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Are the Disney live-action remakes necessary?

There’s a lot I don’t understand about the recent slew of live-action remakes from Disney.

The fact that these remakes rarely live up to the original is just a fraction of my confusion. A child seeing live-action Beauty and the Beast may get the same joy as someone who saw the animated version decades ago. I’m not here to deprive future generations of quality entertainment. I just question why their entertainment is watered down remakes of what previous generations got. 

[Image Description: dancing scene from the live-action Beauty and the Beast, with Belle in a yellow dress dancing with the Beast] via Disney.
[Image Description: dancing scene from the live-action Beauty and the Beast, with Belle in a yellow dress dancing with the Beast] via Disney.
The whole point of fairytales is that they’re handed down through folklore and retold over and over again through the generations. Disney themselves adapted these stories from other, far grimmer (pardon the pun) sources. But live-action remakes just aren’t the same as sharing these timeless stories for the sake of entertainment and keeping these narratives alive.

The whole point of fairytales is retelling through the generations.

While I realize that these films may bring a new generation of viewers the same joy as watching the originals, it just feels like Disney wants a repeat box office performance way more than it wants to define the magic of childhood for a whole new generation. 

The fact that the original films are established, iconic classics pushes the bar that much higher. Live-action remakes were bound to be received more critically with constant comparisons being made to the original.

They seem to openly invite these comparisons because most of the live-actions are also shot-by-shot remakes of the original. This means that the pleasure a lot of us derive from watching these remakes are driven by nostalgia for the original movies. If the goal of remaking a cinematic classic is to update the content for an all-new audience, polish up some plot inconsistencies, and improve the viewing experience and the story as a whole, then why would you choose to make an identical movie?

[Image Description: photo of baby Simba from "The Lion KIng"] via Disney.
[Image Description: photo of baby Simba from “The Lion KIng”] via Disney.

Most live-actions are shot-by-shot remakes of the original

At their best, these movies are nostalgic and give us new renditions of Disney songs. At their worst, they make us miss the originals and do a disservice to the classics. For example – the genie in Aladdin will always be Robin Williams. While Will Smith is great, funny, and seems to embody the same energy that the genie’s known for, he just can’t live up to the genie that Robin Williams breathed life and soul into.

The live-action remake should have had a brand new concept that Will Smith could truly make his own…if their intention was for a new generation of audiences to experience the magic of the original Aladdin.

These movies also don’t usually add value to the story in any way. Jon Favreau’s Lion King (2019) wasn’t live-action but a more realistic animation. Because the flaw in the beloved 1994 classic was that the lions weren’t realistic enough…..?

While technically sophisticated, the realistic animals didn’t have the same emotional capacity as the original, big-eyed characterization. Sure, we can see each individual strand of fur, but it also feels like a lucid dream when the Animal Planet lion cub’s words don’t quite synchronize with his mouth movements.

And don’t even get me started on the mess Mulan was

[Image Description: photo of Mulan dressed in red and holding a sword] via Disney.
[Image Description: photo of Mulan dressed in red and holding a sword] via Disney.
On other hand, the Frozen series, Moana, Tangled, and The Princess and the Frog are all Disney films released in recent memory that aren’t remakes and were hugely successful.

Audiences want to experience new stories

The success Disney found with its recent original content proves that audiences want to experience new stories. The reception of the first Polynesian princess Moana is proof of that. Continuing on expanding their range and breadth of storytelling to include better representations of other cultures can only improve the success of Disney worldwide.

For those of you saying “of course Disney’s just doing it for the money! It’s a huge corporation, what do you expect?” I say, it just seems like a poor use of resources. All the money that went into the live-actions are a far riskier investment than developing original material. One need only look at the misguided attempt at a Cats movie as an example. What started off as a (probably) well-intentioned project to make the Broadway play more accessible to the masses. quickly turned into the stuff of nightmares. 

I’ve come to accept that Disney remakes are here to stay. All I ask is that maybe they try to build on the legacy of the original to make it stronger instead of profiting off nostalgia.

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