When people think of fairytales, the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen are no longer the names that instantly come to mind. It’s Disney’s animated classics that have defined the past several generations and will likely define the next several generations too. Seeing how fairytales are public domain, though, they’re open to virtually anyone to adapt. Whether it’s a good twist on a classic story, like Ever After, or a dumb one, like Snow White and the Huntsman, people rarely get too upset about modern fairytale interpretations. Well, except for when Disney decides to reinterpret its own work.
Disney has released a slew of live-action remakes over the past few years with several more in the pipeline. Their first live-action remake of an animated classic was 1996’s 101 Dalmatians with Glen Close as Cruella de Vil. The film that truly got the ball rolling for live-action Disney remakes, however, was Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. The 2010 adaption made over a billion dollars worldwide, but had a lot of audiences split on its overall quality. While the visuals were universally adored, winning Oscars for Art Direction and Costume Design, many thought the story missed the point of Lewis Carroll’s source material and paled in comparison to Disney’s 1951 animated version.
Nevertheless, it’s all about the almighty dollar and Alice in Wonderland made leeway for Disney to release another live-action remake with Maleficent last year. This re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty also made a ton of money, but once again had audiences torn. Some people enjoyed the production values and Angelina Jolie’s performance, but others simply couldn’t get on board with the ultimate mistress of evil becoming a good guy. If any other studio had produced Maleficent, more people probably would have been able to accept this twist on the title character. Since it was Disney neutering their own villain, though, fans couldn’t help but feel betrayed.
The only live-action Disney remake that’s been praised for the most part is Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, which came out last March. In addition to looking fantastic, critics generally agreed that the film stayed true to the original story’s spirit while also being a solid standalone entity. As good as Disney’s 2015 Cinderella turned out, the problem is that Disney’s 1950 Cinderella already exists and has imprinted on us all.
Some may argue that Disney’s animated Cinderella may be dated in some departments, especially from a feminist perspective. From a filmmaking and emotional perspective, however, the movie is perfect as is. So there’s really no reason for Disney to attempt a live-action remake. It’s like when George Lucas went back and reedited the Star Wars trilogy, but Disney is taking things to a whole new level by flat-out redoing their timeless animated masterworks.
This wouldn’t be so annoying if Disney was only developing a couple live-action remakes. Yet, it feels like the studio won’t rest until they’ve remade their entire animation library. Some of their upcoming products sound intriguing enough, such as Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson as Belle. Between their planned live-action adaptations of Winnie the Pooh, Mulan, Pinocchio, Tinker Bell, Dumbo, and Night on Bald Mountain, though, it really feels like Disney is milking their property. Oh, and on top of all that, they just announced a prequel to Aladdin centered on genies and Sword in the Stone re-imagining!
Although Disney is undeniably going overboard with live-action remakes, should we really be that concerned and angry? Probably not. After all, it’s not like they’re going to permanently replace the animated classics. If anything, a bad remake can remind us why the original classic remains perennial. Even if a remake does bring something worthwhile to the table, as with the new Cinderella, parents are still going to introduce their children to the animated version first. Plus, at least these live-action remakes have more effort put into them than any of Disney’s direct-to-video sequels.
Here’s a final word of advice to Disney: Instead of trying to recreate what’s already perfect, why not take another shot at some of the studio’s less successful animated features? 1985’s The Black Cauldron was one of the biggest duds the studio ever put out. In an age of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, however, imagine how awesome a live-action Black Cauldron movie could be. Sure, people may have less of a nostalgic connection to The Black Cauldron, but that’s part of the point I’m attempting to get across. Despite how much money Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and even Branagh’s Cinderella accumulated, people are always going to view them as second best. A live-action Black Cauldron, however, just might be able to stand on its own feet and become a new classic for generations to come.