I truly thought I had witnessed the most boring movie in the world when I watched Aladdin (2019). Well, I finally gave in and subjected myself to Mulan (2020), and, I guess I've been proven wrong. With the lingering stale taste of Mulan in my mouth, and a growing terror for an upcoming Live Action Lilo & Stitch, I've decided to delve into the existing Disney Live Action Remakes and talk about why they're just so, so, so bad.
I'm not going to be reviewing each movie individually (Though I have seen all of them), but I will be talking about the Live Action Remakes as a collective whole, and the different aspects that make them hard to watch.
(For the means of this list, I'm not going to be talking about a few movies some might consider "live action remakes", because they are in my opinion either spin offs or sequels, not remakes. The Maleficent franchise and Christopher Robin aren't really "remakes" of their original films at all, but instead spin offs of the original stories that tell entirely different stories altogether, and to be honest, I have no issue with these three movies being Live Action. As for "Mary Poppins Returns", I'm really not sure why it continues to get placed in "Live Action Remake" lists, because it's NOT a remake of Mary Poppins at all, but a sequel TO Mary Poppins, which was already a Live Action film. And both Mary Poppin movies include bits of 2D animation as well, so the format really hasn't changed.)
So - Let's get into it.
1. Who Asked for This?
The first ever Disney Live Action Remake was Alice in Wonderland, in 2010. Or, well, so you'd think. The actual first Live Action Remake was 101 Dalmatians in 1996, shortly followed by a sequel in 2000. These never seem to get gathered into the large group of Disney Live Action Remakes. Why? Probably because they were a flop, a failure, forgotten by most. I'm a little surprised every time I remember these movies exist, and that's after having watched them both.
Multiple times. And I still forget about them, all the time.
We're talking about a 41% and 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively. There's just nothing to these movies, they're like lifeless shells of the original, cut open, drained of any charm, and desperately stitched back together with Glenn Close. They bombed.
Okay, no biggie, so 101 Dalmatians didn't work so well in the Live Action format. Disney tried again; a Live Action Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton! How can that be bad? Oh, it only got 51% and is as drab and colorless as a piece of cardboard? This baby needs a sequel! And not just a sequel, no, we need a whole roster of these Live Action Remakes. In fact, we should just redo ALL of our movies!
So what on Earth possessed Disney to do it again? 3 of these Live Action Remakes in, and it was not going well. Well, not exactly. Sure these movies didn't do well critically. But
critical acclaim is not the only thing Disney is looking for it's movies to do. They also want them to make money. And despite getting panned, Alice in Wonderland was still a financial, box office success. People had to see it - to see if it was good, to see if it was bad, what had changed, what was the same.
Which is why Disney just keeps on making more, whether people like them or not. Money is why it needs to work. And as was proof with Alice in Wonderland, even if people hate it, they're still going to see it. "But what if they really just want to improve their old classics?" you ask? Well, here's a picture for you:
I'm gonna just assume you're a teenage artist whose life consists of over analyzing Disney flicks, like me, so I'm gonna ask you to stretch your imagination a bit here. Your married, you have a kid, you and your family are sitting down to watch a movie. Your kid is looking through Disney+, and he stumbles upon the original The Lion King, and they say "Hey, this looks cool, we should watch this!". What do you say? Do you look at them and say, "Oh no, we couldn't possibly watch this movie. See that date sweetie? That's from 1994. It's not only old, but it's animated. In fact, it's not just animated, it's in 2d! My eyes will probably be bored to death looking at this film, what with it not looking realistic and all, so we should probably watch the live action remake instead."
NO. That's not what you'd say, that's not what anyone would say. If your kid wants to see The Lion King for the first time, there's no way you're going to introduce them to the live action version first. The original is just that; the original. The classic. The one we all have nostalgia for.
Let me put it like this: Say the 2019 Lion King was identical to the original in every single way, from the voice actors to the plot, not a single change, except it was still hyper realistic. I'm betting on my entire Lilo and Stitch merch collection (which is abnormally large) that you'd still choose the original.
Just because something is new and updated, doesn't mean it's better. And that is the same whether the plot changes or not. Newer animation technology is not inherently better, neither is more realistic animation styles. And most importantly, there are reasons that animated movies were made animated in the first place; animation fits best with the style of the film. Movies with plots like Aladdin, full of magic and songs and funny genies, aren't meant to be taken as seriously as dramatic and darkly toned films like Titanic, where tragedies occur and deaths are permanent. Which is the same reason why having an Animated Titanic film is really, really dumb. (No really, did you know there is not just one Animated Titanic film, but THREE? But I digress.)
