Is Disney Ruining the Circle of 2D Life?

Disney 3D remakes are turning out flatter than their 2D originals.

Disney's 3D remake of the 1994 Lion King animated movie. (via Disney)

Much like the Italian Renaissance, the Disney Renaissance of the ‘90s brought us many artistic treasures: “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” and  “Hercules,” to name a few. Now, Disney is pushing for another rebirth, remaking these films in 3D. This summer, giddy from the visual achievements and accolades of the 2016 remake of “The Jungle Book,” Disney felt ready to deliver a 3D remake of one of their most prized films: “The Lion King.”

The remake had its high points. The inclusion of Scar’s romantic advances on Sarabi was a nice nod to “Hamlet,” the film’s inspiration. The added scene of Nala’s escape from Pride Rock was thick with tension that had me on the edge of my seat. It boasted one of the more coherent plotlines in the movie and offered astounding renderings of animals. 

Yet it’s safe to say it still came nowhere near the original; something was lost in that transition from 2D to 3D. Watching the original film’s rendition of “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” there is a certain joy that arises whenever Simba’s paw hits the ground and cues an explosion of gaudy fuschia pink, just as there is when Scar struts through sinister billows of phosphorescent green smoke in “Be Prepared.” These moments just could not be replicated nor replaced in a film that resembles a National Geographic documentary. All these wildly fantastical visual spectacles were sacrificed for the sake of portraying a realistic setting. With them went the aesthetic expression of the film, leaving the audience more emotionally dead than the carcasses in the elephant graveyard. 

The last animated 2D film that Disney released was 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog.” The film flew under the radar upon its release, but it was still a brilliant visual and musical piece. It made creative use of 2D animation effects that would not be possible in 3D, such as the bright, Art Deco style of “Almost There” to convey Tiana’s cheerful optimism. The songs and visuals worked hand in hand to provoke emotions in the audience.

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But that was 10 years ago. 

If the remake of “The Lion King” taught us anything this summer, it was that animated 3D remakes can never achieve the same level of dynamism as their 2D animated counterparts. 2D animation had an advantage when it comes to suspension of disbelief; it lent itself to more inventive changes of character and backdrop. Sadly, 3D animation has to maneuver its way around the uncanny valley and is preoccupied with plausibility at the expense of spectacle. Why, then, be so caught up in recreating 2D films in 3D, giving up the spirit and life of 2D animation in favor of the more lackluster visuals and technological breakthroughs of 3D animation?

Like its namesake, the Disney Renaissance had its run, and it had its end. But even casual Disney fans continue to celebrate the accomplishments of the era, still singing “Part of Your World” at the top of their lungs much as crowds still flock to the “Mona Lisa.”. Is there, then, a need for these remakes to remind us of the originals if the originals remain prevalent in our lives? We can only hope that the upcoming remakes of “Mulan,” “Lady and the Tramp”  and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” will not follow in “The Lion King’s” pawsteps. 

Email Megan Chew at [email protected]

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