Why do Disney Remakes Keep Getting Made?

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Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, Sleeping Beauty, Lady and the Tramp are all recent victims of the remake epidemic Disney has recently caught. While the epidemic was minimal throughout the mid 1990s, they soon exploded within the past decade and there is no sign of stopping. Despite having lukewarm responses from the people, the box offices breaking a billion speak for themselves. So where did this come from? How did we get here?

We begin neither at 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, which became one of Disney’s most successful films at the time, nor at Glenn Close’s breakout hit with 1996’s 101 Dalmatians, but with the first adaption of 1967’s The Jungle Book back in 1994. Originally intended to be an adaption of the original Rudyard Kipling’s book to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the book’s publication, head CEO at the time Jeffrey Katzenberg saw potential in making it based on the animated version instead. The movie was then thrown back and forth by screenwriter until it became a Tarzan-esque love story. But it didn’t work regardless, as the 1994 movie only raked in $43.2 million on a $30 million budget. 

It was not until 1996 when Glenn Close graced the world as Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians. Not long after came 1998’s The Parent Trap and 2003’s Freaky Friday, the first adaptations of live action films and also the breakout role of Lindsay Lohan. All of these films did well financially, raking more than a combined $573 million. It was clear to the company that there was definitely a demographic for these kinds of films. But like everything else in the 2000s, Disney was slowly dying both in popularity and financially, and live-action films were no exception. 

The house of mouse wouldn’t get their groove back until the late 2000s. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise proved throughout the decade that there was still potential, as it was based off the infamous ride at the theme park. But in 2010, the company was graced with a bombshell, Tim Burton’s adaption of 1951’s Alice in Wonderland. While receiving mixed to negative reviews, the 2010 adaptation would soon become one of the most successful films of that time, raking over a billion dollars worldwide.

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This soon led to the 2014 film Maleficent, based off the 1959 film Sleeping Beauty. This film would introduce the idea that not every angle was explored in the classic films, such as why was Maleficent evil? Why didn’t Cinderella leave her terrible step-family? Why did the servants in Beauty and the Beast get cursed when they didn’t do anything wrong? This was a problem because the original films worked regardless of what angle the focus was on. There doesn’t need to be an explanation or a backstory since we can either draw our own conclusions, or most likely don’t need to do so since it’s so inconsequential to the story. 

Yet like all ideas, they eventually become stale. It was not until 2017’s Beauty and the Beast that introduced the idea of becoming more “woke” for modern audiences. Making Lefou “openly gay” (yet other characters constantly ask him why he doesn’t have a girlfriend throughout the film), making Belle or Jasmine more “smarter and independent” only to make them less superior to their predecessors, or casting a black actress as Ariel in the upcoming The Little Mermaid remake. Rather instead of saving these ideas for original characters, it seems the company views “the brand” as more integral than its reputation to the public eye. Just last month, the Disney/Pixar film Toy Story 4 was “back-lashed” by people for being “disablist and lacking diversity”. Meanwhile, a mom group began writing a small petition for the film featuring two lesbian mothers in the background of one scene. It’s clear that the company is divided when it comes to becoming more modern for its’ audiences theatrically. And when they do attempt it, they water it down to make sure nothing too spicy happens. And yes, while people do criticize this tactic, the box office speaks otherwise. In fact, Disney set record this year as the first studio to have five films earn a billion dollars at the box office.

In the end, it appears that Disney is going through a phase, and by the way these films do critically, I have no doubt in my mind that they will eventually be forgotten. Yes, they’ve made their mark in the box-office records, but compared to the originals, they can never hold a candle to them. But it’s not to say they’re completely hopeless. Disney and Pixar animation has finally gotten over the sequel fixation, and have three original films set for 2020, with two (coincidentally) featuring an African-American and an Asian protagonist. And maybe someday, Disney can step out of their comfort zone, and show the world that any kind of race, sexuality, or gender can join the House of Mouse.  


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