Some films work better in the Animated format. Once they look more realistic, it's harder to sustain your suspension of disbelief, or basically your ability to believe what is happening lowers. Because sure, a carpet can fly around and emote all it wants when it's a drawing, but make a real carpet start dancing and suddenly it feels silly and weird.
We know this.
Disney also knows this.
They aren't dumb. They don't sit around thinking, "Man oh man, isn't it sad that new generations will never see our older movies? Isn't it sad that kids won't wanna watch Beauty and the Beast because it's kind of old?". Nobody thinks Beauty and the Beast looks too old. No one even thinks Snow White looks too old. If a kid wants to watch a movie, it's outdated animation isn't going to ruin it. That's not why they're making these new movies.
That leaves us with a question. If Disney knows newer animation isn't enough to lure people to these remakes, then what are they doing to keep this genre of movies alive and well? What are they doing to keep that box office success? It's not as simple as making a good movie anymore. Aspects that aren't good make people angry for the change, and aspects that are good are tossed aside as just being taken from the original. People almost always walk out mad. But what if that's the trap?
2. The Trap
If making a good movie won't work, then what's next? Making a bad movie. Or at least, doing things "badly" on purpose. A big part of me really believes that certain things happen in these remakes, things that really annoy people, specifically to annoy people. These movies get talked about most, not when they do something right, but when they do something wrong. People seem to agree that Cinderella (2015) is the best of these remakes. At the same time, people very rarely mention the new Cinderella. It was fine. Who cares? Why mention it? But when something is blatantly wrong, say Disney takes out a song or changes a plot point for no reason, there's a lot more to say. People are irritated, they share those irritations online, other people can't believe that Scar REALLY doesn't sing in the new Lion King, and now of course they have to go see it for themselves. All publicity is good publicity in this case.
Disney is practically click baiting people into watching their movie, because omg, you won't BELIEVE Jasmine's new terrible song!! It brings in views from movie reviewers, lovers of bad movies, and even Disney Fanatics, who might otherwise be avoiding the movie. Because you just have to see how they can mess up something so important.
And these movies are important. They're picking some of their biggest animated films to redo on purpose. As they continue to cherry pick their way through their renaissance era films, they specifically attack the nostalgia of the most people they can. They lure people into watching their movies with the hope that this remake will give them the same joy as the original, and at the same time, the fear that it won't.
Of course, beyond just Nostalgia, there is the lure of big name celebrities, who are becoming more and more common in these movies.. Emma Watson. Will Smith. Literally Beyonce. Names like this are thrown at these movies, to make them seem like a big deal, even when those celebrities aren't the best for the role. It's basically the same trick that Dreamworks has been pulling for years, except I'd much rather Will Smith be a really badly animated Dreamworks fish than a Robin Williams knock off. And man, does it kill me to even be comparing Disney to Dreamworks. (Though I sense more of it in my future, as I feel the tone of Raya and the Last Dragon edging closer to that of a Dreamworks movie. Afraid it still won't beat How to Train your Dragon, ey Disney?)
Okay so. Disney is bamboozling each and every one of us into seeing their pathetic Live Action Remakes, making an easy buck off of our inability to look away from the train wreck. But why is it such a train wreck? What in particular makes all of these movies so bad?
3. The Plot
The thing with these live action remakes is that, well, the plot is always going to be a lose-lose Situation. Change it? Everyone's mad at you. Leave it be? People wonder why you even made a new one. It seems a bit aggressive, but I've felt this exact way too many times watching these movies. One minute you're finding a change so irritating you grind your teeth, like Scar suddenly not wanting to be King for like, evil power and stuff, but just to woo Sarabi (blech). The next, you're watching Timon and Pumbaa sing a nearly identical "Hakuna Matata", except this time it's all gray and Pumbaa is kind of ugly, and why am I watching this again?
Its unfortunate, but at the same time, I don't see this ever changing. I think most people desire an unchanged plot for these remakes, but since they don't bring anything else to the table, it can end up making a remake feel very pointless. To me, the most successful remakes have been of movies that aren't as dearly beloved, or that already had substantial plot issues that needed to be changed.
The original Dumbo (1941) is a pretty troubled film, barely hanging onto a thread of a plot line, and extremely controversial. Also, there is just so much smoking and drinking. So much.
