NYC to rescue Giselle. Narissa, still watching, sends Nathaniel to NYC to kill Pip and keep Edward from finding Giselle. Edward has humorous misadventures, such as killing a “dragon” that turns out to be a bus. Giselle, who has accidentally split up Robert and Nancy, decides to help reunite them. Narissa, watching the ineffectual Nathaniel (who does not want to really hurt anyone), decides she had better go to NYC personally, turn herself into an ugly peddler with a poisoned apple and then a real dragon (CGI again), and kill Giselle. It all ends up happily ever after, but with a big surprise: Edward returns to Andalasia with Nancy (and Pip), and Giselle stays in NYC to run a successful fashion business after marrying Robert. Nathaniel also stays in NYC and becomes a popular author of children’s fantasies.
Enchanted was a big hit in late 2007-early 2008, but has been largely forgotten today. An announced sequel has so far not materialized.
Alice in Wonderland (March 5, 2010; 108 minutes) actually has so little to do with Disney’s 1951 movie that it feels wrong to include it here; but if I don’t, someone is sure to complain that I’ve missed it. It is a Tim Burton – Johnny Depp psychedelic CGI extravaganza that seems to owe more itself and to other cinematic versions of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 fantasy – the Paramount 1933 feature with an all-star live-action cast; the French-British 1949 production with most of the supporting cast portrayed in stop-motion animation by Lou Bunin’s puppets; the Czech 1988 feature produced by Jan Švankmajer in live-action and stop-motion puppetry; and many others – than to Disney’s feature. But it was released as “Disney A Film by Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland”.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (July 14, 2010; 109 minutes) also has so little to do with either the folk-tale, Paul Dukas’ 1896-‘97 symphonic poem, or the Mickey Mouse sequence in Fantasia that it feels wrong to include it here. It was distributed by Disney, but it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer Films, directed by John Turtletaub, and starred Nicholas Cage, all of whom were associated with the two National Treasure films and the expected third. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice feels more like a generic fantasy-action feature with lots of VFX-heavy magical battles than anything connected with Disney.
Dave Stutler, a physics student in contemporary Manhattan, meets Balthasar Blake (Cage), a mysterious young man who claims to be a 1,300-year-old wizard and former apprentice of Merlin. Merlin was killed in a magical battle with dark forces led by Maxim Horvath, another trusted apprentice who betrayed Merlin. Blake is the leader of the “Merlineans”, who want to protect and help normal mortals, and Horvath is the leader of the “Morganians” (after Morgan le Fay) who want to destroy current civilization to create a new world ruled by all-powerful wizards. A magical battle resulted in both sides being subjected to suspended animation. Now they are freed to resume their battle. Blake has recognized the unbelieving Stutler as the heir of Merlin’s power, and talks him into becoming Blake’s apprentice to learn enough real magic to protect himself when Horvath turns up. Of course Stutler finally decides to accept Merlin’s role, and helps Blake to kill Horvath and his Morganian evil wizards.
Despite the lack of major connections to the Mickey Mouse scene in Fantasia, Stutler animates mops and brooms to clean their magic workshop, with Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice used as background music. Also, a wizard’s peaked hat just like Mickey’s is seen in in the background of their magic workshop as a mysterious hand picks up Horvath’s hat in a post-credits epilogue – presumably a come-on for a sequel if the movie was popular. It was (Wikipedia: “It occupies the fourth place on the all-time chart of Sword and Sorcery movies in the U.S. and Canada, and the third place on the same chart worldwide.”), but no sequel has been announced yet.
And now, Maleficent (scheduled release May 30, 2014; 135 minutes), a live-action retelling of the Sleeping Beauty legend, and particularly of Disney’s 1959 cartoon feature version of it, from Maleficent’s viewpoint. The 2013 Disney press release specifies so: “Maleficent is the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty. A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.”
As such, Maleficent is more in the tradition of Wicked – the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel focusing on The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West and her sisters, the still-running 2003 Broadway stage musical hit, and the forthcoming film – than about Disney’s Sleeping Beauty cartoon feature in particular. Here are two trailers for it.
And after Maleficent? The 2010 Alice in Wonderland and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the 2013 Disney Oz the Great and Powerful have confused the public as to what is a Disney live-action feature based upon a Disney animation classic and what is not. 2012 saw both Mirror Mirror and Snow White & The Huntsman, “obviously” (but erroneously) based on Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but not actually Disney films. (The former is by Relativity Media, the latter by Universal Pictures.) On July 9, 2013, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Disney was preparing a live-action The Jungle Book, and had already finished a script for a live-action Cinderella feature. Beauty and the Beast seems a natural since there have already been live-action features of it, notably Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version. Next?