I’m worried about Disney.
I fear they are losing their creative edge.
It all began a while back when we went to see the new live-action Mary Poppins film: Mary Poppins Returns.
It was ok.
Good, but not great.
And nothing compared to the original Mary Poppins, which itself won 5 Oscars.
But the problem wasn’t that the movie was not as good as it could have been.
It was that Mary Poppins Returns was essentially a remake of the original Mary Poppins.
If you compare the flow and the songs from the original to the remake, Polygon points out just how similar it is:
- The new one has a song about making chores more fun
- The new one has a song about a strange family member
- The new one has a mid-life crisis song
- The new one has a song about children’s objects which fly in the sky (kites and balloons)
- The new one has a dance number with the black-clad London servicemen (lamp-lighters instead of chimney sweepers)
- The new one has an animated animal song (including the same penguins as the original)
And yes, while some of the visual effects are good (Ed: not great, the green screen is terrible) and one song did stick in my head, it was clearly obvious that Disney was just trying to replicate the original movie rather than try to produce something truly original.
If this was a one-off event, then it would not really be an issue.
However, there is a trend which you will notice if you look at the recent spate of films which Disney is releasing.
How Disney became hooked on remakes
While Pixar (a division of Disney) has continued to excel at consistently producing modern classics based on original stories, Disney in recent years has been releasing live-action remakes of some of their original animated films.
In the past few years, the following original Disney movies were remade as live-action versions:
- Beauty and the Beast
- Alice in Wonderland
- Jungle Book
- 101 Dalmations
- Mary Poppins Returns
- Christopher Robin (Winnie the Pooh)
- Pete’s Dragon
Not only that, the following films are already confirmed to have live-action remakes in development:
- The Lion King (CGI)
- The Little Mermaid
- Lady and the Tramp
- Sword in the Stone
- Peter Pan
There are several reasons why Disney would do it.
The first reason is that there is a nostalgia factor, where people who originally saw these films as children have now grown up, and want to share the stories with their own children.
The second reason is the more likely, and obvious one.
These remakes are making a lot of money, at a lower risk than making original films.
How profitable the Disney remakes are
By doing a quick check on industry-analysis site Box Office Mojo, we can see that the recent Disney Remakes listed above have been hugely profitable for the company.
Worldwide Revenue for Disney Remakes:
- Beauty and the Beast: $1,263m
- Alice in Wonderland: $1,020m
- Jungle Book: $966m
- Cinderella: $543m
- 101 Dalmations: $320m
- Mary Poppins Returns: $308m (still rising)
- Christopher Robin (Winnie the Pooh): $197m
- Pete’s Dragon: $143m
Also not included in the above are Disney films which are based on other famous stories, such as their Marvel Cinematic Universe (where many films and their sequels are based on successful stories from Marvel’s history) and those adapted from Fairy Tales (like Frozen).
As becomes clear from the revenue numbers above, Disney has correctly analysed that the cost of remaking already-beloved movies is likely to make them very profitable.
Is it a good or bad thing that Disney is remaking so many films?
Remakes by themselves are not a problem. You need to look at the overall portfolio of what the company is releasing to assess the creativity of their recent work.
During the past few years when the majority of these Live-Action remakes have been released, Disney has also been releasing a mix of other adapted material (Marvel films based on successful stories, but with creativity in the design and visuals), Pixar films (mainly original stories and all very creative), blockbuster Disney Animation films (Moana, Frozen, Tangled), new Star Wars films (which some people also see as remakes) and other creative Feature Films through their subsidiary studios (Bridge of Spies, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales).
Overall analysis of Hollywood revenue also shows that historically, sequels, prequels and remakes are more profitable than original stories, even though they usually have a lower critical rating than the original film they follow.
However, even the House of Mouse is not immune to underperforming films in their portfolio. In recent years, a number of their large-budget “blockbusters” based on new IP failed to meet expectations. Tomorrowland, Wrinkle in Time, the Lone Ranger, Nutcracker and the Four Realms and John Carter all underperformed, or even made losses.
It is my theory that Disney’s leadership has looked at their recent track record and determined the following:
- Live Action remakes of existing movies = $$$
- New Live Action IP = Much less certain
Based on those criteria, it is the most logical conclusion for Disney to invest more and more of their production budget into remakes than original IP, which appears to be accelerating over the past few years. It was a calculated decision based on all of the cognitive biases which work against risky new ideas.
However, if you look at that overall portfolio within the Disney company, including Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel and Disney Animation Studios, then there is still a huge amount of original and creative content being produced.
So while it makes sense from a financial standpoint for Disney to be producing so many remakes of beloved classics, as long as they are also continually producing highly original creative content, everybody is a winner.
What do you think of Disney’s plans to remake more movies? Does it go against their original creative spirit? Let me know in the comments below.