Since pretty much birth, I have loved Disney movies. I spent my childhood watching the old animated classics, falling in love with the songs, and automatically befriending anyone who also adored the iconic princesses. (I still do! Mulan is my favorite princess, if you would like to bond over the greatness of the original movie.) I have a certain sentimentality regarding Disney movies, and so in recent years, it's been a little difficult coming to terms with the ceaseless, ever-growing mountain of evidence that Disney, holding a near-monopoly on the film industry, is willing to sacrifice artistic integrity for easy money. In short, I'm talking about the live-action remakes.
So in this post, I want to talk about how the company behind these films are putting very limited creative energy into the film, and how they're taking advantage of audiences' loves for older films to make easy billions (and taking advantage of audiences in other ways). This has been plaguing me since I was a child (or whenever they started doing these things, haha), and then I realized I could make a blog post about it and hopefully cleanse myself of any future opinions regarding the live-action remakes at all! Fingers crossed.
C R E A T I V I T Y
Speaking purely from an artistic standpoint, it is incredibly disheartening seeing America's largest film company just...stop trying. They're not introducing many new stories to film anymore, not taking enough risks with their story-telling. In fact, the past few years have been so saturated with recycled/self-plagiarized ideas that it took me a hot second to remember any original film Disney has made, with "original" meaning "not copying one of their old films". (I had to Google it. It was A Wrinkle in Time.)
Imagine this: for every remake that Disney spends millions on, how many new story proposals are they discarding? In their project selection process, they are actively choosing these remakes over someone's creative ideas, which would explain why we've seen a considerable drop in original output. What if we could've seen adaptations of folktales from all across the world, or perhaps more adaptations of beloved children's books (as in with A Wrinkle in Time), or -- though this is quite a reach -- genuinely new, purely Disney creations?
Obviously some live-action remakes are less creative than others. The original, which I'd claim is Maleficent (feel free to disagree), was very much not suspect because it subverted the original story in a very drastic way. It was still evidently a remake in a way, since Maleficent is a creation of Disney's, but it was different enough to be inoffensive. I don't think anyone really suspected that Maleficent would be the beginning of a long, long chain of unoriginality. Cinderella was the next one, and it was still okay -- they followed the original storyline quite closely, but, I mean, it got a pass for not being a straight-up copy, and being just the second one. In hindsight, I am more disappointed in the existence of these two movies, but at the time, I was, in all my fourteen-year-old blindness, like, "OH! Nice."
At some point, I found out about the millions of other adaptations that were to follow. The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Dumbo, The Lion King, Mulan, The Little Mermaid... (These are all from memory, so I'm sure I missed some, or listed them out of order.) And that's when my young self first started feeling mildly disturbed by the path that my favorite film company was choosing to take. Of the movies I've listed, I think the worst ones on the creativity scale are Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (which has not come out yet, but I'm going based on their marketing). They were advertised as shot-for-shot remakes of the originals, copying as many of the original scenes and songs as they could manage, and (for Beauty and the Beast) with superfluous backstory added to satisfy the supposed needs of picky plot-hole finders.
I mean, it paid off, I suppose. Beauty and the Beast grossed a startling $1.2 billion, all for taking an old story and slapping it into a new dimension.
For me, it's baffling seeing discourse on Twitter surrounding the live-action movies, for two main reasons: (1) these discussions seem to miss the bigger-picture problems of supporting an all-powerful film company in making these minimally-creative movies (like when people say they won't support The Lion King because it's silly to create a live-action film with pure CGI animation), and (2) some of the disagreements seem to actively promote shot-for-shot remakes (like the outrage that surfaced when Disney revealed that neither Mushu nor Li Shang would be in the live-action version of Mulan).
Personally, I think the upcoming Mulan has the most promise of any of the live-action adaptations, because you don't already know each and every character.
A U D I E N C E M A N I P U L A T I O N
I think this is a good place to stop for a moment and recommend this YouTube video, Woke Brands+ (M) by hbomberguy. It's very entertaining and interesting, though if you don't want to watch it, I'd understand (as it is an approximately twenty-five minute video haha). The guy in the video explains this better than I do, but the point that he makes that I'd like to emphasize is: these days, when corporations advertise their products as "progressive" and "forward-thinking," the bigger the conservative backlash on social media, the better it is for them. Because then you have a large wave of liberal supporters of the progressive ads defending it, and mocking the backlash/boycotts... And everyone who talks about the product, be it positively or negatively, contributes to the grand marketing scheme of that particular company, simply due to the massive exposure the product/company is getting.
So how does this relate to Disney?
Well, you might recall the perceived outrage over Ariel's casting, and Twitter's collective defense of Halle Bailey in that role. The debate was trending on Twitter, and it seemed like almost everyone was talking about it. And I think that it's great that so many people love the idea of a black Ariel, and support the diverse casting, but the thing is, most people seemed to miss the fact that this was almost certainly Disney's goal. They wanted the casting to be controversial so that their film would garner extra attention. Imagine how much free advertising Disney has received for The Little Mermaid from the past week alone, all from unsuspecting supporters who thought they were defending Disney against racist people, when really the racism was what Disney almost certainly hoped for in the first place.
(Also, the majority of the racist tweets people were responding to were actually bots. Like, if you actually search up the Twitter handles of the quoted/screenshotted tweets that people are responding to, you'll find nonsensical, random, very bot-like tweets. Even if Disney didn't actively create/promote the bots, I'm sure they're more than grateful for the existence of the bots now, after the crazy amount of attention The Little Mermaid got.)
This paragraph is very speculative, but I feel like these series of live-action remakes are only really successful because of Disney playing upon their audiences' nostalgia for their older movies, and providing a more up to date, modern version of these old favorites. It seems like Disney's trying to sever ties with two-dimensional animation and prove they're up to par with modern animation technologies, by following their successful formula of "nostalgia + remakes = $$$ + modern legacy".
I N S U M
I think it's important to acknowledge that these more depressing aspects of Disney exist, especially if you really, really love their movies as I do. I really miss their attempts to connect different fairytales and folktales to children and families, and this new trend seems to highlight the worst parts of them as a company, haha. But also! If you think that I've been wrong about anything, or too harsh, definitely feel free to disagree with me! Or if you agree, also leave your thoughts!
Also, if you read through all of this, thank you omg. I love you guys!