It’s 2005, and you and your family have just watched The Lion King for the hundredth time. You’re entranced by the movie — its bright images, memorable songs and colorful characters. While you’re no film critic, you think it’s one of the best movies ever. To you, nothing will ever top the moment Simba is presented to the kingdom while “Circle of Life” blares, or match the heart-wrenching moment he realized his father was dead. You laughed, you cried and you’ll watch it a hundred more times.
Now, it’s 2019, and Disney has released a live-action remake of that same movie. You bought tickets, spent a ridiculous amount on beverages and popcorn, and as the previews played, you’re squirming with excitement. Two hours later, you step out into disorienting daylight feeling discontent. Almost violated. Personally offended by what you just wasted money on. It wasn’t a bad movie, per se, but to you, they ruined something great.
This is the conundrum of remakes.
Over the last several years, Disney has re-made many of their beloved animated films into live-action movies. Classics like The Jungle Book (1967), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Cinderella (1950), Aladdin (1992), and, coming later this year, Mulan (1998), are all films that have been given a modern update.
The influx of remakes on successful films might not come as a surprise to people. In an article by Marketplace, a nonprofit news organization and radio program, Jason E. Squire, professor at USC School of Cinematic Arts, talks about the reasons behind this. For one, it’s super profitable. “The other reason is the confidence in attracting the first generation viewers of the animated movie back [as well as] the current younger generation who will be watching the new live-action version,” Squire said. Not only can they target older generations by feeding on their nostalgia, but get a whole new generation hooked on high budget visuals and real human faces.
The concept of remakes themselves tends to be somewhat controversial. Some might call them lazy, or unoriginal. One might complain that they’re too similar, or they’re too different. John Oluwole Adekoje, filmmaker and local teacher at Boston Arts Academy, said, “Remakes without an artistic goal or direction usually is a waste of time. It’s pretty much like photocopying a beautiful painting and claiming it’s an original…A good remake requires strong directional intention. How does the material connect to modern society?” He believes that if you can’t answer these questions, then don’t bother, there is no artistic integrity.
When you want to retell an old story, there must be something new. I think a movie that does a great job of this is Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. We all know Tim Burton for his iconic, surreal and twisted style and way of storytelling. And not only does the 2010 movie have wonderful visuals, perfect quirky and dark costume and set, but its plot also exists beyond what Lewis Carroll wrote. The characters are skillfully crafted and played, it is well rounded and the story breathes new light. This is one leading example of how if you’re going to remake a story, it should be done.
As for what Adekoje would do if he was responsible for a Disney remake, he would also pick Alice in Wonderland. “I would change the main character and make her West African. Maybe call her Femi. The world she discovers would be encased in the African world. The story structure would be the same as the original but the intent would be completely different.”
Many young people are not opposed to the idea of live-action remakes. While students like Josette Desvarieux, an 11th grader at Boston Latin School, prefer the animated versions “just because they were a part of my childhood… [they] hold sentimental value”, many are open to see what new things can be brought to the screen.
Aracelis Chavez, a 10th grader at the John D. O’Bryant, says “ I don’t mind the movies being remade at all. So I wouldn’t put my foot down and say that one movie shouldn’t be remade.” She mentions that while she prefers the animated versions, she can’t deny that the remakes offer new perspectives, such as one her favorites, Maleficent.
Another reason one might root for remakes come from outdated ideas or content, especially with the Disney princess franchise. However, you don’t need to retell an old story in a new and fresh way, you can just tell a new one! Javiel Rios, a junior at City on a Hill argues, “In this day and age, you can’t escape problematic movies. They’re gonna be there no matter what. That’s why Disney started making movies like Mulan, Brave and Moana.” This idea is present in movies like Frozen (2013) and proved to be extremely successful.
Disney has had different approaches to remaking some to their classics. The two best examples of these are Alice in Wonderland and Aladdin. Objectively, the 2019 live-action version of Aladdin is not bad. The costumes are beautifully designed and the set is outstanding. Visually, it is well produced. Disney set a standard for itself, and it meets that. There are some funny moments, and the original song “Speechless” pulled at heartstrings. However, the acting is stale. The musical numbers, while not lacking in grandiose, lack in feeling fun, and seemingly unimpressive. Maybe this comes from a deep, nostalgic bias, but the original Aladdin is nothing short of not just a classic, but a well-crafted piece of cinema. It is a tale that humor works best in an animated form, whose iconic character Genie is unmatched by the late Robin Williams.
Overall, Disney remaking movies is not to be taken as a bad thing. However, we should condemn when creativity is second to money-making. Creativity and taking risks should be prioritized above anything else when it comes to making movies. I would rather watch a bad movie that did something new and different than a mediocre movie that did what has been done before. And as we anticipate what movies come next, we will see which will be respected, and which won’t.