Guys…They’re Just Remakes.

When I did my article The Disney Fan Conundrum, I listed a multitude of “crimes” Disney has committed. These were ethical infractions more than anything else, acts that were unseemly in nature, things Disney apologists like me has difficulty defending. One thing that I didn’t have on there that some had commented on? The Disney live-Action Remake phenomenon. I left that out intentionally. And you wanna know what’s weird? I ended up disliking most of them anyway. So what the smoo is going on?

A brief history

Disney remakes started in earnest back in 1994 with Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, starring Jason Scott Lee, Cary Elwes, Lena Headey (Yes, that Lena Headey), Sam Neil, and John Cleese. Much like the sequel phase, the idea was never meant as a money-grubbing strategy at first, but a means to make a different version of what had adapted multiple times before. Kipling’s novel wasn’t unknown, so it wasn’t as if Disney’s 1967 animated classic had a monopoly on popular consciousness. Plus, arguably the other best-known adaptations were a 1942 black and white film starring Sabu and the 1976 animated TV special by Chuck Jones.

1996’s 101 Dalmatians was a different story. Yes, the film was based off a book by Dodie Smith, but unlike The Jungle Book, the animated Disney film is what most are familiar with, especially since no other studio has adapted the book. I have found almost no information regarding why they decided to make this film, but if I had to guess, Disney wanted to get in on the fads of the nineties: the cute animal-centered movies (Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, Babe, Free Willy, Alaska, The Amazing Panda Adventure, Andre, etc.) and the remakes of forty-year-old IP’s (The Addams Family, Leave it to Beaver, George of the Jungle, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Flintstones, etc.) plus a script written by John Hughes (National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and Home Alone) was probably too tempting to bean-counting executives to pass up.

Things were conspicuously quiet until Alice in Wonderland (2010), but that’s probably because the company was so busy making movies based off rides and sequels that doing live action adaptations would have already tainted the studio with a reputation of having run out of ideas. Still, a new version of Alice in Wonderland, directed by the most recognizable autuer of the past two decades? Why not? And a good thing, too, because it became only the second movie in Disney’s filmography to gross over $1 billion at the box office, after Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. And then later that same year, came The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010), starring Jay Baruchel and Nicolas Cage, which…sort of is based off that one part in Fantasia, I guess?

The move to completely dive deep into making live action adaptations didn’t really start until the release of Maleficent (2014). At least with the others, excluding Dalmatians, there was a sense of plausible deniability they were adapting deliberately off their animated counterparts. Sorcerer’s Apprentice was cut from a whole new cloth and Alice has been adapted a million times over, being a public domain story. However, with Maleficent, the connection, however tenuous, was undeniable. After all, the original fairy tale referred to her only as an old or wicked fairy. Here, her Disney-given name was front and center. The movie did well enough that a sequel is coming soon.

Since then, they’ve just. Kept. Coming. The following year, we had Cinderella. Then came The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon (both 2016). Then Beauty and the Beast (2017). Then Christopher Robin (2018). This year, we’ve got Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King. As of now, we know Mulan is coming next year, and we’re told to expect ones for Pinocchio, Lilo and Stitch, The Little Mermaid, Lady and the Tramp, The Sword in the Stone, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, even a Cruella DeVil prequel.

But this point, fans seem…mixed. There’s tons of positive feedback all over the internet, but there’s a ton more to be said about the negative reactions.

The fan discourse

We live in a truly unique time as fans of cinema. For decades, the general public had to live in blissful ignorance about upcoming films, until the trailers dropped, and fans could get excited. By the late 20th century, word would leak out once in a while with interviews or articles about movies, but these were self-contained. There was no way to share them as quickly as we can now. But of course, the advent of the internet and social media has allowed us to communicate as never before, and we sure love our movies and our gossip. It’s no surprise our MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat feeds soon filled up with conversations about movies coming soon, from casting decisions to plot details, mostly as an effort from studios to drum up hype for free publicity. This has, however, been a double-edged sword.

By allowing the public to see what’s going on behind the scenes, they’re able to draw their own conclusions. Even when the greatest of care is taken to prevent negativity, the average moviegoer still may interpret studio’s actions as greedy, self-interested, or scandalous. Now, due to a handful of posts on forums, discussion boards, and comment sections, discourse can turn hype into negative press. But on the other hand…at least Michael Bay’s TMNT movie didn’t make them aliens, and hopefully that Sonic the Hedgehog model won’t be as ugly as we’ve seen, so…draw your own conclusions, I guess.

