The big news coming out of Disney Studios this week is the announcement that Beyonce will be joining the cast of The Lion King, the latest adaption of a classic Disney animated feature film into a live action film. This has become a disturbing trend at the house of the mouse as they have already adapted a few classics before, and in the next few years, plan to adapt every pre Pixar animated feature to live action. Disturbing because the film's being remade are timeless classics that children continue to watch, even the ones over 70 years old. There is no reason for them to be remade aside from greed. Disney is hoping fans of the originals will pay to see the live action remakes.
The motion picture industry had been remaking movies long before there was even a Hollywood. Back when Thomas Edison's film studio release the world's first blockbuster, The Great Train Robbery in 1903, other studios rushed out their own remakes. A slight loophole in copyright laws on motion pictures allowed them to. Only the pictures themselves could be copyrighted, not the stories they told. Once copyright laws caught up with motion pictures, only the studio that made the original film could do a remake. And why would they? All they need do was rerelease the original.
The arrival of the sound films resulted in a need for remakes. Not just studios producing sound remakes of their silent films, but foreign language films which needed to be remade in English. There was a wave of remakes in the 1930's, another in the 1950's to remake black and white films in color. And another wave of remakes beginning in the 1970's so those G rated films from the past could be remade as R rated films. In each instance the reason for a remake was the belief that the original version was out of data.
Disney's animated features seemed to be the exception. Shot with sound and in full color, and always targeted at children, there was never any reason for Disney to spend the money on a remake. That all changed in 1994 with the first live action remake of The Jungle Book. It could hardly be called a remake as it had a completely different plot than the animated musical. But it's success prompted Disney's live action remake of 101 Dalmatians. Disney continued with the remakes, but chose to remake their live action 1960's comedies That Darn Cat and The Parent Trap,after which the studio stopped remaking their old classics.
That hiatus ended in 2010 when Tom Burton made a live action version of Alice In Wonderland. It's success lead to a second live action remake of The Jungle Book, and a remake of Beauty and the Beast. It was inevitable that Disney would choose to remake The Lion King next.
The original Lion King turned into a successful franchise for Disney. After the 1994 film came direct to video sequels, a Saturday morning cartoon series, and a very successful Broadway musical. With CGI now making a live version of the musical practical, Disney could not resist milking this cash cow one more time.
But the live action movies are only half the story. The Disney owned ABC network's hit series Once Upon a Time features many popular Disney owned characters, and even threw in the characters from their surprise hit Frozen one season. Fans of Once Upon A Time can tell you that the backstories of each character is much different than the Disney original, giving the series it's twist. But never the less, milking Disney's past success just as much as the live action movies.
"So what is the problem?" you may ask. It is not as if Disney is permanently replacing their animated classics with these live action remakes. But that is not the point. It is that their very existence is an insult to the originals. And how unoriginal these remakes are going to be. Same musical numbers, same dialogue, same staging, same characters wearing the same costumes, almost nothing different than the original, with the exception of it no longer being animated, and perhaps turning a character gay who was not so in the original. The worst part, for many children, the live action adaptions will be their first memories of these classic Disney stories.
Walt Disney was a visionary storyteller who was always looking for a new story to tell. He would have never remade any of his features as live action, no matter how much money those films promised to make. He put all his creative energy into getting the film right the first time around. The same creative energy that later animators put into the film's from the 80s and 90s. It seems a shame the studio is now acting like they got it wrong.