This morning, it was announced that Disney had brought “Listen Up Philip” writer-director Alex Ross Perry on board to write their live-action version of “Winnie the Pooh.” This comes on the heels of the news that “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” director David Lowery is directing an updated version of “Pete’s Dragon” for the studio as well. These choices seem a bit peculiar for Disney, and its interesting that these indie directors are hopping on board a trend.
Live-action remakes of classic Disney animated films have been popping up over the past few years, with films like “Maleficent” focusing on a character out of 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty” and adaptations of previously Disney-fied fairy tales like “Snow White and the Hunstman” and “Alice in Wonderland” increasing in numbers.
Recently, Emma Watson signed on to star in a live-action take on “Beauty and the Beast,” Tim Burton announced he would be directing a version of “Dumbo” and since the box-office success of the Kenneth Branagh-directed “Cinderella,” announcements of other live-action versions have been surging. Earlier this week, it was revealed that a live-action version of “Mulan” is in the works, and rumor has been circulating for some time now that Sofia Coppola is working on a version of “The Little Mermaid” (though the project has vanished from her IMDB page). In light of these numerous announcements, here are 13 other Disney animated films (some with literary roots) that we think need live-action updates, and the indie directors who should take them on.
“The Fox and the Hound,” directed by Michael Haneke
Of course Michael Haneke should direct the most tragic Disney movie of them all. The themes of “The Fox and the Hound” seem to be lifted almost directly from Haneke’s canon: two people torn apart, violence, betrayal and the inevitability of death. We’d imagine Haneke would read the story as an allegory for war; he would cast the two main characters from “Funny Games” as the titular fox and the hound, highlighting man’s inhumanity to man with more than a few instances of bloodshed. He’d shoot the film in “The White Ribbon’s” austere black and white, employing his signature uncomfortable long-takes. Disney would have to hire him for the only movie in their repertoire without a happy ending because nobody knows a bleak conclusion like Haneke.
“The Sword in the Stone,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow
The director behind stories of espionage and war such as “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” could use a change from her usual battles in the Middle East and turn her attention to an historical epic set in England. “Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of all England,” T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” reads. Though the legend of King Arthur doesn’t come with an exact timestamp, Bigelow could bump it up a few centuries and go full Crusades with this, revamping the mythology to suit her signature Western vs. Middle East conflicts.
“The Aristocats,” directed by Joe Swanberg
Swanberg is known for his heavily-improvised dialogue and his relationship-centric, day-in-the-life narratives. Both skills will serve him well in bringing “The Aristocats” to life. First of all, cats are pretty much untrainable, so a director comfortable with improvisation is a must. And as much as “The Aristocats” is about the goofy lives of Parisian felines (featuring some maybe-racist Siamese kitties), at its core it’s about a family in transition. Swanberg’s “Happy Christmas” proves this is a subject he can handle with humor and nuance. The biggest challenge will probably “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat” because a) not that many cats play jazz instruments, and those that do are very expensive and b) it’s a flashy, multi-colored sequence, far from Swanberg’s typical aesthetic. If he does take the project (which, at the rate Disney’s going, someone eventually will), he would be an absolute fool not to cast frequent collaborator Anna Kendrick as the voice, both singing and speaking, of kitten Marie.
“Pinocchio,” directed by Lars von Trier
Imagine this: Chaos reigns in Lars von Trier’s “Pinocchio,” starring Peter Dinklage with a 1:1 body-to-nose-length ratio and a penchant for fantasy. When Gepetto (Willem Dafoe) unleashes his living puppet upon the cruel world, Pinocchio must contend with the adult realities of compulsive sex and the impending apocalypse. Von Trier’s universe doesn’t spare Pinocchio a grim fate; when Pinocchio is turned into a real boy by the Blue Fairy (Charlotte Gainsbourg), she and his father must witness his premature death. (Spoiler alert: He falls out of a window.)
“The Lion King,” directed by Angelina Jolie
“Lady and the Tramp,” directed by Kornel Mondruzcko
Considering his latest film “White God,” about a group of abused mutts who rise up in rebellion and terrorize an entire city, Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó is the perfect fit to adapt charming ’50s love story “Lady and the Tramp.” Mundruczó is well-versed in getting exceptional performances out of dogs. He’s also interested in highlighting the bloody struggles of the underdog (literally); people or canines who are unfairly victimized and ravaged by poverty and hardship. Similarly, the Disney classic follows a pampered pooch named Lady who befriends a stray mutt called Tramp, and comes to learn about the poor city dogs who have to live on their own and fight for their daily bread, all the while running from dog catchers. Although a romance blossoms between Lady and Tramp, their different worlds threaten to keep them apart, and they must try to learn from each other; like in “White God,” when young Lili and her distant father slowly learn to understand one another, after he gets rid of her beloved pet Hagen. Hagen the dog, left to fend for himself on the mean streets (as Tramp was), goes on a long and brutal journey of self-discovery.
