Will Donahue ‘24
If you’re anything like me, you rewatch scenes from “How to Train Your Dragon” whenever you want to feel something. There’s just something about those visuals, that music, and those cuddly-looking dragons that never fails to emotionally destroy me in the best way. Even now, thirteen years later, the first “How to Train Your Dragon” film sits comfortably among my favorite movies of all time. So naturally, when I heard the news that Universal is moving forward with a live-action adaptation of the first film (Hollywood Reporter), my expectations were in hell. It’s been a few days now, and I can safely say that my expectations have not improved.
But while I am certainly not ecstatic about this news, I can’t say I find it surprising. Live-action remakes of animated classics have proven to be a financial powerhouse in recent years. For instance, in 2019 alone, we saw two live-action Disney remakes earn over a billion dollars, with “Aladdin” earning $1.05 billion and “The Lion King” earning $1.66 billion respectively at the worldwide box office (BoxOfficeMojo). And if DreamWorks Animation is good at one thing, it’s following in the steps of Disney. So I suppose it was only a matter of time before Universal began tapping into the DreamWorks catalog of freshly-adaptable films.
But financial success aside, there has yet to be a single live-action remake from Disney that matches the critical reception of its animated counterpart. And I really do not expect this “How to Train Your Dragon” remake to perform any differently. Just look at Toothless in the original film, whose appearance and facial expressions are animated to resemble a massive dog. Without that familiar-looking animation, Toothless wouldn’t appear nearly as emotive or sympathetic. Sure, live-action dragons can look realistic (see “Game of Thrones”) – but the animated style adds so much heart to the original film that I don’t think realism could ever bring.
And even if these remakes could hold a candle to the originals, I’m not sure I could ever get on board with them. The mere fact that this trend exists implies that live action is the default and highest form of filmmaking in existence. While I love live action as much as anyone, animation has been stigmatized as “kids media” for far too long (only three animated films have ever been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars – and they’re all from Disney!). Animation is not a lowly kid’s genre waiting to be elevated into live action; it’s a storytelling medium like any other. And it deserves to stand on its own.
I understand that these remakes will keep coming so long as there’s an audience for them. And to be fair, with original director Dean DeBlois returning and the film’s mostly human cast, “How to Train Your Dragon” will probably translate to live-action better than most animated films. But even if this remake isn’t a “Cats”-style nightmare, there’s a certain magic that gets lost in translation from animation to live-action. And the sooner this remake trend dies out, the sooner we can give animation the respect it deserves.
Featured image courtesy of IMDb
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