So what's changing it up a bit gonna do? The new Dumbo (2019) differs so much from it's source material they're barely the same thing. We have a circus elephant with really big ears tying them together, and that's pretty much it. But at least no one seemed to be too bothered by it. Now I'm not saying it's good or anything, it's barely verging on decent, but I'd still rather watch it then The Greatest Showman, because at least it's not outwardly offensive in every way possible, so I can at least attempt to forget how circuses are. Kinda. Not great. As a whole concept.
Same thing goes for the remakes of The Jungle Book (Original: 1967 Remake: 2014) and Pete's Dragon (Original: 1977 Remake: 2016). Neither of these movies originals are currently as beloved as say, Beauty and the Beast is, because the movies are older. (Though a movie like The Jungle Book still looks 100% fine, the plot of older Disney movies is often a bit lacking. This doesn't discredit my earlier point because the plot of The Lion King straight up slaps, and despite about a 30 year difference, they both still look great in terms of animation..) Plus, both movies had their own issues to fix. There is so much less to mess up here. When plot points are changed in these new versions, it is specifically to fix or avoid an issue in the past film, or to make it more entertaining where it was before lacking. People are inherently less attached to that previous plot because it's messy and not as beloved. And these movies feel like they deserve to be remade, if only just to fix these previous issues. Unlike a movie like The Lion King, which has nothing it blatantly needs to fix, these older movies have issues that, when fixed, make the movie better or at least, something you might actually be more prone to watching. You might not show your kid the 1977 Pete's Dragon, but you might show them the 2016 version. And that's a remake that deserves to exist.
When changes are made to movies that are already fine, however, it feels pointless. But just as pointless is keeping everything the same and making a whole new movie. Which is where the lose-lose Situation begins. For a while, Disney was focused on remaking it's older films, but since Beauty and the Beast, they've been attempting more beloved classics, and that's where the irritation with the audience has really started to grow.
One way to explain specific plot changes is with an overall tonal shift. This is seemingly what Mulan (2020) tried to achieve, but it only fell flat. This new Mulan doesn't pick a side, it tries to incorporate way too many ideas. It has aspects from a dark and realistic tone, trying to depict this as a film showing the life of a true war hero, no matter how unhappy. But it also has magical Phoenix and people with super strength. So yeah, what are you trying to say exactly Mulan? Is this a realistic take on the story or not? Because if not, then what is the point of changing a dragon to a phoenix? Does it just bring you joy to watch us suffer?? Oh wait..
This "dark tone" only works if you stick with it. You can't sell it as a serious film and then include magic. If you're gonna have magic, then how come no songs?
4. The Music
Music is a very important aspect of most Disney films, and of almost every film Disney has remade so far. But they've chosen to change, add, and remove songs from these remakes. This always strikes me as an odd choice, because in my opinion, these movies are all structured as musicals. You always have an "I want song", which is just the term coined for songs that describe the characters true desire, or, what they want. Think "Belle", "Part of your World, and "How Far I'll Go." The rest of the songs arrive to tell us the movies most important plot points, typically an introduction to the world the protagonist lives in, a villain's motivation, more and more. The rest of the film is structured around these musical points, which not only frame the whole film, but also tell us important things about our characters and help us come to know and feel for them.
Turning a song like "Be Prepared" into an odd chant feels like a purposeful deviation from what is wanted, a cry for attention from Disney, begging you to come watch their movie. But the absence of every song in Mulan is not just sad because everybody loves those songs, but also because it takes away actual plot points from the movie. The original was a musical, and a musical needs and uses it's music, it can't be just tossed away. More often than not, you can listen to the songs from a musical without any of the in between dialogue, and still gather a pretty good idea of what is going on, because musical songs are just that important. With the removal of Mulan's songs comes the removal of care for many characters. Mulan doesn't talk much to those around her, so if she doesn't sing to tell the audience how she feels, how will we know?
We don't see that she feels unworthy and useless through "Reflection" to see how she would view going to war in her father's place as a way to prove her worth and help her aging father. In the remake, it kind of just seems that Mulan could care less about pleasing her family and would rather go fight in a war cause she thinks she's a good fighter. Not being able to hear her song really messes with the tone of the movie, even more than it already is.
The addition of new songs always seems to be a sticky spot with people as well. New songs like "Speechless" from Aladdin or "Evermore" from Beauty and the Beast feel out of place from the other songs in the movies familiar soundtrack, and always end up feeling out of place, at least to me. New songs are always striving to give more depth to characters who could maybe use it, like Jasmine, but usually don't have much to say in reality and leave the character more shallow than they were before.
