With Further Ado #299: Guest Columnist – Let’s Look at Those Live Action Reboots

It’s another week and time for another winning entry from our annual student competition. For the previous excellent submissions check here.:

Live Action
By Claire McGinnity

For the past nine years, it seems the biggest trend in entertainment has been reboots of older properties, especially live-action versions. This isn’t a new concept, live-action movies have been a consistent aspect of media properties, especially for cartoon shows or comic books, take the 1994 live action Flintstones movie or really any superhero movie, for example. However, there seems to be a rapid uptick in the live action reboots and, unfortunately, a notable drop in original or compelling content for them. The trend seems almost like a new “gold rush” that different studios are trying to capitalize off apparent interest instead of truly developing a story for the property that fits the media.

Starting with Disney’s yearly release of a live-action version of their classic Disney princess movies to today’s current live action tv show reboots like the recent Avatar, the Last Airbender are some of the main offenders of this issue. These properties have their origins in animation and are beloved by the public for their vibrant storytelling, fantastical worlds and characters, and beautiful artistic styles. Though not impossible, these aspects are very difficult to replicate in live action, and each release has seen varied success in doing so.

The live action versions also tend to lose some of the fantastical elements of the properties in order to increase the “realism”. It is unclear if this hyper-realism is an artistic choice by creators or just a downside of the medium of live action, but either way reveals a disconnect between this material and the reason why many fans enjoy the original properties. Additionally, many of these live-action reboots tend to just repeat the same story as the animated versions, which increases the accessibility of the content, but honestly does a disservice to the storytelling opportunities of each property. This isn’t to say that there is no value in re-telling a story in a different medium, in fact I believe that some of these reboots have had valuable updates to outdated stories and created space for previously underrepresented groups in Hollywood, like Asian representation in the Avatar reboot.

This value, though, is why I want better, more intentional live-action reboots. With such a possibility to change the social currents in storytelling or represent more people, poorly made live actions for the sake of the trend or a cash grab are ultimately disappointing and almost adverse to the property. Instead of being a great piece of representation or media, they become a brief topic of conversation of “how bad the cgi was” or just forgotten media. Though it may not seem like it, there are actually some live-action reboots or retellings that I do believe are fairly good additions to their properties. Movies like Maleficent and live action TV adaptations like One Piece were able to retell and add on to the source material without losing some of the magic and charm of the originals. Though not perfect, they seem a bit more intentional and holistically thought out in terms of casting, writing, and design.

The shift to live action reboots is also disappointing in its place overall in the entertainment industry, namely as it can pull money from other projects, especially animated ones – an ironic shift considering many of live action source materials are often comics or cartoons. 2023 alone saw many animation layoffs and a lack of jobs in movies, TV, and video game industries. Despite industry concerns, animation storytelling has been seeing a lot of success with recent movies and shows like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, Puss In Boots: The Last Wish, and Arcane. Interestingly, these successes in animation are all also reboots or continuations of existing properties. So why are the animated attempts at rebooting seeing success rather than their live action counterparts?

One praise these animated properties receive is their vibrant use and exploration of the medium of animation, like Spider-Verse’s unique shading style, blending the styles of both comic books and 3-D animation. There is also just more flexibility in the medium of animation, rules of physics, proportions, and realism do not apply the same, allowing animators the freedom to create intense action scenes and fantastical creatures. That being said, not every animated reboot has this level of success, recent reboots like Be Cool, Scooby Doo and The Powerpuff Girls reboot have seen lots of criticism for their cheap animation and poor writing.

The overall problem, it seems, is poor writing or a lack of thought in creating reboots, especially when changing the medium from animation to live action. Trying to capitalize off of trends in nothing new from Hollywood, but it seems worse than ever with the sheer amount of reboot content being created currently. I don’t think the reboot trend will ever truly end either, as nostalgia can play a key role in consumers’ buying habits. My hope is that consumers can demand more from their reboots so more movies like Maleficent and Into the Spider-Verse can be created and continue to push our culture forward artistically and socially.