Intermission: Live action Disney: 9x4

Since Disney seems to be in the business of making live-action adaptions of animated classics, I’ve got a few suggestions for them.

Walt Disney has seen a pair of live-action reworkings of its animated classics do huge box-office, one good (Maleficent) and one terrible (Alice in Wonderland), so a new era has clearly been born: Live-action adaptations of The Classics to compliment the current run of new-generation upstarts — with a new Cinderella as the next volley.

Ah, well. As cynical IP-mining goes, I’ve seen worse ideas. And if nothing else, the longer the Mouse House stays on this nostalgia trip the closer I get to a Darkwing Duck revival, right? Sure. So I picked my brain and came up a handful of humble ideas on where the next great Disney “reimagining” might come from:

1. JAFAR
This is probably the biggest no-brainer of this whole thought-experiment, right? Yeah, Alice made bigger bank, but everyone seems to agree that it kind of sucked. Maleficent pulling massive box-office and generating media/academia heat over its exploration of moral gray-zones, gender-politics and even sexual-assault is the hat-trick you’d want to repeat. And who, after Maleficent, is a more iconic Disney nemesis than Aladdin’s scheming sorcerer?

The pros to a Jafar-backstory movie (in the vein of Maleficent) are obvious on the face of things: A rare starmaking Hollywood role for an actor of Middle Eastern descent, the chance to play around with the largely untapped (in modern films) mythology of the region, Gilbert Godfried still being around to voice Iago… it’s a pretty good list. In Aladdin, Jafar alludes to having lived an unusual (and long-traveled) life prior to his appearance there, and it’d be interesting to find out how he came to be as a villain — particularly if he happened to hail from a similar (if darker) “street kid elevated by magic” background as his eventual nemesis.

2. THE LITTLE MERMAID
Let’s be blunt. The Little Mermaid is well-remembered as the start of Disney’s 90s Renaissance. It has a great villain, some catchy songs and gorgeous animation. But it’s also the feature from that era most-often picked apart for being “problematic:” The heroine is shallow and kind of a dumb brat (who doesn’t really learn or grow at all throughout the story), the scenario is actually creepier with the original tale’s darker edges sanded off… eh, look, Lindsay Ellis explains it better than I can.

So yeah, this could probably do with a reimagining in live-action (another animated film would be seen as trying to “replace” the classic). Don’t do the doomed-to-fail stuff like trying to re-stage the musical numbers (in fact, just don’t do musical numbers) or go to the dark places the original story did: just find a new way through some of the more discordant elements while giving audience’s live-action renditions of the big moments they remember.

It’s not even like “underwater fantasy epics” are an oversaturated niche — at this point you’d basically be competing with this still-unreleased Chinese-produced monstrosity and that Aquaman movie I still don’t fully expect Warner Bros to actually make.

3. THE BLACK CAULDRON
History time: Disney spent decades trying to figure out how to turn either The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings or both into an animated feature before finally having to give up in the late-70s. Instead, they turned their attention to Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydian series, resulting in The Black Cauldron — an ambitious, expensive film whose dark tone and unprecedented (for Disney) animated violence turned it into a box office failure that divided the studio and tarnished its reputation for a decade.

Might be worth taking another shot, though. Prydian’s Welsh-inspired High Fantasy shenanigans lend themselves better to live-action, and a feature that could conceivably be pitched as “Harry Potter” meets “Game of Thrones” certainly sounds saleable to me…

4. LADY & THE TRAMP
Pretty-much everyone likes the original one, right? It’s a great love story, a great animal/pet movie, it’s got real thrills, real emotion, a surprisingly adult undercurrent (Tramp’s name is literal in both senses, and it’s the second one that Lady has trouble reconciling) and the best movie kiss ever. People still like all those things, and you can do wonderful things with animals and CGI now — this feels somewhat obvious, to me.

You’d need to flesh things out a bit, sure: Buff up some of the ancillary characters, maybe give the humans a touch more presence, find a better solution to the 2nd-act plot-complications than the two Asian-stereotype cats that make everyone uncomfortable now… but it’s do-able.

And let’s face facts: The obligatory teaser-trailer (“Bella Notte” comes up over a black screen, fade-in to plate of spaghetti, black screen, fade-in to dog’s nose pushing a meatball, black screen, fade in to the iconic noodle-sharing moment, cut away just before the kiss to black screen, fade-in release date) would have a really good shot at being the most-shared non-Marvel piece of advertising Disney runs all year.

5. TOY STORY
Wait! Wait. Just hear me out.

The Toy Story movies ostensibly take place in the real world, and have featured the iconic toys being the subject of adaptation in their world: Woody is actually merchandise from a 1950s puppet show, and it’s canon that Buzz Lightyear had a cartoon series based on him.

Hypothetically speaking: It’s conceivable that maybe Woody’s Roundup was popular enough in its day to have been adapted into a live-action B-western — perhaps starring a now-forgotten cowboy actor who looks and sounds an awful lot like Tom Hanks. And it’s absolutely plausible that Buzz Lightyear of Star Command might have earned a cheap-ish movie of its own in the 90s — possibly starring someone fairly reminiscent of Tim Allen. Yes?

Just saying: If someone were to “discover” those films and release them together, trimmed-down to a 90-minute double-feature via wraparounds about the Toy Story gang fast-forwarding through the “boring parts?” I don’t know about you, but I’d watch that. Just saying.

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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