I get it: everyone is sick of reboots. We’ve seen so many versions of Cinderella and Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland that redoing them with million-dollar grade special effects and a slew of A-list talent just isn’t enough to re-catch lightning in a bottle. In fact, one could make the very sound argument that redoing a Disney classic is redundant on the highest level. There are only so many ways you can capitalize and re-capitalize on The Lion King before you realize there’s nothing left. I get the appeal of wanting to see what a genie, a mermaid, a living candelabra. and a talking lion all look like rendered in CGI, especially as a means to rekindle my love for any one of these films…but they already nailed it the first time around.
While Disney does have some animated ventures that bombed, to say it’s extensive is a stretch. And most of their mainstream output has found ways to expand upon the movie’s lore, for better or for worse. And some have had some serious potential for expanding their stories, but for whatever reason, were never truly realized.
Disney has tried to make franchises out of most of their animated projects, some did well in expanding their world and lore (Tangled and its series, Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure, for example.) others not so much (You can make as many spinoffs of Beauty and the Beast as you want, but at the end of the day, you’re stuck in the time period where everyone’s cursed). But the thing is there’s still untapped potential in some projects that never went much further than their one film.
Yes, you’re right. There already IS a sequel to Fantasia. A pretty tepid one, comparatively speaking. I personally like it, though. I liked its varied approaches in animation, plus a myriad of stories that ranged from abstract and cute to narrative-driven and ponderous. And as such, no further attempts have been made to revive it. Of course, it’s only been 22 years…Fantasia 2000 came out 60 years after the first one.
Ask any Disney buff and they’ll tell you Fantasia was always intended to be the first iteration of an ongoing series. Walt wanted to put Fantasia out as a travelling road show, and wanted speakers installed in theaters to replicate that concert feel by providing viewers with a sort of prototype of what we call surround sound these days. Of course, Fantasia was super expensive to make, the European market had a stranglehold on their international revenue due to the war, the speaker installations were incredibly expensive, public reaction was confused, bored, or outraged (That Disney had the audacity to make such scary imagery as “Night on Bald Mountain”), and most of all, highbrow critics disgusted at the butchering Disney did of such great classical music masterpieces. As such, Fantasia only ever had one version, and failed to achieve any respect..until college students in the seventies found the movie was, like…deep, man. And, like…you know…it was sayin’ something. Whoa.
But one thing I’ve come to love from Disney animation, especially in the past decade or so, is that their short subject game is super on point. Both they and Pixar have used Disney+ to showcase shorts – some with dialogue, some without – to make some gorgeously incredible and powerful metaphors on the human condition. On top of that, this kind of medium allows for great training for up and coming animators, ones with fresh ideas and new perspectives, looking to cut their teeth on 7 to 8 minute stories, and better still, devoid of dialogue to emphasize the importance of nuance, microgesture, personality, and ambiance: concepts difficult to elaborate with effectively in that span of time.
Of course, there’s easily thousands of classical pieces of music that haven’t been touched yet. Some great pieces like “Toccatta and Fugue”, “Beethoven’s Fifth”, “Pomp and Circumstance”, and other renowned pieces are used, but other reputable pieces, like Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca” are instantly recognizable, even to us classless Americans.
And like Walt’s vision, it can still be a continually evolving showpiece with new segments coming and going. That’s why Fantasia 2000 features “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Better still, why not make music-based segments using other Disney characters? All I’m saying is that yes, Fantasia 1.0 was a project too big for its britches and Fantasia 2000 only thought it measured up to its legacy without actually earning it…but there’s no reason why they can’t try again and really stretch some creative muscles, share more great works of music with the world, and regain some of that clout they’re known for.
4. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
If you saw Atlantis in movie theaters back in 2001 or are just a casual fan, you might think it was okay. Not great, just okay. The movie sank at the box office and most have forgotten about it, as is often the case, but when you take a look at the behind the scenes stuff, it becomes clear Disney thought this movie was going to pay off. For starters, directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale (Yes, the guys behind Beauty and the Beast and Hunchback of Notre Dame) leaned in hard in world building, establishing a wildly inventive Atlantis with flying fishmobiles, a unique ethnic look to the locals, and a complete language. Add on top of that, set in 1914, which offers a distinct setting, further letting it stand out. And despite that, the cast was made multiracial, making the film arguably the most progressive Disney film.
Now, Disney also wanted to make this a thing. They were gearing up for a tv series called Team Atlantis where Milo, Kida, and the rest would travel around the world investigating supernatural mysteries, many of which had some mystical connection to Atlantis. As you might recall, the movie tanked at the box office, thus the show was scrapped…but salvaged as a direct-to-video sequel, Atlantis II: Milo’s Return. There’s even a mysterious photograph found on laughingplace.com showing that after dismantling Submarine Voyage in Disneyland, they came this close to having a ride based off the movie…until the movie bombed and Pixar came in with a very popular ocean-based movie just two years later.