“Pocahontas,” directed by Kelly Reichardt
Judging from Kelly Reichardt’s films, she loves telling stories of complex women rooted in nature. Disney’s Pocahontas is conflicted, caught between loyalty to her family and her love of a man from a different culture. She would be given even more depth by Reichardt, whose characters battle an inner turmoil, while interacting with gorgeous scenery. We know Reichardt loves the Pacific Northwest, but we think she should take a trip to Jamestown, Virginia.
“Aladdin,” directed by Mira Nair
Mira Nair has built a large portion of her career around producing films that examine the physical and conceptual boundaries between East and West; namely “Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love,” “Mississippi Masala” and most recently “The Namesake.” For Nair, the deliberate fetishization of “The East” in Disney’s animated adaptation of the story of Aladdin and the magic lamp, would present an interesting, and most likely welcome challenge.
“Hercules,” directed by Nicole Holofcener
More than any other Disney animated movie, “Hercules” is a romantic comedy. The love interest hates the hero when she first meets him, but they fall in love not through heroic deeds but clever banter. The director of “Enough Said” can certainly pull this off. There are so many opportunities for sass and sweetness in this script. Megara, the greek chorus women, Pan and fan favorite Hades, with whom Meg has the following iconic interaction:
Megara: “He’s honest and sweet and wouldn’t do anything to hurt me”
Hades: “He’s a guy!”
In addition to her original work, Holofcener has directed episodes of “Sex and the City,” “Six Feet Under” and “Parks and Recreation,” making her the perfect person to bring the one of the most lighthearted and witty Disney cartoons films to life.
“Bambi,” directed by Bennett Miller
“Bambi” is widely considered one of the saddest goddamned movies of all time. Besides the main, tragic gunshot, however, nothing much happens in the film, plot-wise. It’s basically “Foxcatcher” in the forest. Miller takes a lot of time between projects, so if Disney gets the ball rolling on this now, we might see a live-action “Bambi” in, say, 2019. Which is good, because the creative team will need time to figure out how to get an emotionally nuanced performance out of a deer. Whomsoever plays Flower, Bambi’s adorable skunk friend, is nearly guaranteed an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actress. Miller should consider Natalie Portman (high girlish voice) or Emma Stone (personality) for the role.
“Tarzan,” directed by Werner Herzog
No one can tackle the great outdoors on film quite like German legend Werner Herzog. In both his documentaries (“Grizzly Man,” “Encounters at the End of the World,” “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”) and narrative features (“Rescue Dawn,” “Queen of the Desert”), Herzog has shown a knack for capturing the landscape in inventive ways, while probing deeper with his intellectual curiosities. These factors make him a perfect fit for a live-action adaptation Disney’s beloved 1999 action-packed “Tarzan.” Herzog would bring a welcome gravitas to the film and would no doubt bring a true sense of wonder to the jungle-set action sequences.
“Peter Pan,” directed by Gus Van Sant
Gus Van Sant has made plenty of films with a healthy dose of homoeroticism, starring young and beautiful men — so when you’re dealing with a group of “Lost Boys” who live together sans women in a fairy-filled place called Neverland, Van Sant is probably the right guy for the job. Van Sant’s work has dealt particularly consistently with issues of youthful homosexuality. His penchant for featuring withdrawn characters on the outskirts of society might come in handy, were he to focus on “Peter Pan,” the story of a scared little boy who runs away from home so he never has to grow up. Peter won’t ever have a normal family life — and he doesn’t seem to want one. Even when Wendy flirts scandalously with him, Peter only sees her as a “mother.” “Peter Pan” also features little boys fighting to the death with fearsome adult pirates, and Van Sant has never been afraid of tackling issues of youth violence; he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2013 for “Elephant,” a film inspired by the Columbine High School shooting, about a couple of bullied teens who bring guns to school and massacre their peers.
“Fantasia,” directed by Terrence Malick
Released in 1940, “Fantasia” is still considered to be the Mouse House’s most audacious animated effort — a feature consisting of eight gorgeously animated segments set to classical masterworks by Johann Sebastian Bach, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikolsky, Igor Stavinsky and Ludwig van Beethoven, among others. The film is confounding and exhilarating in equal measure. There’s no working filmmaker today more confounding and exhilarating than Terrence Malick. So what if he’s 71? In his latest projects (“The Tree of Life,” “To the Wonder” and “Knight of Cups”), Malick has locked down a signature style that’s both classical (in his choice of classical music selections and exploration of universal themes) and wondrously experimental (he’s not a big fan of spoken dialogue). “Fantasia” and Malick is a match made in gonzo movie heaven.