When I heard that Nintendo was making a The Legend of Zelda movie, my reaction was fear, rather than excitement. This increased tenfold when I continued reading and learned that it was going to be live-action.
Almost every Zelda fan has agreed that, if there’s ever going to be a Zelda movie, it should be animated, and, preferably, Studio Ghibli should make it. This is probably why Wes Ball, the director of the movie, said he wants it to be a “live-action Miyazaki”.
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Link’s shrinking and growing abilities could be extremely cinematic.
But, considering a major portion of admiration for Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki is because of his masterful animation, what exactly does that mean? There’s more to Miyazaki’s movies than the animation — the excellent narratives and soundtracks for a start — but the medium is a huge component of what makes Miyazaki’s movies, well, Miyazaki’s movies.
The globs of tears; the steaming homemade food; the billowing meadows of grass — all of these images have become staples of Ghibli movies, or at least the most famous, but they’re all very simple things. They’re made all the more impactful and, in a way, realistic because of the animation style — I know it’s not just me who’s sad I’ll never eat a meal that looks as good as one made in a Ghibli movie.
Miyazaki’s stories are amplified by this medium. That’s not to say movies like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away would be bad in live-action, but they would be different. They wouldn’t be Miyazaki.
So what does that mean for Zelda? Which other parts of Miyazaki’s movies is Ball going to apply here? Zelda doesn’t have masterfully created narratives or social messages like Miyazaki’s movies do — almost every game in the series is riddled with plot holes and the timeline is a convoluted mess.
In the same interview with EW, Ball goes on to say that he wants to channel “that wonder and whimsy that [Miyazaki] brings to things.” But most of that is created through the animation and visuals. The Zelda movie is going to need a lot of CGI to implement the world of Hyrule, its monsters, and likely Ganon himself, so why not just make everything animated anyway if that’s the direction you’re aiming for?
The Super Mario Bros. Movie was animated, and we all know how successful that was (and, by extension, how bad the 1993 live-action movie was). So why the change in approach here? While Zelda is a family-friendly series, it’s definitely seen as more ‘mature’ than Mario, and it has a stronger focus on narrative.
Could this be why Nintendo is eschewing animation? To tell a better story? Because the movie will be aimed at a slightly older audience? Animation has been overlooked time and time again for live-action for these reasons, so it would be incredibly disappointing if this were the case.
Ghibli itself doesn’t shy away from ‘mature’ themes either — just look at Grave of the Fireflies.
For its 25th anniversary, YouTuber RwanLink uploaded a Ghibli-inspired short film based on Ocarina of Time, and while its 3D look is more akin to Ni no Kuni than traditional 2D Ghibli, it’s visually stunning and captures the charm of Ocarina’s Castle Town, its characters, and world — through its animation. It’s almost sad to watch it, knowing that the actual Zelda movie won’t look or feel anything like this.
Ripping Miyazaki’s name away from animation feels more like a way to appease fans who are apprehensive about the live-action aspect of the movie, rather than a way to go about directing it. Miyazaki’s movies would still be good if he made them in live-action, but the heart of them shines through because of the animation, not in spite of it.
Maybe Ball can figure out a way to imbue Ghibli’s essence into the movie without using animation, but I hope the result is more than just the general “wonder and whimsy” he has in mind right now.
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