In the past few years Disney has steadily been revisiting some of its animated classics with the "live-action" treatment, but in 2019 the studio is releasing three: Dumbo in March, Aladdin in May and The Lion King in July.
Whether you asked for these projects or not, remakes for Disney's most treasured films are now coming at full speed. Since these films (such as 2016's The Jungle Book and 2017's Beauty and the Beast) have gained both critical-acclaim and box office success, the studio has announced a long list of new movies in the works for next year and beyond. With all of these Disney remakes on the way, it's shifting from a trend to an ambitious venture by the studio toward seemingly remaking them all.
Disclaimer: I'm a huge Disney fan who grew up loving these animated classics and you know I memorized every note as a kid. I've also found myself enjoying quite a few of the remakes as well. As we head into the Disney deep end of reimagining some of the most beloved classics within the year, there are a few things I take issue with about these over $100 million budget blockbusters aiming at my sacred childhood favorites. So let's dive in.
It's More Of The Same
As a kid, the thought of being transported to a tangible mysterious jungle where Mowgli and Baloo live out their carefree lives was a dream. For The Jungle Book, the film was completely shot in sound stages in Los Angeles, making the DNA of the film almost completely CGI. Now since much of the cast of the reimagining only has a voice role or time with performance-capture technology, logistically it doesn't make sense for shooting to occur in the depths of India, but it kind of throws out why shooting live-action is intriguing to audiences in the first place.
Instead, audiences are left with CGI (just another form of animation) to recreate their favorite tales into a more realistic setting. However, the studio also opts for its visuals to come quite close to the concepts we've seen in the animated versions of the films. When Belle and the Beast have their iconic dance in the 2017 version, we do get to see a real-life actress dancing in the ballroom. Yet, the Beast is just a more complex animation of his 1991 version and because we've witnessed the scene before, no matter how spectacular the sets are or performances, the first one will be where our emotional attachment is found. So, the draw to see our favorite animated characters outside the animated world is only barely realized.
The incredible imagination that went into something such as the iconic opening scene of The Lion King backdropped by the "Circle of Life" again feels like a ripoff in the upcoming remake because it's almost a shot-for-shot recreation of the scene in the teaser trailer. These beautiful scenes seared into our memories seem only like a remaster or straight-up reenactment of the originals instead of genuine cinematic moments to be remembered.
Just Because Disney Can, Should It?
There's an undeniable audience for Disney remake in the millions of fans who have supported the studio's animated projects over the years. Also, since Disney movies are often introduced at a young age, moviegoers grow up loving Disney animation. I think the studio knows that I've worn out my Aladdin viewings and still find myself going back to rewatch it. I'm assuming the company knows,"Hey, she'll watch it again on the big screen again too!" Of course, that's absolutely right, however, once I get there if I could theoretically nod off and still know what happened, is it a good enough movie?
There's something to be said about seeing your favorite actors define your favorite Disney characters, sure. There have been some amazing casting choices over the years for these remakes. However, since the studio hasn't taken too many risks or creative liberties with the character development of most of these reimaginings (Maleficent as an exception), many live in the shadows of their originals.
Emma Watson isn't replacing Paige O'Hara's voice as Belle anytime soon -- and the thought of a great talent such as Will Smith replacing a larger-than-life legendary performance such as Robin Williams' Genie isn't something that should have to be compared, but it's bound to happen in the coming months.
Recent remakes have set themselves up for near side-by-side comparisons with the original animated films. Sure, Belle had a little more backstory, and perhaps Disney will decide to take a completely different angle to Aladdin or add more to Lion King, but we've already seen the nostalgic Aladdin poster recreation of the original and a Lion King trailer highly inspired by the visuals of what we know.
It then comes down to Disney making these films again because it can and knows it will be successful anyway, but there's only so much passion and creativity that goes into a reenactment. It feels a lot more like the studio is looking for a film that will make money then telling the story again because it's genuinely the right time to.
Nostalgia Doesn't Last
Disney already owes much of the success of its classics to the original fairytales and folklore many are inspired by. Making a classic out of a classic and then remaking that version seems a bit too far. The chances that the remake will offset the original are also quite slim, so so that turning these remakes into a spectacle of sentimentality is far from a timeless affair.
The studio is tasked with creating a truly nostalgic experience for audiences with maybe a few updates or slight changes. Like any nostalgic experience, such as looking back on a trinket or picture from your childhood, it momentarily takes you back to a fond time of your life and then you move forward with your day. If Disney just wants its new movies to live in this temporary feeling of nostalgia, the studio won't authentically move forward with the storytelling as an innovator such as themselves should be doing.
With these new releases, Disney is refining its CGI technology, but from a storyteller's perspective three releases in 2019 will be a rehash of what's already been told. Perhaps instead of remaking the most beloved films of the studio's past, if the studio tackled an animated film such as Atlantis: The Lost Empire which was a so-so film with great potential and a cult fanbase, it could avoid this trap. In that reality, a subpar animated film could be a viable live action hit with some tweaks.
Disney has long been an imaginative innovator and the studio continues to create some highly-entertaining and fun films both in animation and live-action. Yet, with so many nostalgic releases on the way, it just makes me also nostalgic for the time when the studio was pulling more of its focus on creating truly fresh stories for the audiences, springing classics were about to see again on the big screen in a more realistic way.
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