I have an odd relationship with Disney. I love them passionately and they are a huge part of my childhood (that I sorta stayed in even as I aged out of it), but I am acutely aware of just how soul-sucking and money-crazed the corporation is as a whole…even though the only films I really go see in theaters are released by them. It’s a weird paradox.
Disney sort of rules the world right now, and they just keep enjoying huge successes. Marvel just scored a hit with Captain America: Civil War, Pixar traumatized everyone (in a good way) with Inside Out, Lucasfilm basically earned all the money on earth with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Walt Disney Animation Studios gave us one of the most original films of the year with Zootopia. Walt Disney Pictures has also been enjoying a string of moderate successes with their live-action remakes of their classic animated films.
While the “official” list begins with Alice in Wonderland (2010), Disney began adapting their animated films into live action versions in the 90’s with The Jungle Book (1994) and 101 Dalmatians (1997), but then there was a 13 year gap between these and Alice, so they’re not often included in the official list. The craze has taken over to the point where it seems like every other day Disney has announced a new live-action remake. The Wikipedia list of Disney films has, in their TBA list, six “Untitled Disney live Action Fairy Tale Film” as well as planned live-action reboots of everything you could think of, including films like Cruella, Tink, Dumbo, Mulan, Winnie the Pooh, Pinnochio, The Sword in the Stone, Peter Pan (do we REALLY need another one?), and The Chronicles of Prydain (an adaptation of the books which inspired the 80’s animated Disney film The Black Cauldron). Clearly Disney is convinced that they’re going to ride this trend until the sun dies.
But how much life does this trend really have?
Apart from a few standouts like last year’s Cinderella (which was one of the prettiest films I’ve seen in a long time) and this year’s Jungle Book (see my review here!), the catalog of live-action fairy tales hasn’t been as overwhelmingly impressive as, say, Pixar’s catalog of films (of which I think Cars 2 and The Good Dinosaur are the only real missteps).
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland looks great, but doesn’t really grab you. The same with Sam Raimi’s Oz: the Great and Powerful which manages to completely ruin the Wicked Witch of the West’s character (you had ONE job!). Maleficent was a great Angelina Jolie vehicle, but the rest of the cast just doesn’t really stand out in any way. I adored Cinderella and Jungle Book, but two out of five isn’t a super great success rate.
But if the success of Once Upon a Time (which recently featured not only all the main characters from Frozen but Cruella De Vil, Ursula the sea witch, and even the crazed brooms from Fantasia) is any indication, Disney will continue to make these films ad infinitum because people want to see their favorite characters come to life, even if the films aren’t spectacular. No, that’s not a crushing indictment of the film industry. We saw the same thing in the 30’s when America was suffocating under the weight of the Great Depression and turned to fluffy, overblown movie musicals for escapism (seriously, check out the song “A Pretty Girl is like a Melody” from The Great Ziegfeld (1936), a biopic about the legendary impresario; it’s the most opulent, gorgeously excessive musical sequence in the history of film). We like fairy tales and there’s something about seeing these worlds and characters outside of their animated origins that makes us happy in a familiar non-threatening sort of way. And with the news raking in ratings with doom-and-gloom headlines, it’s no wonder why we turn to superhero movies and nostalgic remakes for entertainment.
In terms of how much life this trend has, I feel like once Beauty and the Beast comes out, we’ll be about done. Through the Looking Glass is set to be a minor success (though who knows, without Tim Burton at the helm, it may find its way into new and exciting territory), and films like Pete’s Dragon seem promising, but I don’t predict this trend to have a whole lot more steam. I may be wrong, though. Disney’s advertising game is pretty high right now. I felt like we’d begin to grow superhero-movie-weary after Ant-Man, but Civil War genuinely surprised me, so who knows.
In the meantime, enjoy these films for what they are.
And after you’ve enjoyed your moment of escapism, go do something nice for someone and contribute some positivity into the world. If enough of us do that, maybe we can make the world a nice enough place that we won’t need to escape from it quite so much. It’s totes doable.
I’ll see you next week!!