A Critical Assessment of the Disney Remakes

I’ve had a lot to say in the past about Disney’s recent crop of ‘live-action’ remakes of old, animated classics. But since they’ve all been within the context of a review, I haven’t had a chance to express my full thoughts of the whole thing.

I think critical analysis is important when it comes to assessing films. It is all very well and good to take one particular stance and arguing your position, but I find it much better to sit on the fence and argue both sides.

Like a lot of things, the thought processes behind such things is complex and shouldn’t be viewed as black-and-white or right-or-wrong, very few things should, and I fully accept that there are many people out there who are more than happy to sit through as many remakes as Disney can offer, just as much as there are highly vocal detractors, but as is usually the case, the negative voice is the loudest.

Thinking cynically to start off, it is very easy to see why Disney are remaking their old properties; it’s in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar. Nostalgia is a highly bankable thing, every year it seems we are treated to a remake, or re-imagining, or re-boot of some old property with market value, to get as many people through the door on opening weekend as possible.

To expand on this in Disney’s case; the last few remakes could be viewed very cynically indeed. The last two films released as of the writing of this is The Lion King and Aladdin, and I put it to you that this release schedule was more a marketing exercise than an artistic one.

Thinking about it, all of the people who grew up on these films are now adults, at the perfect age at which they’ll start producing children of their own, so why not create two generations of Lion King fans? Bringing the new generation on board whilst also exploiting the pockets of those who have cherished childhood memories of the originals.

This idea could, of course, backfire. Say the film doesn’t live up to the expectations set in some people’s minds, this might, in theory turn them against any future remakes. But in practice it doesn’t particularly matter, especially to the studio, what you think of the film AFTER seeing it, they already have your money, and there are enough different people with different nostalgia circles to be fulfilled.

Perhaps if you aren’t a Renaissance Disney fan, maybe you’re a ‘Golden Age’ fan for instance? Well, Disney have you covered there too, not only was The Jungle Book a runaway success a few years ago, but a new version of The Lady and The Tramp is set to release later this year… on Disney’s new streaming service, meaning that those who have a want for that will subscribe to Disney’s service, and the circle of nostalgia begins anew.

The tide of public opinion is a very fickle thing, as the old saying goes: ‘one day you’re the cock of the walk, the next you’re a feather duster’ and the casual cinema-going audience is even more fickle, they’re the crowd who want the recognisable names, the bigger the better, so in that respect Disney are guaranteed a good return, nothing is a risk when you’re studio is that big.

Well, since Disney’s remakes are down currently in the court of public opinion, you would expect the box office numbers to be down right? Again, it’s not so cut and dry.

If we take the start point of this trend to be 2015’s Cinderella, a live-action remake of the classic 1950 animation, within five years the box office numbers have almost doubled for these remakes. Cinderella took home a respectable $534,551,353 worldwide, whereas 2019’s Aladdin is sitting on a dragons horde of $988,840,714 worldwide. This is before we even mention The Lion King which has already made a worldwide return of $531,000,000.

So, we know the numbers aren’t declining, if anything it’s the opposite, but what of artistic output? Well, as we know artistic integrity means as much in modern-day Hollywood as a fish does to a hungry shark, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t creatives left in Hollywood, and a lot of them are involved in these project, they must be creative in some way, otherwise they wouldn’t be the cinematic equivalent of crack cocaine.

Remaking an old property is not an inherently bad thing, but I do think there should be a more clearly-defined line of what constitutes old enough to warrant such a change. The Lion King, Aladdin, and to a less extent, Beauty and the Beast did not need much changing, if anything changing them has done more harm than good.

The essence of a good remake is in what it can improve, what it can fix that either didn’t work, or are very uncomfortable viewing in hindsight. Disney has a closet full of skeletons of past decisions, which may have flown at the time, but which are simply unacceptable now. (Footnote: it’s worth pointing out that Disney is very much not the only company guilty of this)

While it is possible to re-release the original films with the offending scenes cut out, I don’t think this is the wisest decision. By erasing the errors of our past, those errors become easily forgotten, and more likely to be duplicated, which is why we should never stop teaching people about the evils of the Nazi regime, and while this is on a completely different scale, the same principle applies, we learn no lessons from the past by ignoring it.

That isn’t to say the eventual remake might not change these things in the future, that is a completely different kettle of fish, that would show growth and an admittance of fault. Which is why I think it’s a great idea for Disney to re-visit some old titles, but I emphasise the OLD part of that sentence.

Wonderful things can be achieved by looking to past properties and seeing how they could be improved, but it also provides a free pass for some of the decision-makers in Hollywood make a quick buck on the name of some of their old intellectual property. As I said earlier in this piece, a remake is not automatically bad, but a remake that does nothing different and retains the status quo? That’s when I have an issue.

I have an issue with this because it’s subconsciously trying to re-write history in its favour, by making a new version of something old, we are being discreetly told to forget the old version, but this doesn’t work when the older version is superior, and still widely available. I’ll probably never watch the live-action Aladdin again, but I’ll see the animated one again in a heartbeat, and I think that’s the most damning thing.

The reason this is damning is because I realise that the original was made with heart, and love, painstakingly drawn and animated, yes it was also there to make money, but not as cynically as 2019’s Aladdin, which had none of the life and heart, but did have terrible CGI and wooden acting.

My advice when it comes to these films is the same as the advice I give about most films, judge it after you see it. Jumping to unnecessary conclusions before you’ve even laid eyes on the final product is silly. Yes, I said some nasty things about Aladdin, but that was because I’d seen it and came to those conclusions, and that’s what I suggest to anyone; employ critical thinking, and if you enjoy the final result, that’s all that matters.

Box Office figures were taken from the-numbers.com and are correct as of 22/07/19.

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