We Need to Talk About Live Action Disney Movies

            Summer 2019 was a big time for Disney. AladdinToy Story Four, and Lion King all premiered, and announcements for future films Mulan and The Little Mermaid increased excitement for their production and release. This isn’t the first time Disney has released live-action remakes of their most famous classics. Audiences have swarmed to theaters to see CinderellaBeauty and the BeastAladdin and so many others. However, with the seemingly endless reproduction of Disney classics. While some, such as the upcoming release of Mulan are serving as a films that pay homage to the cultures from which these stories originate, many of these films are simply recreation. And, simply put, bad ones at that. Live action remakes of childhood films need to have a purpose, a reason to be. However, despite some rare moments, Disney has no true reasons to recreate their classic films. And that is a creative issue. 

            Since 2010, Disney has released a total of ten live action films, with an additional twelve upcoming, ten of which will be theatrical releases. In less than ten years, Disney has recreated their most famous stories, including Alice in Wonderland and Jungle Book while also giving viewers a new perspective with films such as Maleficent. But the question to answer when tackling these films is what does this film add to the story that the original did not? In the case of Aladdin, a culturally appropriate cast was chosen, rather than having white actors and actresses voicing Middle Eastern characters. In Mulan, the songs have been eliminated, a choice made by the company to better respect Chinese culture and daily life. But, what does a live action remake of Dumbo add to the original film? Live actions have a reputation, especially from the Disney Company, of being “darker” in actual footage and in theme. Is the acting as good? Are the new songs and new renditions of our favorite melodies really working? The movies seem to do well, Aladdin, for example, had the third best opening weekend of 2019. Despite our complaints of dark themes and lack of original ideas, why do we as audiences continue to go see these films? 

            For me, the answer lies in my childhood. Cinderella has always been my favorite Disney movie and I have always adored the tale of the glass slipper, the song “So This is Love”, the beauty of the original animation. So, in 2015, when the live action version was released, I was ecstatic. This was a chance for me to relive one of my fondest childhood moments. The movie, unfortunately, heavily disappointed me and I left the theater craving the old Cinderella, the one that accompanied me on long road trips or sang me to school as I got older. Perhaps that’s what we all are longing to experience again: our childhood. My mother wanted to see The Jungle Book because it was her favorite movie as a child. My friends wanted to see Lion King because it was a movie their families watched with them. Is it the childhood film we’re craving, or the memories we have attached to them? 

            Disney knows that audiences will continuously return to theaters to see recreations of their classic animated features. But maybe that’s the biggest disservice of them all: that new generations of children are getting reproductions rather than new films. The spark of imagination, something Walt Disney himself always championed, has begun to fade from the stories we watch. When will these new stories begin to be told? And who will they really be for?