Next Friday (March 17th), Disney releases Beauty and the Beast, a live-action remake of the company’s own immortal animated film that hit theaters in 1991. Its predecessor, itself an adaptation of an 18th century French fairy tale, told the story of a handsome but selfish prince turned into a hideous beast by an enchantress. He’s given until his 21st birthday to win the love of a woman or else he, and his beleaguered staff, will remain in their cursed form for the rest of their lives. As his 21st birthday looms, the prince entraps Belle, a beautiful, intelligent woman who is likely his last hope at love. The animate classic boasted groundbreaking animation (the spinning ballroom sequence being especially memorable), unforgettable characters (turning the bewitched furniture into singing and dancing supporting players was brilliant), and Oscar winning music on its way to becoming the first ever animated film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It remains, to this day, the only  2-D animated film to compete in that category. It made 425 million dollars in theaters against a 25 million dollar production budget. How can Disney possibly hope to top these results? My answer: they don’t. They know that these live-action remakes cannot match the influence their animated precursors had. Won’t touch the critical acclaim these films garnered. The only area the live-action remakes can hope to rival (possibly best) their sources is in box-office receipts, which is why they are being made, and why I can’t fully be excited for any of them. I refer to “them” and not just the upcoming Beauty and the Beast, since surely you’ve noticed the trend over the last few years or so. Beauty and the Beast is only the most recent in a series of Disney productions recycling previously successful Disney features, beginning with Alice in Wonderland (2010). That film made over a billion dollars. So I understand that Disney was going to do everything possible to duplicate Alice’s success. Next came Maleficent (2014). Starring Angelina Jolie as the famous Disney villain, Maleficent actually did something interesting by reworking rather than simply reworking preexisting material. It began with the premise that Maleficent was given a bad rap, and went from there. The results were mostly successful. Then came Cinderella (2015), the first of the trend I see beginning to flourish now in that it was almost entirely rehash. It took Cinderella (1950), and did the same thing, just changing the format. That was fine, it made money, but was it necessary. It’s not very interesting. The Jungle Book last year followed in a similar vein, and made a boatload of money, showcasing some impressive CGI in the process. And now we’re hearing that live-action remakes of Mulan (1998), The Little Mermaid (1989), and The Lion King (1994) won’t be far behind. Don’t get me wrong, I intend to watch all of them, in theaters, early, eagerly, and with a reasonable amount of interest, but going back to what for me is the big question, why are these films being made and what do they hope to accomplish? The ceiling on their efforts is almost tangible before they even get made. If all they are is good business sense, how excited can I be to go see them? Some are more flagrant than others. Lion King? Why? Who are you going to get to voice Uncle Scar? You might as well get Jeremy Irons again. And Mufasa? Hopefully James Earl Jones is still alive. Are they using real animals, because if they have to use CGI, it will still be an animated movie, just a different style. Mulan, I’ll confess, I am a little more receptive too. Lord knows I’m a fan of the original, but I could always see that material lending itself to the live-action format. Now I hear they are doing talent searches all over China for the cast. That’s heartening. A friend joked they should cast Scarlet Johansson as Mulan. That’s precisely the kind of thing Hollywood would do, but I’m glad they are taking the time to gather the right cast. We’ll see. As for the imminent Beauty and the Beast, I’ll see it. Next week. I’ll pay for a ticket, and contribute to what will likely be a massive box-office gross for the film. That’s assuming some petty outside controversies don’t hurt it, and audiences are wiling to overlook the ceiling I talked about.

-Walter Howard

3 thoughts on “The Ceiling on Disney Live-Action Remakes

  1. I’m also excited for the Mulan remake, especially with the direction it is going. I think they could make a very exciting film out of the material and would honestly love to see it without all of the songs as well. While I will forever love that soundtrack, I think without it a different tone could be set and it will be more than just a money grabbing remake which is what I want. The Lion King, I don’t understand at all. There is no point.

    Interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Lion King was made into a successful play so I think making it into a good movie will not be a problem. Plus it has Donald Glover….. DONALD GLOVER!!!!!! I think it is great disney is making live action versions of their classics. Nice article I can’t wait to see BTB.

    Liked by 1 person

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