Childhood is filled with imagination and wonder. Stories from childhood stick with you throughout your life. Many have been immortalized as Disney animated movies. Robin Hood was presented with animals in the 1970s. Before that, there were animated versions of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Pinocchio. The story that started the Disney animated wonder was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was a heartwarming tale of a beautiful woman who befriended a bunch of little people, defeated an evil witch, and married the prince of her dreams. Aw shucks. Why can’t we all have lives like that?
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937 and began the reign of Disney as the ultimate animation studio. Though there have been decades of lesser releases from the studio, it withstood the test of time and remains at the top of the animation competition. Disney, along with their on again off again relationship partner Pixar, have provided entertainment to children of many generations. Children are still watching movies from every Disney era, showing how timeless the stories are.
The early Disney films have been etched in the minds of children for many generations. People of all ages have a history with the movies. This history has fueled a recent uptick in live action movies based on the same stories. Studios (not just Disney) have worked on live action versions of these classic stories to cash in on the nostalgia that people have for these properties. We all grew up with these stories. Everyone knows that. The studios want to use these childhood memories to get people into theatres for a non-animated version starring people you might recognize.
To discuss these live action versions of the classic stories, I have to go back to the 1990s. Sure, there may have been instances from before the 90s where there were live action adaptations. There was an excellent Robin Hood movie from the 1930s. But that was long before the Disney version came out, and it didn’t have the bipedal animals of the animated version. It was the 1990s where remaking the Disney stories (which didn’t originate at Disney, mind you) as live action movies became a big thing. So why don’t we take a step back to 1991, the year after I was born. It is the year I’m going to start with, when a pseudo-sequel to Peter Pan was released.
1991 saw the release of Hook. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Robin Williams as Peter Pan. It showed an older version of Peter who had left Neverland and grown up. He returned to the land he never aged in to save his children and defeat Captain Hook once again. Spielberg wrote a script in the 1980s for Disney and was planning on making it a direct sequel to their animated movie. It would later move to TriStar and Sony, where Spielberg would finally make it.
It was the sixth highest domestic grossing movie of the year. Based on the nostalgia that people had for the Disney animated movie, as well as the people involved in making Hook, it earned $50 million in profits. It wasn’t as critically praised as the studio may have hoped, and it might not have made as much money as they wanted, but it got people into the theatre. It is a movie that many people still like to this day. And it opened paved the way for other movies that would come after it.
Later in the 1990s, there were three live action adaptations of The Jungle Book released to the public. The first came from Walt Disney Studios in 1994, featuring a star studded cast. Jason Scott Lee took on the lead role of Mowgli. He was supported by Lena Headey (Game of Thrones is back tonight!), Cary Elwes, Sam Neill, and John Cleese. This version took the voices away from the animals, grounding it in a more realistic world. It would soon be followed by a TriStar produced film in 1997 and another Disney version in 1998. Three live action movies in a five year period that adapted a single story told in a classic Disney animated movie. Three times, they tried to hit the nostalgia bone of potential audiences by remaking the movie. None of these three iterations have managed to hold any footing in modern culture. They are all but forgotten by people, unless the people are searching for movies of this type, like I was.
Around that same time, there was a Dalmatians franchise. 101 Dalmatians was released in 1996, thirty-five years after the Disney animated classic. There are some memorable things to come out of the franchise. Particularly, Glenn Close gave a great performance as Cruella De Vil. That’s how I remember it. She is the one thing that stood out other than the fact that there were a lot of puppies. On a slight sidenote, the franchise boosted the desire for families to get Dalmatian puppies. However, Dalmatians are difficult to keep with a family and many of them ended up in human societies, eventually being put down. The critical acclaim for 101 Dalmatians was about how Close’s performance was faithful to the original version. They felt the familiarity, which is what Disney was hoping for when making the live action adaptation. The movie even spawned a sequel, 102 Dalmatians, but let’s not talk about that one.
There weren’t too many other live action versions of Disney tales again until 2010. It was in that year that things started to turn and these kinds of movies were brought into the light once again. 2010 was the year in which Alice in Wonderland was released. With Johnny Depp as the face of the movie, it was bound to get some traction. And boy did it. It made over a billion dollars worldwide, having $220 million of that come in during its first weekend. That’s a major success. It even spawned a sequel that will be coming out in just over a month’s time.
Now, that is the most important movie of any that I’m going to be discussing that doesn’t have to do with the movie of the week. Alice in Wonderland was the turning point for Disney when it came to making live action adaptations of stories they had already told in animated form. The success of the movie gave them the idea to try the same thing with other tales. Hell, other studios jumped at the idea. Everyone wanted to tap into that trend. It worked once, so why wouldn’t it work again? They even tried it on television.
