Critics ask whether creativity is being lost when the focus appears financial.
Since the release of Disney’s live-action Cinderella in 2015, the live-action remake trend really took off, with seven new renditions of a Disney classics being pumped out in the following years.
Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King are among the studio’s most beloved films to have gone through the live-action treatment, and there’s a vast selection in the pipeline including The Little Mermaid, and even Lilo & Stitch. With even more future remakes yet to be confirmed, it seems Disney are not about to stop revamping their animated works anytime soon. But are there reasons for this beyond the obvious profit?
Some have speculated that it could have something to do with copyright laws. Currently, US copyright laws allow published works enter the public domain (meaning anybody can use them to create their own art) 70 years after the death of the creator, or 95 years after its publication. In fact, Disney itself is largely responsible for this change, as it has lobbied to extend copyright terms many times in the past, to ensure Mickey Mouse and their other properties wouldn’t enter the public domain.
The theory is that releasing a new version of the original films would reset the copyright term. For example, the original The Lion King movie was released in 1994, so releasing the remake in 2019 would add 25 years to the life of the property.
However, this doesn’t exactly work out as you might think since the remake is a derivative work, and the original would still be considered to have been published on that original date in 1994. It’s possible it would still protect key lines of dialogue or costume designs used in the remakes, for example, but this is yet to be proven either way.
While nobody can prove the exact reasons why Disney are churning out remakes above all else, it’s undeniable that they’re lucrative. Despite fairly mediocre ratings for these films, they rake in a hefty profit. While the 2019 version of the Lion King currently has a 52% score on Rotten Tomatoes, it also made 1.7 billion dollars in the worldwide box office.
Then there’s the fact that producing remakes of Disney classics is safe. Plenty of modern-day adults saw them as a child and will watch the new version for nostalgia purposes.
Parents will take their children to see the films so that they can experience them for the first time. It requires less creativity, less effort, and, more importantly to film companies, less risk, to reimagine an already successful and beloved story, than create a totally new one. Simply put, Disney remakes are profitable and easier to make, and anything that checks those boxes is inevitable in a capitalist system.
Many fans are unhappy with these re-imaginings, claiming they are soulless cash-grabs with none of the magic of the originals. Nabila Hatimy, writing for The Star, summarises a common opinion: the 2019 version of Aladdin has viewers leaving the cinema ‘wishing for the good ol’ days.’ Still, it must be said that any remake faces potentially harsher criticism than original movies, as they are not only judged on their own merit, but how they compare to the originals.
Is it the end of the world if many fans aren’t keen on these live-action remakes? Of course not. There are worse things. But does this focus on repurposing old content detract from the potential or new, original stories to capture our hearts? Undoubtedly.
Film production takes a long time, usually an average of three years. All that time, effort, and money being poured into remakes is work that could have been dedicated to brand new stories, the ideas of which sit on the dusty shelves of imaginations. Perhaps what people are really mourning when they criticise these films is not a tarnished childhood, but the loss of new creative stories that could have been.
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