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What to Make of Disney's Live Action Remakes

If it wasn’t a certainty before ‘Beauty and the Beast’ opened with a $175 million weekend it sure is a guarantee now that we’ll be seeing a new live action remake or two of Disney’s classic animated films every year for the foreseeable future. Nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool and this latest re-imagining is a great example of what it can do for a movies box office. In this case it became the 6th highest grossing opening weekend of all time and only behind ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ when it comes to movies not released in the summer months. It seemed inevitable that it would do well, especially following the success of Jon Favreau’s ‘The Jungle Book’ remake last year. That movie also came out in the spring and made almost $1 billion worldwide. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is going to beat that easily. People are clearly interested in this idea started in 2010 with ‘Alice in Wonderland’. While its hard to argue with the monetary results for Disney, is it the best place for them to put their resources creatively?

They already release two or three Marvel movies and a Star Wars film a year with a new Indiana Jones movie on the way. They own Pixar and thats all well and good but even they have released mostly sequels since being acquired by Disney. They’ve proven recently that they can still produce great original animated films of their own with titles like ‘Tangled’, ‘Wreck-It-Ralph’, ‘Frozen’, and ‘Big Hero 6′. You’re mileage may vary on any of those titles specifically but they were all well reviewed and made plenty of money. Just last year ‘Zootopia’ was one of the best movies that came out, animated or not, and made over $1 billion. To be fair their resume with original content is far from perfect. If you look at the live action bill of late its not pretty. ‘Tomorrowland’? ‘The Lone Ranger’? I didn’t see ‘Queen of Katwe’ but it didn’t leave much of an impact. Of course its no secret that Hollywood in general is and has been moving towards remakes, reboots, rehashes, and re whatever else. Most of the time when its done its at best just giving you a warmed over version of the same story without the magic as the original. But what about the way Disney is going about it?

For me personally I end up seeing all of these things. I have a daughter who was born in 2011, a year after ‘Alice in Wonderland’ got things started but three years before they kicked it into high gear starting with ‘Maleficent’. Luckily outside of ‘Alice’, which I found to be completely what you would expect and mostly forgettable outside of a few moments, I’ve enjoyed them all and think they’ve been worth being made. For kids its a chance to be introduced to these great characters and stories. For us so called adults its a chance to take a trip down memory lane and then connect with our children by showing them the originals. At least thats how its worked for me so far. They may grow up to prefer the newer, “lesser” versions of the movies but so what? I prefer the 2005 version of ‘King Kong’ to the many earlier versions and plenty of other remakes to their older versions primarily based on when I saw them. It doesn’t erase the original movies, they’ll still be available. Theres also the case that some of these classics have poor gender dynamics and ‘damsels in distress’ or ‘waiting for prince charming’ aren’t great examples for young minds. Hopefully Disney can augment their stories through adaptation to ease these concerns.

So far they’ve done a pretty good job of changing just enough to make them feel new. ‘Maleficent’ takes ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and tells you the story from the villains perspective. Its far from perfect but its a good concept and Angelina Jolie gives a great performance. I always appreciate when films give you a counter point to show that nothings ever completely black and white. ‘Captain Phillips’ and ‘Letters From Iwo Jima’ are the first two that come to mind. 2015′s ‘Cinderella’ is much more traditional but it works. There are more shades of gray than the 1950 original but its just an expertly crafted, excellently performed, elegant film. Last year’s ‘The Jungle Book’ remake won best special effects at the Oscars for good reason. Its a beautiful film and a technical achievement. While still basically an animated film it plays much more realistically even with the talking animals. In fact my biggest gripe with it is the lone human actor. All the best scenes are when he doesn’t have to lead way. It also wasn’t sure if it wanted to be a musical or not like the original and got stuck in between. I think it should’ve either gone all the way or not at all. ‘Pete’s Dragon’ is a charming little movie. Much smaller scale as far as production I would imagine but its well done and certainly worth seeing. I haven’t seen ‘Beauty and the Beast’ yet but reviews are mixed despite the box office success, a lot of critics saying its a shot for shot remake with some adding stuff that doesn’t actually add much. Thats disappointing if true but I’ll have to judge for myself.

For the near future Disney has already announced 10 (yes, 10) more of these and I’m sure that number will only grow until they run out of titles in their catalog to remake. Lets take a look at the upcoming slate.

Mulan – This is the only one with a firm release date so far, November 2, 2018. I’ve actually never seen the original ‘Mulan’ except in bits and pieces here and there. It must’ve been in that period of adolescence when I was too cool to watch the new animated movies. ‘Hercules’ and ‘Lilo and Stitch’ also fall into this category. But I think this could be pretty great. Strong, female protagonist with some potential action scenes. Seems like a perfect fit for this kind of treatment if they do it right.

