12:00 pm EDT, June 18, 2019

The case against Disney’s live action remakes

In 2019 alone, Disney will release five live action remakes of classic animated films. It’s time we put an end to these lame copycats.

It began, as most things do, with a trickle. In 2010, Disney tried their hand at a live action version of Alice in Wonderland. Directed by Tim Burton, the movie went on to make over a billion dollars at the box office. Four years later, the Angelina Jolie-led Maleficent pulled in over $750 million. The success of the two projects spelled out a huge opportunity for Disney and boy, did they take advantage of it.

What might have begun as a trickle has quickly transformed into a deluge. This year’s moviegoing calendar is home to 5 live action films — Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,, and Lady and the Tramp.

With their theatrical releases carefully scheduled so as not to compete with one another, Disney’s content conveyor belt continues to churn out enough product to keep their bank accounts full while they squeeze out the competition and acquire their rivals in their attempt to monopolize the American movie business.

It’s not difficult to understand why Disney would want to invest in these remakes; bring in some studio-friendly names to punch up the script and direct the film, put a few A-list stars in front of a green screen, give animators enough time to fill in the blanks, and boom! You’ve got a surefire moneymaker on your hands.

Even in those situations where these remakes haven’t performed as well as expected, they’ve still brought in huge profits. Tim Burton’s Dumbo, for example, only made $350 million, but thanks to a friendly overseas box office and a comparatively cheap budget, the movie was still considered a win for Disney. Now, with Disney’s recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Aladdin as one of the few winners at the summer box office, and Beyoncé’s The Lion King set to make its debut later this year, it seems unlikely that adaptations to disappear any time soon.

However, it’s exactly this profit-driven, conveyor-belt quality that underscores how useless these nostalgia-baiting live action remakes really are. It’s time we ask for more and that starts by outlining the case against Disney’s live action remakes of animated classics.

Dispensable imitations

The most obvious argument against Disney’s live action remakes is that they just aren’t very good, but that’s not the point I’m going to make. After all, quality is subjective! I wouldn’t necessarily call Aladdin a bad movie, but I certainly wouldn’t call it good either. As such, quality is a moot point. Well, not entirely moot. If even one of these movies could deliver the kind of creative magic and artistic skill as its predecessor, then we might be having a different story — but they haven’t.

So, putting aside quality as much as possible, the bigger issue is that Disney has failed at justifying the very existence of these films. They offer audiences nothing that the original animated movies didn’t already deliver themselves. These remakes are, at best, a creative reimagining of familiar stories. At their worst, they’re shallow imitations that never reach beyond the parameters set by Disney’s conveyor belt overlords.

Perhaps if Disney was willing to take a few risks and allow these remakes some creative freedom then we might be watching something more interesting, more inspired. However, these live action remakes have proven themselves to be fairly vapid and disappointingly rote ventures that aim to satisfy, rather than mystify. The characteristics that made these stories unique, magical, and lasting landmarks in Disney’s vault have been diluted, leaving us with a watered down product whose sole purpose appears to be its financial value.

Live action is a lie

Not only is there no discernible reason for these remakes to exist, but in their current form, it seems like a bit of a misnomer to label them live action. Disney apparently intends for this label to excite audiences, to energize them to turn out to see their favorite animated stories complete with “real” people and places. However, Disney’s live action remakes are no more real than their animated predecessors. In fact, the overt over-reliance on CGI means that much of these movies are completely fake, animated in their own way using new age technology. To call these movies live action is like referring to an Amazon Alexa as a human.

Never is the live action lie as obvious as it is when these movies dabble with talking animals and inanimate objects that come to life. Part of what makes animation so special, especially that of Disney’s classic films, is that it gives storytellers the ability to push boundaries and play with the audience’s suspension of disbelief in exciting ways. Animation opens the door to things that couldn’t exist in the real world, bringing them to life because they exist in a world entirely different from our own. These live action remakes undermine that magic, putting real humans in front of flying elephants and talking candlesticks that look fake no matter how much CGI you use.

What’s worse is that the CGI isn’t even used to make things feel new; instead, it’s there as a cheat for when these movies run into something they can’t make real. When you’re dealing with stories full of princesses falling in love with beasts, princes battling dragons, helpful woodland creatures, and flying carpets, that cheat starts looking a lot more obvious.

What’s the point of retrofitting already iconic animated films into unnatural amalgams of live action and animation? I can’t find a good answer to that question that doesn’t require me to wholeheartedly endorse Disney’s attempt at monopolizing big budget filmmaking.

What about the future?

What’s most disappointing about live action remakes is how they’ve completely monopolized Disney’s slate of upcoming films. Looking for new and original ideas? Look somewhere else! At a time when the film industry finds itself challenged by demands for greater diversity in front of and behind the camera, Disney has retreated into the past. Rather than face the challenge of delivering something new, Disney is operating under the safe guise of nostalgia, avoiding creative risks at all costs.

In the midst of all this nostalgia, questions begin to arise — chief among them: What will Disney do next? With live action remakes for Mulan, Pinocchio, and even Lilo & Stitch on the way, it’s obvious that Disney isn’t going to let anything stop them. But where will they go after this? While they continue to cut checks for remakes, they put themselves at a disadvantage. Their identity is now starkly tied to a legacy that started when most audiences today weren’t alive.

While Disney’s survival seems undeniable, it’s seems an abject waste that with all the resources and talent at their disposal, Disney is satisfied with simply retelling the stories everyone already knows. What a waste!

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