Disney Remakes: Are They Necessary?
With the great success of the opening of the live-action Beauty and the Beast this weekend, not to mention the remakes of 101 Dalmatians, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Pete's Dragon, The Jungle Book, Maleficent (a reworking of Sleeping Beauty), and the planned adaptations of Aladdin, Dumbo, and Mulan on the horizon, it seems as though Disney is really on to something from a box office, financial point of view. Every produced title mentioned has been enormously successful, with a whole new generation of kids falling in love with a different Disney than the one we grew up on. Does, however, this remake phenomenon come at the expense of the beloved, classic Disney films that inspired them?
For years, Disney enchanted audiences with what they do best: animated films. From Uncle Walt's first brave foray into feature-length animated films (with 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), Disney Studios has held the corner on the animated film market, creating for many the ideal in fairy tale "Happy Ever Afters". Generations grew up with the re-release of classics like Pinocchio, Bambi, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and The Aristocats, films that carved special places in our hearts, films with very distinctive visuals, voice characterizations, and music. Do the classics they choose to remake suffer by comparison while simultaneously tarnishing the originals' iconic statuses by relegating them to a museum-like past? How do we keep the old Disney films we love, the animated ones, alive when these remakes might be erasing their memory?
The re-release of a Disney animated film used to be an event, the first weekend often inspiring lines wrapped around the block full of parents who wanted to share their Disney memories with their kids. With the advent of home video, DVD, Blu-Ray, and now instant streaming, the classics became accessible to almost everyone. Suddenly, Disney was no longer presenting the classics in the theatre, audiences opting to own them and enjoy them in the comfort of their homes. The movies were still special, but the excitement that built-up to waiting for the re-release was gone. The classics became commonplace.
Some might argue that these remakes allow Disney to deepen the stories, flesh out characters, and expand the stories past their simple predecessors. In reality, it was their simplicity and straightforward nature that made them so accessible to children, while providing an underlying charm and humor that played to adults. Character archetypes appeal to children: heroes are good, villains are bad, sidekicks are important friends that help you through the worst. Telling these tales with animation on a big screen makes them special, a standout way to preserve Disney’s greatest legacy. Each release was monumental to each child who was seeing it for the first time with the idea that it might be six or seven years before it would be released again.
These remakes have become the event now. A child who watches the animated Beauty and the Beast on TV at home is going to find seeing a live-action recreation on the big screen, in the special setting of a movie theatre, as the reason to be exhilarated. Small just became big. Familiar just became thrilling and new. The animated classic is going to pale by comparison simply because the opportunity to see them on the big screen has almost vanished. I’d much rather see The Little Mermaid in its original form than sit through a live-action remake. I am sure that there are those that would argue that there is a place for both, and I’m certainly not suggesting that Disney stop making the live-action films. People are clearly buying tickets and loving them. I just wish more would be done to preserve the classics.
It seems to me that, as wonderful as SOME of these live-action remakes are, they come at the detriment of the classics they hope to emulate. It makes me wonder why a sublimely creative organization as Disney would continue to rob itself instead of focusing on new projects that extend their legacy past the tried and true. There are dozens of fairy tales and children's stories that are yet to be animated and told by the studio; we wait with baited breath for the new classics to be. Zootopia and Moana didn't exactly disappoint, and we are ready for more.