The Lion King – It was only a matter of time until my favorite Disney movie got remade especially after the success of ‘The Jungle Book’. And they’re bringing in Jon Favreau to direct it. Of course this is completely unnecessary since the original is perfect but I’m still excited to see it. Since my biggest issue with ‘The Jungle Book’ was the human character, that gives me hope since there aren’t any here. Idris Elba’s Shere Khan was the highlight in that movie and there’s even bigger potential in Scar as a villain. And keep the music in this one Jon…

Cruella De Vil – Looks like ’101 Dalmatians’ is getting the ‘Maleficent’ treatment with Emma Stone in the starring role. Fresh off her success with ‘La La Land’ I can see this movie doing very well at the box office. A prequel of sorts we’ll get to see how Cruella became the villain we all know her as. Hopefully they don’t go down this well too many times but in this case I think its a better idea than doing a straight remake.

Dumbo – Tim Burton is no stranger to this as the captain behind the ‘Alice and Wonderland’ ship. I’m not exactly sure what the end product is going to look like here but I’m sure it’ll be a little weird and faux dark. Its been 10 years since I’ve really liked one of Burton’s films (‘Sweeney Todd’) and even longer than that since he was consistently making good movies. I’m not optimistic about this one but its going to star Eva Green who is great in everything even when the movie itself doesn’t deserve it.

Aladdin – Another one I’m not very optimistic about despite being one of my favorites. Guy Ritchie is directing so you can be sure he’ll try to turn this into a ‘dark and gritty’ take on the story (have you seen the trailers for ‘King Arthur’? Yikes). Its also going to be hard to live up to Robin William’s take on the genie. I’ve liked some of Ritchie’s movies enough I just feel like hes not the best fit to adapt this story.

Peter Pan – One thing for Disney is when they’re happy with a director’s work it looks like they’ll do what it takes to keep them in the stable. I’m sure they pay good. Fresh off the aforementioned ‘Pete’s Dragon’ David Lowery is going to take on this classic tale. I feel good about that if he can keep the same tone as his last effort. It would be hard for it to be worse than ‘Pan’ from a couple years ago thats for sure… I’m also looking forward to Lowery’s indie film ‘A Ghost Story’ that got great reviews out of Sundance in January.

Tink – Speaking of Peter Pan his sidekick Tinker Bell is getting her own starring role as well with Reese Witherspoon playing the titular character. I’m not sure what this means for her involvement in the Pan movie but with Witherspoon’s involvement that leads me to believe this could take place well after those events. Nothing against her, she still looks great for her age, but shes 40 years old and is currently playing a mom of two including a teenager in HBO’s ‘Big Little Lies’. Maybe it’ll have a ‘Hook’ like angle where she leaves Neverland, ages, and comes back.

The Little Mermaid – Not to be confused with Universal’s version of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale that Sofia Coppola was once attached to, Disney is bringing back Alan Menken to team with Lin-Manuel Miranda (You may have heard of him… ‘Hamilton’, ‘Moana’) for the soundtrack of this one. That points to keeping the musical aspect of the film if not leaning more into that. I’m kind of surprised they’re not calling this ‘Ursula’ but even so there is plenty of scenery to be chewed on by some lucky actress.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – This has been a popular one to adapt outside of Disney with ‘Mirror Mirror’, ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’, and ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ all coming out since 2012. None of those were well reviewed (even if I was pleasantly surprised by the original ‘Huntsman’) and of course Disney has to remake their first ever fully animated feature film. It appears to be a musical with the guys behind ‘La La Land’s’ songs (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) working on the tunes.

Winnie the Pooh – Don’t know much about this one other than the protagonist will be a grown up Christopher Robin and it will be written by Alex Ross Perry. Perry is an indie movie director who has a lot of fans in that world. The only movie of his that I’ve seen is ‘Queen of Earth’ which I quite enjoyed. I guess I should check out his other stuff like ‘The Color Wheel’, ‘Listen Up Phillip’, and ‘Golden Exits’. Based on what I know about him I can only guess this adaptation will be far from by the books. Could be interesting.

So what do you think? Are you with me that these things are relatively harmless if not outright good movies? Or are they continuing the downfall of cinema along with the likes of ‘Transformers’ and ’50 Shades of Grey’? Of course I’d prefer great new original stories but I feel like these things can coexist with the way we watch movies changing. Indie movies are getting bigger, better, and easier to watch at home while Hollywood takes over the cinema with their bombast and predictability. I at least feel like Disney is putting some thought into the quality of their product.

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