Stop me if you’ve heard this before; Disney is taking your favorite animated film and turning it into a live-action remake. So far, Disney has done it with Beauty and the Beast (2017), Lion King (2019), Pinocchio (2022), Little Mermaid (2023), and just announced this past week, Moana. And this list is only scratching the surface of the number of live-action remakes Disney has made of its animated catalog.
So, it begs the question: is Disney out of fresh ideas for new animated films? The answer to that question is sort of. Newsweek dove into Disney Animation Studios and asked experts why Disney keeps remaking its classic catalog rather than producing fresh, new films. The answer is, of course, money.
Cash Rules Everything Around Me
Why would Walt Disney Animation make a movie in the first place? It’s an artistic pleasure to make an audience happy. Sure, let’s go with that for now. How about making money? It’s the same reason everyone does anything in this world.
Since the release of Frozen II in 2019, Disney Studios has been on a dry spell. Since then, Disney has released Raya and the Last Dragon (2021), Encanto (2021), Turning Red (2022), and Strange World (2022).
Encanto was a huge hit. Primarily due to the Lin Manuel Miranda soundtrack. We don’t talk about Bruno, do we? But even that only made $256.8 million worldwide. The other three combined did not make as much as Encanto, not even close. And Turning Red may have been the biggest box office disaster since John Carter (2012), making only $20.1 million.
To put that into some perspective, the live-action Beauty and the Beast made $1.266 billion, and Lion King made $1.6 billion. I’m not a math major, but that seems pretty good.
Little Risk, Huge Reward
Large companies like Disney do not like risk. Disney CEO Bob Iger wants to get on the earning call with investors and tell them how much the Studio has made. He doesn’t want to have to explain the latest animation or Marvel or Star Wars disaster.
These animated films already have a vast audience who know all the characters and the songs. The kids who originally watched those movies in the 90s now have kids of their own and want to relive their childhood for a moment.
Jason Ruiz, an associate professor of American Studies at Notre Dame, told Newsweek:
Out of ideas? Not sure about that, but Disney has clearly fallen into a rut of remaking their animated hits into live-action movies rather than aiming for originality. Tapping into nostalgia has proven more profitable than originality at the moment.
If the audience is there, why not give them what they want?
But What About Creativity?
When Disney CEO Bob Iger was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, he talked about how he wanted to restore creativity to the Walt Disney Company. But at what point do creative freedom and fiscal responsibility collide? And that seems to be the biggest issue with Disney at the moment.
Frank Salzano, the managing partner of New York-based entertainment law firm Salzano, Ettinger, Lampert & Wilson, LLP, told Newsweek:
The studios aren’t necessarily out of ideas, they are just more risk-averse than ever. This results in Disney and others making films they feel are safer in the sense that they believe there is already a built-in audience or a brand like Marvel, etc. This results in less newly created content being made into films—for some that’s a very unfortunate reality.
So, the reality is, Disney isn’t out of ideas; they just make more money by not using any of them. But you have to give the people what they want, and the audience, through their wallets, has demanded these live-action remakes. And as long as they remain profitable, Disney will continue to spit them out.
So, Walt Disney fans, be on the lookout for the live-action remake of the animated film The Black Cauldron (1985). Followed shortly thereafter by its sequel. Enjoy.
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