The problem with Disney’s live-action remakes: Creating emotion with animation

Do Disney’s live-action remakes have the same life and magic as their older animated films? Illustration by Jason Mario Dydynski

Currently, a trip to the movies may make you feel as though you’ve gone back in time to the 1990s. Disney has been on a streak of recreating their classic animated movies into live-action remakes. Disney has been no stranger to live action remakes, including their 1996 adaptation of 101 Dalmatians and their 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland.

But, since 2014, starting with their remake of Sleeping Beauty: Maleficent, Disney has been churning out remake after remake. Their list of live-action remakes now includes titles such as Aladdin (2019), The Lion King (2019), and Dumbo (2019), with many more remakes in production including Mulan (2020) and The Little Mermaid (TBD).

Many of these live-action remakes have been incredibly successful, and have brought in billions of dollars for Disney. The Lion King (2019) has been projected to have already earned over $1.6 billion worldwide, surpassing its 1994 animated counterpart by $968.5 million. Capitalizing on this success, Disney has no signs of stopping and already has plans for at least ten known remakes for future release.

But these remakes have not been without their controversy. Many have considered these to be a cash grab banking on nostalgia, and  the reception of these films has been rather mixed as a whole. While many moviegoers have enjoyed these films, many of these films have received lower ratings from both the public and critics.

For example, the IMDB rating for The Lion King (1994) is highly proclaimed at a 8.5, while the 2019 counterpart is rated lower at a 7.1. Many are finding the live-action versions to lack a certain heart and energy, making for the movies to be less emotionally impactful. But what exactly makes these original versions have so much emotion, and what is the problem with Disney’s live-action remakes? Well, looking into a bit of animation theory and semiotic research can provide some answers to that.

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How do embryos talk?

We start speaking with our mother in uterus.

When did you start speaking? Conventional wisdom would suggest that it would be around the one-year old mark. The conventional wisdom could be off by quite a bit in this case. I believe that the first word of our lives was uttered even before we opened our eyes.

We have been talking since we were embryos. Yes, embryos do talk. The language is not well understood, and it is inaudible, but embryos do speak to their mothers even before implanting in the uterus. In fact, one big reason we are here is probably because we were such big talkers in utero.

Since the inception of in vitro fertilization in 1977, the rate of successful pregnancies has not increased beyond 50%. One of the biggest causes for the low success rate is the failure of the embryo to implant in the endometrium, the innermost lining layer of the uterus.

Scientists have been busy trying to come up with reasons for the low amount of implantation. One of the hypotheses trying to describe the phenomenon, posits that embryos and the endometrium communicate with each other and this communication, if successful, causes the endometrium to change chemically, physiologically and morphologically bringing about the “window of implantation” which leads to a successful implantation.

In the Transgeno research group led by the University of Tartu professor Alireza Fazeli, we are very much interested in baby talk, that is embryo-maternal communication.

Since it would be highly unethical to test any actual human embryos for embryo-maternal communication, we have used a malignant cell-line based system to replicate the microenvironment immediately prior to embryo implantation.

A scheme of embryo-maternal communication
This is an enlarged view of an embryo in the mother’s uterus. JAR cells were used to mimic the outermost cell layer of the embryo, while RL 95-2 cells were used to mimic the innermost lining layer of the uterus.
Image credit: Kasun Madhuranga Godakumara Godagedara
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The Pen

The story happened near to Kuu Street in Karlova, Tartu. Image credit: Inga Külmoja

So, I was sitting in front of this building, smoking, in Karlova, and there was this old guy approaching me, presumably drunk, humming while he walked.

As he reached me, he stopped in front of me and started saying a few things in Estonian. I let him know that I did not speak any Estonian, to which he changed to English immediately. He said that he had tobacco, papers and everything, but he needed a lighter.

Of course, mate, I told him. And as he started looking for some tobacco in his bag, he dropped his pen. I told him, mate, you dropped your pen.

– It’s my weapon, he said to my surprise. I’m a poet.

I had to say something. Really? I told him, that’s really cool.

– Everybody is a poet, he claimed this time.

Then he lit his cigarette, we exchanged good wishes, and he left.

Boy, Tartu is beautiful.

Murat Can Yüksel is a master’s student of semiotics at the University of Tartu. This story won fifth place in the international students’ contest.

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My Internship at the EU Delegation to Ukraine

Hello, my name is Pavlo Cherchatyi, and for the time being, I am doing an internship at the Press and Information Office of the EU Delegation to Ukraine. By reading this post you will find out how studying at the Democracy and Governance Master’s Programme helped me to pursue an internship at the EU Delegation.

What is my internship about?

Back in July, having successfully participated in the last stage of the internship competition and an interview, I was invited to join a dynamic team at the EU Delegation in Kyiv.

