Everyone has a film, that special film that played a huge part in their respective childhoods. Mine was Disney’s 1991 classic, Beauty and the Beast. From the first few chords of the haunting, glass-stained window opening, to the final steps in the transformed ballroom, I was mesmerised. Family photo albums are full of pictures showing me delightedly prancing around the living room in a tiara, white gloves and a cherished golden replica ball dress. I loved that film with all my little heart, and when I heard nearly two decades later that it was being transformed into a live-action film I wasn’t entirely sure what to think. Although I was happy to think that another generation of young people would fall in love with this wonderful story again, I wondered whether the remake could build upon the original in any way. I however retained some glimmer of hope that something of the originals magic could be retained- this was perhaps a foolish line of thinking. Apart from the addition of a few soppy ballads, some minimal character backstory, and other half-baked details, the 2017 remake contributed nothing to the original. Well nothing, or nothing good at least. Grossing over $1.2 billion worldwide, Beauty and the Beast was a jewel in Disney’s eyes, but a disappointing mess in mine. Nearly two years later, I’m certain that fans of Aladdin will be experiencing the same process of disillusionment as I did.
‘I loved that film with all my little heart, and when I heard nearly two decades later that it was being transformed into a live-action film I wasn’t entirely sure what to think’
The idea of the remake has been floating around Hollywood for as long as anyone can remember, it’s a tale as old as time, but it’s become more of a hot topic of late. After all, one of the most successful films in past year, Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, was arguably the most talked about best picture Oscar contender and the third remake of a film dating back to 1937. But Disney’s monopolisation of the remake since 2015 has characterised the studio’s activity more than its production of original films. Disney has never been above profiting off of its more creatively inspired productions, as evidenced by the abundance of sequels, prequels and made-for-tv series that populated our screens in the late nineties and early noughties. The childhood gems that were Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, The Return of Jafar and Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World were, of course, substandard in comparison to their original filmic stimuli. Yes, they were kind of terrible but they never stooped to directly copying their predecessors, instead generating totally new adventures for their beloved characters.
This is not the case for Disney’s latest cinematic endeavours. Of course, the whole concept of the remake relies on a reconstitution of a previous film, but superficially at least, the newest version offers something uniquely different from the original. Striking the perfect balance between replication and innovation has proved challenging for Disney. Although Maleficent, for example, spurred on this remake trend by performing well at the box office, its success was primarily to do with the fact that Maleficent’ s two-dimensional characterisation in Sleeping Beauty was more morally outdated for modern audiences. Disney could afford to play around with the canonical narrative in its remake, as audiences have become more critical of the post-war gender politics that dictated the demonization of the film’s antiheroine and the deification of its passive heroine. We want to understand the characters onscreen, not through the simplistic prism of good and evil but through that of psychological rationality and sympathy. Disney updated Sleeping Beauty with their production of Maleficent in a manner that was less hesitant to radically innovate and realise fault with their previous incarnation of the female characters in the film.
‘Disney has stuck to the attitude of replication but attempted to avoid accusations of regurgitation by placing emphasis on completely irrelevant ornamental details and aesthetics.’
This attitude of innovation however, was not the one advocated for the remakes of the Disney renaissance films. Fearing the potential for ire from adult audiences familiar with the original films, Disney has stuck to the attitude of replication but attempted to avoid accusations of regurgitation by placing emphasis on completely irrelevant ornamental details and aesthetics. By lifting old dialogue and clumsily inserting it within the new script and duplicating scenes shot-for-shot, Disney forcefully nudges us into recognition of parallels in an attempt to stimulate nostalgia. To me, this self-conscious hybridisation of restricted new features and oddly placed old ones in their remakes can never work artistically.
Sorry Disney, although I loved Moana and enjoyed Frozen until Indina Menzel’s solo Let It Go began to follow me round like a bad smell, I simply cannot buy into your campaign of remakes. Everything about them seems manufactured, lazy and robotic- the characterisation is lacklustre, the dialogue forced and stilted, and the acting at times absolutely dismal- because you pump all of your energy into aesthetic and narrative ornamentation to cover up a lack of creativity. The costuming may be sumptuous and the cinematography astounding, but the feeling of emptiness at the centre of these films is palpable. Although you will continue to throw all the celebrity names, novelty “never before seen” details and beautiful spectacles at me I shall not be buying tickets to Aladdin, The Lion King and whatever other cherished classics you decide to ruin for future generations. That’s the gospel truth.