Disney is the magic many of us grew up with, and now, these nostalgic animations are resurfacing in our minds and on our TV screens. Within the last 10 years, Disney has ramped up live-action remakes of its classic animated canon, each one topping the previous in popularity. These remakes have now become a normal expectation, but not everyone views them the same way. Whether these movies are actually better or worse than their original Disney versions have long been a debate amongst fans, with some crying out, “Another one!” and others crying, “Another one?”
While complaints and controversies swirl around the words “live-action remake,” Disney keeps re-producing them at a faster rate. Before 2010, the studio released only three live-action remakes, the first being The Jungle Book in 1994. Since the smash-hit remake of Alice in Wonderland (2010), Disney has released 12 live-action remakes in just nine years.
Nostalgia breeds happiness and can either make or break a movie; it’s a tightrope that Disney balances often. While this fragile rope often frays, Disney knows there’s a safety net waiting below if they fall. Some remakes, such as Beauty and the Beast (2017) and The Lion King (2019), were massive hits with audiences, each earning more than $1 billion at the box office. Others, like Dumbo (2019) or Mulan (2020), failed to impress viewers and stockpiled negative reviews compared to their animated predecessors. Whether these remakes are critically praised or universally panned, they still bring in millions of viewers and deepen the pockets of Disney.
The studio continues to experiment with the same stories, and we continue taking chances on them. Whether we expect too much or too little, we hope that they can make us feel the same magic of the past or even enchant newer generations who didn’t grow up watching the animated originals. To cater to these two crowds, we get a mix of new and old storytelling, new and old songs, and new and old characters. Maleficent (2014) explored Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the villain. Aladdin (2019) gave us fun remixes of the classic soundtrack. A fairytale, at its core, provides many opportunities to change and experiment with the original story.
These live-action remakes not only generate profit; they also keep Disney relevant. Like other industries, as technology advances, Disney must adapt to how the world is changing. They need something new to entice viewers to watch their creations, whether it’s for the first, second, or seventeenth time. As its theme parks remain in flux around the world, live-action remakes can also be Disney’s way of keeping the magic alive.
Starting in 2021, there’s a fresh wave of Disney live-action remakes in the works, with most slated to arrive within the next few years. Cruella headlines the pack with a May 2021 release date. There will also be remakes of The Little Mermaid, Bambi, Hercules, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rose Red, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and sequels for already successful remakes of The Jungle Book, The Lion King, and Aladdin.
Alongside these upcoming theatrical releases, Disney is also cooking up live-action remakes of Pinocchio, Peter Pan & Wendy, The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, Lilo & Stitch, and an Aladdin spin-off, all due for release on the Disney+ streaming service.
Whether Disney is in it for money or creative alteration, our perception of remakes is determined more by our preference. For some, these films end up resembling their animated counterparts too closely, while for others, not enough. Where many people prefer the beauty of classic animation and its stories, some prefer the wonders of modern technology and fresh retellings. This balancing act has and continues to fuel live-action remakes, as Disney tries to recapture the hearts of old fans and fascinate the imaginations of new ones.