When growing up in the age of VCRs, I, like so many other kids around the world, was a Disney kid. I can vividly remember sitting in front of our living room’s movie cabinet, bickering with my younger sister about which musical fairytale we would put on next. In our household, those hours of movie watching always came as a reward; only when we finished our chores, schoolwork and outside activities could we explore the fantasy lands that waited for us. As soon as everything was checked off, we’d begin the oh-so-serious debate over what movie we’d watch. Although we would pretend there were other options, when it really came down to it we both consistently stood by our favorites — Atlantis: The Lost World for her and Aladdin for me.
Even after all of these years, Aladdin continues to hold a special place in my heart mainly because of how awesomely kick-ass Princess Jasmine is. She was one of the few princesses that I actively looked up to. She is fiercely unapologetic while also maintaining her feminine, princess-like air. She fell right in line with Mulan and Pocahontas, subtly fostering a distinctly feminist mindset from an early age. These movies were new and exciting, telling stories that were dramatically different from the typical princess movies that came before them.
By now, most have heard the news that Disney will be revamping its classic movies with live-action remakes. Business Insider reports that we should be expecting as many as 22 live-action remakes, with Beauty and the Beast already in theaters and Mulan not too far off with a 2018 release date. Of course there will be more princess movies, including Snow White, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. In addition, there will be some new spin-offs — one of the Prince Charmings will receive his own film, and the Genie from Aladdin is getting his own prequel as well. Disney is certainly going to have its hands full for the next couple of years. And yet, even as a former Disney fanatic, I’m finding it hard to be excited about this new development.
Disney is one of the most commonly recognized brands that dedicates itself to storytelling. As an entertainment company, it would be pretty absurd if it didn’t. Virtually every product under the Disney brand, whether it’s a movie, television show or amusement park attraction, is meant to draw an audience into a fantastical story. With such a clear knack for storytelling, it seems a little disappointing Disney would spend so much time remaking old ones.
That’s not to say Disney hasn’t been putting out original work. In the past five years, the company has brought us Frozen, Big Hero 6 and most recently Moana. These movies were huge successes, clearly indicating people’s desire for largely unheard stories. For now, it sounds like Disney will put original movies on the back burner instead focusing its attention on films it has already done before.
Wanting to revamp classic stories to bring in younger generations of audience members is understandable. Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story were smart moves, instantly making a pop culture phenomenon relevant again by continuing and adding to its story. Even the 2014 dark fantasy Maleficent was a creative spin-off, telling the story of a supporting character that hadn’t fully been explored yet. What sets these movies apart from Disney’s current trend is one crucial element: They’re giving new characters the spotlight rather than simply thrusting retired heroes into the scene again.
Disney is likely hoping to profit off nostalgia as well. People grew up with these stories, learned from them and depended on them. Seeing an alternative version of your favorite childhood character onscreen has a certain amount of excitement to it. In some ways it messes with the magic though, especially if the story is severely altered. In the upcoming movie Mulan, for example, Captain Li Shang was reportedly replaced with a brooding, more competitive character named Chen Honghui, according to a tweet from Daily Mirror social media editor, Jo-Anne Rowney. This replacement met criticism, especially since this new Chen Honghui doesn’t warm up to Mulan until after it’s revealed she’s a woman, whereas Li Shang began being friendly with Mulan when he still assumed she was a man. Switching up such a major character may actually break some of the nostalgia Disney is trying to build, replacing it instead with frustrations from the classic movie’s fans.
All that being said, the live-action remakes are still bound experience huge success. According to Forbes, Beauty and the Beast is already estimated to earn more than $400 million, and the magazine goes on to say it might even put it past the $400.7 million that Frozen brought in.
Clearly, there is a market for rebranding old movies. But we can only hope for a couple originals to pop up and remind us why we fell in love with Disney in the first place.