When a new development happens concerning a live action Disney remake, the conversations get lively and passionate. People will bicker over casting choices. Others will argue concerning the similarities and differences of the new movie versus the animated original. And people rarely tend to be indifferent about them. Hey either LOVE LOVE LOVE them…Or they are enraged that Disney DARE try to remake another classic from our childhoods.

Where do I stand?

The Jungle Book (1994): I remember bits and pieces, but I need to see it again.

101 Dalmatians: I haven’t seen it in a while, all I know is it didn’t leave much of an impact on me.

Alice in Wonderland: Interesting take, but I want to see Wonderland more colorful and less plot-centric.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Decent, just didn’t go far enough with its concepts.

Maleficent: Horrible. An insult to feminism and anyone who liked the Mistress of Evil.

Cinderella: Just so very, very boring.

The Jungle Book (2016): pretty awesome.

Pete’s Dragon: Too safe and felt like a product of the nineties.

Beauty and the Beast: An absolute train wreck.

Christopher Robin: See my full thoughts on it here.

Dumbo: Didn’t look interesting enough for me to go and see. Never saw it.

Aladdin: Was good and genuinely charming.

The Lion King: Not yet released as of publication.

If you kept count, that’s two out of twelve I thought were better than okay. That’s it. Just two. So why am I not frothing in rage while Disney continues to make easy money by lazily rehashing our favorite animated films? Well, a handful of reasons.

1. This isn’t the first time.

I’ve chattered on long enough about the sequel era of Disney, and I don’t know what else I can add to the conversation. Frankly, the current remake fad is not unlike that phase, with Disney making new movies to tie into previously established classics, using the power of nostalgia to deceive us into thinking it was going to be just like the first time we ever saw Peter Pan, Snow White, etc.

And guess what? That period ended. With The Little Mermaid III: Ariel’s Beginning in 2008, Disney stopped. Granted, it was due to the regime change from Eisner to Iger, but my point is they had less than fifty animated films to make sequels to by that point and sooner or later, they were going to have to stop eventually. Now, we look back and groan at that period, glad it’s over and done with, so we can leave the sequels to collect dust at the Wal-Mart bargain bins. Meanwhile, we still happily watch and re-watch the originals we’ve loved for decades. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Nothing is being taken away

Back when people were throwing tantrums about the sequels, I wasn’t in either camp. I loved Disney well in my teenage years, when this all went down, but I neither got angry at Disney for making them as if on a conveyer belt assembly line nor did I watch most any of them. And I was kind of baffled that people I talked to were completely enraged, saying things like, “Leave them alone!” Or “Stop ruining my favorite movies!” And the always popular “they’re ruining my childhood!”

But even then, I pose this question: what exactly is being taken away?

I mean, this isn’t the original Star Wars trilogy. Eisner wasn’t stealing away the original movies and replacing them. The OG movies are still abundantly available, whether through used media stores, streaming services, or on your friend’s Fire Stick. As long as Disney believes you’ll shell out for the latest rerelease of The Emperor’s New Groove or Bambi, they’ll keep it available. The days of the foreboding Disney Vault are deader than disco. But I’m just having trouble figuring out what exactly is being lost when a sequel or a remake comes along. I mean, I still have my Jungle Book DVD, even though it got both a sequel and a remake.

I guess the biggest thing lost is prominence. Five years ago, you told people your favorite Disney movie was Beauty and the Beast, there was no misunderstanding. Everyone knew what you were talking about. Now, you’re forced to clarify “No, not the live action/Emma Watson/crappy one, the real one!” And when you go to Disney World or the Disney Store, and you’re looking for something Beauty and the Beast related, it’s frustrating to comb between the Emma Watson and Baphomet items to try to find the real ones.

What’s even more frustrating, kids today will only know a world in which remakes always existed. Kids who grew up watching the sequels similarly grow up to develop fondness for them because that’s what they grew up on.

3. Time, money, and talent are being used.

When the sequels were being released, a common word that was used was “cheap”. Now, don’t misunderstand: animation is expensive, no matter where it’s produced, and every animated film, even if it’s Food Fight, Joshua and the Promised Land, or Ratatoing, require a modicum if effort. That word was applied liberally because compared to the grand, masterful works Disney boasted they were best at, the sequels just couldn’t hold a candle.

The one huge difference between the sequels and the remakes is the money and resources being used. They’re hiring all sorts all-star talent to work on these movies. In the sequels, we’d be lucky if the original actors reprised their roles, but with the live action remakes, prestigious and renowned talent is being called upon to create high-quality blockbusters, even if the final product is a mixed result. Why do you think I was so disappointed the co-writer of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, Linda Woolverton, also co-wrote the abominable scripts for Maleficent and the 2017 Beauty and the Beast?

