04 December 2015 8655 Views


by James Murphy


lion king 1


Remember when we showcased that JUNGLE BOOK trailer a few months back? It was one of our biggest ‘hits’. Ever. ALMOST as big as the JAMES BOND stuff. Connections? Themes? Could be that ‘animal magnetism’? Could be IDRIS ELBA: he is a possible candidate for 007 if DANIEL CRAIG calls it a day; meantime Idris’ amazing voice can be heard in JUNGLE BOOK. Could be random. Yep. Random. But even so.

Putting aside Bond (am just mentioning him..because he’s like a lucky charm): animals SELL. Big time. They are THE hottest merchandising image commodity behind Marvel Super-heroes, Jedi, boy wizards, frozen Princesses, sexy spies and kick ass girl heroines being Divergent and winning Hunger Games. You cannot go wrong with animals.




One cannot copyright an animal, though of course you can create distinctive variations on their appearance, lend them a catchy name and above all, place them inside a cracking STORY! That’s how it all started: Mickey Mouse! Donald Duck! Goofy! Minnie Mouse (I always loved her and Mickey had some strong words with me about that when I visited Disney Land, aged..21..long story..anyway..moving on..).

Yep. That old ingredient. STORY. It is THAT which is key to the BEST anthropomorphic successes. And whilst I am deeply cynical about Disney remaking ALL their old cartoons as movies (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST? Yuck!)..I can see precisely the appeal in extending their animated animals’ lives to the ‘real’ big screen.

It makes sound business sense in world building and merchandising plans and is also a worthwhile cinematic experiment in and of itself: editing / lighting/sound/casting: all departments tested and maximised. In addition, with old titles restored in a new format, so new ones can be fired up in tandem.




DISNEY is an absolute MASTER at this. 101 DALMATIANS in 1996 saw the classic animated film turned into an action/adventure live action experience. It was a masterstroke not only in entertainment but also in the process of production. TERRY BAMBER (a highly respected Production Manager in film today) was instrumental in ensuring a smooth operation, ditto his own hero, legendary second unit man MICHAEL MOORE.


Everything about the film just ‘worked’, from GLENN CLOSE as an amazing Cruella DeVil, HUGH LAURIE showing the first stages of his transition to stardom and of course, the lovely JOELY RICHARDSON as the heroine. Yes, the animals were all cute and REAL! But it was the HUMAN element that REALLY made that film soar and secured an underrated sequel, too (featuring ALICE EVANS).


alice evans

IE: Anthropomorphic action is only as good as its initial inspiration. You NEED a distinctive HUMAN voice and face to match the animals. The best example of this is perhaps Disney’s LION KING from 1994.

The film was a commercial and critical triumph and that is in itself an amazing story, given the fact that most at the studio did not fancy its chances as much as the then in production POCAHONTAS and HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (both of which under-performed at the Box Office relative to LION KING’S great successes).



THE LION KING is a coming of age story, with a dash of Shakespeare’s HAMLET, tweaked for a family ethos to suit Disney’s worldview. It also has a philosophy that transcends religious barriers, the ‘circle of life’. Twenty years on and kids of all ages (and adults!) love that simplicity as a doorway to profundity. Its almost Buddhist sense of acceptance and cyclical love is every bit as potent and enduring as the ‘force’ in STAR WARS (itself now a Disney product, too).

The music is rousing: a glimpse of HANS ZIMMER’S magic just before he became the King of all film scores. The songs are romantic and idealistic, with TIM RICE AND ELTON JOHN on fine form and propped up by Zimmer’s orchestrations and a real sense of the majesty of African culture and landscapes.


The vocal talents are deployed perfectly, too. JAMES EARL JONES is a majestic Mufasa, JEREMY IRONS warms up his DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE baddie routine as the manipulative villain, Scar.

The film is a perfect mix of light and dark and whilst it is unlikely to be among the imminent crop of live action remake candidates, it made a natural transition to the stage, with a musical play that is a thing of beauty and culture in itself.

Looking ahead to 2016, it’s all about ZOOTOPIA! This will fuse the old school charm and magic of animal characterisation in Disney’s best traditions to some more modern and trendy styles of animation. The pitch is simplicity itself: a kind of cops on the beat show, with comedy, and yes: anthropomorphism!



Each character is an animal with an apt human vocal talent to match. Look out for JASON BATEMAN, SHAKIRA and (him again): IDRIS ELBA! Directed by BYRON HOWARD and RICH MOORE, the film is sure to be a screwball surefire success. What strikes me about the pitch is its sense of innovation and imagination but also its more traditional Hollywood sensibilities, in an era that has become more cynical even in the family animation market (post SHREK and the like).

So, these are interesting times, both to look forward to future animation projects featuring animals and indeed to look back at the Disney back catalogue now that one can enjoy old films in a series of media formats.

If that’s still not enough? Well, I can honestly recommend getting a real dog or cat. Or both. They’ll melt your heart; they’ll improve your core competences and confidences and they will watch all your favorite Disney classics at home with you like any best friend should.



And meantime? Why not try these excellent online games that play on the same characters and ideas! http://poki.com/en/the-lion-king and http://poki.com/en/zootopia  Highly recommended, addictive stuff! Even your pets will want to use these!

For the best results when playing any game, with or without an animal for company? Well simply wish upon a star..

disney cartoon


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