Tim Bustin talks all things Disney.
Maleficent was a creative risk worth taking back in 2014. The live action changes, compared to the 1959 original Sleeping Beauty, may have been ultimately flawed, but learning from that meant a less extreme adaptation, this time of Cinderella, could be born. The focus was adding what the original had lacked: actual plot and character development.
And it’s a beautiful story when properly explored over a full feature-length film – a caring girl, taken into an abusive family after her parents’ deaths, finds the love she thinks the world has to offer personified in a prince, who can take her away from the cruelness she has struggled to be so resilient too.
In 1950, that beauty was found in Disney’s groundbreaking animation, where each brilliant frame was hand drawn with the greatest care and detail; today, that beauty can be told with different nuance, focussed instead in the actual writing. It’s why in 2016 The Jungle Book was such a smart next move – out of Disney’s many classics, this one had depth to add (and modern technology to match the animation quality of old).
These films are of course obvious cash cows as well – many Disney films are a brand onto themselves, where old time fans nostalgically buy tickets for the live action remake of their favourite films, parents go for the sake of their children and new fans are bought in by the name Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast alone.
With a plethora of their own films available to adapt from across the ages, Disney’s new direction with its live-action remakes rides their recent success. The film slate dips from the ‘90’s now instead – upcoming is Mulan and The Lion King, with Aladdin rumoured – the films adults will remember from their childhoods, hence maximising ticket sales.
At the same time however, these are the films that adaptations have less they can add – 2017’s Beauty and the Beast ended up being a near shot-for-shot remake of the original, really only fixing a few plot points and having that wow-factor of seeing animation bought to life. With Disney now making less and less films each year, this pushes back the release dates of the more original films, such as Wreck It Ralph 2.
Disney does of course need money and not just for the sake of being rich. The empire is vast – films cost a tonne but then there’s the Disney Channel, the operation cost of their theme parks, merchandise to produce, employees to pay and so on. Investments into Star Wars and Marvel were hefty too, although easily paid themselves back. But Disney also had two Oscar-contending films last year – Moana and the winning Zootopia – the latter being fun and bright yet layered with subtext of racism, class politics and even police discrimination.
Disney’s resurgence of late has been three-fold – buying big brand names, remaking old classics and establishing a new renaissance. Disney is arguably both beauty and beast simultaneously – as a successful creative company would be – and its aim is to produce all forms of entertainment, from superhero flicks to films like the upcoming A Wrinkle In Time, a film based on a 1963 sci-fi novel. It’s a balance, but if they keep going on a similar path, that’s not nerve-racking – as a film-goer and as an audience of all kinds of people, that should be something hugely exciting.
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