Live-Action Vs. Animated: How Do They Compare To The Original?

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This week’s Maleficent represents the latest attempt by Disney to mine its cartoon canon for tales – fantastical and otherwise – that can be converted into live-action fare. They don’t have the highest hit ratio, so we thought we’d compare some of the more famous examples and see what happens when filmmakers try to make the transition between ‘toon town and the “real” world…

101 Dalmations

What’s the cartoon?

101 Dalmations (1961)*
Lonely pooch Pongo wants a mate, so he fixes his owner Richard up with fellow Dalmatian owner Anita and meets the lovely Perdita. Nature takes its course and 15 puppies ensue. Nasty fashion mogul Cruella De Vil decides they’d make better coats than pets and dognaps the lot, along with 84 more canines.

What’s the film?
 *101 Dalmatians (1996)*
Lonely pooch Pongo wants a mate, so he… Look, it’s essentially the same story, but with real people and dogs, while Glenn Close eats all the scenery as Cruella. But the film did well enough that we got 102 Dalmatians four years later, which saw Cruella seemingly cured of her fur-coveting ways. Until she wasn’t, because the story would’ve been awfully dull if she’d just become a charity ambassador or something.

Were they related?
The first one is almost a beat-by-beat remake, which renders it somewhat inert. The sequel then tries to be different, but really only adds one more one dog. Hardly a spotless track record, then.

The Lord Of The Rings

What’s the cartoon? 

The Lord Of The Rings (1978)
Animator Ralph Bakshi attempts to turn the first half of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy epic into a ‘toon with all the hobbits, orcs, elves and wizards you could want. It’s a little crammed, but still accomplishes a lot, even if it didn’t do well enough at the box office to warrant the sequel that would have finished the tale.

What’s the film?

The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
While the ‘toon version convinced some that Tolkien’s story just wouldn’t work on screen, Peter Jackson proved them wrong. Wrangling three films from the three books, Jackson scored both at the box office, and, with The Return Of The King, at the Oscars. He has since adapted The Hobbit into three movies. Surely Tolkien’s 1964 shopping list is next for a nine-entry franchise?

Were they related?
Jackson credits Bakshi as partly inspiring his quest to make the LOTR trilogy, so there’s that, and a couple of shots in the live-action were inspired by Bakshi's work. Otherwise? No.

Robin Hood

What’s the cartoon? 

Robin Hood (1973)
Robin and co. become animated animals in this Disney offering. The familiar elements of the folk legend are all here, just with a lot more fur. It may not be talked about in the same breath as, say, The Lion King, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun, mostly thanks to a fine voice cast that includes Terry Thomas and Peter Ustinov.

What’s the film?

Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991)
Yes, we went there. Robin is once more reimagined, this time as Kevin Costner. His accent goes on a hiking tour, his best friend is Morgan Freeman and Alan “Cancel Christmas!” Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham handily steals most of the good scenes.

Were they related?
Nope. We mostly just wanted to compare Kevin Costner to a fox. The fox is handsomer, but only because Costner is hampered by that mullet and outshone by Rickman's flamboyant sheriff.

The Jungle Book

What’s the cartoon?The Jungle Book (1967)
One of Disney’s ‘60s classics, The Jungle Book is stuffed with catchy songs and memorable characters, all giving a fresh spin to Rudyard Kipling’s tale of a boy raised by animals in the jungle.

What’s the film?

The Jungle Book (1994)
There have been so many adaptations of this one (and two more are in development) that it’s tough to pick another. We plumped for Stephen Sommers’ 1994 attempt, which found Jason Scott Lee as jungle-raised man Mowgli and 100% fewer catchy tunes. It’s nowhere near as much fun, even if it does feature an eclectic cast that includes Sam Neill, John Cleese, Lena Headey and Cary Elwes.

Were they related?
Only in that Disney produced both. The ‘toon is like the fun, cheeky younger brother. The live-action attempt is the sulky teen take.

Snow White

What’s the cartoon? 

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Disney’s first feature-length fairy tale ‘toon success helped launch the company’s fortunes and reputation. It’s a fairly standard interpretation of the Grimm Brothers’ story, with added Walt sparkle and some memorable songs. It's also the first adaptation to give the dwarves names.

What’s the film?