The worst part of the music though has to be how old songs can get ruined by terrible voice acting/singing. Again, as Disney chooses actors for how many people remember their name instead of how well they fit their character, we end up with moments like Emma Watson being so auto tuned she legitimately sounds like a robot, or Beyonce straight up over-singing "Can you feel the Love Tonight" beyond repair. The musical moments that were once the highlight of these films are reduced to nothing. Especially when they're paired with boring visuals to match.
5. The Look
Now I don't wanna bash on CGI, 3d animation, realistic looking characters, any of it. Its all valid and super amazing, when used for the right stuff. But for most of these remakes, well pretty much all of them, this look doesn't benefit the film. Probably because, if they wanted it to look realistic when they first made the film, they probably would have just... Made an actual live action movie. They chose not to, because animation would clearly benefit the story and help to sustain our disbelief, when women are falling in love with beasts, when lions are grieving the loss of their father, and when people are flying around on magic carpets. Put all that in a realistic setting, and suddenly it feels silly. We get upset that this realistic looking lion doesn't seem sad enough, but how can we expect it to? It's been made to look like an actual lion, which can't express complex emotions of sadness and guilt. Not like an animated lion can. The lions in The Lion King aren't meant to represent realistic lions. They're meant to represent people. And so when they start to act more like lions and less like humans, we grow less attached. The Lion aspect is merely a theme, chosen as a way to represent the idea. But the lessons and ideas aren't meant to show what it's like to be a Lion - but a human being. We need Simba to cry, not because he used to cry in the original, but because he represents how a human child would react to his father's death.
Another big problem is that, things just aren't as neat in real life as they can be in our imagination. I hate to bring up The Lion King again, but I think it's the best example for the animation issue. The original pictures Africa in all of its best photographs combined, constantly colorful, lively, and patterned. It takes liberties from reality to show us an idealized version of the locations in the film. The original "I just Can't Wait to be King" sequence is overly colorful, designed in an almost abstract manner, and full of dancing grassland animals. It's memorable.
The new version is bland and dull in comparison, not because the animation is bad, but because real life is not as amazing as this idealized version. The grasslands are gray and brown, the animals are grazing instead of dancing, and there will be no unrealistic animal towers going on here.
Not only does this kind of thing feel dull in comparison, but it comes across as a sort of insult to the original animation. As if to say that this new version is better because it's more realistic, totally ignoring the artistry going into the original, with blatantly better results. It's hard to see Disney making remakes with the excuse of "better animation" when you're actually getting more boring visuals in return. And suggesting that the original animation is old, outdated, or not good enough in any way isn't just wrong, it's sort of mean. The hard work and dedication that goes into making the purposefully unrealistic designs of animated films for the benefit of the film, versus copying from real life examples with no benefit, is seriously humongous. Forget shape language, color theory, and character design. Toss it all out! Because the only thing that matters is how close it can get to real life, apparently.
It's not just incorrect to say that the more realistic the animation, the better. It's a discredit to all the hard work that went into the original, and it's intentionally unrealistic style. It's saying it's bad, no longer needed, nothing compared to this new technology, and never good to begin with. It's an insult to 2d animation, to cartoon style animators, and to any film goer who has been fooled into seeing one of these movies in the hopes of "better animation" only to have to stare at Mrs.Potts terrifying cgi face for 2 hours and 19 minutes.
When in reality, the old style not only benefits the film more, but is infinitely more captivating and beautiful. It doesn't really come down to 2d vs 3d to me, there is just as much artistry in The Little Mermaid as there is in Tangled, no matter how different the process. What matters is that these movies use animation to their benefit, to tell us more about the Characters, the world, the movie.
I've grabbed six images. Three from the original films. Three from their remakes. I just wanna know. Which one looks "better"?
To summarize, these movies basically take all the fun parts and get rid of them, in some attempt to make the movies more realistic or more mature. But who ever watched a Disney movie to feel mature? We hold on to these movies because of how they make us feel the fun and magic of childhood. That's why these movies feel memorable, nostalgic, beloved. Not because of specific plot points and lines of dialogue. But because of how they make you feel. So you're not really that mad that Aladdin never said "Do you trust me?" You're just mad that you don't feel what you felt when he said it the first time around.
So I think I'm finally done ranting about these movies. If you want to see more from me, subscribe down below! And to view my artwork, follow me on my instagram @raineydaydoodles, and check out all my accounts at https://raineydaydoodles.carrd.co/