What Animated Movies Need the Live-Action Treatment?

As we anticipate the release of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the writers of CineNation decided to pitch the films they want to see adapted next.

The world is going crazy in anticipation for the live-action adaptation of the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast ever since the first trailer was released last year. People are already predicting that the film will be breaking a couple of records this month at the box office, which means the House of Mouse will definitely be moving forward with more adaptations of their animated classics. Directors such as Tim Burton, Jon Favreau, and Guy Ritchie are already working with Disney on the upcoming remakes for Dumbo, The Lion King, and Aladdin. Disney has already announced they are working on such remakes as Mulan, Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, 101 Dalmatians, Pinocchio, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

We here at CineNation have wondered about what other animated films could be given the live-action treatment. There are a number of classic, fan favorite Disney and non-Disney films that should at least be considered. Some of our picks could totally work…while others not as much. You decide. If you had big studio head money, which one would you invest in?

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (Disney)

By Brandon Sparks

This film was supposed to be the next big Disney franchise in its initial release, but the response to the film was, at best, lackluster. Disney reportedly already had a television spin-off and a theme park attraction in the works before the film’s release, but they silently cancelled all future plans to develop it into a franchise due to low box office returns. But Atlantis: The Lost Empire needs a live-action remake! Unlike some of the films Disney has announced over the past years, this is one that fits perfectly in the live-action format. It might actually fit the live-action format better than the animated format. You just have to make sure it doesn’t become something like Avatar 2: Underwater. This remake could be what the Newsies Broadway Musical was to the Newsies movie.

Now Disney, listen to me for just a second. The steampunk type visuals are already amazing in the animated film, and if we continued that visual style in the live-action film, it will be beautiful. Just don’t do Sucker Punch steampunk. It is also one of the few animated films to be made in the anamorphic format, which is usually used for big live-action cinematic movies (I’m telling you, it’s a perfect fit). It’s also an underwater adventure, and we haven’t a good one of those in a while. The initial film was influenced by the Indiana Jones series, and I think that’s a good inspiration for this live-action adaptation as well. Spielberg is taking his time with Indy 5, so let’s just do our own…but underwater.

Now, who will be the person to helm this major cinematic experience? I’m going to throw a curveball at you: David Fincher. Fincher circled 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for a while at Disney and it never happened. This, however, is a better fit for him. He is the perfect guy to make this film a huge success. He will bring a great visual tone to the film, while also being able to fix the story problems from the original. If you are a fan of his work then you know that he can bring the action, humor, and darkness that this story needs. I think it’s a match made in heaven.

Now the cast. Who should play the live-action version of Michael J. Fox’s character Milos Thatch? Paul Dano, that’s who! Paul Dano has the ability to carry a movie of this caliber, and it’s time we see him do it. Bring back the Disney Legend Kurt Russell to play Commander Rourke, the leader of the expedition and antagonist of the film, and we got ourselves some great conflict. Throw in a couple actors like Terry Crews to play Doctor Sweet, Sam Rockwell as the demolitions expert, just because he’s Sam Rockwell, and hell, have Selena Gomez play the young fireball mechanic of the group. Cast an unknown to play the lead female of the Princess of Atlantis and throw in a couple of actors from Fincher’s troupe and we have ourselves a rock solid action/adventure that’s going to make a billion dollars. Well, at least $750 million. Listen to me Disney, you know it’s right.

Watership Down

By Dan LeVine

While it would certainly be easier, and probably safer, to reboot Aladdin or The Princess and the Frog, an animated feature that deserves the live-action treatment is the 1978 adaptation of Richard Adams’ classic novel, Watership Down. Of course, no studio has ever dreamt of adapting the story as a live action movie, and it’s for one big reason — the entire cast is made up of rabbits.

It sounds silly, but this ain’t no Once Upon a Forest. Watership Down is a serious action-packed adventure that has our brave group of heroes deserting their warren, run by eventual-antagonist General Woundwort, and desperately searching for a new home before theirs is destroyed by humans. It’s a treacherous journey with PG-13, borderline-R-rated, stakes where not everyone survives.

The anthropomorphic rabbits each have distinct personalities and abilities and each offer a unique contribution to the group. Together, they’re almost like a super-team. There’s Hazel, reluctant leader; Fiver, quiet visionary; Bigwig, a government-deserter; Blackberry, resident genius; Dandelion, quick on his feet; Buckthorn, the muscle; and many more.

After seeing what can be done with animal animation in The Jungle Book, I’m convinced we finally have the technology to bring this incredible story to life. And with animated films like Sausage Party getting the R-treatment, maybe the world is ready for a grittier and more brutal adaptation.

Fantasia (Disney)

By Sean Randall

I don’t know if you know this, but animated movies are a pretty big deal to me. Especially Disney. In my Feminisney series, I’ve been (re)watching every Disney animated film, and one thing stands out to me: Disney doesn’t go dark. When it had darker features like Nightmare Before Christmas, the studio would release them under its Touchstone Pictures title instead of slapping the castle on.

