With the new Dumbo trailer coming out in the past couple days, and Christopher Robin’s trailer showing before Incredibles 2 on the big screens, it’s safe to say its official. Disney is obsessed with remakes.
It’s easy to understand why. Nostalgia is king right now in films and tv shows, so of course Disney would follow suit. The bigger question at this point is why Disney, feel-good-film captain, praised for its stories, seems to have lowered the bar for its live-action films. Sure, some are memorable, and they are remakes of beloved tales, but why aren’t they classics?
The characters themselves. This is because Disney adds character traits and backstories to the new live-actions, but won’t do much or anything with that new information in fear of ruining the love for the original.
The film that best represents this, and is its worst offender, is of course Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast. Belle, Gaston, the Beast, and many other characters get added facts, traits, and backstories that don’t end up mattering or are never used again. And the film suffers for it.
In the case of the Beast, the live action film adds an abusive backstory to explain away his spoiled, mean behavior. According to Mrs. Potts, we find out his father emotionally abused him and manipulated him to make him cruel. And worse, they were cursed as well because they did nothing to stop him. This tear-baiting backstory is never relevant or mentioned much again. If it’s supposed to explain his behavior, tweaks to the entire story would be necessary to make this backstory important and interesting.
An easy way to fix it is by tweaking big interactions between him and Belle. For example, the scene post-saving Belle from the wolves. Beast did it because of the kinder parts of his heart, but what if afterward he was mean because it is deliberately something his father would have said was foolish? He could chastise her for going outside, tha his father never would have stood for such foolishness and stupidity. That he should have left her in the snow because all it did was make him weak. She would get upset, tell him to watch his damn temper. But then she would have counteracted his father and tell him it was brave to go save her. As Beast literally never watched anyone oppose his father’s beliefs, this would be a big deal for him, a woman defying what his father would think and praising something he did. This could be a real turning point in their relationship.
His father also could have believe girls shouldn’t read, but Beast could say his dad might not be right about everything, if someone like her reads. It could become a binding force on his end, finding someone who believes in his decisions, not his father’s even if he gets angry and mean sometimes. Even though they care for him, its already established the servants never disobeyed his father. But Belle would. Then he grows because of and for her.
Then there’s Belle. The film added that she was not just a bookworm now, but also an inventor. This trait of hers disappears the second she reaches the castle. It could be interesting for her to bond with the servants by making inventions to make their work easier. It could be another point of connection between her and Beast, as she is kind in a way he’s never been shown. He could be charmed by her altruism and intelligence. He could also win her by being understandably interested in her inventions, since he’s been trapped in a bubble for years. No one but her father has ever been interested, so it warms her heart. She could love his curiosity and interest. Instead, they went for a weak adventure connection with the weird book, now-dead mothers, one scene about books, and a bunch of small, unconnected things. Running with her inventor trait, books, and with his admiration for things new and challenging would have been enough to connect and fall in love with.
And, finally, there’s Gaston. This added tidbit I find the most frustrating. His new backstory of being an ex-war hero is the most mentioned, and yet the least utilized. It gets talked about off-hand a lot, like a side-note, but nothing really matters because of it. There’s possible implications of PTSD and losing his mind a little, but its not solid and therefore not very useful. Easily, the new live-action could have given him a job as, say, a guard, but this town is so small and peaceful that he has nothing to do and feels useless now. He could become a person hunting for purpose, and he could first see Belle as his purpose, and then later protecting the town from the Beast. He could truly just become a troubled, misunderstood villain wanting to find something more, like our title heroes. It could be an interesting twist on Gaston without losing the fact he is still doing the wrong thing. It could make the live-action story something different, but great. But it didn’t.
Though I use mainly Beauty and the Beast as my example, as I think it’s the worst case of them, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Maleficent had similar issues. Cinderella showed little of the courage she was supposedly deemed to have; Alice was supposedly curious, adventurous, and open-minded, but literally spent the first movie nay-saying; Maleficent looked interesting and decent only by character assassinating literally everyone else.
You might notice I didn’t add The Jungle Book to my list of wrongdoers. You’re right. I didn’t. That’s because The Jungle Book, in my opinion, is actually a pretty good film without these issues. It does a good job of keeping focus, not adding random characters/character traits, etc. It’s a little unnecessary adding mowgli’s dead dad being the one who burned Shere Khan, but it doesn’t detract from character at all. Shere Khan is still menacing, however a bit more cruel and ruthless in this one, which the movie follows through with the entire story. It has its problems, CGI can get weird sometimes and Christopher Walken’s song haunts my nightmares, but I think it’s a good, interesting re-interpretation of the OG Disney story. And even better, it changes the ending. Probably just because of sequel potential, but still. It’s a true, big change.
People enjoy dressing up their nostalgia in new clothes, but films like Beauty and the Beast, and many other Disney live-actions, brought nothing new to the table. They added new elements but never did anything with them, so they ultimately felt far more hollow than the original films.
Pretty similar to how Solo didn’t add much to Han’s character, really. Gotta preserve the brand, right?
The Disney live-actions can be fun, but they aren’t special. I only wish they were. Disney has a magic way with movies and I think it could really be something special to see that magic used on some old tales told anew.
Maybe Dumbo or Christopher Robin will exceed the expectation set, but we’ll just have to see if Disney will create fantastical, new tales in them or just copy-paste their old work with a new shoe or two. I hope to see some pixie-dust on the big screens.