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The Re-imagining of Disney Classics

Hi everyone!

A few days to a week ago, we in the Disney community were met with the announcement that The Lion King will be one of the next animated classics to be given a cinematic makeover and modernisation. From the response I gleamed on social media, it seemd to be relatively positive but I wasn’t totally convinced that constantly remaking our well-loved classics is the best way for Disney films to move forward and embrace the new age of flimmaking and storytelling.

That was however until I realised something about this new trend. It’s not a new concept for Disney. If we go back to the 90s and early to mind 2000s we have the live action adaptations of 101 Dalmatians and its subsequent sequel, and also the re-imaginings of 60s, 70s, and 80s live action films such as The Parent Trap, Herbie, Freaky Friday, and Tron. Also not forgetting to mention Alice in Wonderland, which now has its own film franchise (if you can describe it that way). Re-imagining and expanding on these stories is a proven success but to me the one thing it doesn’t explain is the sudden increase in the number of classics that are have been and are waiting to be given this modern treatment.

When I think about it, the questions that arise are these:

  1. Why does Disney think it is important to remake and re-imagine animated classics?
  2. Why is the focus not on new stories?
  3. What is their motivation?
  4. Who is their target audience?
  5. Do the films enhance the popularity of the classics?
  6. Will the newer audiences turn to the classics for the original adapted stories?

The answer to most of them is that I and we simply don’t know. I don’t have the inside knowledge into the workings of Disney filmmaking ideas and productions, but the one speculation I have to the current trend is the greater profitability and marketability that these films ultimately provide. It leads to the obvious quesion of “why make newer films that have flopped such as Tomorrowland and John Carter, when existing, classic stories and fairytales already draw in profits and will continue to do so.” From this I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not Disney and Hollywood being lazy, but that they’re taking advantage of a previously secure foundation.

It’s something that Disney succeeds at already – expanding on stories that are already part of thier universe. It’s a guaranteed win. Just take a look at the franchising of Pirates of the Caribbean, and the success of Once Upon A Time to understand that there are always different stories to tell from the same world.

I don’t want to segue from Disney but as a reader and booklover this is something I personally see a lot of in fiction and Young Adult literature in particular. Take the well-known Shadowhunter Chronicles by Cassandra Clare, now a tv show made by Disney ABC. It originally started as a one series book world with The Mortal Instruments and eventually it will become a four series books world (not including character spin offs) because it is one of infinite possibilities. Another more culturally popular example that I could have given is Harry Potter and the current filming of Fantastic Beasts and the Cursed Child West End production!

I don’t want to ramble on too much but that’s the general concensus.

I think what it all comes down to is this – stories after stories will be told and audiences will lap them up because they are ingrained into our culture and will be profitable. It doesn’t matter how many times fairy tales are told because they will always be relevant to the current cultural climate and society. Disney made them popular and in turn audiences recognise Disney as the popular master of fairytale adaptations. Other studios might adapt them too but they never seem to have the same success and cultural implications that comes out of Disneys adaptations.

There is also the cycle that comes with recycling the same stories in that they can enhance other Disney properties. Once Upon A Time is a prime example that comes to mind in terms of Maleficent’s physical characterisation. In series one she was clad in purple and had a slightly different personality, but series 4 Maleficent dressed in full black leather and donned the horns that made her look more like Angelina Jolie’s characterisation. It gives her the recognisability as being the typical highbrow Disney villain that we all know. I might no longer see her as an intimidating villain thanks to her film but that was an unforseen consequence.

What I do find to be relatively important in all these remakes  is that apart from Beauty and the Beast, all these remakes have not been made as musicals. They’re focused on drama and the characters. Notmally a musical number would propel the plot forward and it is what we’d all remember coming out of a film, but this time it is the inclusion of original, edgier material that makes this change. Instead, audiences react to the filmmaking, characters, and the film as a whole. Yes I might have come out of Malefiecnt humming the darker version of Once Upon A Dream, but what I remember the most is the story and how Maleficent was portrayed as a character. This is what ultimately makes Pete’s Dragon so different a film, because it loses all the musical status of the original and focuses on the story, drama, and relationships between the characters. Not to mention that as one of the more forgotten live action classics amongst modern audiences, it hopefully does provide the original with a greater viewership.

So, if we put all of this onto The Lion King there is no doubt in my mind that it will be another successful remake for Disney, even if I don’t potentially like the idea of this prospective adaptation. And for one thing, Disney Jr’s The Lion Guard is already proving to be highly popular and it is attracting newer younger audience members who are not familar with the original story. Secondly the film  also had critical acclaim on the stage (something that wouldn’t have happened had it not essentially been for Beauty and the Beast and its stage debut back in the early 90s). When I think of it this way, it doesn’t seem surprising that it is next on the list of remakes.

We’ll just have to wait and see what comes out of it.

And so that is the end of that.

So what do you think about all these remakes?

Are Disney doing what comes best to them, or are they simply playing safe with their storytelling?

As always thanks for reading and have a brazzle dazzle day!

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