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Why I want more Disney live-action reboots


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The release of the trailer for Tim Burton’s version of Dumbo was greeted with excitement last week. The Disney classic is being given the Burton treatment, looking darker and bit more weird than the original cartoon (although the pink elephants bit has always been pretty odd anyway).

It’s the next in a long line of Disney live-action remakes to have been released recently, with more to come: Christopher Robin arrives in the autumn, Aladdin and The Lion King are scheduled for release next year, and Mulan is in pre-production. There is even a version of Pinocchio and a prequel to 101 Dalmatians planned, suggesting that the studio really is taking this idea and running with it.

Disney does seem to be resting on its laurels a little lately - with its acquisition of Marvel and the Star Wars franchise, alongside its seeming obsession with producing sequels to previous successes, we might even consider them to be becoming lazy. Was Cars 3 really necessary, for instance? And do we really need a new Star Wars film every year? What happened to the originality?

There’s also an issue around these so-called ‘live action’ films, because there sometimes seems to be a lack of, well, live-action. In 2016’s The Jungle Book, the only actor to appear on screen was Neel Sethi in the role of Mowgli. Every other character was, by necessity, a CGI-animation: it would hardly be appropriate to have a tiger, a bear, several wolves and a panther on-set. In the forthcoming The Lion King, we can expect CGI to take an even more dominant role, given that the original film has no human characters whatsoever. These films can sometimes seem simply high-quality animations, and we could question why we need another cartoon version.

And yet the appetite for these reworkings cannot be denied. The popularity of Once Upon a Time is testament to the popularity of more mature versions of the fairytale classics, whilst the revamped films have consistently been box-office gold. From Disney’s viewpoint, these are real money-spinners.

Furthermore, if you consider Disney’s back catalogue, originality has never really been its forte. Aside from Fantasia, a high-concept experiment which was a box-office flop, the first time the studio produced an entirely original animated screenplay was in 1994 with The Lion King, a whole half century after the release of its first feature-length animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Disney Golden Age and what’s termed ‘the Renaissance’ are both predicated on retellings of classic stories, from Cinderella to The Little Mermaid. This is where Disney has always felt comfortable and where its had its greatest success, so it’s little wonder that it has returned once again to these sources.

All of this is a moot point, however, because the fact is that these films are just exactly what we want. We’re the first generation to have had easy access to Disney films whenever we wanted, through VHS, DVD and now on-demand. What’s more, there was a real excitement about classic films, through Disney’s marketing technique of retiring films into the ‘vault’ periodically, so that we were desperate to get our hands on them when they were re-released. Now we’re adults and we’re going to Disney-themed hen dos and buying Cath Kidston’s Disney collections. If ever there was a generation that is just crying out for some Disney reworks, it’s us.

These new versions give us the films of our childhood with a twist, making them darker, more complex and more appropriate for our (ahem...) more mature minds. The development of Cinderella’s relationship with her parents in the Kenneth Branagh version helped to make her character more engaging, whilst the 2014 origin story of Maleficent was exactly what our fanfic saturated minds was demanding. With so many Disney films based upon fairy tales and folk stories, there are already any number of versions – so why not a few more?

As far as I’m concerned, Disney can keep going. I want to see more, and I want to see the more obscure films get a fresh perspective upon them, from The Fox and the Hound to The Aristocats. I want to know more about how Princess Aurora feels about her three guardians lying to her for 80% of Sleeping Beauty and see a whole bundle of dogs on-screen in Lady and the Tramp. Amongst the doom and gloom of real life, these films offer some light and fun.

And let’s be honest: are Disney really likely to pull the plug on these guaranteed sources of money? Elephants might fly.

Dumbo flies into cinemas on March 29th 2019, distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

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