This all started at the screening for Ralph Breaks the Internet. It was a kid-friendly screening with Disney so the essential PG-rated trailers appeared. One of them was the live-action adaptation of Dumbo.
It was all going okay until I hear a boy ask his mum:
“What kind of name is Dumbo?” Cue this face ——>
With one comment, I realised that up until that point, this kid had never heard of Dumbo. Therefore, he hadn’t seen the 1941 version. When I looked around the audience, the penny drops – how many of these kids had seen the animated versions of Disney classics?
With over 50 years of animated films, older fans appreciate a classic Disney film. Whether it is the catchy songs, enduring characters or spotting which film featured recycled scenes, they are a staple.
However, they are becoming harder to ‘catch’. None of the films are on Netflix or Amazon Prime subscriptions (you can rent individual films on the latter) and they are rarely shown on TV. In other words, it is up to the parents to ‘educate’ their kids – but getting interested in hand-drawn animation can be difficult when you have newer Disney features, not to mention Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel (AKA the ‘coolers’ part of Disney), to contend with.
To cut a long story short, unless they are lucky enough to go to Disneyland, there is a likelihood that current kids will not be familiar with the animated characters that helped shape Disney. If this is the case, it is a damn shame as they offer a simple universality that audiences recognise and quickly associate with Disney.
What we sometimes need to remember is that Disney’s filmography is a collection of fairy tales. Although some have dark moments that parents consider too dark for young audiences (Pinocchio, The Lion King, Bambi), others are seen as ‘kid-friendly’ versions of the original stories from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. With a number of popularising the classic ‘happily ever after’ narrative, there is no reason why parents shouldn’t show them to their children – unless they have an issue with their princesses.
Regardless, only a handful of Disney’s animated features have surpassed its hand-drawn roots to appeal to current audiences thanks to the studio’s transition to live-action adaptations. Dating back from 1994’s The Jungle Book starring Jason Scott Lee, the financial and critical success of Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015) solidified the studio’s future direction, paving the way for this year’s Aladdin and The Lion King .
Thanks to 50 years of animated features, Disney has a large roster to adapt and has already made steps to develop live-action remakes for The Little Mermaid, The Lady and The Tramp and Pinocchio. But 50 years is a long time – attitudes and tastes change. Due to intense nostalgia, the ever-growing popularity (and stability) of superhero films and how modern audiences perceive certain character tropes in fairy tales, it’s no longer about some people acting out the story – Disney needs to offer more. Whether they can is to be seen.
Thanks for reading.