Magic or tragic? Disney film adaptations

How Disney has defined 2010’s and 2020’s through their live-action remakes. PHOTO CREDIT:

In the same way that Disney’s animated films defined the 1900’s, and especially the 1990’s and the way that Pixar’s CGI films defined the 2000’s, Disney’s live action remakes are quickly defining the 2010’s and 2020’s. 

However, while films like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Toy Story” were groundbreaking for their time and are still impressive and important pieces of history, the same cannot be said for the 22 live action films released between 1996 and 2022. With “Peter Pan & Wendy” and “The Little Mermaid” set to release on April 28th and May 26th, I thought it would be interesting to look back on this craze of endless remakes and see when it started, when it grew and when, if ever, it will end.

The first Disney live action remake was “101 Dalmatians” released in 1996 and it seems that the reception these Disney remakes garner has been in place from the beginning. Most online reviews for the film, including Rotten Tomatoes, mention the words “bland and pointless” in their descriptions of the movie. The film does boast an appropriately unhinged performance from Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil, but overall, it was seen by most people as a movie that did not need to exist.

It is entirely possible that, back then, Disney actually listened to their audience. The next live action remake they made came out four years later, though it was just as pointless a project, giving the world yet another sequel they did not need or ask for with “102 Dalmatians.” 

The same opinions were given about this film that were given about the first, with the added criticisms that it had the potential to bore children and was too violent for a G-rated movie.

Disney seemed to walk away after that, and the live action remakes stopped for ten years. But it all came back in 2010 with the release of “Alice in Wonderland,” which was a visually ugly and tonally misguided film, most likely due to Tim Burton’s direction and art style that very few people were happy with. 

However, where the film lacked in praise it made up for it in money. While both “Dalmatian” films made $500,000 worldwide, “Alice in Wonderland” ended up being the second highest grossing film of 2010 and made over $1 billion.

That seemed to be all Disney needed to know to decide that this live action remake idea might not be as unpopular as it once was. “Maleficent” was released in 2014 and made $700,000 in spite of middling reviews. After that, Disney was pumping them out like there was no tomorrow. Since 2015, thirteen live action remakes have been made which have brought in a collective $7 billion. So if you wonder why they keep making these films when no one wants them and no one likes them, the answer is in the wallets of the producers who green light every idea they are given. It is a sad state of affairs, but money talks and money is talking to Disney with a very persuasive tongue. 

This is a strategy that people are quickly catching on to. 

“I kind of hate it,” Jane Malyuta, a third-year studio art major said. “Disney isn’t making original content anymore and is just reworking things that they know will make them more money.”

While some people gave the remakes a chance at the beginning, most people have given up by this point. 

“I loved the Cinderella remake but I’m over the live action remakes now,” said Peyton Becker, a graduate student and TMD major. “I haven’t even watched most of them.”

Even people who can appreciate some of the attempted good these remakes are doing cannot fully support them. 

“It’s great that they are trying to modernize and be more inclusive,” Julia Williams, a first-year marine biology and aquaculture and fisheries science double major, said. “That’s it, the only positive thing.”

So where is this remake train headed? Well, as of now 16 more remakes are in the works with four having been confirmed and the other 12 in various stages of production. Additionally, just like how Disney made direct to video sequels to their successful animated movies, some of the upcoming remakes will be sequels to their live action predecessor. Another “Lion King”, “Aladdin” and “Cruella” among them. It also seems like we will be getting a live action “Hercules,” “Bambi,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Aristocats” and “Lilo and Stitch” at some point.

The landscape of movies changes very drastically each decade. The only way we will ever be rid of the live action remake trend we have found ourselves in is to avoid the films being released and aim your attention to filmmakers and studios who are more interested in telling stories instead of showing you things from your childhood redesigned in ugly hyper-realistic skins. And if we all vote with our wallets, maybe Disney will go back to making the types of films that put them on the map and made them a staple of everyone’s childhoods in the first place. But one can only wish upon a star for an outcome like that.