You may have noticed that Disney has been pumping out an overabundance of remakes of their beloved animated classic films.
These are films that play it safe and stick to the original movies’ plot nearly beat-by-beat, offering only live-action big name actors to suck away the whimsy and charm the hand-crafted animation brought to the table.
It started in 2015 with “Cinderella.” The film was a success, earning praise from critics and raising $543 million worldwide.
Next came Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” remake in April 2016, which continued the trend of rave reviews and huge box office returns.
The film stands at 95 percent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, raked in $966 million and stands as the 40th highest grossing film of all time. It was a momentous hit for the studio and for my money is the reason we have so damn many of these remakes now.
To give the mouse his due, however, I saw “The Jungle Book” and it was a pretty delightful film. The voice acting is excellent and the animation is impressive as well. I can understand why this was a success.
Then came the mastodon that was “Beauty and the Beast.” Somehow, it cost $255 million to make, giving it one of the highest budgets ever for a film.
Yet, the “Tale as old as Time” pulled out a $1.2 billion gross and was the biggest success in the live-action department yet.
While the film was a faithful and gorgeous recreation of the 1991 classic and the cast did a stellar job, this was where fatigue set in for me. This film brought nothing new to the table yet made a ridiculous amount of money.
2018 was pretty quiet, as “Christopher Robin,” a story bringing the characters of “Winnie the Pooh” to life in a new setting, grossed $197 million worldwide. It was nothing to sneeze at but was fairly low-key compared to the crazy numbers the previous two films made.
But 2019—good God, 2019—is the Disney-pocalypse. We are getting four live-action remakes and I want to get off of this ride.
The first was “Dumbo” which made about $349 million as of this writing. I haven’t seen this one, but heard it was just ok, as it leans a bit too much on Tim Burton’s strange style as a crutch, similar to his remake of “Alice in Wonderland.”
Then “Aladdin” reared its ugly blue CGI’d head. This is the live-action film that had no business being made.
“Aladdin” remains one of my favorite Disney movies, as the plot is decent and fast moving, the animation style is unique and vibrant and Robin Williams gives a fantastic, iconic performance as the Genie.
This film would do nothing but suffer from the live-action treatment… and it did. Look at animated Jafar. The cool hat, jagged goatee and snake-like figure, this man was a clear cut villain. He had a unique aura that makes him one of the best Disney baddies. He’s unapologetically evil, and just wants the throne for himself.
Now, look at 2019 Jafar. He looks like a normal dude, is too young and is nowhere as menacing as his counterpart. While I haven’t seen the film, apparently they try to flesh out his backstory and make him more sympathetic, which is a trope that is becoming way too common nowadays.
But there is the big blue elephant in the room… and I ain’t talking about Dumbo or Sonic. The Genie looks pretty jank, and while it’s not the worst thing ever (so many YouTubers overreacted a bit), it leaves a lot to be desired.
This is a character that thrived in its original 2D animation home. It was able to live up to the stretchy, bombastic actor that gave the character its charm.
I haven’t seen the film so I can only speculate on Will Smith’s performance as the Genie. I’ve seen some footage from trailers, especially his rendition of “Prince Ali.” It was pretty entertaining and to my relief, he doesn’t try to be Williams.
Smith is always entertaining in most of the things he does, so I can’t hold the fact he isn’t Robin Williams against him. However, he isn’t gonna break into a random Jack Nicholson impression, which gives a point to the original.
“The Lion King” is next, as it releases this July. I’m gonna be honest; I want to hate the idea of remaking this movie. The original is my favorite Disney film. It’s wonderful and the idea of replacing the cartoonish and expressive designs of the characters with “real” animals akin to “The Jungle Book” is pointless.
Yet, I will be seeing this one, and I’ll probably love it. Favreau is directing it, the cast is phenomenal and the changes being made to it (including showing more of Simba’s growth from boy to man) are promising.
But this is far from the end. These movies are making boatloads of money, and Disney is full of beloved animated films rife to get the live-action treatment.
We’re even getting a live-action “Lady and the Tramp” remake in November, and a “Pinocchio,” “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Little Mermaid” and even a “Lilo and Stitch” adaptation are in the works for the very near future.
Rumors also suggest that a “Peter Pan,” “Tinker Bell,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and a “Prince Charming” (?) film will be announced soon.
And why would they stop? The returns from these movies show no sign of diminishing. Counting only the live-action films that are remakes (so “Maleficent” and the “Alice in Wonderland” films don’t count) Disney is sitting on $3.6 billion dollars.
“Aladdin” just started its box office run and God knows how much money “The Lion King” will make, so this number will likely go up to $4 billion. Let’s stick with that number; that’s $4 billion earned from just seven films in less than five years.
So why am I complaining? For the most part, these films are earning great reviews and I’ve enjoyed the ones that I’ve seen.
For one, it encourages more remakes all across Hollywood and stifles creators coming up with new ideas. Why come up with a new IP if all you have to do is slap together a new shiny version of “The Emperor’s New Groove?”
Secondly, they aren’t, in my estimation, the definitive way to experience these films. It isn’t “Aladdin” without Robin Williams as the Genie and Jafar being the evilest bastard in town.
I don’t want to see Mustafa get trampled by a herd of wildebeests and have it look like a nature documentary.
The films were designed with the animation techniques of the time, and most live-action recreations of that feel like a hollow shell that lacks the character and charm of the originals.
There will always be a version of the film that came before it, and in many cases, did it better.
Finally, most of these remakes, especially the ones that star a cast primarily made up of animals, just feel unnecessary to make.
“The Lion King” and “The Jungle Book” are huge examples of this. The films star a robust cast of animated animals with exaggerated facial expressions and designs to make them stick out, nearly leaping off the screen.
So these remakes take everything that gave these films substance and turns all the characters into CGI animals that talk. What’s the point? It costs a fortune to make and looks worse.
There’s also the fact that these films don’t change a whole lot up from the original work. It is the story you’ve already seen, told again with minuscule changes made to them.
If Disney is going through the trouble of making a live-action “Pinocchio,” then why not make a darker version of the tale that is faithful to the Carlo Collodi book?
We could see good old Pinocchio murder Jiminy Cricket by smashing him with a mallet, get engulfed by a five-story building sized shark or watch people attempt to hang and drown him. That’d be something right?
Ultimately, I know these movies aren’t for me. They’re for the lifelong Disney fan that wants a new twist on a classic. They’re for kids who have never seen the animated films and will hold the live-action versions as their definitive way to view them.
Perhaps I’m just the old man yelling at the clouds just to hear my voice, since these remakes will not stop until the money well runs dry. There are certainly more pressing matters to get mad about.
So watch your live-action Disney films. Love them or hate them, we should all get used to them. If anything, it just gives us an excuse to dust off the old, familiar tales and see them for what they are: masterpieces.
Now, give me my live-action “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” remake!