Thursday, November 12, 2015

The New Disney Fairy Tale Franchise

Disney has been making live-action adaptations of its older animated classics for some time, but since "Maleficent" and "Cinderella" cleaned up at the box office, they've become a much bigger priority for the studio.  At the moment, practically every traditional animated film in the vault has a live action adaptation in development or at least under consideration.  A few weeks ago, Disney announced new and adjusted release dates for a slew of Disney Animation, PIXAR, Marvel, and "Star Wars" films over the next five years.  Also conspicuously taking up a good chunk of the slate are next year's "Alice Through the Looking Glass" and "The Jungle Book," 2017's "Beauty and the Beast," and a whopping four "Untitled Live Action Fairy Tale" movies.

I took a guess at what some possible future live action Disney projects might be a few years ago in this post: New Disney Movies Based on the Old Disney Movies.  What I failed to take into account was the popular trend of revisionist takes on the old fairy tales.  Some of the more interesting features currently in the works are a Cruella De Vil spinoff from "101 Dalmatians," an "Aladdin" prequel focusing on the Genie, and a comedy about Prince Charming's loser brother, which will probably combine elements from multiple properties.  There have been several attempts to make a live action movie starring Tinker Bell from "Peter Pan," especially after the success of Disney's Fairies merchandise line.  Reese Witherspoon is attached to star in the latest version.  Also, there's a "Maleficent" sequel in the works, of course.

More straightforward adaptations include "Mulan," "Pinocchio," and "The Sword and the Stone."  I expect there will be others eventually, since "Cinderella" did so well by playing it so straight.  "Rapunzel" and "The Snow Queen" are probably inevitable after a few more years have passed.  Some odder current projects in this mold include a live action "Winnie the Pooh," to be scripted by Alex Ross Perry, Tim Burton's take on"Dumbo," and a possible movie based on the notorious “Night on Bald Mountain" sequence from "Fantasia," which is possibly the most un-Disney piece of animation to ever come out of the studio.  Live action/CGI animation hybrid projects include "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," and a "Chip 'n' Dale" movie.  I'm also not quite sure where to put the "Mary Poppins" sequel, as there are several other "Mary Poppins" books that a movie could be adapted from, but the sequel will surely be based on the first movie more than anything else.

Non-Disney fairy tale projects include a live action "The Little Mermaid" at Universal, though it recently lost director Sophia Coppola.  I'm guessing that Disney probably only held off on their own adaptation because it looked like Universal's version was going to get their first.  If Universal's doesn't go forward, Disney might mount their own adaptation.  Meanwhile, Universal's "Snow White and the Huntsman" is getting a spinoff/prequel called "The Huntsman" next year.  There are also at least two other "Pinocchio" projects in the works, one of them potentially written by Paul Thomas Anderson, and starring Robert Downey Jr. as Gepetto.  The other is Guillermo Del Toro's long-rumored stop-motion version. Finally, we should mention the multiple "Peter Pan" related movies, most of which will probably be stuck in limbo after the box office failure of Warner Bros' "Pan."

I'm not sure which of the Disney projects the four "Untitled" movies on the schedule are, as most of the ones announced so far are still in the scripting stage.  However, my best guesses are that before 2020 we can expect the "Maleficent" sequel, the "Aladdin" prequel, and maybe "Mulan," because Disney bought a treatment earlier this year.  The live action Disney fairy-tale movies have so far proven to appeal more to women and girls, the same way that their animated films do.  There are a couple of upcoming projects like "The Jungle Book" that will do their best to attract the boys, but I hope Disney doesn't push too hard in that direction - it's a tactic that has backfired on them before.  And honestly, it's nice having another female-friendly franchise universe on the same potential scale as Marvel and "Star Wars."  These movies haven't been very consistent, but they have a lot of promise.  Kenneth Branagh's "Cinderella" was one of the year's better surprises.    

Finally, note that live action adaptations aren't the only way that Disney is reusing and reinterpreting their classic characters.  The ongoing "Kingdom Hearts" video game franchise was one of the first to feature Disney crossovers.  On television, "Once Upon a Time" and "Descendants" both take place in universes where all the fairy tale characters interact to some degree, and are much more direct about borrowing the old Disney tropes and iconography than the live-action films.


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