Say nothing of the on-screen talent: Will Smith, Bill Murray, Donald Glover, Angelina Jolie, Christopher Walken, Beyoncé, Colin Farrell, Evan McGregor, Scarlet Johansson, Idris Elba, Helena Bonham Carter, Danny DeVito, Stephen Fry, Keegan Michael-Key, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee, Bryce Dallas Howard, Seth Rogen, Nicholas Cage, Sir Ian McKellen…the list goes on. The directors are some impressive names: Guy Ritchie, Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, Tim Burton, Marc Forster…these aren’t names to scoff at. Whether you like these movies or not, they’ve been picking out some heavy hitters to bring their flair to the remakes.

Call them “cash grabs” all you want, but you can’t deny the studio is pouring money into these things expecting to get rich quick. Sure, they’re virtually guaranteed to be box office hits, but at least they’re being well-invested.

4. They’re just different takes on classic stories.

I guess the main reason I can’t get mad at these remakes is the same reason I can’t get upset at any dollar-store DVD of Alice in Wonderland or Snow White. Whether it’s the cheaply-made discount video or a million-dollar project from the most successful studio in history, they’re all just adaptations of the same property.

Oh sure, some are more faithful than others…some are of better quality than others…and some are more blatant ripoffs than others. But it doesn’t change the fact each one is a different interpretation by different people who churn out different products. We don’t look down on Hook because it isn’t the 1953‘s Peter Pan or vice versa. Never mind 2003’s Peter Pan, 2014’s Peter Pan Live, and 2015’s Pan. All are different, but few are going to truly challenge you if you pick a preference.

If you think I’m kidding, do we scoff at those who prefer Batman Returns over The Dark Knight? Those who like The Next Generation over the original Star Trek? GoldenEye over Goldfinger? Tobey Maguire Spider-man over Tom Holland? And what about remade movies in general like Dr. DoLittle, The Nutty Professor, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Zorro, King Kong, or The Addams Family?

Just because they’re produced by the same company only means so much.

5. We have the technology now.

Remember what I said earlier about the animal-centered kids movie fad of the nineties? How many of these live action films tried to have animals carry the film, complete with their own dialogue? You either got a voice-over dubbed over the animals (Homeward Bound, Milo and Otis, or The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story) or they tried to badly render their mouths moving? (The Air Buddies series, Cats and Dogs, or Beverly Hills Chihuahua). Once in a while, you’d get something decent like Babe, but for the most part, making live action movies about talking animals was tricky.

Nowadays, computer graphics have gotten much better, and now the dividing line between animation and live action is more blurred than ever. Making The Lion King or Jungle Book as Favreau did would have been impossible a couple of decades ago without laughing at the cheesiness of the effects. Even if you’re not a fan of how Dumbo looks or how Will Smith appears, just imagine how terrible they might’ve looked back in the nineties. While the CGI or practical effects can still be hit or miss, making a baby elephant look like it’s flying without breaking your suspension of disbelief back then would have been absurd. Same thing with the Beast or his staff of objects.

While I’m sure you are ready with your GIF of Jeff Goldblum muttering about being so concerned about whether or not Disney could that they haven’t stopped to consider if they should…well, that’s a whole different discussion.

Fine. Should they?!

You know, I don’t appreciate your tone, imaginary audience surrogate voice.

But I counter with an even simpler question: Why shouldn’t they?

Yeah, yeah, yeah…gripe about how the remake of your favorite movie is a total cash grab that ruined your childhood starring actors who you didn’t like and made things too different for your liking. But they’re a private company in a capitalist society, so their incentive is to make money, and as long as people trust the brand and invest their money, they’ll keep doing it. Plus, they could actually make something of quality. We all love the Haunted Mansion attraction, and the 2003 movie was corny garbage, but should that mindset stop us from getting excited over the long-in-development-hell Guillermo del Toro Haunted Mansion movie? Of course not. That’s why I keep hoping against all odds each time that the next one will be better than the last ones. Being cynical and close-minded just doesn’t help.

So go ahead and throw a tantrum that Will Smith isn’t Robin Williams or that the new Ariel isn’t Caucasian. I’m going to await each new remake with intrigue and optimism and hope. And hope The Sword in the Stone remake casts Christopher Lloyd as Merlin and Michael J. Fox as Archimedes.

Just sayin’.

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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