I first wrote about remakes, reboots and sequels for The Alligator in November of last year. At the time, I addressed Hollywood as a whole and how it can do remakes better. But I have since realized that while almost all of the major studios are guilty of this, Disney’s approach has been… special.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, Disney has been making live-action remakes of its animated classics such as “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and, most recently, “The Lion King.”
Disney’s live-action remakes are like a drug addiction. First, it tested the waters with early examples like “Maleficent” and the 2015 version of “Cinderella.” When it realized how much profit was to be made, it did the remakes more frequently to chase that profit high. Now it’s spiraling out of control, making live-action remakes that aren’t even live-action (all the characters in the new “Lion King” are CGI, with only the environments being real).
People outside Disney’s social circle are starting to take notice and trying to convince Disney to quit. It won’t, so an intervention is needed.
We should have seen this coming. Under Disney CEO Bob Iger, Disney has acquired companies like Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilms, and most recently, Fox, giving Disney control over major franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In terms of profits, these acquisitions have paid off: “Avengers: Endgame” is now the highest-grossing film of all time, and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” are now the fourth- and twelfth-highest-grossing films, respectively.
I fear this emphasis on cultivating and profiting off of acquired properties has led to the core Disney brand falling to the wayside, reduced to expensive imitations of its Golden Age films. Now with the new 53 percent critic score of “The Lion King” on Rotten Tomatoes, an optimist might say Disney will finally learn from its mistakes. Although it probably won’t, given the film still grossed over $750 million worldwide, and there are other live-action remakes in the works for “The Little Mermaid” and “Mulan.”
To be fair, Disney hasn’t completely lost its way: Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Ralph Breaks the Internet” was well-received by both critics and audiences. While I still dislike the abundance of sequels and follow-ups, I appreciate when the production studio at least takes on new stories and ideas instead of reusing old plots and being little more than copies of the original.
The only upcoming Disney Animation Studios film announced so far is “Frozen 2.” Hopefully the movie can exceed the original (which will be extremely difficult given the pop culture phenomenon the original became) or at least be a serviceable sequel not afraid to take risks and explore new territory.
And ultimately, it is taking risks and exploring new territory in which the Walt Disney Company should strive. When Walt Disney — the man — made “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” it was a big gamble. No one had ever made a feature-length animated film before. But Disney did it anyway, and it opened in 1937 to rave reviews, ultimately making the modern equivalent of $1.2 billion dollars.
According to one story, when Disney was asked about making a sequel to his popular “Three Little Pigs” short, he famously said, “You can’t top pigs with pigs.” Modern Disney is not only trying to top pigs with pigs, it’s using the exact same pigs, just in different animation styles. Yet, Disney did make several sequels to “Three Little Pigs,” so perhaps creativity and original ideas losing out to sequels and redone old ideas is inevitable no matter the time period.
I like to believe Disney is something more. It is capable of more than just sitting on its laurels and turning a safe profit by exploiting known franchises. But for now, I’m still waiting.
Jason Zappulla is a UF history senior. His column appears on Tuesdays.