Commentary: Disney remakes need the magic from the classics

Taylor Moore, LV Life Editor
Taylor Moore, LV Life Editor

On April 3, Disney Studios announced via Instagram that a live-action reimagining of “Moana” is in the works. 

When I first saw this announcement, I was confused since the previous live-action remakes of Disney have consisted of the 1950s to 1960s classics, dubbed the Silver Age, and the 1990s box office hits. “Moana” was just released recently, in 2016. It was a box office hit, grossing roughly $643 million worldwide, but why remake it so soon? 

After formulating a timeline, I realized I was 14-years-old when I saw “Moana” in theaters. Fast forward to this year, I am 20-years-old. The fact is, I might feel like the movie is still new, but there are five year olds today who have never even heard of the film.

Then there are the movies from Disney’s Silver Age and Golden Era, movies that were and remained Disney classics, such as “The Lion King” (1994), “Aladdin” (1992), “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) and the first animated Disney feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937). 

These classic movies definitely created the foundation for what is Disney now,” Eliza Mata, junior child development major at Pasadena College and Disneyland employee, said. “Since then, Disney has evolved so much as a company to keep up with current times, and our technology is far more advanced than what it was when these movies were first released. I think it is a good idea to reintroduce these well-known characters again, in a more advanced light, to our new generation of children who did not get to experience the nostalgia that most adults experienced in the same way. At the same time, because these classics have set the standards for so much to come, I believe it has to be done very carefully because of how many people cherish the layout of what Disney came from.”

As a diehard Disney fan, it can be hard for me to watch Disney remaking so many of the animated classics from my childhood into live-action movies that do not deliver the same magic quality that the originals carried. Sometimes the CGI prohibits a movie instead of advancing it. Also, watching characters so near-and-dear to my heart act completely different than their animated counterparts or not appear in the remakes at all feels confusing. 

“The Lion King” remake’s CGI did not capture the emotions of the characters. When Mufasa died in the animated cartoon, it remains one of the saddest deaths in a movie cinema. In the live-action remake, I could not even tell if Simba was sad over the loss of his father, thanks to the CGI. 

“The Lady and the Tramp” (1955) remains one of my favorite Disney classics. Again, my issue is with the CGI in the characters. Tramp looked nothing like the original cartoon character. I understand that Tramp is a mutt and his breed is never specified, but appearances aside, his charismatic, quick-witted, and brave personality was replaced by a much more awkward one. Tramp serves as Lady’s knight-in-shining armor in the original. I know the movie had to adapt to keep up with the times and it was great to see Lady’s character get some expansion. However, when Tramp talked his way out of the alley fight instead of jumping to her defense, somewhere inside, the little hopeless romantic in me cried at the loss. 

And the “Mulan” remake completely missed the mark for me. It was a great retelling of the Chinese legend “Mulan,” but it felt completely different from the original animated film. The cartoon was made for kids, complete with, hands down, one of the best Disney soundtracks of all time, such as hits like “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and “Reflection,” and a fast-talking, comedic side character Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy. The remake felt more like an action movie, and while that was great, I felt the child in me mourn that the remake was so different from the original. It truly felt like I was not watching Disney’s Mulan.

“The remakes are for kids, I understand, but the ones who understand what the movie truly is and what it came from are the now Disney adults,” Peter Trinh, junior business major and fellow Disney diehard, said. “We grew up with the cartoon versions. The demographic is different now. A live action remake is supposed to be better. When you watch the remakes now, it doesn’t feel the same as the originals. That feeling is gone.”

That feeling Trinh is talking about is the desire to imagine past reality- to dive into your childhood fantasies where you could fight dragons, be a mermaid, and be a princess that could lure animals with a beautiful voice- even now, as an adult. That feeling gives the desire to dream a magical quality that the remakes lack.  

Disney reimagining the animated fairy tale classics into live-action, modernized remakes is ultimately a business decision to expand their franchise to a younger audience and to guarantee that people will want to watch. People are more comfortable with what they are familiar with. 

“The rising cost of movies, $25 to go to an IMAX theater, is an understandable risk if you’re buying tickets for two people, that’s $50 right there, to go see unknown content,” Jake Huberman, University of La Verne assistant professor of digital media, said. “The studios are giving us exactly what we want… It’s all about franchising.” 

Huberman talked about the “John Wick” and “Rocky” franchises, how instead of making a new action movie, studios prefer to expand existing cinematic universes, with “John Wick 4” and “Creed III,” the ninth installment of the “Rocky” series. Another perfect example of franchising would be “The Fast and Furious” movies. It seems like that series is neverending. 

As the king of franchising, Huberman said Disney would continue their expansion, as they have with the Marvel and “Star Wars” cinematic universes. 

“The studios are maximizing the franchising potential, and now that they know people are familiar with these franchises, it’s like a franchise ATM,” Scott Essman, a multimedia designer, video producer for Universal Studios Home Entertainment, and film director, said. “Rather than (taking) a look at a movie that has not been franchised previously, they are going to keep franchising. They look to see what is laying around their desk that can be merchandised, franchised and synergised. They’re much more comfortable when they know there is a built-in fan base to a franchised film and are afraid of original content. It goes (back) to that corporate mentality; minimize risk by maximizing familiarity.” 

According to Screen Rant, Disney has several live-action remakes and sequels allegedly in the works, including a retelling of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” a sequel to “The Lion King” (2019), and “Lilo and Stitch” (2002). 

A live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid” is coming to theaters May 26. Again, the original animated movie is one that I clung to in my childhood. I imagine every little girl that is grown now played mermaids at some point and tried to reenact Ariel’s iconic wet flip hair flip. 

I do not mind seeing movies of my childhood coming to the big screen in a new format for the sake of nostalgia, but when remakes are the primary movies Disney is releasing, it starts to get old. This is coming from a diehard Disney fan. 

When “Moana” came out, I was excited to not only see a new original Disney movie, but a Disney movie with updated animation, a killer soundtrack, and a story I have not seen before. Instead of redoing movies that have already been done and done well, I would like to see sequels that explore more into characters’ stories or a new adaptation of a story we have not seen come to the big screen before. There are plenty of fairy tales and legends that have not been adapted, as well as storytellers itching to get their ideas out there. 

Disney, I will always be a fan, but I miss when new, original movies were coming out instead of only remakes. I love the reintroduction of these classics, but remember the magic that needs to go into them. 

Taylor Moore can be reached at taylor.moore@laverne.edu. 

Taylor Moore, Social Media Editor

Taylor Moore is a senior broadcast journalism major and Campus Times editor-in-chief for Spring 2024. In her sixth semester on Campus Times, she has served as the LV Life editor and social media editor twice, as well as a staff writer. She’s also worked on the University’s television news broadcast Foothill Community News as an anchor and reporter, and was a on-air personality for the University’s radio station 107.9 LeoFM.

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