Cinderella kicked it all off in 2015, and a steady stream of live action Disney classic remakes have swiftly followed. Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast – featuring Harry Potter star Emma Watson – and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book have been relative success stories so far, both critically and at the box office, but will this last? With rumoured plans for remakes of classics such as Snow White, Fantasia and The Little Mermaid, how many of these modern interpretations of such beloved films will meet audience expectations?
So far, there has been a multitude of responses to this new round of Disney favourites. Interestingly, the most popular appears to be Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, closely followed by Favreau’s Jungle Book. Both feature a large portion of CGI and motion captured characters voiced by famous faces, which some critics have pointed out is no less animation than their originals. The 2019 release of Tim Burton’s Dumbo will provide an interesting comparison to these two, featuring once again a predominantly CGI cast, but in conjunction with Burton’s highly popular and stylised directorial spin.
The less popular of the three aforementioned works is Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett and Richard Madden (of Game of Thrones fame). But despite having such a crowd-pleasing cast, fans had serious problems with the remake. One of Cinderella‘s main issues was the lack of diversity within the role of Cinderella herself, her waist synched into impossible proportions, looking strikingly similar to her 1950’s counterpart which seems outdated in this decade. Perhaps the live-action works featuring predominantly human casts will struggle to translate across generations, with the problems and themes of the past simply not being relevant anymore. Animals, on the other hand, seem to have less of a struggle crossing decades.
One of the main concerns and scandals surrounding these remakes is the possibility of the whitewashing of lead characters in an already limited selection of roles for ethnic minorities. One of the most noticeable castings gaining attention in the media was for Mulan (expected 2020), with Chinese actress Liu Yifei landing the titular role. Similarly, the fact that Egyptian actor Mena Massoud landed the role of Aladdin for the remake expected in 2019 provides hope for the films, and for diverse leading roles in the future. Disappointingly, however, male domination of the directing role prevails, and Mulan is the only remake thus far to showcase a female director, Niki Caro.
Arguably, the most highly anticipated one of the bunch, is Favreau’s The Lion King, and from its diverse and popular cast (Beyoncé, Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor to name a few), to the overwhelmingly positive response to his Jungle Book iteration, the film’s upcoming summer 2019 release is definitely one to look out for!
Providing they are done right, these remakes could be a great step in the right direction towards diversifying Hollywood blockbusters and creating platforms for new technology to be showcased (something that will hopefully be seen in Andy Serkis’s Mowgli, the release for which was pushed back due to its proximity to Favreau’s version). While we wait, one can wish upon a star that the live-action Disney remake will bring much-loved classics to a new generation where they can be resurrected for the future.