In recent years, Disney seem to have placed a heavy focus on releasing live action remake after live action remake. It seems that eventually we will have a remake of every possible Disney animation picture. However, live action Disney movies have played a significant part in the Disney world for years and years, since the very beginning of Disney time. For decades, live action Disney movies have been gracing our screens, but the majority of them are forgotten or simply not recognised as being Disney productions. I’d like to take a look at a small handful of the live action movies Disney have released over the last seventy years and consider how live action in Disney has changed and developed over the years, decade by decade.
1940s – Song of the South
The 1940’s saw the release of Song of the South. This was the first live-action animated feature released by Disney, back in 1946. Unfortunately, this is not a film that I have ever been able to watch, due to the fact Disney have never actually released it onto home video format, meaning it is difficult to watch (at least legally!). The film was based on a collection of stories adapted by Joel Chandler Harris, about the character Uncle Remus and told the story of Johnny, a seven-year-old who goes to visit his grandparents’ plantation. Uncle Remus is one of the workers on the plantation, who befriends Johnny and helps him cope with the struggles he is facing while staying on the plantation, by telling him stories about the adventures of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear, which appeared as animations. The film has been in the centre of a lot of controversy, hence why it was not released for home viewing. It was believed by many that the film stereotypes African American’s and does not portray them accurately or fairly. However, despite not being released for all to see and receiving criticisms for its content, the film still managed to make its mark on the world of Disney. The well known ‘Zip-a-dee-doo-dah’ song featured in this movie. Also, the famous ‘Splash Mountain’ ride at the Disney parks is based on the film. Song of the South really is the epitome of a classic Disney film, however, due to its minimal accessibility, I doubt I will be watching it any time soon.
1950s – Treasure Island
1950 saw the release of Treasure Island, Disney’s original pirate movie. As their first completely live action movie, Treasure Island is an important piece of Disney history. It was the first screen version of Treasure Island, adapted from the 1883 book of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson. Set in 1765, it tells the tale of Jim Hawkins, a young boy who is dragged into the world of pirates, mutiny and buried treasure. As a film that is over 60 years old, it comes as no surprise that the quality of action and stunts are pretty shocking and that it would probably go over the heads of young children these days (my 12 year old sister was just confused and unamused by the end of the movie). To be completely honest, I don’t have much to say about this one as I found it neither enjoyable or interesting and struggled to pay enough attention to even make it to the end. Nevertheless, it was one of my Grandad’s favourites as a youngster and although it is hardly Pirates of the Caribbean, it could be a fun film for many. Not forgetting that it marked the very beginning of the live action world within Disney, which has only bettered and improved itself as the years have gone by. Disney have since released a science-fiction animated adaptation called Treasure Planet, which I assume would better resonate with modern Disney viewers (I have mentioned it in a prior post here :)). There has even been a remake starring the Muppets, which I quite frankly refuse to watch, but I hear it’s not bad!
1960’s – Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins, as we all know, is a Disney classic. It is seemingly timeless, still being as popular with children in the present day as it was in 1964 when it was released. I have to be honest and admit that up until very recently, I had yet to watch Mary Poppins all the way through. I know that seems absolutely appalling, but it was only a few weeks ago that I eventually decided that it was time to see what all the fuss was about. Initially, I was expecting a Nanny McPhee-esque movie, but that wasn’t quite what I got. Julie Andrews is absolutely wonderful and easily the best thing about the movie, looking as stunning as ever in the role of Miss Poppins. It is quite clear why Walt Disney was willing to wait until after she had given birth to begin filming, in order to ensure he bagged her for the role. The film features some of what would probably considered Disney’s most iconic and memorable songs, including ‘A Spoonful of sugar’ and ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ (yes, I did have to google that). Very much a movie of its time, slapstick and physical humour is used to bring the comedy, mainly by Dick Van Dyke, who plays Bert the chimney sweep. His attempt at a cockney accent is possibly the worst I have ever heard, sounding more Australian than British, but none the less he is absolutely brilliant and works incredibly well with Andrews. Mixing live action with animation, this film really is totally wacky and not quite what I expected. I will be brutally honest, although a classic, Marry Poppins will not be up there on my list of top Disney movies, it was slightly too crazy for my liking, but I can see why it is so universally enjoyed. Disney have confirmed that after over 50 years, they will be releasing a sequel to Mary Poppins, titles Marry Poppins Returns. The movie will allegedly take place 20 years after the original movie and will star Emily Blunt in the role of Mary Poppins.
1970’s – Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is yet another timeless Disney picture. Released 8 years after Mary Poppins, it seemed to follow a similar style and structure, combining both live action and animation. Starring National treasure Angela Lansbury as Miss Eglantine Price, a reclusive witch who is forced to take in three young evacuees during World War II, and star of Mary Poppins David Tomlinson as showman Mr Brown, it is a long-time family favourite. The visual effects leave a lot to be desired, which is to be expected with its age; yet still manage to muster up that essential magical atmosphere that is crucial in a Disney classic. Although, Disney’s animation and special effects were gradually beginning to improve and although fairly basic, there is a distinct progression compared to those in Mary Poppins. All singing and all dancing, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a light-hearted, fun watch and in my opinion is a more enjoyable movie than Mary Poppins. The wackiness seems more fitted in this picture, given that the main character is a witch and possesses the ability to use magic, which is a pivotal part of the plot. Bringing together the second world war and magic is an idea that only Disney could pull off, and pull off well.
To be continued in Part Two…