The Renaissance is over and somehow the Dark Ages have returned. The recent wave of remakes of iconic Disney classics in a realist or just plain old live action style should be a cause for concern. What does it mean for filmmaking and animation in general that the world’s most powerful entertainment company can easily slap together a remake of a justified classic all in the name of copyright and brand recognition? Disney doesn’t have to do any of this and yet it’s doing it anyway because audiences are as easily addicted to nostalgia as they are to black tar heroin.
Disney tried their hand at the live action remake in the 90s with The Jungle Book, 101 Dalmatians and it’s sequel. 102 Dalmatians did well at the box office but critics hated it and so, for whatever reason, Disney put live action remakes on ice for 10 years. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland stormed the box office in 2010 and Maleficent followed in 2014 opening the gates for the recent glut of recent and upcoming releases. Remake fever swept the Disney offices putting more interesting ideas or riskier projects on the backburner if not cancelling them entirely.
Now before anyone brands me a killjoy or has me whipped for daring to speak out against our corporate overlords I’ll just say this: I don’t hate Disney. In fact I really like Disney. Which is why I’m so disappointed and ticked off by the idea of The Lion King or Aladdin being remade. These things aren’t necessary. What is necessary in a world increasingly dominated by Marvel and DC is originality and creativity. If the biggest, wealthiest movie studio in the world isn’t willing to take a risk on an original concept than who is?
The whole idea of remaking Beauty and the Beast or Mulan, two stone cold classics, should be considered heinous. Fair enough if they want to do it with older films that have perhaps faded from the public consciousness like Aristocats or The Fox and the Hound but even still these films have incredible value both for their unique style and the fluidity with which it’s presented onscreen. Also the likes of Mulan and Aladdin aren’t even that old. Don’t even get me started on Lilo & Stitch, Jesus Christ.
But why are Disney doing this? Money. Over the last two decades Disney has had terrible luck with their original live action films. I mean when you started with Song of the South things could only get better, ethically at least. But, racism aside, the likes of Tomorrowland and A Wrinkle in Time were never that successful or that good to be honest. So it stands to reason that Disney would look to its established brands to make the money where it’s live action originals never could.
Here’s my pitch. Why bother with live action at all? Disney have the Marvel and Star Wars franchises. Let them be the live action money-makers. Disney are the longest lasting animation studio in the world. They were there before Ghibli, before Pixar and before Illumination. Maybe it’s time to revisit their roots, especially considering their last 2D animation feature – the gorgeous, lush The Princess and the Frog – was made ten years ago.
But even Disney’s 3D efforts are astounding. Pixar knocks it out of the park nearly every time. Frozen stayed on top, critically and commercially, for months. And Tangled is a joy from beginning to end. Why sully their reputation and Robin Williams’ memory with a genie that looks like a bizarre deep fake? Why didn’t we see much of the animals talking in that first full trailer for The Lion King remake? Because talking photo realistic animals look dumb as shit, that’s why.
I will admit at the very least that I’m sort of excited for the Mulan remake coming next year. Mainly because it has an all Chinese cast including Donnie Yen and Jet Li, two of the greatest working martial arts actors. I’m also curious because the original Mulan failed miserably with Chinese audiences which really must have stung considering the research Disney often put into animation style and cultural history.
The remake train just keeps on rolling though. Well it’s less a train, more of a steamrolling juggernaut with Tinkerbell’s face on it. Who knows? Maybe the Disney+ streaming service coming later this year will allow for the rediscovery of classic properties on their own terms rather than in the form of a 3D nightmare. Until then you can find me on the picket line for Josh Gad’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame remake.