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It's Not A Whole New World: Disney’s remakes and sequels value cash over creativity

By Olivia Hallett


Stills from Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King - via Nerdist

The recent influx of live-action Disney remakes has been both nostalgic and frustrating for fans. While many are happy to relive the joys of their childhood, others would prefer the production giant to create more new material. Remakes of classic animated films such as The Lion King, Aladdin, and Mulan are all coming to theatres in the next two years, promising diverse casts, big-name leads (Beyoncé?), and updated musical numbers - as well as assured big box office numbers for the company. Many of the original films come from what is arguably Disney’s most beloved era, known as the Renaissance period, which began with The Little Mermaid in 1989 (a remake of which is also anticipated) and continued throughout the 1990s. Disney used nostalgia to their advantage in this period too, producing sequels to Mulan, Pocahontas, Aladdin, and others. In most cases, the animated sequels were far less beloved than the originals, but some have been both critical and commercial successes, particularly in recent years - Toy Story 3 (2010) was one of the highest grossing Disney films of all time, bringing in over $415,000,000 at the domestic box office. Many of the movies selected for live action remakes have already had their own animated sequels; some, like The Lion King, have multiple. So why the sudden emergence of live action productions? The simple answer is profit — nostalgia sells. Viewers are happy to be reminded of their childhood favourites, so they will gladly pay to see a film they already love — remakes are a less risky business model than investing in new content that hasn’t already been approved by fans. This pairs well with Disney’s recent trend of purchasing the rights to existing million-dollar franchises, such as Star Wars and Marvel: these movies are aimed at fiercely loyal established fanbases, who promise big box office numbers and social media promotion. Live action remakes also attract the attention of the lead actors’ fans, as stars like Emma Watson (Beauty and the Beast) and Angelina Jolie (Maleficent) are far from unknown. Remaking old movies requires less promotion, investment, and overall effort, while promising a level of success that would not be guaranteed by a new, untested story. This particularly profit-oriented business model has proven itself to be successful in some ways: four of the five highest-grossing Disney films of all time have been sequels from the Star Wars and Marvel franchises, while the 2017 live action Beauty and the Beast came in at #8. However, this comes at a high price to fans hoping for new content, as original stories are sidelined in favour of money-making blockbusters. Out of the list of projected 2019 releases, only one (an adaptation of Eoin Colfer's fantasy novel Artemis Fowl) is not a sequel or a remake. Some recent movies such as Moana and Frozen have maintained Disney's tradition of joyful animated tales, but there are no similar productions anticipated in the coming years, as franchises continue to dominate both the box office and the production company's writing rooms. While many of the classic movies from Disney's Renaissance period are indeed coming back, the spirit of the era appears to be long gone.

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