Walt Disney Animation Studios veteran John Musker admits he's "bemused" by Disney's big screen remakes of its animated classics, saying the Jon Favreau-directed re-imagining of The Lion King especially left him "uninvolved." A more than 40-year veteran in the field of Disney animation, Musker and longtime collaborator Ron Clements directed numerous films for Disney, including The Great Mouse Detective, Hercules, Treasure Planet, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana. Musker and Clements most famously helmed animated blockbusters The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, both belonging to the Disney Renaissance credited with reinvigorating theatrical Disney animation.
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Musker credits Favreau's Lion King with pushing the envelope on animation but says its characters were largely "inexpressive," a common criticism of the film that grossed $1.657 billion worldwide despite mostly mixed to negative reviews.
"I am bemused by the live-action remakes, although the more successful ones to me are the ones ironically that reinterpret the source to a greater degree, like Maleficent," Musker said of the live-action franchise inspired by Walt Disney's classic Sleeping Beauty, instead focusing on the titular fairy played by Angelina Jolie. "I think Favreau's a brilliant filmmaker, but the shot-for-shot fealty to the hand-drawn Lion King, as well as the inexpressive animation in his film, left me uninvolved."
Musker continued, "In general, I would rather see more original content, and fairy tales particularly by their nature don't seem to accommodate or demand the extension and/or repetition of their self-contained narrative arcs. But Frozen 2 just made more than $1 billion, so what the heck do I know?"
Disney's live-action Aladdin, starring Will Smith as the blue-skinned wish granting Genie and Mena Massoud as the titular street rat, grossed $1.051 billion worldwide, making it the eighth highest-grossing film of the year. The studio is now in development on its live-action Little Mermaid, set to star Halle Bailey as the undersea princess and Daveed Diggs as short-tempered sidekick Sebastian the crab.
The directing duo didn't comment on the coming live-action remake, but Clements said The Little Mermaid is "very special to [him]."
"John and I were in our early 30s when we started the project, and we were some of the oldest on it. We all knew the stakes were very high," he said. "And I've always identified with Ariel. I know she's taken some heat about giving up her legs just to get a guy, but I never saw it as that. Coming from a small city in the Midwest and dreaming of one day going to Hollywood to work for Disney, to me she was like anybody dreaming about being part of a world very different from their own, no matter how impossible that seemed."
Disney has yet to announce a release date for its live-action Little Mermaid.
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