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Remakes and recycling in animation

While perusing Netflix on-demand I came across a surprising find. An animated adaptation of Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince. The cover art looked promising so I gave it a shot out of curiosity. I wasn’t able to get passed the first five minutes. The production value was average, however, they had strayed so far from Saint-Exupery’s original work that it had lost it’s very essence in the process. I wouldn’t put the blame on the team commissioned to produce the show but more to whom thought it was a great idea to reduce The Little Prince to a cheap CGI episodic in the first place.

As I went down the list of animated content available on Netflix, it was more apparent that a lot were remakes of old shows or properties, and surprisingly a lot of the recent ones hailed from France! Yakari, Spirou and Fantasio, The Magic Roundabout (even an animated “silent” version of Charlie Chaplin was reduced to a 3D animated TV show!) Granted US audiences might not be familiar with the originals of these shows but I grew up with them and can safely say the new versions don’t do them any justice. Recycling is a good thing, just not always as good an idea in animation!

With obsessions to avert risk by doing remakes and still consistently end up with mediocre results, one would think more original options could be considered. Imagination is limitless, and when you see the lukewarm receptions of some of these rehashed properties it makes me wonder why studio execs haven’t caught on. Garfield, The Chipmunks, The Smurfs, etc,… Abysmal reviews and box office flops and still they come back for more with sequels and even prequels!

There are the exceptions to the rules of course in terms of “commercial” success, such as the Marvel properties adapted into films and Tintin, for instance. However, far more fail than succeed. Playing it “safe” and remaking existing properties often doesn’t pay off as expected. In essence, studio execs are business people, not creative trailblazers. They often need to be told what is a good idea and what isn’t. That’s usually done looking at track records of existing properties. If it fared OK as a Saturday morning cartoon in the 80’s? Let’s remake it in CG! A comic book from the 60s? Let’s redo it as an animated film! The illusion of averting risks by banking on people’s nostalgia is just as risky as vouching for an original idea becasue there is an unforgiving and expected scrutiny that comes with existing properties. However, if it fails, they can just blame the property for it, or the director, or the production company commissioned to produce it, everybody but themselves for having the bad idea to remake it in the first place. More often than not, the fear of uncharted territory is the real factor why these original animated films never get made, and instead, the illusion that remaking existing properties is a better bet for success is perpetuated.

There is hope however, and a solution to change the status quo is Original Ideas!  Of course the downside of a new original idea for an animated feature film is that this idea is new. No one watched it as a kid on sunday mornings or remembers having it on a lunchbox growing up. But someone thought these older ideas up in the first place. Recycling old animated ideas needs to make way to a new cycle of original ones! It’s also way cheaper in terms of budget! No hefty licensing fees for the use of an existing intellectual property already guarantees the freedom of a smaller budget. New advances in animation software and technology have also made production costs smaller than they were ten years ago.

There is room for everybody, the old ideas recycled as well as the new ones. It’s just that, so far, it has been heavy-handed one way and we’ll let mainstream animation and Hollywood keep that side of it! We need to create an alternate, a next wave of original animated films and ideas that would be looked up to the way classics are now. Animation trailblazers with the freedom to create something new and by it, expanding the pool of animated feature film with new original and quality work! Stay tuned and check for updates to see how we might contribute in the future!