Thoughts on Disney’s idea of “live-action”

A couple weeks ago I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remake. Emma Watson gave life and breath to Belle and I got to see my favorite songs re-imagined.  I genuinely enjoyed the movie. Belle is one of my favorite Disney princesses as a book reading, adventure-seeker and I’ve always loved the settings: a quaint village in France and an enchanted old castle. Those things were there in the film, so I was a happy viewer.

That aside, when I heard Disney was giving many of their animated films the live-action treatment, I guess I expected a little more of, well, just that. This isn’t meant to be a criticism, more of a discussion. Can Disney really call Beauty and the Beast “live-action” if half of the film is computer generated?

I understand that visual effects and motion capture are necessary to pull off turning Ian McKellen into a clock and Ewan McGregor into a candelabra. If it weren’t for the technology we have now, these animated characters wouldn’t be able to interact with Emma Watson in a way that would be anywhere near life-like. But what about the scenery? There are many old villages from the era still around in Europe, but the set was built on a back-lot combined with green screen, or the sweeping landscape shots over the woods and around the castle, which were almost entirely computer generated. Seems like some corners were cut on the way to live-action.

I know that much of the interior of the castle was real and things were done to bring the humanized objects to life in practical ways. Madame Garderobe, the wardrobe, was built mechanically and combined with VFX. However, the Beast’s face was created via motion capture, instead of prosthetic, apparently a directorial decision because it was felt that Dan Stevens expressions wouldn’t be as visible with prosthetic. I guess they didn’t see any of the Lord of the Rings movies.

Here’s a good behind-the-scenes video for Beauty and the Beast:

Disney announced that it will remake at least 17 more of their animated classics in the coming years. Mulan is set to release in 2018 and I’m pretty excited about it, CGI heavy or not. It would seem that many hold the same sentiment. We want our nostalgia brought back in a fresh way and our favorite children’s characters as close to life-like as possible- and Disney is certainly ready to rake in the dollars this nostalgia brings to the box office.

And I think that’s a little bit of the frustration I’m feeling. The filmmaker’s seem to be willing to sacrifice some of the art and production quality because, regardless, audiences will come to theaters for these movies. The production value in Beauty and the Beast wasn’t low by any means, but it certainly was not artistic either.

In 2016’s The Jungle Book remake, young Mowgli could talk to bears, snakes, and wolves without being eaten, thanks to CGI. So far, to me, The Jungle Book remake has been the best of these. Director Jon Favreau achieved a remake that was cinematic and enhanced the original story, which we want to see. All of the animals were computer generated, but the scenery and settings were great, and the narrative wasn’t your run-of-the-mill formulaic Hollywood story.

On the subject of animal movies, The Lion King will being going live-action (no release date set), also to be directed by Favreau, so at least it is in good hands. I’m interested to see how this will be achieved as there are no humans in the story to really make it feel live-action. I assume all the characters will be computer generated. So, I guess I’m just wondering- do we really need this “live-action” remake when it will not really be live-action at all? Hopefully Favreau’s team can work the same magic that made audiences love The Jungle Book.


  1. Interesting take on it that I actually kind of agree with. It’s odd that a movie almost entirely comprised of CGI would be considered live action. Makes me think of how Roger Rabbit is considered a mash of live action and animation because though the animated cartoons are not always around, there are full on scenes where it is just cartoons and the whole world is rendered in 2D animation and vice versa. The way I see it, CGI used to enhance the movie via effects etc. Doesn’t make a movie immediately animated, but when the vast majority of characters, backgrounds and objects are you can’t deny that it’s very much animation at work there and not entirely live action! I think it’s more accurate to call a lot of these Disney remakes mixed media, considering it’s a heavy mix of live action and CGI. But no ones going to call it that because live action is easier to say. And now for an off topic comment, part of me just wants some original 2D animated stuff from Disney instead of remakes. I know they still do animated movies that aren’t remakes (Moana for example, though it was CGI. It was still amazing and did come out recently) but there are less and less of these bright colourful 2D animated movies and man I just love 2D animation, so I want to see more of it! I’d even settle for CGI done well, like Moana and countless others. Anyway, loved the post!

    Liked by 1 person


    1. Thanks! You’re right, mixed-media is a more appropriate labeling of these types of movies. On the topic of Roger Rabbit, it’s funny how before CGI, fantasy style effects were added via animation, like in The Incredible Mr. Limpet and Mary Poppins. I kind of miss that. Instead of making these elements look real, the filmmakers were just like, “yeah, this isn’t possible, so we’re adding cartoons”. Although, I guess in Roger Rabbit the fact that they were animated was part of the story.

      And I agree with you, more 2D animation would be great.

      Liked by 1 person


      1. It would be awesome to see a newer mostly live action movie incorporate 2D animation like Roger Rabbit and Mary Poppins did!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought the movie was ok, but it was so similar to the original I thought it didn’t really justify its existence. It would much prefer Disney was more like Pixar, focusing on producing new content instead of remaking old movies to make more money.
I’ve written an article about the
Evolution of the Disney Princess, which you can read here

    Liked by 1 person


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