Why Disney Live-Action Remakes Don’t Work

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Tasha Kibue

Though Disney remakes are highly anticipated, they usually disappoint viewers.

When Cruella (2021), a live-action movie following the evil exploits of the beloved One Hundred and One Dalmatians villain, Cruella de Vil, was announced, many Disney enthusiasts were intrigued by the original concept. It was expected that Cruella would be portrayed as a misunderstood anti-hero (like Maleficent). But when the trailer was released, the excitement for the movie’s release died down. This is yet another Disney live-action remake that is highly anticipated at first, but eventually disappoints those who see it.

Disney live-action remakes are often big budget shot-for-shot replicas of the original. Even so, they feel generic. The jokes don’t land, characters loose their charisma and significance, and the story lacks its initial fantasy. Because of subpar directing, even the best actors and actresses deliver unconvincing performances.

Let’s compare Will Smith’s Genie in Aladdin (2019) with Robin Williams’ Genie from Aladdin (1992). Robin Williams’ Genie made Aladdin memorable with his clever witty jokes and his delivery of them. He made what would otherwise be an obnoxious animated character enjoyable to watch. On paper Will Smith playing Genie in Aladdin (2019) seems like a good idea. Will Smith is charismatic, and could possibly come close to Robin Williams’ interpretation of the character. His lively personality is evident in his performance, BUT Genie wasn’t memorable. Genie’s songs weren’t as energetic, his character design was poor, his friendship with Aladdin didn’t feel familiar, and his overall character was weakened so he’d be more realistic.

Animation is a wonderful art form. Animated characters are more expressive than humans can ever be. A character’s design can tell you all you need to know about their personality; think Mufasa and Scar. An animated environment can be stylistic and majestic. These small elements give the creators room for creativity, and that is why animated Disney movies work so well. Characters can break out in song without seeming strange, move around freely, and though sometimes having simple goals they still have depth. Live-action movies can’t do these things. Disney remakes rely heavily on CGI, so the actors are often speaking to people in green suits and performing against a green screen; hence the unconvincing acting.

The Lion King (1994) is a movie loved by all generations, so of course, the concept of a realistic animated remake was exciting. Adults who watched it growing up still remember every song from the movie. When the remake was announced, millions of people counted the days until its release. After people finally saw it, it was clear that the remake was much worse than the original. Every aspect of the movie felt generic. From the music, to the voice acting, and to the characters themselves. It was clear the people involved in the making of the movie valued style over substance, and relied on the original movie’s nostalgia to carry audiences away. Although The Lion King remake broke the box office, negative reviews quickly surged the internet, and everyone just kind of pretended the movie never existed.

Then there’s the Disney princess movie remakes: Beauty and the Beast (2017), Mulan (2020), and Cinderella (2015). I’ve watched all three of these movies, and none of them are memorable. Instead of Disney taking advantage of the movie’s realism to add more depth to the story and make the characters more complex, they merely replicate every aspect of the animated movies.

Even though these films were identical to the originals, they were nowhere near as good and heartfelt. The whole point of a remake is to use an already existing story or characters and tell a similar story creatively, meaning “tell the story differently.” You can use characters or settings from the original, but it’s important to add SUBSTANCE to the story rather than just copying the original. If nothing is being added to the story you’re trying to re-tell, then why try to perfect an already perfect story?

Unlike the easily forgotten movies mentioned above, Maleficent (2014) broke Disney’s pattern of disappointing viewers. We were able to see Maleficent’s unfortunate backstory, and what motivated her to curse Aurora. This movie is a misunderstood antagonist’s perspective done right. Maleficent became more than just a two dimensional character, and became an authentic, three dimensional character. Her motivations were justified, clear, and consistent all throughout the movie. We didn’t just know she hated the human kingdom, we knew why. Without this remake, Maleficent would have remained the evil witch who cursed an innocent young Princess Aurora for a trivial reason in Sleeping Beauty (1959.)

Disney has everything at their disposal to make an original movie, yet they continue to make meaningless live-action remakes, which become shallow to the story they are attempting to re-tell. Although their old movies aren’t technologically advanced, they’re classics and sincere. No matter how much money is put into these remakes, they lack the warm and refreshing feel of their predecessors. New does not always mean better.

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