Originally published in The Edge on 29th May 2015
It was recently announced that Reese Witherspoon was cast as Tinkerbell in Disney’s live-action remake of Peter Pan. The film is titled Tink and will follow the same structure as the extremely successful Angelina Jolie film Maleficent, where the narrative is more of a ‘you-don’t-know-the-whole-truth’ rather than an identical remake of the classic. Not many details have been released about the film so far, other than Victoria Strouse, who has written the sequel to Pixar’s Finding Nemo, will be penning the live-action remake and Witherspoon will also be producing the film through her company Pacific Standard.
This announcement follows the news of eight other Disney classics being remade into live action films: The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Dumbo, Pinocchio, Pete’s Dragon, Cruella, and Winnie the Pooh. These films join the remake ranks of Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and Cinderella. This begs the question: is Disney making too many remakes of adored classics? Is it stomping on thousands of people’s childhood memories by recreating its much-loved characters and twisting them to be something that they were not first thought to be?
Older viewers are finding it difficult to come to terms with these remakes as it is “destroying childhood memories.” I personally have fond memories of being mesmerised by Belle’s stunning golden dress in Beauty and the Beast and falling in love with puppies after viewing 101 Dalmatians. Therefore, it is hard to stomach the idea of Disney ruining these classics in favour of star-driven remakes. It is soul-crushing. Nothing can compare to watching the magic of an animated film, such as the 1950 classic Cinderella transformation scene which sees a torn and dirty dress turn into the beautiful shimmering ballgown. This blew my mind as a young child. I, along with thousands of young girls over the years, fell in love with the Disney princess franchise because of this very scene. The remake’s version with Downtown Abbey’s Lily James was acceptable but it did not manage to acquire the same awe and spectacle of the hand-drawn classic film. We care about these classic animated films and some people have deep emotional connections to them. We do not want remakes that destroy these fond memories.
Some of the Disney classics are so brilliant they should be left alone. Could you imagine a live action remake of Lion King? It would completely ruin the masterpiece that is the 1994 animated film that so many adore. The film adapted well into a stage musical due to its beautiful soundtrack and the power it holds, but if made into live-action, it would simply fail. Similarly with Bambi (even though Dwayne Johnson and SNL have tried to do a Bambi spin-off), some classic Disney animations are best left as classic Disney animations because that is exactly what makes them so special, with their sometimes distressing scenes masked by their innocent aesthetic making them perfect examples of the family film genre.
With Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland earning more that $1 billion in 2010 and Maleficent making just under $800 million, it is no wonder that Disney has become enchanted with the idea of adapting their classic animated film into live-action films. It is also a poly for them to reinvent already existing characters so they do not have to update the rides or attractions at the DisneyWorld theme parks across the world and products. Therefore by recreating content rather than making new original films means less risk and more revenue for already existing characters.
It is clear that these film are here to stay for a while. I can see myself scoffing at Emma Watson prancing around the ballroom in Belle’s iconic dress and frowning at Mulan’s powerful ‘Reflection’ ballad, but I will most likely end up seeing them in cinema. It is that un-explainable but powerful magic that Disney has, that is forever drawing in young and old cinema-goers no matter what content it puts out there: remakes or originals. But with the worldwide success of Frozen and its 21st century feminist stance, maybe audiences are yearning for something fresh and its time for Disney to take that risk.