This year, Disney released three live-action remakes of their incredibly popular animated features: Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King. However, unlike some of their past fare, none have seemed to meet any sort of warm critical reception, with all of them receiving mixed to negative reviews.
In the cases of Aladdin and The Lion King, it’s due to the perception that both tent-poles are nothing more than cynical attempts at making bank in a nostalgia-fueled Hollywood. It makes sense to revisit these beloved IP’s, but they don’t seem to be giving them the care that they deserve on an artistic level, and audiences haven’t seemed to clue in. Yet based on box-office reports alone, they will eventually.
Aladdin and The Lion King can be seen as cynical for several reasons. It seems like Disney’s hearts aren’t really in it for any artistic merit. On a visual level alone, these are flat and uninspired, and it’s not hard to notice, either. Look no further than the shot for shot opening of The Lion King. Even so, go back and re-watch the Prince Ali sequence in 1992’s Aladdin and see how the animators painstakingly designed the number to fit Williams’ performance while also pacing it in such a way to keep up with him too. After that, go watch the remake’s boring, statically shot version of the same sequence. It shows how doing so little can make such a huge impact, robbing the films of any passion or artistic vision, leading people to ask what the point is in even doing these remakes in the first place.
Disney also fails to make them different or unique enough to stand out on their own. In fairness to Aladdin, at least the remake gives Jasmine a little bit more to do, but ultimately the story still goes in the same direction, and the changes they make don’t really make the film stand out. The Lion King is even more guilty of this, as it’s essentially the same movie. Sure, some of the jokes are different, but none of the additions truly add to anything and they just drag the film out by another half an hour in the name of padding out the runtime. They both want to stay as close to the original as possible, but really, we’re just being given essentially the same movies with different, lesser coats of paint. It makes them seem more like products than actual works of art.
Disney needs to stop treating these live-action remakes like cash cows that can be milked at any given time. Put some passion into them and let them stand apart from their predecessors. If anything, they should be taking notes from David Lowery’s incredibly underrated Pete’s Dragon remake, which took its general premise of a boy befriending a dragon and went in a completely different direction tonally and stylistically, allowing it to stand on its own instead of staying too faithful to the 1977 original. Thankfully, it looks like they’re going in that direction with their remake of Mulan, based on the first trailer alone, but this needs to become a consistent trend.
They also need to look into remaking films that can be either improved on or work as live-action films. Not everything is going to benefit from the live-action treatment, especially if they don’t allow them to adapt to it. Reports are going around that they’re working on a remake of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and that makes sense. There’s a lot that they could do with a live-action remake of that, and there are a few of their animated films that could work as live-action films, like Treasure Planet or even Tarzan. All they’d have to do at that point is not screw it up.
Nostalgia is what’s bringing audiences into theatres right now, so it makes sense to remake some of these animated classics if that’s what will put asses in seats. However, Disney needs to be passionate about these films, or else what really is the purpose? Sure, they’ll make a lot of money in their theatrical run, but their current approach makes for weaker, less memorable films in the long run. If they put the same heart and soul into these remakes as they did into their animated predecessors, perhaps we could have a new batch of classics on our hands.