Photo courtesy of Enwikipedia
No matter where you are from, chances are the magical fantasy worlds of Disney movies are some of your earliest childhood memories. From princesses to lovable talking animals, these “classics” are a staple in America’s storytelling culture. They are the epitome of childhood, our first inauguration into the realm of fantasy.
But in the past decade, Disney has decided that these classic stories don’t just belong to childhood memories. Through live-action remakes such as Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015), and this year, Beauty and the Beast, they have invented complexities and twists intended to widen the audience of these old tales. Unsurprisingly, these revitalizations have been opposed by the many Disney classicists who defend the purity of the original cartoons–not everyone wants to see their cartoon heroes projected onto real live actors. But while these stories may hold incomparable value for their childhood fantasy and enchantment, remaking the movies is an opportunity for them to take on a new kind of value. Especially in light of this most recent Beauty and the Beast remake, it’s clear that these stories can take on new meaning when they reenter our lives with new intent, new messages, and a new impact. With Disney fueling a revitalization trend, it’s can be important to examine the real value of retelling these old tales.
One advantage of remakes is that they can utilize the timeless themes in these stories to make them relevant to all ages, and to the modern time. Take the new Beauty and the Beast, for example. A review article in the New York Times pointed out that it couldn’t be more timely to release a story about the origins of mob mentality, the repercussions of creating social “outsiders”, and female empowerment.
While the original movie certainly embodies these themes, it also has the responsibility of maintaining a childhood charm and innocence, while the remake is free to repurpose the tale. Through the casting of Emma Watson as Belle and detailed plot changes, it has visibly heightened the element of feminism. In the beginning of the movie, Belle is no longer just an avid reader, but also an engineer and inventor like her father. While cartoon Belle cries when the beast locks her in a tower, the new Belle plots and schemes in an angry attempt to escape. These meaningful plot changes definitely justify a remake, and are an example of the story accumulating meaning over time.
Regardless of popular opinion on live actions remakes, Disney seems intent on re-selling its oldest content, with projected live action remakes of Mulan, Dumbo, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, and even The Lion King as possibilities in upcoming years. With all of these remakes, it’s definitely questionable as to whether each movie will bring new value and meaning to its story, or whether this is simply an abuse of existing content. Surely not every fairytale will be as timely and relevant as Beauty and the Beast, so what can these movies offer besides updated animations and popular celebrities in the credits? We’ve already seen in remakes such as Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016) that there is not always a meaningful plot change involved. For Cinderella, the incorporation of live action actually ruined the tale for some viewers, since it eliminated the music aspect of the film.
For Disney, the answer may be more practical. All of its revitalization movies so far have been extremely successful in theaters. Most having budgets between $100 million and $200 million, they have all made huge profits; Alice in Wonderland (2010), the first Disney remake, sold over $1 billion worldwide. The Jungle Book made over $950 million, Maleficent $750 million, and Beauty and the Beast is projected to cross $1 billion shortly. Clearly, the number of eager nostalgic viewers outweighs the angry classicist population when it comes to support in the theaters.
Of course, these numbers don’t speak entirely for how people felt about the remakes after watching them. But the fact that they generate so much excitement and support shows just how much these stories matter to our society and culture. As Disney continues to capitalize on our memories of childhood enchantment, it will be interesting to see just how many of these “tales as old as time” are really timeless.
By Leah Roffman