As Disney continues to give its animated classics the “Live-Action” treatment, I can’t help but feel like the new stuff doesn’t compare at all to the award-winning stage productions that came before it.
Since its first production, Beauty and the Beast, opened, Disney on Broadway has been a staple of the Great White Way for decades and have–in my opinion–truly done its animated inspiration justice compared to its theatrical counterparts.
Up to this point, there have been three–going on four–Disney animated classics that have been adapted for Broadway and a live-action remake: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and, coming soon, The Little Mermaid.
I can name several reasons why I think Disney’s Broadway Shows are so much better than the live-action remakes. But in order to keep this article short, here are the three biggest reasons why Disney’s Live-Action remakes will never live up to the quality of their broadway variants.
1. Disney Broadway ADDs to the Story. Disney Live-Action Subtracts from It.
Full-length broadway shows are longer than the average animated feature film, and that allows Disney the opportunity to expand on the story they brought to the screen. That means that they actually need to create new scenes and often transform classic scenes into musical numbers.
Bound to the same cinematic restraints as its animated predecessors, Disney’s Live-Action remakes can’t add to the story, and they often subtract from it for lower-quality options.
Here are some examples:
- Disney’s Broadway version of The Lion King extended scenes with new songs like “The Morning Report,” “Chow Down,” and “Endless Night.” It also added fresh scenes and songs like “The Lioness Hunt” and “Shadowland.”
- Disney’s Live-Action Remake not only skips over all of the new songs but also has the audacity to cut “Be Prepared,” one of Disney’s greatest villain songs ever!
- Disney’s Broadway version gave fans new songs like “Me,” “Human Again,” “Home,” and “If I Can’t Love Her.”
- Disney’s Live-Action Remake throws all of that away, puts the story through the intersectionality filter, and then decides to drop lackluster replacements like “Days in the Sun,” “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” and “Evermore.”
- Disney’s Broadway version added songs like “Behind These Palace Walls,” which Jasmine sings as she decides to escape the palace; “A Million Miles Away,” which is the first song Aladdin and Jasmine sing in the show; and “High Adventure” Aladdin’s new buddies sing as they try to rescue him from the palace. They even brought back Howard Ashman’s song, “Proud of Your Boy.”
- Disney’s Live-Action Remake gives us the much weaker Jasmine song, “Speechless,” woke washes “Prince Ali,” and “Arabian Nights,” and then there was the 90s relapse that was “Friend Like Me,” but we’ll talk about the songs later.
2. Disney Broadway Focuses on Story. Disney Live-Action Focuses on Casting.
When it comes to a Disney Broadway show, story quality is the priority. How can we build upon an almost perfect story to make it even better? They ask this because they know that it is the Disney name and the movie title that will get butts in the seats to see the show. They have to give us a visually stunning spectacle.
Disney’s Live-Action Remakes put the story second. If anything, I argue story gets in the way of what they want to create because they prioritize casting. Through live-action, Disney seeks to satisfy the moviegoers’ fantasies of seeing their favorite actors or actresses play their favorite roles. Let’s go back to our examples:
The Lion King
- Broadway Lion King gives us all the songs I mentioned and more with award-winning costumes, stage effects, and beautiful Swahili.
- Disney’s “Live-Action” remake waters down the script, cuts one of the best songs, and instead focuses on giving millennials Childish Gambino as Simba and Beyonce as Nala.
Beauty and the Beast
- Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast turned “Be Our Guest” into a showstopper, gave Gaston more songs, and even opened with a Beast costume that was considered too scary for kids.
- Disney’s Live-Action Beauty and the Beast gave us Hermoine playing Belle with a British accent. (Although I will admit, Ewan McGregor was great as Lumiere and definitely did “Be Our Guest” justice.)
- Broadway’s Aladdin was completely focused on the story. It essentially confirms the theory that it was the little salesman at the beginning of the movie was Genie, it was filled with self-deprecating humor at the fact they could not include Abu, and they went back to scrapped plans for the movie like giving Aladdin three buddies Babkak, Omar, and Kassim, and including Aladdin’s mama’s-boy pull with “Proud of Your Boy.” Genie, even since in the finale, “It’s the plot that you knew/ with a small twist or two/ but the changes we made were slight.”
- Disney’s Live-Action Aladdin woke washes and water downs the story to make way for a real middle eastern guy to play Aladdin and blow most of the budget on giving millennials a Fresh Genie of Bel-Air. Unlike its theatrical cousin, this movie took itself way too seriously.
3. Disney Broadway Songs are Just Better.
The reason why Disney’s Renaissance was so amazing was because the late great Howard Ashman brought everything he learned from Broadway and transposed it for the silver screen.
Bringing these ideas back to the source of inspiration leads to even more songs of this quality coming about. Broadway songs are far deeper and more emotional than any piece of Hollywood can produce, and the stage shows you a real-life Belle or Mufasa, or Aladdin singing their heart out in a way that cannot be faked, dubbed in, or redone in another take. On top of that, these songs are sung by people properly trained to sing and act. Broadway is overall a higher level of performing art.
Hollywood, on the other hand, is far more shallow and surface-level compared to Broadway. The focus is on the cinematic visuals, songs are pop-oriented, and half the time, studios are trying to get actors to stay on key or teach singers how to act, resulting in a lackluster performance whose true value is sourced from novelty and nostalgia.
What makes the situation worse is that there were opportunities for Disney to strike gold in its cinematic remakes. Go listen to “Shadowland,” and tell me that Beyonce would not destroy it. Go listen to “If I Can’t Love Her” and tell me you honestly still prefer “Evermore.”
Now, as we await the release of The Little Mermaid, I only hope that Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn’t make the same mistake.