In my last article, I discussed the downsides of live-action remakes and why so many of them seem to fall flat. Visual limitations, directors that don’t care about the integrity of the plot, and too much subjectivity are just a few of the reason this failure occurs. A lot of fans would love to see their favorite fantasy series be translated onto the big screen, but with so many recurring issues, how can we make a good fantasy adaptation that leaves everyone satisfied? Today I would like to offer a solution to that problem. Namely: animated-adaptations.
Oddly enough, there aren’t a whole lot of fantasy animated-adaptations. Most western animations made for adults tend to be either of the comedic or superhero genre (if not both), and the fantasies tend to be made for a younger audience. I find this strange, as animation is as broad and diverse as fantasy is, and would serve as the perfect medium for a visual-adaptation of a fantasy novel. These days, film companies seem to have developed a fetish for live-action adaptations, whether it be for a book or for an animated series, but we rarely see it happen in the other direction.
The range of animation styles is far broader than that of live-action: 2D, 3D, stop motion, and Claymation are just a few of the many different animation styles: each offering their own unique viewing experience. Although animation tends to be associated with children’s media, nothing about it is inherently childish. If anything, it provides the perfect gateway to avoid the visual limitations that come with live-action adaptations.
Making something fictional appear real is far easier to do in a fictional setting than in a real one. When watching an animated feature, I never have to think, does this look real? Is this thingbelievable? Because as long as the animation is consistent, anything that is there will look like it belongs there. On the other hand, placing a CGI dragon in the midst of a real setting with real people, you run into the possibility of it looking out of place. In most cases, viewers can tell when something has been computer generated, and it takes away from an otherwise immersive experience. All in all, CGI against CGI holds up better than CGI against real life. This is to say that a movie made completely with animation (computer-generated or otherwise) will almost always look better than a movie that is partially live-action and partially computer-generated, when done well. CGI is constantly changing, and a live-action film from thirty years ago using CGI won’t hold up as well as an animated movie from that same year.
Even though technology is getting better and better and CGI more and more realistic, I would even argue that this pursuit of hyper-realism is part of what makes live-action, and sometimes CGI animation, fail. Fantasy is not real. It doesn’t obey the laws of physics or the limits of humanity. We know this and have no expectation of being convinced through a movie or a tv show that it is. That’s why animation lets us express the things that live-action can’t: a character’s eyes sparkle and dim with each changing emotion, creatures glide through the air as if it were water, and magic starts to look a little less like a tool, and a little more like a fully integrated, and completely irreplaceable element in this animated world.
Animation doesn’t limit you by reality or technology: an animator’s only limit is their creativity (and their budget, but that’s a different conversation). Animation isn’t meant to be a realistic experience, just like fantasy isn’t meant to mimic real life. Both are an aesthetic experience.
But we can’t truly have a debate about live-action vs animation without considering the mass media giant which despite starting as an animation company, has made their mark in live-action adaptations: Disney. They’ve been on a recent streak of remaking many of their old animated classics into live-action adaptations. The company has a large enough budget to make the computer-generated image realistic and believable but at the same time, none of their live-action remakes have done nearly as well as the original. For reasons similar to those discussed in my previous article, just like live-action adaptations of books, live-action adaptations of animated series and movies are also never as the original.
Whereas animation can add visual components that aren’t plausible in live-action, live-action has no choice but to remove those elements, leaving us with a less memorable viewing experience than we first started with. The whole purpose of an adaptation is to add something that you couldn’t have in the story from the previous means in which it was told. Sure, live-action and animated adaptations already add a visual component, but why is it important that we see the story? What does that add to it?
This perhaps, is where Disney fails. Although in most cases, they tend to remain loyal to the plotand merely seem to want to impress their audiences with how good their visual effects are. Nothing is added to the story, and compared to the animated originals, the visuals come out flat and inexpressive.
Of course, no matter what visual medium we choose, adaptations will always be shaped by the director’s interpretation of the story, for better or for worse. Even though animated adaptations may help solve some of the visual restrictions that reality places on fantasy stories, the meat of the story is still highly dependent on the producers and their creative decisions. But that being said, where live-action fails, animated adaptions can pick up the slack. Here’s to hoping we see more of them.