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Deep Dive into Disney: What’s with all these live-action remakes?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Rutgers chapter.

With the release of Disney’s latest live-action adaptation, “The Little Mermaid” starring Halle Bailey, fans of the production studio are making it known how much they hate the slew of remakes released in the last decade. But if audiences are dissatisfied with these movies, why are they still being made?

Halle Bailey as Ariel in the Little Mermaid

The very first live-action adaptation of an original Disney film was “Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book”, released in 1994. After its success, Disney went on to experiment with more remakes, like the two adaptations of its beloved 1961 film “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” released in 1996 and 2000. However, most might mark the 2010 remake of “Alice in Wonderland” as the unofficial beginning of Disney’s infamous live-action adaptation era.

The hallmarks of the most recent remakes have been high production value, at least one controversy, and a disappointingly low score on Rotten Tomatoes. Take the most recent Disney live-action, “The Little Mermaid,” adaptation as an example. When Halle Bailey was announced to be playing Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”, there was a lot of backlash centered around the decision to cast a black actress to play Ariel, who is portrayed as white in the 1989 animated version. The conversation online spurred the hashtag “#NotMyAriel” among those who didn’t support the casting choice.

Before “The Little Mermaid” was released, the live-action film “Peter Pan and Wendy” (2023) was also criticized, albeit in a less pervasive manner, for a lackluster plot and “woke” casting of girls as Lost Boys. Even as far back as the 2017 remake of “Beauty and the Beast”, many people stated that Emma Watson’s singing was subpar and that she delivered an underwhelming performance as Belle.

With every live-action remake Disney has put out, audiences have disapproved of the casting, sets, visuals, plot, and more. If the adaptations were judged on their own, the truth is they’re not as terrible as people are making them out to be. However, it’s not realistic to separate the remake from its animated predecessor when they are, by nature, connected.

Audiences seem to be more critical of the live-action films adapted from their favorite Disney movies because of the nostalgia and fond memories associated with the originals. This leads to immensely high expectations that the remakes have to live up to, yet often can’t. 

Halle Bailey as Ariel in the Little Mermaid

Movies that aim to recapture the magic of the original by staying true to the story, like “The Lion King” (2019), will get criticized for being too stale and lacking passion. The ones that push the envelope too far will get “canceled” for changing a classic and tainting its legacy. 

Finding that perfect balance is difficult, and even if it’s done right, the remake will never get everyone’s approval. Sometimes people will criticize the film for the sake of hating something. In the case of Rachel Zegler’s casting as Snow White in the upcoming “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” live-action adaptation, many have taken to social media to express their opinions about it.

Most of the hate against the Snow White remake has been racially motivated attacks towards Rachel Zegler, who is a Latina, for her casting as a white character. This has prompted many people to come to her defense.

When it comes to Disney live-action remakes, it seems the disruptive, malicious haters are the loudest but not the majority. Luckily for Disney, their strategy doesn’t call for unanimous support.

Disney’s recent revenue strategy seems to capitalize on people’s nostalgia and familiarity with the original films that the adaptations are based on. Instead of investing money and resources into developing new movies and risking the failure of the film, Disney is playing it safe. They know that regardless of how much criticism the live-action adaptation garners, there will always be fans of the original who will watch the remake, as well as skeptics who want to judge the movie for themselves. 

Not to mention, there are fewer films and shows being released and future releases being delayed as a result of the writers’ and actors’ strikes. This leaves audiences more open to watching whatever is being released for the purpose of being entertained. With this in mind, it seems there’s no better time than now for Disney to release their finished live-action adaptations. The partial guarantee that the remakes will be a financial success, despite the controversies, is why it’s unlikely that Disney will stop producing them any time soon. If anything, the retelling of these classic stories gives us the opportunity to relive our childhoods once again, even if it’s only for a moment.

Hey everyone! My name is Jeynelee (Jay-neh-lee) and I'm currently a sophomore at Rutgers New Brunswick majoring in Journalism and Media Studies and minoring in Digital Communication Information and Media (DCIM) and International and Global Studies. In my free time I love to watch movies, listen to music (lots of Taylor Swift usually), and learn new things.