A plague is traversing the Magic Kingdom, and its name is “live-action remake.” Like Sleeping Beauty’s cursed blessing, stories marked by these words are doomed to have their legacy snuffed out in exchange for a colorful, high-tech, big-budget, soulless adaptation.
As mature and serious adults still watching children’s movies, I and many readers see this trend's tragedy. We have lived through the Masterpiece era that gave Disney a permanent place in our hearts. We know that there are incredible storytellers, animators, and composers in Disney’s creative kingdom, so why all these lame live-action remakes? Here are a few reasons we want to see them fly away and never land again.
Erasure of the Original’s Legacy
Do you remember your parents trying to get you to watch black-and-white films as a kid? The slower pacing and lack of flashy effects and colors made it seem so boring compared to recent movies. Well, that’s what it’s like trying to get today’s kids to watch a 50-year-old cartoon version of a Disney film when there’s a newer, flashier version.
Think the 1989 “The Little Mermaid” is the real Little Mermaid? Prepare to have your soul crushed when your kid tells you they liked the new one better. Of course, most adults agree that the meticulously hand-drawn masterpieces were a much better show of artistic merit and heartfelt storytelling, but kids don’t have taste. They only know what excites them, which would be fine were it not for sacrificing beloved works of art in exchange for that renewed excitement.
Obvious Cash Grab
This is the reason many people have such an adverse reaction to yet another Disney live-action remake. They’re raking in all this money without really doing the work. It feels like the big-budget equivalent of hiding the practice test under your desk during an exam. Disney built its name by taking worldwide legends and converting them into animated musical films — already a big creative shortcut. Now they can’t even be bothered to find new legends to rewrite!
In 2019, five live-action remakes were released, including “Dumbo,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” and “Lady and The Tramp.” Compare this to previous decades that saw one Disney feature film per year. The volume is like an unfeeling production line designed to prey on curious and nostalgic Millennials and their kids who just want the latest thing.
Conversion to Live-Action Is Difficult
There’s a reason animation will always be a popular medium for storytelling. In an animated world, reality is largely suspended. Things that wouldn’t make sense in our world of laws and physics can happen. Seeing a real actor defy gravity or survive an otherwise fatal injury raises more follow-up questions than seeing it happen in a cartoon.
Cartoon characters have big personalities that don‘t translate well to live actors. Will Smith did his best with the Genie in “Aladdin” but couldn’t have made the character as exaggerated and zany as its cartoon counterpart without looking ridiculous. Trying to change the character can backfire, too. Cartoon Jasmine was so sheltered that she didn’t know she needed to pay for an apple at the market. In the live-action, we see an attempt to modernize by showing a much more socially aware Jasmine redistributing food to poor children. However, she ultimately still chooses the life of a royal, leaving the unintended implication that she is hypocritical and out of touch.
Over Reliance on CGI
Let’s address the elephant graveyard in the room: “The Lion King.” The 1994 cartoon was one of the best films that was almost never made. Initially underestimated as B-tier, the timeless original story, world-class musical score, and team creativity just oozed off the screen, making it one of the biggest surprise hits in film history. So was it necessary to spend $260 million on a scene-for-scene remake with photorealistic CGI? I mean, it didn’t even have on-screen actors.
Over reliance on CGI seems to be a trend with Disney remakes. Maybe it’s bridging the gap between fantasy and reality, but too often, it’s compensation for lack of workmanship. It’s an off-Disney example, but look how good “The Lord of the Rings” films, achieved by thousands of hours of manual labor, still look compared to the big-budget, CGI-heavy “Rings of Power” series on Amazon Prime Video. Disney live-action adaptations frequently fall into the same mistake, throwing money at CGI while neglecting manual artistry in departments like costumes, animatronics, and stunts.
Songs Don’t Hit Like the Originals
Cover songs are never as good as originals, and it’s the same with Disney soundtracks. Reborn versions of classic songs in Disney live-action remakes often include Broadway-style chorus numbers performed by the new cast or a modern update in collaboration with a famous pop star. This doesn’t have the same impact as a single, often unknown voice actor, putting all the emotions of the character into a brilliant studio recording. Like many of the other criticisms here, it feels like Disney is neglecting the songs’ emotions in favor of throwing more money at them to make them bigger and showier.
A Sincere Plea
We don’t blame Disney. If someone offered you millions of dollars to tell a story you already knew, you would take it. With a couple of exceptions, these films have made Disney a lot of cash. It's just disappointing to fans who love Disney for the heartfelt storytelling that now feel the brand is hollow and capitalistic with each new remake released.
Dear Disney, please stop with the remakes. We wish upon a star for the next era of Disney classics. Take those creative minds currently wilting in basement offices and allow them to weave real magic again. We want new heroes, adventures, and songs for our six-year-olds to sing on repeat (please!). We want to feel something there that wasn’t there before.