Let’s Talk About… Disney Live-Action Remakes

Discussing Disney’s ventures into live action and the future of their reboots of classic stories.


There’s a large amount of interest into the category of remakes surrounding cinema releases, particularly in recent Disney announcements. Within this recent article, written for Film Inquiry, I discuss some of the current establishments of live-action reboots as well as what this could potentially mean for the future releases.

Concerning remakes in modern cinematic environments, there is a strong dominance during recent years involving large companies and production studios to provide audiences with an extensive range of remakes and indistinguishable plots and storylines with the twist of live action appearances. Speculations regarding Disney in particular are most prominent in terms of feature film announcements, with approximately 16 possible films arriving in the future that focus on existing narratives and characters. There are different approaches to this that Disney are experimenting on, from remaking the same story faithfully, adapting a different spin to the classics or even creating long awaited sequels – such as Mary Poppins Returns, set for release Dec 2018.

Since we’ve already been exposed to the likes of The Jungle Book, Cinderella and Maleficent, we can question: do we really need these live-action remakes?

Heard It Before?

Recently, multiple Disney live actions remakes have been announced to be in the works. There is an array of familiar characters and film titles mixed in with Disney’s original productions: Sword and the Stone, Dumbo, Pinnochio… Already, actors are being cast and directors attached to some of these upcoming features. For instance, Emma Stone is tied to 101 Dalmatians spin-off Cruella, Emma Watson set to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Tim Burton is set to lead a Dumbo remake.

The Jungle Book (2016) – source: Walk Disney Pictures
The Jungle Book (2016) – source: Walk Disney Pictures

The list is growing substantially, occupying a large part of the the Disney schedule for the next few years. Why is there such a increase in live-action remakes and exactly how far is Disney going to go?

There is a charming appeal to live-action remakes, particularly one that we have already been familiar with. This alone will promise a certain level of audience interest. The live-action remakes have the ability to captivate young audiences through the whimsical characters and magical (CGI) imagery, yet also appeal to older audiences who have already experienced the animated predecessors and love the nostalgia.

Live-Action Remakes So Far

The most recent venture into live-action is the remake of the 1967 adventure The Jungle Book, which was thrust back onto the big screen accompanied with fresh CGI and effects in the first quarter of 2016. Received positively by critics and audiences alike, the spectacular visuals of the feature impressed all around. CGI and live-action were united flawlessly, which could never have been achieved back when the charming tale was first introduced; technological developments allow filmmakers to push past precursory boundaries. While essentially a live-action film, this feature does heavily rely on visual effects to fully portray the vivid environments and cast of furry and fierce characters.

Cinderella (2015) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The magical live-action Cinderella of 2015 provided a fresh spin on the 1950 animated feature. With bright, over-emphasised colour and glow, it’s a convincing fairytale. It places the concept of ‘Happily ever afters’ to become existent in the real world. It may not replace the original, yet it does provide a new and more vivid spin on the same story. There is still some level of originality, with slight alterations to how the plot is portrayed and develops, yet the feature evidently follows the same structure. The over-exaggerated portrayal of magic and constant placement of familiar attributes – such as the dress colours of the step sisters – stand out. Knowledge of the original does benefit when viewing the live-action version, although does not rely on it too much, as it guides its audience through the film with narration.

In essence, Cinderella is a modernised version of the 50s tale, but it wasn’t the first time this was done. Modernising and reinvigorating classics stories is something that has been explored before, even for Cinderella – just look at Hilary Duff in 2004 feature A Cinderella Story. The Cinderella story is becoming somewhat tired, as there’s not much more to explore about a beautiful, badly treated young girl ultimately finding her true love, visually or narratively.

On a different note, Maleficent can be taken into consideration as an alternative approach to the live-action remake concept. As opposed to following the classic storyline, instead this live-action feature tells an entirely different story to the 1959 original, Sleeping Beauty. In fact, the feature even opens with the line ‘let’s tell an old tale anew’.

Angelina Jolie portrays the iconic antagonist Maleficent, a fairy whose idyllic life in the forest turns sour after an encounter with the humans. Telling the story from this alternative point of view allows a whole new story to be explored, with darker undertones and a wicked approach to the classic. Princess Aurora and the story of Sleeping Beauty is introduced only after half an hour, which only further explains the motives behind Maleficent’s evil enchantment over the child. There are only glimpses of the original story, instead focussing more on the relationship between Aurora and Maleficent and what the consequences are for the land and people around them.

Maleficent (2014) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Maleficent (2014) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Met with indifferent responses, the film was somewhat overlooked when it was released, as it had to compete with other Disney productions that year, such as Big Hero 6 and superhero films Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Solider. Each of these received massive amounts of positive reviews and promotion, overshadowing the live-action fairytale.

What’s To Come

When considering what lies in the future for live-action remakes, skepticism is to be expected. The Disney tales have an already firmly established place in the hearts of people, so reintroducing them in a different form may be considered as a risk and may not be what the audiences desired. However, since the attempts so far have been successful, Disney continues to make the live-action films.

One example of an upcoming remake (although not an animated classic – mostly) that has been confirmed is the Mary Poppins sequel that’s set for a 2018 release, with Emily Blunt taking on the role of the beloved nanny. The plot is yet largely unknown, except that it takes place many years after the original. It’s been more than fifty years the classic tale of the eccentric joyful nanny graced the silver screens, with the wonderful Julie Andrews leading the way. We will have to wait and see whether it will be as successful as its predecessor.

Disney aims to appeal to the child inside of every viewer, adding a touch a magic to the films. It comes down to the audiences to then judge whether to not Disney should continue remaking their original classics. Will nostalgia prevail?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.