Shameless corporate cash-grab, or heartfelt reimagining of timeless classics?
By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief
I’ll be honest and state my bias upfront—I couldn’t care less for the Disney live-action remakes. I didn’t see Cinderella when it waltzed through our theatres in 2015, I was vastly underwhelmed by 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, and while I love Aladdin (the music is incredibly catchy, okay—even if aspects of the story itself are a touch problematic), I certainly raised an eyebrow at the shoddy blue CGI nightmare fuel that was Will Smith’s genie in recent trailers. It’s not fair to judge a film’s visual effects by an unpolished render released for trailer purposes months before the movie comes out, I know, but still.
I couldn’t even join in my sister’s nostalgia sniffles for The Lion King trailer—and does that even count as live action if all the animals are CGI? Yes, the cast looks amazing, and yes, there’s not much you can do to mess up an Elton John, Tim Rice, and Hans Zimmer music team-up. But we already have a perfect version of The Lion King, don’t we? Wasn’t the Academy Award-winning 1994 film good enough?
Disney hits a certain weak spot for all of us. The company cleverly branded itself on the principle of maintaining an ironclad stranglehold on our childhoods. Yes, we know in our minds that Disney is an aggressively hungry media mogul hellbent on world domination, swallowing up entire studios, networks, and mountains of intellectual property in its wake—the Mouse must have fresh blood. However, in our hearts, Disney is our favourite Winnie the Pooh stuffie. It’s the afternoons spent inviting all of our Disney Princess dolls to tea parties in the living room while Peter Pan played on the TV (and introduced us to racist caricatures of Indigenous people). Disney World is the quintessential childhood dream vacation as well as the quintessential mid-20s breakdown destination for millennials struggling to reconnect with their younger, less financially-crippled selves, and those Disney bastards know it.
It’s not the first time Disney has released questionable material for the sake of an easy cash-in. There was a streak of hilariously awful direct-to-home-video Disney sequel movies in the ’90s and 2000s (though for my money, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride was actually pretty decent, even if Kovu’s roguish bad boy looks probably spawned an entire generation of furries).
(Also, Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin definitely made me cry, but in my defense, I was three when it came out and cried about everything.)
You can’t get much more cynical or cash-grabby than the Disney sequels. Take for instance the Hunchback of Notre Dame sequel where Quasimodo is gifted a klutzy girlfriend by the plot; a Beauty and the Beast midquel where a magical organ tries to straight-up murder Belle and Beast (who spends the entire movie moping and being an emotionally abusive terror while Belle simpers at him); a Little Mermaid sequel where Ariel repeats all of her father’s mistakes as a parent and her daughter essentially relives her story in reverse; and, horrifically, a Peter Pan sequel where Wendy’s daughter—who is emotionally and mentally scarred by World War II and the London Blitz, which is ongoing as the movie progresses—is whimsically spirited away to Never Land where Peter and the Lost Boys must break through her shell of childhood trauma to make her believe in magic and fairy tales again.
My point is, it’s not as though Disney is some bastion of creative integrity. These live-action remakes have the same plasticky taste that Disney’s more blatantly money-grubbing efforts tend to take on. I guess a better point might be, however: Does it matter?
Because yes, as I said before, I really couldn’t care less for the Disney live-action remakes. But I was lucky—I caught the tail end of the Disney and DreamWorks 2D animation era (and unfortunately, the full brunt of the trashy Disney sequel era—shout-out to my fellow ’90s kids). Disney’s chokehold on my nostalgia looks different from what the kids these days are going to remember fondly in a decade or two. Maybe for them, these big blockbuster remakes will have the same charm and meaning that their predecessors did. Maybe I’m just old and cynical and spend far too much time mocking people on Twitter.
That last bit might be an unrelated problem.
At any rate, there isn’t much we can do to stop the onslaught of Disney, and there’s nothing edgy or remotely interesting about people who make a point of sucking the fun out of things for everyone else. While I might not force myself to sit through aggressively autotuned renditions of some of my favourite Disney songs as a Will Smith-shaped genie blob floats out over the crowd in 3D, I’m sure there are plenty of people who are super excited to experience just that. Kudos to them.
Just please, please leave The Sword in the Stone alone, Disney. I’m begging you. It’s my favourite. Please.