Once Upon a Time debuted in 2011 and has been filling ABC with fairy tale wonder ever since. Set in the town of Storybrooke, the show brings fairy tales and Disney animated characters to life in a shared universe. Snow White, Cinderella… Even the princesses from Frozen have shown up at one time or another. It’s a primetime fairy tale that has captured the imaginations of television viewers and helped them see new versions of the stories they grew up on. It was so successful for the television network that it spawned a spin-off called Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. Notice how Alice in Wonderland has been a major part of this resurgence of live action adaptations twice now? The spin-off wasn’t nearly as successful as the initial series and was cancelled after one season.
Speaking of Disney princesses, there have been updated versions of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella over the past few years. (I’ll get to Snow White in a moment.) Disney went all out on releasing Cinderella in 2015. It looked and felt like a Cinderella movie. It was a simple retelling of the same story without any sort of real updating. When put into the pool of recent classic Disney stories coming to live action, it is the most faithful to what came before it. Disney would put a twist on one of their classic stories when they released Maleficent a year prior to that. The 2014 film was told from the point of view of the villainous witch in the animated movie, much like Wicked is The Wizard of Oz from the witch’s point of view. The Asylum jumped into the fray to release their version of Sleeping Beauty at the same time. It’s a movie I see at Walmart all the time. Nobody seems to want it. But it’s out there. It exists.
The other Disney princess to get her own solo movie from The Asylum was Snow White. In 2012, three Snow White movies were released to the public. Two were theatrical and one was straight to video. Snow White and the Huntsman was a grittier (I know some of you hate that word) action take on the material, having the titular characters team up to fight a war against the evil witch. It was successful enough to spawn a pre-sequel that came out a few days ago. Two months before Universal released Snow White and the Huntsman, another Snow White movie was released in the form of Mirror Mirror. It’s a lighter, more family oriented version of the story. The contrast of these two movies made it worth having both, though the Snow White story was a little overdone that year with three movies and all.
This week’s Sunday “Bad” Movie is the third of the Snow White movies released in 2012. Grimm’s Snow White came out earlier than both movies, being released in February, as opposed to March or May. It took a similar approach to Snow White and the Huntsman, adding action to the story and making it a tad more adult than most people are used to. However, it did it in the way that The Asylum does things. Dinosaurs and monster dogs were added. The dwarves were changed into elves. That kind of stuff.
You could say that this was just The Asylum producing another mockbuster in an attempt to make money off of two similar movies that were getting wide releases. That assessment would be true. But there’s also the added layer that The Asylum was becoming a part of a larger trend in filmmaking at the time. Movies were trending towards live action remakes of Disney animated classics. They still are with a new version of The Jungle Book and a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman having just been released. The Asylum was participating in this. They were creating their own live action updates of classic Disney cartoons. Between Sleeping Beauty, Grimm’s Snow White, and The Avengers Grimm (their version of The Avengers, done with similar classic Disney characters), they were following the trend.
For nearly thirty years, we have watched the trend of remaking animated classics in live action form rise and fall. Some of the movies that came out of this trend have been good. Others, not so much. The Asylum at least tried to be interesting with their entries. They changed things up enough to stand out from the Disney classics and managed to find their own place in the movie landscape, albeit a small place. Grimm’s Snow White is an example of how they attempted to try something a little bit different. It was fairly successful, yet fairly forgotten. It’s just another blip in the long line of these kinds of movies.
This trend will eventually die out. Everything does. Moving pictures died out. Talkies died out. Movies presented in colour died out. Right? Right? Seriously though, trends ebb and flow. Some die out completely. In a few years, we’ll get another period of dormancy for movies based on Disney classics. There might be the odd one coming out but they won’t be as prevalent and overwhelming as they sometimes seem. For now, they are a part of the yearly deluge of releases. With the critical acclaim that The Jungle Book has been receiving, that can’t be all bad.
Something else that can’t be all bad is this notes section:
- I mentioned Cary Elwes was in the 1994 version of The Jungle Book. He was also in Hansel and Gretel Get Baked, The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, and New Year’s Eve.
- Johnny Depp’s name came up in the discussion of Alice in Wonderland. He was in Jack and Jill.
- This past week, a new Evil Bong movie was released. Here are my posts for Evil Bong and Evil Bong 2: King Bong.
- Have you seen Grimm’s Snow White? Have you seen any of the movies based on classic Disney stories? What do you think about this trend in movies? You can talk all about this stuff in the comments.
- If you want to suggest a movie for me to watch in a future Sunday “Bad” Movies week, you can let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
- I’m also on snapchat. You can find me with the username jurassicgriffin. If you want to see my stories, they tend to be clips from movies that I watch.
- Next week’s movie is going to be The Single Moms Club. I wanted to watch this movie for Mother’s Day, but since that week is a franchise week, I’m covering it a week early. Come back next week to see what I write about it.