Disney is well known for telling well-loved fairy tales and adventures, as they capture the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide. Over the last several years a new wave of film-making has begun as Disney have remade and reinvented the much-loved Disney classics into live-action feature films. Beginning with Alice in Wonderland in 2010 Disney has progressed to make the following films Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), Pete’s Dragon (2016), Beauty and the Beast (2017), Mary Poppins Returns (2018), Christopher Robin (2018), Dumbo (2019) and Aladdin (2019). With adaptations of Lion King (2019), Mulan (2020) and The Little Mermaid (TBA), Cruella (TBA), Maleficent II (2019) and Pinocchio (TBA) soon to hit the screens or in production stages as well. Already there have been sequels to some of these live-action films like ‘Alice and Wonderland through the Looking Glass’ (2016) with others for Jungle Book and Maleficent to follow. Some have asserted that Disney’s reimaginations of these classics have kept these stories relevant while referencing the nostalgia of the originals. Are the classics best left untouched and will remaking them destroy the magic and timelessness of the original feature films?
The recreation of the classics has been made possible in part with the development of CGI. A live action version of many of these films would have been difficult given the large animal influence within these films. It is these advances that have made films like the live-action version of Jungle Book, Dumbo and Lion King possible to the exacting standards of Disney. Equally the lavish spending and effort that has gone into these remakes have ensured these remakes are visually impressive. However, in this realism, it loses some of the emotion of the originals as CGI cannot capture the expressiveness of the original traditional animation. It was the expressive nature of many of these animal characters that allowed audiences to connect with the film more in the classics. By focusing on realism Disney has destroyed that connection as the characters feel much more muted than the larger than life versions we’ve seen previously. Although CGI has allowed for interesting portrayals of these stories it seems that animation is the superior medium for telling these stories. This has meant that the live-action versions, however good, have felt lesser to the originals which remain the definitive retelling of these stories.
Remakes have allowed for some corrections to be made to story and character development. In the original Aladdin, it was found that 90% of the dialogue was spoken by male characters. In the more recent version, Jasmine has been given a bigger role within the movie as well as a female companion. In this instance, the remake has allowed for the development of a female character that was underdeveloped in the original film. Previously Princess Jasmine only seeks marriage to a man she loves whereas in the newer version she seeks to become Sultan so she may lead her people into prosperity. In some instances, as with Princess Jasmine and most notably with the character Maleficent, development has taken place that has massively changed our understandings of the characters. When remakes have made original and inventive changes, they become worthwhile, at the same time the almost-exact copies of other remakes have seemed lazy. Film-makers have either focused on the core elements of the film and produced something bland or have focused too hard on creating a movie fixated on referencing the original, or they have strayed away too far to make it different and use original ideas which just come across as misguided. When these remakes come to the screen do audiences expect identical films or originality? So far it seems to have been a mix that Disney has offered.
Overall my personal opinion of Disney Classics being remade into live-action feature films is though some attempts have seemed earnest they’ve still mainly remained lacklustre. Disney continues to produce original and magical animated movies like Frozen (2015) and Moana (2016) which would suggest they could apply this creativity to creating original new live-action content not tied to the classics. This begs the question; why do Disney continue to spend time on remakes when they could invest that money into creating more original content for the big screen?