Succeeding in showbiz isn’t especially complex. You find what works, do that, and then continue to do it until it ceases to be financially viable, at which point you move on and then find the next thing that works. (That sixth sense, the ability to find that thing that works, is what separates high-power players from wannabes.) In recent years, the sentient supercomputers at Disney have found one of those things. High on the box-office successes of their recent non-Tomorrowland output, the Mouse House has assembled a slate for the future dominated by a specific sort of Disney film. The money, it would seem, lies in live-action remakes of extant creative properties.
Frankly, it was only a matter of time until Disney got wise to the money-making potential of its own library. It’s a win-win for the studio, which can draw on the sentimental attachment and name recognition of its most beloved films, but re-envision them to cater to the tastes of a moviegoing public hungry for large-scale CGI spectacle. No need to pay for pricy property rights, scripts that practically write themselves, concepts that appeal to child and adult demographics alike—Disney might as well be spinning filmstrips into gold. It’s a ruthlessly profitable model, and though it has already reaped diminishing returns in terms of creative quality, audiences can look forward to a whole lot more of the same. Like helpful cartoon mice scurrying out to aid in household chores, the Dissolve News Team has crawled out of our own ratholes to gather and organize all available information on this new wave of Disneysploitation flicks. Take a look, and whistle while you read:
- Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is the patient zero for this new outbreak of live-action projects, and it’s perfectly emblematic of the mini-movement’s flaws. Johnny Depp’s irritating Mad Hatter cancelled out Mia Wasikowska’s capable Alice. Hollow visual bigness made a poor substitute for style or technique behind the camera. A weak, semi-relevant story rehashed tired fantasy tropes. None of that stopped the film from raking in a billion dollars worldwide, and with that, Disney was off and running.
- Released a mere four months after Alice in Wonderland, the supremely misconceived Nicolas Cage vehicle The Sorcerer’s Apprentice isn’t really an attempt to replicate that winning formula. Regardless, it still fits the description at hand, expanding the timeless Fantasia sequence that sees Mickey play wizard with unruly brooms while his master’s away. It’s not the best or worst remake to come so far, but it is inarguably the Nicolas Cagest.
- Though not adapted from one of Disney’s own properties, Oz The Great And Powerful certainly adheres to Disney’s new favored template. Drawing on pre-established familiarity and Lord Of The Rings-lite fantasy battles, it was an uncharacteristically bland showing from Sam Raimi.
- Maleficent worked some dark showbiz magicks and conjured a $758 million gross from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, turning the focus to a villain who might not be as villainous as she seems. It was at this point that Disney’s commitment to live-action remakes began in earnest, studio heads recognizing a lucrative creative vein when they tripped over it. Angelina Jolie made for a compellingly tragic figure, and audiences flocked in droves to bear witness to her terrible majesty.
- Disney’s latest resurrection, Cinderella arrived in theaters amidst a flurry of announcements plotting like-minded pictures. Already, however, the diminishing returns are beginning to show. Our own Genevieve Koski wasn’t especially enamored of the film, giving it a two-and-a-half-star review, and our own Tasha Robinson liked it even less, delivering a sharp critique on Cinderella’s regressive politics of niceness.
To Be Released
- Sequels have already been announced for the flagship entries in this small, specialized canon. Disney unveiled plans for a Maleficent follow-up just yesterday, and Alice Through the Looking Glass has already set the very important date of May 27, 2016. No Cinderella 2: Glass Slipper Boogaloo has been announced, but with a handsome box-office return to its credit, that’s definitely not outside the realm of possibility.
- Disney has cleared a path for a Jungle Book reboot on April 15, 2016, with Jon Favreau in the director’s chair. His vision of the classic Rudyard Kipling tale barely qualifies as live-action at all; Favreau cast his Mowgli, but all of the animal characters will be created through the wonders of motion-capture and CGI, with such fine thespians as Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, and Bill Murray providing voices. There was an exciting time when Disney and Favreau’s Jungle Book was going to enter theaters around the same time as a second interpretation of Kipling’s writing from Andy Serkis, but Warner Bros. backed off and moved to 2017. Disney remains the king of the jungle.
- The Mouse House has set plans to remake animation/live-action hybrid Pete’s Dragon for a modern audience, excising the songs from the film. (Sorry, “Brazzle Dazzle Day.”) Robert Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard have both been attached to the project, and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints director David Lowery will bring his considerable talents to the project. The film’s currently slated for theatrical release on August 12, 2016.
- Disney intends on making the tale as old as time feel new again with a live-action remake of Beauty And The Beast as well. The Perks of Being A Wallflower author Stephen Chbosky will pen a script to be directed by Bill Condon (The Fifth Estate, Mr. Holmes), and Harry Potter alum Emma Watson will trudge back into franchise territory to play Belle. Dan Stevens and Luke Evans will round out the cast as the Beast and Gaston, respectively; Audra McDonald is The Wardrobe, Emma Thompson is Mrs. Potts, Kevin Kline is Belle’s dad Maurice, Josh Gad is LeFou, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is Plumette the feather duster. Hot tip for parents: In the event that you bring your discerning youngsters to this future Beauty And The Beast and they walk out disappointed, that’s a golden opportunity to introduce them to Cocteau’s version.
- Disney will return to the Hundred Acre Wood with a reboot of Winnie The Pooh featuring the stuffed bear’s human pal Christopher Robin as an adult. As screenwriter, Listen Up Philip’s Alex Ross Perry joins David Lowery on the list of indie auteurs lured into Disney’s clutches.
- A rework of Mulan is coming down the pipe as well, working from a script written by Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek. Reportedly, their treatment sticks closer to the Chinese legend of Mulan than the template of Disney’s 1998 film.
- Disney’s remake of Pinocchio will take a similar approach, drawing from the original Italian folktale in a modernized vision of the lovable/horrifying animate puppet.
- Just last month, adult-human-sized pixie Reese Witherspoon announced that she’d play a regular pixie in a Tinkerbell spinoff titled Tink. Formidable actorly powers notwithstanding, Witherspoon’s slightness and blondeness do make her an idea fit for the role.
- And just a couple of weeks ago, Disney unleashed its newest idea on an unsuspecting world: a feature-length extension of the “Night On Bald Mountain” sequence from 1940 masterpiece Fantasia. The scene shows a colossal reckoning between the forces of darkness and light, in which good inevitably triumphs over evil. This film should not be too difficult to imagine, seeing as how all of the films outlined thus far fit that profile, to various extents.
Seeing all of these remakes listed in a row like this, it’s tempting to slouch down in your seat with a case of the Creative Bankruptcy Blues. But keep in mind the powerful lesson of The LEGO Movie, that simply because a concept offers nothing fresh, that doesn’t mean the film itself has to be as tired. And if that doesn’t work out, we’ve still got Moana.