Watching an animated classic such as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King or Pinocchio you wouldn’t be alone in marvelling at their emotive and enchanting stories that continue to capture our imagination as we re-watch them time after time. But what about the thought, ‘If only Disney had done them as live-action instead’? Didn’t think so.
But in an era where major Hollywood studios look for increasingly sure-fire profitable films with minimum risk, Disney has bucked this trend by dipping into its iconic past and is planning to remake its animated back catalogue into live-action movies.
Admittedly, this shouldn’t come as a massive shock. With recent box-office flops including John Carter, The Lone Ranger and Tomorrowland, Disney has had to rely on its ownership of the franchise behemoths Marvel and Star Wars to paper over the cracks. At risk of being considered incapable of producing projects that were legitimately their own, it’s hardly surprising they’ve gone back to the past in order to look to the future in the quest for financial success.
This decision appeared to be hastened after the live-action remake Alice in Wonderland grossed over $1 billion. A sequel is due out later this year and follows 2014’s Maleficent (which tells the story of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of its antagonist – it grossed over $750 million), 2015’s Cinderella ($540 million worldwide) and Jon Favreau’s recently released The Jungle Book. It had the second largest April opening of all time.
Consider these as just the calm before the storm, with Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, and 101 Dalmatians (not for the first time) all getting the live-action treatment – the latter focusing on Cruella de Vile. Other studios have followed suite, with Twentieth Century Fox’s Mirror Mirror and Universal Picture’s Snow White and the Huntsman both remakes of 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Little Mermaid and Pinocchio are also being developed by Universal and Warner Brothers respectively, this being possibly due to Disney adapting the original animated films from other sources it doesn’t own. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is also rumoured to join Disney’s live-action slate.
Remakes are frequently castigated and not always unjustly. They are so often a shadow of the original and are indicative of money taking precedence over creativity when it comes to filmmaking. There are of course exceptions, such as the Coen Brothers’ True Grit and Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven.
In setting its stall out with live-action remakes, Disney is clearly hoping to hit the bullseye when it comes to box-office figures. Financially, it looks a safe bet. By revisiting existing properties, they should entice not only a new generation of cinema goers (never a bad thing) but also those who saw the animated originals and are intrigued by a new offering. There’s also the small matter of audiences hoping to indulge in a bit of nostalgia, something that proved lucrative for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Creatively though, Disney’s motivations appear less inspired. It seems to be forgetting that whilst audiences often know what they like, the thrill of seeing something completely new and unique for the first time is far greater than watching a diluted rehash. Above all, they want to see good movies and that’s irrespective of when or how they were made. Get that right and the dollar bills usually follow.
For that to be possible, Disney must not settle for the comforts of familiarity. These remakes need to offer a fresh perspective and an innovative take on stories that continue to stand the test of time. Taking them off the page and in front of the camera isn’t enough – animation is not an inferior art form.
There’s always another story and let’s hope that if Disney does recapture the magic of its earlier work, it isn’t just financial. Bumper box-office figures and acclaim from audiences and critics alike can go hand in hand. Just ask the company’s founder Walt Disney: “Do a good job. You don’t have to worry about the money, it will take care of itself. Just do your best work.”
What do you think of Disney’s plans for its live-action remakes? Let us know below.