Is Atlantis that terrible? I would argue no. Like most bad movies, there are gems of brilliance that shine through, but one or more unwieldy elements bring the whole thing down or they don’t mesh terribly well. I like the characters. I like the 1914 technology and the Atlantean world. It did get a bit corny at times, but all that means is a tweaked plot at least and a script polishing could make this a masterful treat for the eyes and ears. I would LOVE a ride in the parks exploring the temples and caverns of Atlantis, but I fully believe this is a film that deserves a second chance. Yes, even a live action reboot would be kind of awesome.
Honestly, I think that Team Atlantis series had some good bones to it. There’s a fascinating idea that all the supernatural lores around the world have some uniting tie to each other, as seen in the sequel, but it would have to be done with some gravitas and exploration. The sequel, which features 3 completed episodes, definitely has a “Monster-of-the-week” vibe to it, but if a show has any chance at standing on its own nowadays, it needs to understand the power of extended, evolving storytelling in the streaming era. As far as that live action reboot goes, it’d definitely have its own look and style that would look intriguing, if done and marketed well.
3. The Great Mouse Detective
Mystery shows for kids really don’t get the approval from networks they need. Even Disney, you could only really count Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers or Gravity Falls. But one of the best cartoon characters of all time – Scooby-Doo – has spent more than fifty years making mystery shows for all ages to great success. We need more mysteries so our children can watch TV while also thinking and processing who did the dunnit. I propose we revitalize the The Great Mouse Detective as an ongoing series, and yes, title it “Basil of Baker Street”.
The premise is obvious: Basil is on the hunt to solve mysteries in 1897 London. Between petty thefts and occasional big time crimes, Basil also finds himself at odds against his greatest nemesis, Ratigan (And yes, voiced by the great Maurice LaMarche! If you ever need an Orson Welles or Vincent Price cover, call LaMarche!)
Now, I did have to grapple with whether this show would be a prequel to the 1986 movie or a sequel. As a prequel, we’d get some great backstory as to how Basil and Ratigan knew each other and why they became such enemies, but Dr. Dawson hadn’t yet arrived, and Basil works best when working off a straight man like Dawson. After the movie, Ratigan is likely very dead after his plunge from Big Ben, but Basil will have Dawson to work off of. The answer: definitely a sequel. Ratigan could have survived in a number of (admittedly narratively convenient) ways. But more interestingly, Ratigan is at his lowest point: most if not all of his goons are arrested and in jail. Felicia was pretty much eaten alive by palace guard dogs. His closest minion, Fidget, was thrown in the Thames. But Ratigan is charismatic, brutal, and brilliant. Even without his gang or muscle, he would have no trouble finding recruits, especially disenfranchised youths full of angst and seeking purpose, even back then. Part of the delight in the show would be watching Ratigan slowly rebuilding his enterprise, and the other half would be your standard mystery of the week/occasional grapple with Ratigan’s budding crew that Basil struggles to piece together.
If the format of a genuine mystery were kept, I think you’d have something incredible here. Basil and Ratigan made the movie worth it, and their exploits would be great to witness. And sure, why not have series of flashbacks digging deeper into their shared history? There’s gotta be some great stories there.
2. The Black Cauldron
I already talked about this one some time ago, but it’s worth revisiting.
Disney’s first PG-rated film meant to get older butts in seats failed pretty spectacularly. It’s often brought up as Disney’s worst cinematic failure, beat out by The Care Bears Movie. But like I said before, there is some good stuff here. Disney has gotten better and smarter in learning how to work with more intense subject matter, and hopefully they won’t feel the need to cram 5 books in one 90 minute movie.
Like Great Mouse Detective, revisiting this franchise with a sequel series would be absolutely best here. I’ve never read Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, so forgive me if I don’t extrapolate from the books as I spitball this.
At the finale, Taran (sans magic sword), Eilonwy, Fflewdurr Fflam, and Gurgi have returned to his home, only to find the farm ravaged and Caer Dallben, Taran’s caretaker, has gone missing. The only relief they find is Hen Wen, who hid in the nearby forest. Using Hen Wen’s clairvoyant powers, they find Dallben was abducted by some of the Horned King’s displaced goons.
Of course, the group are now off to find Dallben, but the landscape is far different than it was during the Horned King’s reign. A power vacuum has appeared, and several factions are rising. What’s worse, the goons are splitting up too, and seeking their own ways. As it turns out, the goons who kidnapped Dallben were employed by a nearby domain and its lord wants Hen Wen to get a leg up on the surrounding territories. In fact, unbeknownst to them is that ALL of the local domains are seeking magical entities and whatever muscle they can garner for the same reason: to rule Pyrdain with the same power and reach as the Horned King did.
Taran and crew assign themselves to quell the rising tensions, which is far easier said than done. Taran has already learned being a hero was not about combat, but sacrifices in the movie, so it naturally follows that Taran would have to further learn how to stop fights…and it’s entirely possible he tries to reclaim his sword from the witches of Morva.
