Disney’s Live Action Remakes – Is There Another Way?

May 28, 2023
762 words

3 min read

Ariel & Eric in The Little Mermaid (2023)
©Disney // Ariel & Eric in The Little Mermaid (2023)

Don’t get me wrong, I love nostalgia as much as the next guy. I’m a Disney fan. A lot of the appeal of the Disney parks is based on nostalgia for stuff we all loved as a kid. I’m really not massively against nostalgia-bait, and for everyone that says Disney’s live action remakes are “cash grabs” – yeah, obviously. Welcome to capitalism.

The Little Mermaid (which I’ve yet to see – this isn’t a review) is the latest in a string of live action remakes from the Mouse. The formula is simple: take a beloved animated film, recast (almost) everyone, film an almost shot for shot remake, add a few new songs here and there, remove 90% of the personality, and boom – profit. And it’s worked. Aladdin, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast all earned well over $1 Billlion worldwide. It’s the definition of easy money. And for this reason, they won’t stop.

From my own personal experience with these big, theatrical released live action remakes (the straight to Disney+ movies are another issue we’ll tackle another time), they almost always goes the same way: I groan at the announcement of the film, roll my eyes at whatever bigot-infused outrage there is with the casting, watch the trailer reluctantly, whilst bemoaning the fact that the colour has been stripped away I get the feels when I hear the musical cues, decide I’ll pay my hard earned cash to watch the film, feel pleasantly surprised at having enjoyed it, and then, just like that, I forget about it and never watch it again.

However, there’s one thing that I do tend to go back to with these films – their soundtracks. I enjoy hearing other artists’ take on the iconic songs we all know and love. We all know Robin Williams’ Genie will never be topped, but I’m sorry, I did enjoy Will Smith’s more funk infused take on Friend Like Me and Prince Ali. 1992’s Beauty and the Beast is perhaps one of the greatest films ever made, but I might even prefer Josh Gad and Luke Evans’ Gaston to the original.

Josh Gad and Luke Evans as Le Fou and Gaston in Beauty and the Beast (2017)
©Disney // Josh Gad and Luke Evans as Le Fou and Gaston in Beauty and the Beast (2017)

I’ve found myself wondering why these seem to stick with me, but the films they belong to don’t. And I think it goes back to their Broadway-style musical heritage. If you think about it, you can go and see the same show over multiple decades – largely the production will be nye on identical, but the actors change, and thus the subtle nuances they bring to the character shine through. Hell, people will explicitly go and see their favourite shows regularly because of this. There are multiple cast recordings for shows like Les Misérables on streaming services. People love hearing their favourite show tunes performed by different people.

So I posit this: why can’t we just have new versions of the animated films with new voice actors? Yes, these editions wouldn’t be anywhere close to the original cuts in terms of popularity and adoration, but neither are the live action films. They’d be a heck of a lot cheaper to make, you can still release them in theatres, and we’d all get to hear and see slightly different interpretations of our favourite characters.

It also wouldn’t give the impression that the world’s most beloved animation company thinks that animation is 1) a lesser form of filmmaking just for kids and 2) a way for them to test the waters of a story to see if they can justify making a live action version of the film (looking at you, newly announced Moana remake).

Ultimately, I know this isn’t nearly as glamorous as a shiny new live action movie and it might bring up some other ethical questions in terms of the original voice actors and the implications of having different “editions” of these classics – it hasn’t really worked out brilliantly for Star Wars over the years. I’m not paid the big bucks to fix these problems. I do however think there’s room for Disney to look at the musical world again and take some cues from it rather than just continuing the conveyor belt of relatively soulless remakes.

Or, let’s just crack on as we are and at the Disney200 celebration our grandkids will be celebrating the canon of beloved animated remakes based on the live action remakes of the original animated classics.

Seriously though, Evermore is sublime. See you after I’ve seen The Little Mermaid.

Isaac Pevy

Isaac Pevy

I'm a Disney fan with opinions, based in South-East England. You can follow me on Twitter if you want.