First and foremost, the Delegation of the EU is the official external mission of the European Union that represents the organization in the world. The diplomatic mission carries out the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

For me this internship meant a lot: first and foremost, I was very interested in the role of the EU as an influential external actor in helping Ukraine to conduct large-scale political and social transformations, as well as EU-Ukraine relations a bit more generally.

Secondly, I was directly exposed to the work of the organization as an insider. Last but not least, I was planning to conduct comprehensive thesis research on how the EU is trying to induce positive change in Ukraine with regard to tackling the issue of corruption.

Therefore,  the idea of interviewing the experts who advance EU initiatives on the ground and know the “hidden stones” and gaps of the system served as serious motivation to apply for this internship. To cut it short, this experience, in all respects, was something I really wanted, and I was lucky enough to be selected.

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Will robots steal our jobs, or how to stay in demand in the era of artificial intelligence?

The 21st century has already become an era of artificial intelligence (AI). Self-driving cars, speech and face recognition, spam filters and personal content recommendations, Siri and Amazon Alexa – all are examples of AI that make our lives more comfortable. However, there are also many reasons to be concerned.

Self-driving minibus in Tallinn. Image credit: Arno Mikkor / Wikimedia Commons

Meet your new colleague: a robot

To start with, it must be emphasized that the AI revolution happening nowadays is definitely different from the Industrial Revolution. Although previous inventions helped us to be better and to solve tasks quicker, just as AI today, all those industrial machines were dependent on people, while AI can work and develop itself independently. This suggests that current workers can be successfully substituted with AI. Will it actually happen?

In 2013, Oxford academics estimated that 47% of current jobs are at high risk by mid-2030. But do not rush to panic!

Firstly, while all drudgery and repetitive tasks are done by AI, professionals will have more time for really creative and challenging assignments.

In 2018, American researchers found that machine learning could solve some tasks better than humans; however, it couldn’t perform all tasks needed for the job as well as its human counterpart. For this reason, it’s more likely that during the next few decades professionals won’t become unemployed but will collaborate with co-robots, who will help them to deal with different tasks much more quickly than before. For instance, BMW researchers found that robot-human teams were about 85% more productive than either alone.

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Study trip: The conflict in Northern Ireland is tribal

In the last week of May 2019, ten master’s students from the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies visited Queen’s University Belfast, accompanied by Professor Eiki Berg and PhD fellow Eoin McNamara. We had the opportunity to learn firsthand how the conflict in Northern Ireland was settled (or has it been?) and how the looming Brexit threatens to rip open old scars.  

Nothing about the conflict in Northern Ireland makes sense to an outsider. “You mean to tell me that in the 21st century there is a religious conflict in Europe?” said a friend who could not restrain her bewilderment. Indeed, the two sides are named as Protestants and Catholics. It is not a disagreement about God or religious commandments, however, that seeds suspicion between them. Rather, it is a question over identity: who we are and how we can live.

Throughout history, this antagonism has been coloured in religious or ethnic shades, but in the end it is tribal in nature. Tribalism is another concept that seems so backward in our modern world, but it has been the latest fad in describing Western societies.

An outsider cannot tell which group is which on the street. Unless the street is covered in flags or murals, the buildings give no hints either. There is no obvious distinction between Protestant, Catholic, or mixed districts in Belfast or other cities in Northern Ireland.

Image credit: Merili Arjakas
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My summer challenges and beyond

Hello! My name is Laima Anna Dalbiņa. I am a bachelor’s student in computer science at the University of Tartu. 

Students always talk about how they spent their summers. I’m going to do the same, but I promise that mine really was a special one this year. From all of the exciting chores and experiences, some of my summer activities included taking a barge trip with space scientists and taking over the social media of an entire institute. 

I spent my summer as an intern at Tartu Observatory. My tasks were mainly related to project management, event organisation, communication, and dissemination of information through social media. During the initial weeks, my task was to manage Tartu Observatory’s Instagram account.

I introduced the internship activities of students at the observatory. For example, there was a two-day foosball tournament which was organized by interns themselves. 

Also during this summer, many interns were able to join the ESTCube-2 team developing the second Estonian student satellite. As the launch is planned next year, the students are actively working on various subsystems: the on-board computer, tele-communication, electrical power, star tracker, cameras and solar panels. This grows the students’ interest in a space-related project and motivates them to become space engineers.

As a part of the ESTCube team, I got to take part in different activities. The staff of Tartu Observatory and summer interns could travel on the annual barge trip as well as have regular sauna evenings. Outside of volunteering hours, I could contribute to the ESTCube project, as programming is my specialization. I helped with the development of the graphical user interface and serial communication software for the Helmholtz coil driver. 

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