Why Disney Has Become So Successful With Live Action Reimaginings, According To One Head Honcho

The Lion King cub Simba in Jon Favreau's 2019 movie

Disney is going hard on live action reimaginings of previous animated movies this year. Dumbo has already been released into theaters and Aladdin, The Lion King and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil will all hit theaters before 2019 ends. Why so many? Well, they’ve been pretty successful at the box office. This week at CinemaCon, Disney executive Sean Bailey explained why this type of movie has been so successful, noting the answer lies in the fact the story is not simply being retold in the same way. Per Bailey:

Over the past several years we’ve had great success in revisiting some of these stories and characters and reimagining them for moviegoers. The reason we’ve been successful is because we are never simply retelling. We always want to stay true to their spirit and protect what people love and remember about them.

If you look at the recently released tale of Dumbo that retelling is far different from the original. There are human characters that help Dumbo fully realize his ability to fly; there’s a whole separate theme park premise and a different antagonist who is basically a nod to a bad Walt Disney. Similarly, Maleficent took a tale fans know and love and told it from the perspective of the villain from the original film. So, that was a big twist to the narrative as well.

Other classics, including Beauty and The Beast, are closer to the traditional animated narrative, but even then Disney does try to throw in new original songs, new jokes and more to differentiate from what audiences got with the animated tale. Similarly, Aladdin will feature a brand new song sung by Princess Jasmine.

According to Bailey, the process starts with a simple question.

We ask ourselves: How do we take these timeless stories and expand and update them to reflect our current world? Our goal is to create the quintessential, modern, live action versions of these stories.

In general, the way these live action reimaginings are coming together seems to be working. Beauty and the Beast, in particular, made over a billion dollars worldwide when it hit theaters in 2017, but most other live action products from the company have been successes financially even if they didn’t hit the billion mark.

Of the live action reimaginings, the recent Dumbo did fall a little short of box office expectations on opening weekend, although it still managed to be the #1 movie the weekend of its release, bringing in $45 million during its first outting. It’s too early to tell if one movie falling a little short of expectations is the start of a trend, but we’ll be sure to keep you posted regarding how the other live action properties fare in 2019.

In the meantime, be sure to take a look at when Aladdin, The Lion King and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil will be hitting theaters with our full movie premiere guide.

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Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Jessica Rawden is Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. She’s been kicking out news stories since 2007 and joined the full-time staff in 2014. She oversees news content, hiring and training for the site, and her areas of expertise include theme parks, rom-coms, Hallmark (particularly Christmas movie season), reality TV, celebrity interviews and primetime. She loves a good animated movie. Jessica has a Masters in Library Science degree from Indiana University, and used to be found behind a reference desk most definitely not shushing people. She now uses those skills in researching and tracking down information in very different ways.