What Is A Live-Action Movie?

When you think about The Lion King, you think about Disney’s beloved animated movie that came out in the 1990s in glorious 2D animation, right?  What about The Little Mermaid? Or Aladdin?

Well, that’s about to change because a live action version of The Lion King is coming out soon. A lot of people do not know what “live action” because most people just assume it is a non-animated movie. But in the modern sense, the term “live action” refers to both movies that have living beings in them and animated movies that are animated into our (human/earth/non-animated) living world.

Old-School Live-Action Movie vs. Old-School Animation (pre-1960s)

Waaaaay back when animation was its own medium separate from the real world, the term was somewhat irrelevant because it was just assumed that a movie with humans in it was live action.  The distinction was not necessary because the technology was not yet possible to merge the two mediums.

Then Came Mary Poppins (1964)…

Can you imagine what Walt Disney went through in the early 1960s to explain to his animators that they would be placing their animated creatures into footage with a real live set and Julie Andrews?  But that’s exactly what happened as he created Mary Poppins and the first, real movie that required the definition of “live action” to distinguish that despite the animated creatures and setpieces, the drawings were shared with live actors and tangible sets.

Though Mary Poppins is the first live action movie in the modern sense of the definition, which is typically used to describe the combination of animated characters and sets with live actors and a tangible real-world sets, the live action that most people bring up when discussing the topic are the ones that came out in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Space Jam, Cool World, and especially, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

These movies had two-dimensional (2D) animated characters with main roles in the movie and acting in scenes with the living humans.  This was cutting edge in that era, and the term live action animated movie started to emerge as its own genre of cinema.

Modern Animation Adds To the Definition of Live Action Again

CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) continued to improve with more realistic depictions of sets and characters using three-dimensional (3D) characteristics. We can recall movies like Jurassic Park that were celebrated not only for creating dinosaurs that were realistically “drawn” based on what we know about dinosaurs from the paleontological discovery of fossils, but also by how well they were blended into the environment of the movie to make a realistic situation within the film.

Today things have gotten so good that we are not at all impressed or phased as an audience when we witness a movie or commercial or television show that incorporates animation in a living world.

Because of this, the term “live action” has been redefined over and over again as the medium of both film and cinematography and videography, as well as animation, keeps changing and improving.

I have even movies heard people refer to movies that are 100% animation but created in such a realistic fashion as live-action, so it is easy to see why people are confused with the term.

Disney Role in Live-Action

Disney has been getting the most hype about its live-action line up, taking movies that were originally made in 2D animation (The Lion King, as mentioned above, as well as The Little Mermaid, Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast and +20 other titles), and remaking them in their 3D live action versions.

The ones that have already come out, such as Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Alice In Wonderland have taken the story of the predecessor and morphed it into not only new visuals, but also slightly new journeys and dialogue for the traditional characters, while also sticking to the premise of the main storyline in the original.

There are some movies that have had their entire storyline change because the live action would be amusing at best, and disastrously weird at worst. while it might be fun to watch the first hour of The Little Mermaid with garbled dialogue and actors turning blue from holding their breath underwater as a parody sketch for 5 minutes, the full-length is a bad idea. Therefore they have shifted most of the action to be above ground which is probably a good choice.  

It is clear that while some live-action is limiting some of the portrayals of events from the original movies, the directors of the new three-dimensional live action versions are enjoying the freedom of using new set pieces to show the original story and characters in new ways.

IMHO, it’s a bit weird to see live-action Simba growl at scar in the same way a lion would growl at another lion in real life, while also saying the word “Murderer!” in the English spoken word over the growl sound.

But I have never been one for taking animal movies in general, so I’m sure this is going to be better than what has emerged in the past when Hollywood has had live animals or CGI animals talking in movies.

The Future

When I look at the future of animation “acting” in a movie with real-world sets and humans, I start to think that the term could very well become extinct as it becomes irrelevant.  

The reason I feel that it could become irrelevant is that unless there is a very definite reason to use 2D animation, the creation of 3D characters and sets will become easy and normal to produce. Additionally, the merging of animation and real-world sets and actors will also become easier.

As I write this I can say that I have animated the combination of animation and real-world actors (me, actually) and it wasn’t that hard. It was hard enough that the average joe filmmaker could not do it at this point, but as with most modern technology that took 20 years to learn in its heyday (I’m looking at you photography), the techniques for creating movies that are “live action” with both CGI characteristics and real-world human/set pieces with be as simple as loading footage into iMovie and creating a title or two is today.

And because it will be so easy and “everyone will be doing it”, two-dimensional animation will be relegated (sadly) to the artsy area of filmmaking in the same way 16mm and even 35mm film and filmmaking has now been sent to that corner, and three-dimensional animation, either with its own three-dimensional world or in a “live action” will become the norm.

In other words, the distinction of “live-action between will not be required for movies in the future that incorporate both animation and living actors and tangible sets because that will be the norm.

It will be more likely that one would have to say, “It’s a 2D movie” and people will say, “Oooooh, how artsy of you! You must be a true auteur!”

What are your favorite live-action (animation and real humans/sets) so far?  

What do you think about this new emerging technology and Disney remaking its movie in a three-dimensional live-action format?  

Here is a complete list of the remakes Disney has on its slate for the upcoming years.

What is missing? What do you think should NOT be made?

Here are a few of the live-action (and old-school two-dimensional) trailers to check out:

The Lion King (2D):

The Lion King (3D):

Alice in Wonderland (2D):

Alice in Wonderland (3D):

Beauty and the Beast (2D);

Beauty and the Beast (3D):

The Little Mermaid (2D):

The Little Mermaid (3D):

Mary Poppins (1964):

Christopher Robin (Based on Winnie the Poo):

pro video camcorder

Good things come to those who sign up for our newsletter.

Join our email list to get the latest blog posts straight to your inbox.


You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This