It's taken five years since we first heard it was a possibility, but the feature film adaptation of Disney’s classic 1989-1990 television series Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers has finally landed a director in The Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer. The live-action/CG hybrid from the Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping co-director could be bound for theater screens or Disney’s upcoming Disney+ streaming service.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about Disney and Mandeville Films’ Rescue Rangers movie, but according to THR, it will not be an origin story or a detective agency story like the cartoon. It is instead described as something meta and self-referential. While we’ll have to wait and see what that means and how well the Rescue Rangers movie appeals to fans of the cartoon, its very existence shows that Disney’s classic cartoons are on the table for adaptation.
Disney will eventually run out of animated classics to remake and its classic animated series are another option to fill out its theatrical and future streaming calendars. Series like Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers also carry with them major nostalgic sentiment for millennial audiences, a valuable trait in today’s marketplace.
With all of that in mind, here are 6 classic Disney cartoons that should get the live-action treatment after Rescue Rangers.
Disney’s Adventures Of The Gummi Bears
The very first animated production by Walt Disney Animation Television, Adventures of the Gummi Bears is one of the most obvious candidates for a live-action/CG hybrid akin to what Rescue Rangers is getting. Adventures of the Gummi Bears tells the story of a group of humanoid bears belonging to an ancient, magical and technologically advanced race. In the medieval kingdom of Dunwyn, the bears, along with a small group of friendly humans, go on adventures to discover their history while battling the evil Duke Igthorn and his ogres.
Gummi Bears has deeper mythology than you might expect for a cartoon. Given the magical elements and the medieval fantasy setting, a live-action feature film adaptation would have greater potential in terms of scale than some of the other titles on this list. And as Detective Pikachu recently showed, there is no need to force realism. If done well, the Gummi Bears can be just as cartoony and fantastical as their animated counterparts and still look right alongside human actors. They are magical bears after all.
Photo-realistic CGI talking animals were one of those gambles that could have really turned people off, but based on the success of Disney’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book and what we’ve seen of The Lion King, audiences will buy in. So why not take another risk and throw some clothes on Bill Murray’s Baloo and turn him into a 1930s Pacific Islands bush pilot for a live-action adaptation of Talespin? Talespin ran for 65 episodes in the early '90s. In it, Baloo is an air-delivery pilot who, along with business owner Rebecca and orphan navigator Kit, must keep the business flying while evading nefarious air pirates.
The show had a classic action-adventure feel, reminiscent of movies like The Rocketeer, Indiana Jones and with a touch of Casablanca. The period-piece aspect is part of what would make a Talespin movie feel super unique in today’s landscape and I have no doubt such a film would be a blast. Admittedly, this one seems less likely given the cost rendering such a film would require, especially for a property without the name recognition of The Jungle Book.
Anecdotally, Darkwing Duck, which aired in the early '90s as part of The Disney Afternoon slate, seems to be one of Disney’s more beloved classic cartoons (in no small part thanks to a great theme song). The tale of mild-mannered duck Drake Mallard and his superhero alter ego Darkwing Duck was a goofy and action-packed series that also had plenty of heart with Drake’s adopted daughter Gosalyn. The series acted as something of a parody of superheroes like Batman and The Shadow with the bumbling Darkwing Duck mirroring those grim and serious crimefighters.
Disney/Pixar’s Incredibles series already plays with some of the superhero tropes, but a Darkwing Duck movie could really lean into that while also making fun of spy movies and noir films. Such a film could be the detective story the Rescue Rangers movie supposedly isn’t, and more than that property, Darkwing Duck seems ripe with meta, self-referential potential. I’m not sure how exactly how well it would translate to “live-action,” but I’m interested to see it happen. Come on, let’s get dangerous.
Of all the classic Disney cartoons that have live-action feature film potential, Gargoyles is the most obvious. It’s so ripe for adaptation it’s kind of baffling a Gargoyles movie hasn’t happened yet, especially considering that Jordan Peele supposedly wanted to make one. Gargoyles ran in the mid-nineties and told the story of a clan of creatures of the night who turned to stone by day and protected New York City once the sun goes down.
Gargoyles was notable for being much darker than many of its contemporaries, with complex stories and rich characters that made the show ahead of its time and an eventual cult classic. Modern CGI could finally do Gargoyles justice in live-action on the big screen and I think such an adaptation, that really took the property seriously, would have real blockbuster franchise potential. It’s got action, magic, mythology and a modern setting. It would also be completely different from both Disney’s other offerings and those from other studios and that sort of unique quality makes it worth pursuing.
A spinoff of the earlier Raw Toonage TV series, Bonkers bears a lot of similarities to the classic live-action/animated hybrid comedy Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Bonkers, an anthropomorphic bobcat, is a former cartoon star who has seen his fortunes fade a la BoJack Horseman and now works as a cop in Hollywood. Like Roger Rabbit, cartoons in the world of the TV show live, work and interact with human beings, including Bonkers’ partner Lucky Piquel, who hates toons, a hatred only exacerbated by Bonkers’ antics.
A Bonkers feature could be live-action with very cartoony cartoon characters populating the world and interacting with the human actors. Such a Roger Rabbit-esque approach wouldn’t require realism and would play in to the slapstick-y nature of the TV show. I don’t necessarily see this as a theatrical tentpole for Disney in the way the Gargoyles could be, but it would be ideal as a younger-skewing movie released on Disney+.
As evidenced by movies like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Stand By Me and Goonies, the childhood adventure story is a recipe for cinematic magic. Disney’s Recess may not have the supernatural elements of something like Stranger Things, but it delivers the great characters and relationships that are essential to making these stories work. The jock Vince, the leader T.J., the tomboy Spinelli, the genius Gretchen, the gentle giant Mikey and shy new kid Gus navigate the political battlefield of elementary school recess, while learning important lessons and forming meaningful friendships along the way.
Recess was wildly original and clever and seems like it would be an easy thing to adapt into live-action for a feature film for Disney+. Such a film could really have the childhood adventure quality of something like Goonies, while doing something unique with the mythology inherent to the Recess series. Recess already received a theatrical animated film in 2001 with Recess: School’s Out, which grossed $44.4 million worldwide on a $23 million budget. There is nostalgia and love for this property and it would really whomp if it never came back in some form.
Okay, so where is Ducktales? Well, Ducktales is currently back on the air with a new animated series starring the voice of David Tennant, so a live-action movie seems unnecessary at this point. And Goof Troop? I think Goofy is best served by staying in the fully animated realm as a jump to live-action of any sort could result in the kind of nightmare fuel that would give Pennywise bad dreams.
Disney has classic, beloved cartoons, with name recognition and strong nostalgia capital in its stable that could be brought back to life in wonderful fashion with live-action adaptations. Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers may be the first, but it is hopefully not the last.
Check out our 2019 release schedule to see all the biggest movies heading to theaters this year and let us know in the poll below which classic Disney cartoon you think should get the live-action treatment.