In years recent years, Disney has noticeably been taking quite an aggressive approach to reimagining many of the company’s classic animated adventures into live-action blockbusters, which I personally feel is having a bad influence on the rest of the film industry in more ways than one…
Despite Disney actually beginning the trend of remaking their classic films all the way back in 2010 with the semi-sequel/remake of: ‘Alice in Wonderland’ directed by Tim Burton. Disney didn’t begin to get truly rampant with its approach until the later successes of: ‘Cinderella’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ in 2015 and 2016 respectively, with ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘Dumbo,’ and ‘Aladdin’ following not far behind, eventually leading to their most recent releases, that being: ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Lady and the Tramp’. Yet whilst all of these films did receive mostly positive reviews from both critics and audiences upon their initial release, I personally have never understood why. As for me, none of these remakes ever manage to really justify their existence, with each new film simply feeling like nothing more than a product, a money machine disguised as a film created purely for the purpose of rinsing profit out of Disney fans who desire to see their childhood classics recreated in a new light, and by this point, I just find it irritating.
Of course, remaking iconic films is nothing new for the film industry, with dreadful remakes such as: ‘RoboCop,’ ‘Ghostbusters,’ and ‘Robin Hood’ all being great examples of how taking a classic film and giving it a sleek modern aesthetic doesn’t automatically make it superior to the original. However, it’s the way Disney goes about executing their remakes that makes them even more frustrating, as even though most reimaginings may not differ too much of the original story, the majority of Disney remakes feel almost identical to their animated counterparts, featuring nearly all of the same scenes and dialogue, now just dragged down by much weaker visuals, vocal performances, and songs. Which, in turn, also allows directors and writers to simply borrow material from previous filmmakers without having to innovate much themselves. Another issue I have with Disney converting their animated classics into live-action is that many of the original stories were always envisioned to be animated as they were being written, meaning when transferred into a different style of filmmaking, they usually are forced to rely on enormous amounts of CGI.
Although most audiences seemingly don’t take issue with Disney’s constant remakes, there are still some Disney fans who have spoken-out about losing interest Disney’s future live-action endeavours. In particular, I personally recall many weren’t looking forward to watching the ‘Aladdin’ remake around the time of its release, which I feel is understandable, as just from its trailer alone, it was clear that not only would the film intensely mirror the original, but it was obvious just from a glance that its visuals were also far, far duller, as the remake was lacking in both colour and style. Focusing more on being semi-realistic rather than fully engaging in its elements of fantasy (which for a narrative revolving around a powerful genie who grants three magical wishes feels like a huge mistake to me). Whilst the original: ‘Aladdin’ may not be the most visually enthralling of Disney’s catalogue of family flicks, the classic style of 2D hand-drawn animation is still very pleasing to look at even by today’s standards for CG animated films.
It may even surprise some to know that many of these bland remakes were actually directed by talented filmmakers like Jon Favreau and the previously mentioned Tim Burton. Yet with each new film, every director’s unique style always seems to be stripped away or completely absent, as not only does each remake barely utilise any creative cinematography or editing, relying nearly entirely on CG effects to impress the audience. But usually inventive directors such as Guy Richie, who has made phenomenal use of his unique style editing and humour in the past within his films: ‘Snatch’ and ‘The Gentlemen,’ suffers as a result of how simply generic and even somewhat boring his reimagining of: ‘Aladdin’ is, and while Disney may not be entirely to blame for this, I do believe the company would prefer to keep each remake fairly easy to digest in order to appeal to a wider audience.
In addition to both the visuals and directing, however, the cast of the original animated flicks were also a huge contributing factor to them becoming as beloved as they now are, with not only actors like Robin Williams as the original: ‘Genie,’ of course, but also lesser-known actors such as Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as ‘Timon’ and ‘Pumbaa,’ to Jodi Benson and Pat Carroll as ‘Ariel’ and ‘Ursula.’ As all these voices not only gave the characters great comedic timing and a distinct tone, but they soon even became an extension of the characters themselves, making them recognisable purely through their voice. Whereas Disney’s newer remakes prefer to just take the much easier approach of simply casting the most relevant actors at the time and throwing them into an iconic role, and whilst actors like Donald Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor will always be superb at their craft, forcing these performers into roles within ‘The Lion King’ simply due to their popularity will always make their vocal performance feel very out-of-place when in comparison with the original film.
The final area I find Disney remakes to be most lacking is with the tampering of classic Disney songs, as although I’m personally not an enormous fan of musicals within the realm of live-action, I’ve always enjoyed many of the songs in Disney animated classics. As not only do I feel these songs add to the characters and the story of each film immensely, but many classic Disney songs also manage to become iconic amongst themselves, with nearly any fan of animation more than likely knowing all the words to ‘Be Our Guest,’ ‘The Circle of Life,’ and ‘Under the Sea’ (just to name a few). But when it comes to the remakes, once again, both the original score and songs feel far duller, even in spite of the legendary Hanz Zimmer returning for: ‘The Lion King’ remake to recreate many of his classic tracks. Still, a few of the reimaginings do at least attempt to throw in some original songs, which unfortunately end-up being mostly forgotten due to them being overshadowed by the classic songs audiences more familiar with.
In conclusion, it seems the influx of live-action Disney remakes won’t be stopping anytime soon, with ‘The Lion King’ racking in over £1 billion worldwide, Disney will most likely continue this remaking trend until their audience completely loses interest. As reimaginings of: ‘Mulan,’ ‘Peter Pan,’ ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘Pinocchio,’ The Sword in the Stone,’ and ‘Lilo and Stitch’ as well as many, many more, are already set for release. Whilst the ‘House of Mouse’ does still have a few original films on the horizon, Disney seems to be heading down a similar path to their paired animation company Pixar, that being one of laziness, relying mostly on their previous stories and franchises for profit rather than creating something new, which in turn is also encouraging other production companies to do the same. So if you share my opinion, perhaps sit-out Disney’s next live-action release, stay at home, and just relive many of the beautifully animated stories from the past, as I honestly believe many of these films are timeless.
One thought on “The Problem with Live-Action Disney Remakes – Film Discussion”
Great take, Joe. I agree with all your points. There’s a huge lack of originality in Hollywood in general, with this lazy mindset of leaning on tried-and-tested, proven formulas, if not flat-out re-making films. These live-action remakes of animated films have to overcome this issue, with the added problem of half-baked ideas and semi-realism as opposed to fully committing to the fantasy elements, as you pointed out so well. I’m not going to comment on the quality of all of them as quite frankly, I haven’t had the motivation to watch them. And that’s kind of the point, I guess…
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