Mirror Mirror / Snow White And The Huntsman (both 2012)
Mirror Mirror went wacky and garish, opting to add more farce to the story, which undercut it when it later reached for real emotion. Lily Collins was Snow, with Julia Roberts as a campy Evil Queen.

Snow White And The Huntsman, on the other hand, was all gritty adventure, with Kristen Stewart as a determined woman who becomes a warrior to take back her kingdom from the nasty Charlize Theron, who drains the life force of young women to stay young and beautiful. We knew those beauty ads were a lie!

Were they related?
Mirror Mirror is closer to the ‘toon’s tone, but even Disney had less OTT production design. Original flavour Snow is still the best for us.

The Grinch

What’s the cartoon? 

How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Adapting Dr. Seuss's whimsical, rhyme-laden story of a grumpy hermit who decides that, because he’s lonely and hates Christmas, his neighbours should suffer too, the animation team pulled off something that sticks in the brain. Naturally, he’s shown the error of his ways, his heart grows three sizes... You know the rest.

What’s the film?

The Grinch (2000)
What better way to try to improve on that short, sweet original than by hiring big name Hollywood director Ron Howard, coating already rubber-faced loon Jim Carrey in prosthetics and throwing money at the idea? It’s a bit of a mess at times, though the production design is suitably strange and Carrey makes his moments work.

Were they related?
They both… have a Grinch in them. And both feature a heart growing three sizes, so that's nice.

The Flintstones

What’s the cartoon? 

The Flintstones (1960)
It’s the modern stone-age family! Featuring more dino/caveman puns than you can shake a stegosaurus at, this Hanna-Babera ‘toon has delighted kids for years, with its tale of the grouchy Fred, understanding wife Wilma, best pal Barney and his wife Betty. It may not be the height of sophistication, but it’s reliably entertaining.

What’s the film?

The Flintstones (1994)
Oy. Where to begin with this one? While the main cast – John Goodman as Fred especially – struggle to make the best of a turgid script, this one has all the appeal of a rockslide. Some things just aren’t meant to leave the animated world. And let’s not even get into the “Rock Vegas”-set prequel.

Were they related?
Only if you’ve suffered a rock injury to the head.

Alice In Wonderland

What’s the cartoon? 

Alice In Wonderland (1951)
Disney gets its hands on Lewis Carroll and the result is animated joy. The weird world of Wonderland was custom-made for cartoonification and the studio squeezed every possible ounce of magic from this one, without harming the original’s spirit.

What’s the film?

Alice In Wonderland (2010)
In which Tim Burton and regular star / pal Johnny Depp get their hands on Wonderland, a big CG budget and… well, it’s certainly a film. Which, let us not forget, made more than a billion dollars worldwide at the box office and is set to spawn a sequel, Through The Looking Glass.

Were they related?
Like many recent cartoon-to-real-people translations, there’s an attempt to cram in extra backstory to make the characters relatable. It rarely works, and the less said about the Mad Hatter’s dancing, the better.

Alvin And The Chipmunks

What’s the cartoon? 

Alvin And The Chipmunks (1983)
Three apparently loveable chipmunks who live with a human man get into all sorts of wacky scrapes and also sing songs in their reedy, high-pitched voices. Inexplicably, this became one of the most popular cartoons in the 1980s.

What’s the film?

Alvin And The Chipmunks (2007)
OH THE PAIN MAKE IT STOP PLEASE MAKE IT STOP FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING AND NOW THEY’RE SINGING AGAIN? Phew. We survived. Wait, what do you mean, sequel? “Squeakuel”? And a third film called “Chipwrecked”? RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN. Inexplicably, this became one of the most popular children's franchises of the '00s.

Were they related?
Only in the way chipmunks are related to humans, except via an unusual fostering agreement.

Sleeping Beauty

What's the cartoon?
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Beautiful princess Aurora is born. Hooray! Then, at a party to celebrate her arrival, evil fairy Maleficent curses her to fall into a death-like sleep on her 16th birthday. Boo! But a handsome prince saves her! Hooray! Etc.

What’s the film?

Maleficent (2014)
Disney’s latest live-action re-make promises to tell the untold story of the apparently eeevil fairy, embodied here by Angelina Jolie. It’s sort of like one of those VH1 Behind The Music shows, but for fairy tales.

Were they related?
Disney certainly wants to make you think so, and Jolie has the look down pat. But most of the rest of the film veers sharply away from the gorgeous design of the original.