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Too-True Tales : Remakes of Four Animated Classics as Live-Action Films May Not Be for the Young at Heart

August 09, 1995|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fairy tales can come true--or at least true to life. Over the next couple of years, audiences will be treated to at least four live-action versions of cherished animated movies: "101 Dalmatians," "Pinocchio," "Peter Pan" and "Snow White," starring the likes of Glenn Close, Martin Landau and Sigourney Weaver.

And a warning to parents: Even though the animated movies are Disney classics, the new versions aren't all from Disney and won't all be G-rated.

The trend of remaking animated movies began last year with Disney's live-action version of "The Jungle Book," which grossed almost $50 million.

Though it seems Hollywood is again just duplicating itself, looks can be deceiving, said Disney senior executive David Vogel.

"The source material of these stories is classic," he said. "We do Shakespeare over and over again, why shouldn't we do the same with children's fairy tales?"

Rob Fried, president of production at Savoy Pictures, said the reason to do "Pinocchio" today as a live-action feature film has a great deal to do with the sophisticated art of current Hollywood technology. The film, which will be released next summer, will employ state-of-the-art animatronic puppets from the Jim Henson studios and computer-generated images to aid in the illusion of bringing a little wooden boy to life.

Based on the 1883 story by Carlo Collodi, "Pinocchio" will be directed by "Ninja Turtles' " Steve Barron and will star Landau and Jonathan Taylor Thomas ("Home Improvement").

The new "101 Dalmatians," which will start filming in London and the English countryside this fall, will use computer-graphic images in some sequences--the task of moving 100 pups in formation might otherwise be too daunting.

Writer-director John Hughes ("Home Alone") said he'll try to keep the generated images to a minimum because nothing is as good as the real thing. "There's nothing more charming than a room full of puppies," he said. "When one runs, the others usually follow."

"Dalmatians" will be a Disney remake of its 1961 animated film, which was based on a short story. Hughes has gone back to the source and put the tale through further development because, he said, "the story was a bit thin. There are things you can get away with in animation for which you need back story in live-action--such as the real reason Cruelle de Vil [Glenn Close] wants the Dalmatian coat." After he completes "Dalmatians," Hughes will plunge headlong into "Peter Pan," a Disney/Sony Pictures co-production. Unlike Disney's 1953 animated film, the later Mary Martin stage and TV musical or even Steven Spielberg's 1991 "Hook," Hughes' new version will be a darker, more disturbing reading of James M. Barrie's tale of perpetual boyhood. Hughes makes the comparison to "Lord of the Flies," another tale of lost childhood and pre-pubescence.

"There's a lot of sorrow and sadness in Barrie's story," he said. "It's really a tragic story about a boy who can't grow up, which makes him a little mean."

He added: "Tinker Bell is a mature woman who is frustrated by her desire for Peter."

To quote Mae West, "I used to be 'Snow White' but I drifted": The makers of the live-action version of that folk fable are going even further. The movie is tentatively titled "The Grimm Brothers: Snow White and the Black Forest." The Polygram-financed movie will be a Middle Ages Gothic thriller, set in 15th-Century Germany. Expect very little whistling while the characters work.

Aimed at the PG-13 audience, there will be violence and sexual suggestiveness. The wicked stepmother, played by Sigourney Weaver, hires a hit man to take out the virginal Lily ("Snow White's" given name). There will be more than passing reference to America's obsession with beauty and growing old. And there may not even be dwarfs in this version, which will be directed by Michael Cohn ("When the Bough Breaks") in Czechoslovakia this fall.

Producer Tom Engelman played some of the story's elements close to the vest. "The way we approached the material, the fairy tale is like a poem," Engelman said. And the storytellers are taking poetic license with such metaphors as the apple, Prince Charming and the dwarf, he said. "This is a folk tale that has existed in 60 different cultures, both Eastern and Western for the past 600 years. But in the past century the story has been defanged to make it palatable for children."

"Snow White and the Black Forest" promises to restore the venom of the original oral fable. Lily is currently being cast with names such as Alicia Silverstone being mentioned, but no one is ruling out the chance that an unknown could step into Lily's shoes.

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