Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast and soon, The Lion King – what will be next to be churned out of Disney’s live action nostalgia machine? Apparently, Disney has decided that the old classics just don’t cut it anymore. I’m here to tell you that they are wrong.
Like sex, nostalgia sells. We probably all remember being plopped in front of one of Disney’s classics with a cup of juice to keep us and our siblings from shouting the house down so that our parents could get something done. We probably all went through a stage where Disney was ‘omg so lame’ while still secretly knowing the tone of each and every iconic phrase. We’ve probably all rewatched these films on a paralysing hangover, slurring out the words to the songs we know so well whilst simultaneously trying not to vomit. The point is that these cinematic classics have a story for each of us beyond that which they actually tell. By remaking these films, Disney capitalised on this and brought the now-adult audience back to the cinema for a dose of that slice of childhood, and they capitalised well.
But, to me, it just feels all wrong. These remakes have a strange ‘gritty reboot’ vibe that jars strangely with the magic of the originals. Where are the euphoric string crescendos of ‘A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes’ or the rousing drums of ‘Colonel Hathi’s March’? Though some of these songs did occur in a butchered fashion, it’s just not the same as before.
“But these movies are not meant to be the same!”, you say. And I hear you. They are meant to be more sophisticated versions, for an older audience than the 2-12 year old target of past flicks. I’m not denying that these remakes show some exceptional technical feats and even have compelling and complex storyline – but only when looked at in isolation. And the problem is, they can never be looked at in isolation. They will constantly be compared to the originals that we all know so well, consequently being seen as lacking their magic, humour and stunning originality.
I’m particularly nervous about the remake of The Lion King in this respect. If the trend set in the Jungle Book is followed, which seems likely given the similar tone of the setting and characters, it could be a serious, dark remake. But how can this work, when humour is such an integral part of this film. The story of The Lion King is, at its core, tragically sad, and without songs that break up the tension, it will have a very strange tone, akin to the Shakespearean tragedy that it’s based on. The power of original Disney is that it manages to perfectly mix sadness and laughter, poignancy and silliness, without jarring or confusing the watcher. The problem with these new reincarnations is that they go too much one way or the other. Cinderella was too silly, The Jungle Book was too dark. The jury is out of Beauty and the Beast so far but just the fact that it is a real human in love with a human-esque bull, rather than a cartoon, gives it a creepy side I never noticed before.
And that brings us onto another issue. In original Disney cartoons, despite many of them being full of animal characters, it is the cartoon humanisation of them that makes for such relatable and expressive characters. Although the CGI used in The Jungle Book is undeniably impressive, the animals almost look too real for them to be believable in a fairytale context. How on earth are they going to create the incredibly nuanced expressions of characters like Scar with CGI animals that look so real? Real lions don’t move like that. With live action, a certain amount of artistic license into the way animals are naturally is lost.
So all in all, should we have just left the original Disney classics the F alone? Yes. I will probably go to see Beauty and the Beast. But, like with Cinderella and The Jungle Book, I’ll probably come out of it wanting to watch the original just to cleanse my pallet. I miss the fun, I miss the music, and I miss when Disney wasn’t just regurgitating old classics to make a buck.
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