There’s a lot of great ideas to explore. If Eilonwy is a princess, where is her kingdom, and why did the Horned King call her a scullery maid? Just where did Eilonwy’s bauble come from? Are King Eidelig, Doli, and the rest of the Fair Folk safe? Are the Horned King’s wyverns still a looming threat? And…yes, his death was very definitive and gruesome…but what if the Horned King were to return? I mean, he’s basically a zombie and the witches proved with Gurgi that death can be reversed. So it stands to reason the Horned King could still be a threat.
Lastly, I would suggest a side plot where Creeper, the Horned King’s cretinous minion, is happy to be free of being oppressed by his former boss, and seeks to be his own despot…and failing spectacularly over and over, unable to realize maybe he needs to save the cruelty and abuse on his followers until after he has the power to back up the threat.
Look, if we can make Game of Thrones work, why not this?
1. Song of the South
Is this a weird, kinda racist hill for me to die on? Sure, I admit that. But see…that’s kind of the point.
Like I said, remaking The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast is a monumentally stupid and pointless task. I mean…what was to be gained? Filling a few bad-faith plot holes? Rendering the fantasy elements in CGI to look more realistic? Injecting wokeness when most SJW’s didn’t have a problem with it? Obviously, these movies caught lightning in a bottle, and now everyone’s seen them. Really, their true purpose was trying to remind audiences these movies existed and extend their shelf life a little longer. Even if the remakes are terrible (and they are), they reinvigorate our memories of a much greater movie we remember from when we were kids.
But start with a movie renowned for being flawed. Say something as objectively troubled as Song of the South. Extrapolate the good things about it, like the animated characters, the songs, and Uncle Remus. Now, most everything else about it either is racist or just not very good. That means literally everything can be cut from a whole new cloth. Do I have a story outline in mind like I did for the last two entries? Sadly no, but what I do think would be a good first step is hiring a good director, and I can think of no one better for the job than Jordan Peele.
Yes, Peele is better known for his horror and drama films like Us, and Get Out, and producing Candyman, BlacKKKlansman, and a Twilight Zone reboot. But remember, Peele got his start with Keegan-Michael Key doing comedy in the wildly successful Key & Peele sketches for Comedy Central from 2012 to 2015. Not to mention Peele has already played a rabbit for Disney: as Bunny in Toy Story 4. But in all seriousness, Peele’s genius comes in his inherent ability to perfectly address the issues with race.
Hollywood has tried a million times over to make movies about the evils of racism ever since D. W. Griffith set the standard for race depiction back in 1915, and those movies are typically patronizing, missing the point, oversimplified, or just make the problem worse. Peele’s movies greater reflect societal nuances of race relations, in ways rarely, if ever, explored by studios helmed by white boomers whose thinking on racism hasn’t progressed since the eighties and see BLM more as a marketing gimmick than a social revolution. And with Peele’s critically-acclaimed expertise, he might do what hundreds of creators fail to do: return an art form back to its origins before whiteys like Joel Chandler Harris showed up.
Song of the South was never a terribly faithful adaptation of Harris’ stories, mostly because the live action bits are just an overblown framing device for the Br’er Rabbit stories. In other words, Peele and his writers have almost unbridled freedom to expound upon Uncle Remus and his world. Heck, even the movie’s title is a Disney invention. There is potential here to not perpetuate the cycle of oppression and injustice, but to right a wrong, demonstrate a willingness to learn and grow, and give the public a competent movie about racism in society so kids don’t have to rely on just Zootopia and maybe Pocahontas. And I have little doubt Peele could do something potentially powerful that’d explore the greater depths of systemic racism. After all, the stories were symbolic.
If you hadn’t ridden Splash Mountain, remember the stories about the smaller, weaker Br’er Rabbit and how he outsmarts the bigger, stronger Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear. As Uncle Remus states, “Being little and without much strength, he’s supposed to use his head instead of his foots”. The allegory rests with the repressed black population akin to Br’er Rabbit, a class who often had to resort to cleverness to outwit the slave owners. Heck, this movie could even take place in modern day, further detailing the multigenerational aspect in which systemic racism permeates society.
Look, obviously I’m a white person and I really understand the issues at stake here, including knowing I am WAY out of my depth here. But I don’t think shoving the Br’er characters and “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” into a closet is the answer. Like racism itself, you don’t fix the problem by saying “I don’t see color”, you work toward a greater understanding and right whatever wrongs you can. That’s why I put this at number one, even though I have no real suggestion on HOW it can be rebooted…I just feel it should for stronger reasons than “‘Cuz it’s cool.”
Anyway, Jordan, the ball is in your court. And here I’d say something like “it’d be mighty satisfactual” or “Have a Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah time with it”, but that’s just in poor taste, isn’t it?