Casting for the live-action film is yet to be confirmed; Tom Hanks was reportedly in talks to play Geppetto, the titular puppet-boy’s creator, but passed. It isn’t clear to what extent animation will be integrated, but Zemeckis certainly has knowledge in hybrid filmmaking, having directed everything from Disney’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit to Welcome to Marwen.
In different ways, both 1940s classics present challenges for Disney, lacking elements that helped propel recent remakes to such success. Bambi is light on plot: we never see any villains, the most dramatic incident happens offscreen, and the narrative is essentially a series of vignettes which unfold at a measured pace.
The film also has little of the epic world creation that showcased the cutting-edge cgi in The Jungle Book and The Lion King. In one sense, though, it may be suited to a photorealistic remake: more than many Disney classics, it privileges naturalistic animation over cartoonishness.
Pinocchio has a more traditional dramatic structure, but it addresses dark themes — including child abduction — more forthrightly than perhaps any other Disney classic. Like Bambi, it’s short on the sort of wisecracking comedy that has become de rigueur in family entertainment today.
The two films have relatively few well-known tunes: Bambi’s most famous song, “Little April Shower,” is sung by an offscreen choir, not the characters. This ties into a larger issue: beloved as they are, Bambi and Pinocchio arguably lack the loyal fanbase of 1990s blockbusters like The Lion King, which came out in many viewers’ lifetimes.
Much of this is also true of Dumbo (1941), the only of Disney’s original five animated features to be remade in recent years (the remaining two are Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a remake of which is in development, and Fantasia). The live-action Dumbo, which came out last year to a lackluster box office reception, tackled these difficulties by reimagining the story, brightening its more melancholic elements, and introducing a roster of new characters (in other words: more A-listers).
As far as Bambi is concerned, Disney may already have ruled this option out. The Hollywood Reporter, having spoken to insiders, writes: “The studio is cognizant that Bambi is less epic in scope and story and is not aiming to shoehorn a larger narrative onto the classic tale.” As for Pinocchio, this isn’t the only version of the story in the works: Guillermo del Toro is directing a stop-motion adaptation for Netflix.
The Lion King was an almost shot-for-shot remake of the 1990s original. But storytelling norms have changed more radically since the 1940s. So far, Disney’s remake machine has produced more hits than duds — but with these two projects, it faces its biggest obstacles yet.
No release date has been announced for either film. Other upcoming Disney remakes include Mulan (March 27, 2020), the One Hundred and One Dalmatians reboot Cruella (May 28, 2021), The Little Mermaid, The Sword in the Stone, Lilo and Stitch, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.