If it seems like Disney has been making a more aggressive push lately to turn its animated classics into live-action films, it’s because it has been — and the company hasn’t been subtle about it, either. After the success of 2016’s The Jungle Book and 2018’s Beauty and the Beast, Disney has doubled down on its commitment to breathe new life into its animated movies. In 2019 alone, Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King all received the live-action treatment (though, The Lion King is more of a CGI animation than a live-action production), with many more adaptations in the works. But while some OG fans of the classics are thrilled that their favorite tales are being revamped with a greater emphasis on inclusivity, others are a bit more skeptical about Disney’s decision to dive in deep with the remakes.
So what is it that critics have against Disney’s colossal wave of live-action adaptations? For some, they think it’s a sign that one of Hollywood’s most revolutionary studios is running out of fresh ideas. And rather than putting in the work to come up with new stories it hopes fans will enjoy, it’s much easier for the corporation to continue with the same old classic tales that have been successful in the past. Why? Because Disney owns the intellectual property of all its animated classics, which basically means the company can continue to remake as many versions of these same stories as it would like, in perpetuity.
To some, this decision to re-tell the same stories using real actors and CGI effects comes off as uninspired, and several people feel that it doesn’t at all exude the type of creativity and innovativeness that Disney’s known for. “The things that made the movies classic, and great were the expressiveness, and personality,” Adam Martinez, a fan of the classic movies, tweeted, “and I’ve yet to watch a ‘live action’ one that matches or exceeds the originals quality. Why? It’s not original.”
But loyal fans of the animated classics aren’t turned off solely because Disney appears to be taking the easy road to financial success. In her review of The Lion King, Kendra James of The Verge wrote, “The new Lion King will make a lot of money, and hopefully, some of that money can be used to make films that have more artistic integrity, narrative ambition, and bare reason to exist.” And that seems to be the general consensus among some fans, as well. By recycling old tales, some feel that Disney is using their millennial audience’s unceasing desire for nostalgia to lure them back to the box office. “We live in an age where the majority of the millennial generation was born and raised on the Disney classics,” Anthony Cain, a critic of Disney’s live-action trend, told MTV News. “Instead of trying new and interesting things, they play it safe.”
Though, even critics of Disney’s live-action slate understand that it’s all part of the company’s well thought-out marketing strategy. Disney knows exactly what it’s doing by making new iterations of beloved films that were released decades ago. After all, fans of the classics have already developed deep, emotional connections to the characters and storylines, and if they know that they feel fondly about a particular film, there’s a greater chance Disney will make a significant return on its investment — and a new generation of parents will share these beloved films with their children, creating new memories and future Disney fans. “They know millennial parents will take their kids to see these movies, then show their kids the originals, then start the process all over again,” Cain added. Savvy business strategy or not, isn’t any well-crafted film that brings families together in the movie theater worth celebrating?
It’s also worth noting that the classics aren’t going anywhere. Diehard fans of the animated movies can still watch them at their leisure. And as some people on social media have pointed out, there are actually a lot of benefits to remaking these adored animated movies. For example, as we’ve seen with Halle Bailey’s recent casting in the upcoming live-action version of The Little Mermaid, creating updated versions of these films offers Disney an opportunity to present these classic tales in a more inclusive way. And considering the first Black princess arrived in 2009 with The Princess and the Frog, we can all agree that these stories could use an extra dose of inclusivity — even if there are naysayers on the internet who insist that Ariel, a fictional mermaid, needs to be white and have red hair.
The impending remake of Mulan also offers the company the chance to retell the inspiring tale in a more accurate and respectful way — helmed by Niki Caro, the second woman to solo direct a Disney movie with a $100 million-plus budget. In the live-action version, Disney will do away with the songs from the animated classic, Mulan’s original love interest Captain Li Shang, and yes, dragon pal Mushu and the cricket, too. And while those elements certainly added some extra flair, ultimately, many people agree that they’re just not necessary. “The original Disney movie was beautiful and had iconic songs and hilarious sidekicks, which I know resonated with people…” Clara Sia, a supporter of the Mulan remake, tweeted. “That version still exists. You can watch it any time you want. A version more respectful to my culture won’t cancel that movie. There’s room for this.”
Still, there will always be diehard fans of the animated versions who insist that if these movies get the live-action treatment, the plot and the characters need to stay as close to the classics as possible, à la Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. But as some fans on social media have aptly pointed out, maybe these live-action remakes aren’t for the fans of the classics. Maybe they’re for an entirely new generation of Disney fans who want to see female leads that not only look like them, but that empower them, too. “[Mulan] looks like it could be a game-changer for Disney,” Myan Mercado, a loyal fan of Mulan, told MTV News. “I think she’ll end up being a lot of little girls’ favorite — if she isn’t already.”
In addition to the obvious need for Disney stories headed by diverse female leads, another argument is that live-action versions are downright entertaining — and not to mention, extremely advanced — which should be enough of a reason for them to exist. Technology has evolved tremendously since we watched the animated movies as starry-eyed kids, and with all the progress that has been made with effects, some fans really appreciate the opportunity to watch these tales come to life in a different way. “I think it’s a no-brainer to come out with live-action remakes,” Megan Lapinski, a longtime Disney fan, told MTV News. “It’s the perfect balance between the classic Disney stories and new age technology that makes it all really impressive.”
Overall, fans of the classics have mixed opinions about Disney’s decision to go full force with these new adaptations. Though, that won’t exactly keep them from their local theaters on opening weekend. These stories defined their childhoods, and bringing them back in a different form offers an escape to their youth that they likely feel they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. “Some us of us just want a simple escape and [to] remember what it was like as a carefree kid watching these,” Lapinski said. “It’s amazing to me how a movie can bring up so many past feelings and emotions.”