Traditionally, the Walt Disney Company has made a name for themselves through their animated films and properties; therefore, it’s kind of ironic to see that some of their biggest releases in 2019 will be live action remakes of their classic films.
From “Cinderella” to “The Lion King,” Disney’s live action remake list can be traced as far back as the 2010 Tim Burton adaptation of “Alice and Wonderland.” “Maleficent” soon followed in 2014.
Critic consensus about each of these titles was certainly mixed at points, but quality is notwithstanding to a product’s success. The numbers, certainly, don’t lie—according to Box Office Mojo, “Alice In Wonderland” made back a profit of over 334,000,000 dollars, and “Maleficent” wasn’t too far behind.
Disney became aware pretty quickly that they had tapped into a lucrative market. “Sleeping Beauty” and “Alice in Wonderland” are animated films that many people are incredibly attached to. The original movies are sources of nostalgia and positive memories for many teens and adults.
By remaking classic films of theirs with a more mature, live action twist, Disney can almost guarantee strong viewership for new releases without having to create entirely new concepts and stories.
In fact, unlike “Maleficent,” which used the plot skeleton of “Sleeping Beauty” as a guideline to tell a story from a different perspective, later remakes like “Beauty and the Beast” mimic the story structures of their animated versions almost exactly, down to recreations of iconic musical scenes. “Beauty and the Beast” also ended up making over 1 billion dollars in worldwide revenue according to a report by Forbes, which evidently made completely reselling old properties the massively more successful live action formula.
Disney’s 2019 movie lineup is a little bit grim. Remakes for “Dumbo,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” are slated for release this year, and this really just begs the question: why?
Cynics would say it’s nothing but a cash grab on Disney’s behalf, and while that assumption isn’t inaccurate, it would be best to give the creators of these films the benefit of the doubt. The intention seems to be that these live action reboots are a way to introduce classic Disney properties to a new, more adult audience.
While there is nothing wrong with tapping into new demographics, Disney’s method of doing so sends a troubling message. The original “Dumbo” and “The Lion King” already address very heavy topics, like animal abuse, loss of a loved one, murder and even drug use. They also feature a lot of more lighthearted moments to appeal to children, but a big part of the timelessness of those films is their watchability to audiences of all ages. Even the original “Beauty and the Beast” deals with very adult problems and situations.
Because of this, Disney’s reboots don’t really bring that much to the table. There’s no real point to making a mature reboot of something that is already enjoyable to mature audiences, especially when the thing being rebooted was revered for its inherent adult themes in the first place.
Another troubling implication about these movies is what they imply about the medium of animation. In America, animation has almost always had a stigma surrounding it. The academy award for best animated picture was only added in 2001 according to The New York Times, and animated movies have been almost completely excluded from consideration for best picture across history.
When Disney creates live action adaptations of their classic films and claims that they are intended for adults, they are feeding into the belief that animation is for children. In the case of their upcoming adaptation of “The Lion King,” Disney still refers to the film as a live action reboot, despite the fact that it is almost entirely CGI—which technically makes it animated. The fact that Disney associates “live action” with “mature” even when the film isn’t actually live action serves as a testament to their opinions on the matter.
In the current age, Disney has been relying more and more on reboots and sequels, leaning away from original animated films, or even animated films in general. Though it’s understandable that properties like Star Wars and Marvel are probably a bigger money maker for the studio, it’s hard to forget that “Beauty and the Beast” was the first animated movie to be nominated for best picture. “Beauty and the Beast” was a monumental leap in the history of animation, and the fact that it was one of the first films to receive the Disney live action treatment puts a damper on its incredible legacy.
Disney’s live action reboots are degrading to the medium of animation and to Disney’s classic movies. By recreating their films in live action and making them “more mature” without significantly changing the source material, Disney is promoting the false idea that animation is only meant for children and cannot be enjoyed by adults.
Disney live action reboots are little more than cash grabs, and if you’re really looking for a complex, compelling film with adult themes, just look back into Disney’s extensive library of animated features. Those movies are already far more enduring and full of depth than 2017 “Beauty and the Beast.”