That may be changing, as well it should, with movies like Into the Woods (though still Disneyfied) and Maleficent (which has a strong rape allusion). And what is the one Disney animated movie that was dark, freakish, nightmare fuel we’d expect from Don Bluth long before Disney?

1940’s Fantasia. Specifically, the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence featuring the Slavic black god Chernabog.

Imagine a Disney rework of a classic intended for the adults, where Disney leans full-on into the darkness. PG-13-style. Picture: Willem Dafoe mo-capped, with maybe some live-action acting, as Chernabog (because who else?), a being of evil awoken from slumber who takes a village captive and starts crafting an army of the dead and the damned. The citizens are being transformed and changed into animals and devils, cast into fire at their master’s whim. But someone escapes before they can be ensnared and finds solace in the church. A Van Helsing-esque religious and monster-hunting group race to find the Angelus Bell, a holy relic that can cast Chernabog back into slumber, and defeat him before his army marches to end humanity.

Now you tell me this madcap ride of horror/thrills/supernatural chills and darkness would not be amazing with the right director, script, and cast. Finally we’d get an animation retread that significantly enhances the original material, and gives adults an Escape from Tomorrow-like twisted Disney-related pleasure.


Anastasia (20th Century Fox)

by Alex Bauer

Like Hamilton: A Musical, audiences now go crazy over musicals on a historical subject. The 1997 animated classic — I’ll argue with anyone who believes otherwise — fits the bill as the perfect film to be re-made as a live-action film. Anastasia’s story has been done before in film — like Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar winning role in 1956’s Anastasia. But, that film is a historical drama. Boring! Bring on the tunes.

In 1997’s Anastasia, co-directed and co-produced by Don Bluth, the film captures more legend than historical fact. Nonetheless, the story is magical; the music is melodic. The film follows Anya (Meg Ryan) and her quest to find her family’s history and her real identity — Anastasia, the lone surviving daughter of the last Tsar of Imperial Russia. Through her journey, she receives help from Dimitri (John Cusack) and “Vlad” (Kelsey Grammer), as they run from Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd). The setting — turn of the century Russia and France — fits among the trend of historical content making splashes in today’s entertainment: The Crown, Victoria, Hidden Figures and The Magnificent Seven.

The last piece of the puzzle is casting. In the 1997 animated film, the singing voices of most characters were done by singers. In this re-make, choosing actors with singing abilities is a must. In the lead role, I’d cast Russian actress Anya Chipovskaya. I love the idea of casting a relatively unknown, as doing so does not draw the audience completely out of the film. Plus, after listening to Chipovskaya’s rendition of the folk song “My Girl”, I’m sold. I’d cast Aaron Tveit as Dimitri (for the same reasons as Chipovskaya), John C. Riley as “Vlad” and Gary Oldman as Rasputin. With that mix of new and established talent, I am excited for this film to get made. There is already a Broadway musical coming out soon, so maybe we are close to finally having the live-action film version.

The Rescuers Down Under (Disney)

By Thomas Horton

I’m going to continue my Taika Waititi hot streak from last week and pitch Disney their next project for Taika after he’s done with Thor: Ragnarok (and hopefully delivers some delightful independent passion project in between). I know, I know, Taika is a Kiwi, not an Aussie, but he’s not Hawaiian either, and he did a great job with the creation of Moana, so let’s give him a little credit, ok?

I loved Rescuers Down Under as a kid; a combination of this movie and Steve Irwin is probably what launched my lifelong fascination with Australia. It’s got great characters, gorgeous animation, and a message of conservation that’s even more relevant today than it was 27 years ago.

The key aspect for this remake is casting; it’s one of the strongest building blocks of the original. For Bernard, the timid, beleaguered mouse originated brilliantly by Bob Newhart, we need someone who can be equally neurotic but still lovable. My vote goes for John C Reilly. For his partner, the warm-hearted and spontaneous Miss Bianca, played by Eva Gabor in her last film role: Alicia Vikander. Who else can play the dashing and adventurous kangaroo mouse Jake but Hugh Jackman? And of course, Taika can slip in one of his Kiwi buddies, either Jemaine Clement or Rhys Darby, as Frank the frill-necked lizard.

For the live action roles, Taika can use his innate talent at finding seriously talented young actors that he demonstrated with Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople to find an incredible young man to play Cody. The added change of making Cody a child of indigenous descent would bring an interesting layer to the themes of poaching and conservation. And who can forget Percival C. McLeach, the vile poacher so wonderfully brought to life by George C. Scott? McLeach can only be played by one man…and I absolutely will not budge on this one, Disney execs: Ben Mendolsohn.

Someone put Ben Mendolsohn in this role right now

I want to make myself very clear: if this movie isn’t made to my exact specifications, it shouldn’t be made at all. I don’t want to sound like I’m supporting this whole animated-to-live-action movement (it’s a bit overdone at this point, and only getting worse), but this is one film that could benefit from the gorgeous real scenery of Australia and the absolute joy of Taika Waititi’s filmmaking. But it’s either my way…or hurry up with the Blu-Ray release of the original!

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