Over the past 10 years, Disney has come out with many live-action remakes of their classic animated movies, the of which is a reimagining of the 1992 classic, “Aladdin.” I can say with certainty that I am not excited to go see this film.
At first, the idea of remaking films seemed interesting, like they could put a new twist on the stories. However, it quickly became clear that their relaunching these classics wasn’t really motivated by a desire to improve on existing material, but instead by an urge to capitalize on nostalgia.
The first remake to come out five years ago was “Maleficent,” a reimagining of 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty.” I actually did enjoy the film, even though it wasn’t very well received, specifically because I thought it tried to do something different, and I respected that. Then came “Cinderella,” another remake that I have positive feelings toward. However, these were remakes of films that I didn’t have a particular love for to begin with. I appreciated their attempt to find a more mature story and tone, similar to that of films like 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” and the 1996 remake of “101 Dalmatians,” which both curated a very distinct style to separate themselves from the original films.
Of course, Disney decided it was much easier to simply remake the exact same movie with an extra song or two than to actually reimagine the stories they told. This strategy has worked quite well for them with such films as “The Jungle Book” and “Beauty and the Beast,” which both performed increasingly well at the box office. So far the Tim Burton-helmed “Dumbo” has been the only film to break their pattern of success, earning only $112.9 million domestically. “Aladdin,” meanwhile, has already surpassed its $183 million production budget.
This consistent level of success has shown Disney that the strategy of simply remaking their classic animated films as live-action movies, with minimal actual changes to the story, will make them a lot of money, and they show no signs of stopping anytime soon. They already have plans to remake many movies, not including the “Lion King” remake coming out in July and the sequel to “Maleficent” in October. By the end of the year, there will have been four Disney live-action remakes this year alone. Usually, only Marvel works on that tight of a release schedule. Some of the other projects rumored to be in the works are “Mulan,” “Lady and the Tramp” and “The Little Mermaid.”
I don’t have any reason to believe these films are really going to add anything to what’s already there. Sure “The Jungle Book” was kind of fun to watch in theaters, but until writing this article I had forgotten that it even existed. “Beauty and the Beast” was fairly bland; not much really changed, and what details they did change certainly weren’t any kind of improvement — the uncanny design of the realistic CGI houseware was honestly more creepy than novel. This remake made me yearn for the original animated classic, a movie that I didn’t really enjoy in the first place.
For most of these remakes, I wasn’t strongly attached to the source material. Disney’s “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” aren’t anywhere near my favorite films, but I do respect their style of animation and dedication to fun. But, “Aladdin,” one of Disney’s most unique films, brimming with jokes that still make me laugh, is a film that I really enjoy watching.
This unique feel comes mostly from the relationship between the titular Aladdin and the Genie, who was portrayed by Robin Williams in one of the late actor’s most legendary performances. Williams took control of the character of the Genie, and his signature style of nonstop punchlines contributed a lot to the film’s overall sense of humor. This isn’t to say that Will Smith can’t be funny — I’m sure he will be — but it’s so difficult to stand against the unique brand of humor that Robin Williams brought to the table.
However, it isn’t just the humor that I believe will bring down the film but the live action aspect itself. The animation in “Aladdin,” especially for the Genie and Jafar, is part of what makes the film enjoyable. A huge part of the Genie’s humor comes from the wild, bold and exaggerated animation they used to bring him to life. The effects made the character feel larger than life, like he really was an all-powerful genie, and it also really heightened the jokes, allowing for Williams’ to portray a crazy character with a whole lot of heart. No remake will ever be able to replicate that magic, not only because it’s not the same actor, but also because they lost the ability to pull off particularly wild and fun animation simply by being bound to a live-action world.
Even the villain just doesn’t seem as interesting. Jafar, like most Disney villains, really benefits from the style in which he is animated. The sharp edges and twists of his design really make him feel sleazy and evil, and those nuances be lost in the remake.
The issues with the live-action version of Genie and Jafar are just symptoms of the larger issue with all of Disney’s recent remakes: They operate on the idea that, somehow, live action makes them better. In reality, for most of these films, the animation is a huge part of what makes them great. It allows for so much more creativity and uniqueness in character design that the live-action medium just doesn’t have.
Overall I feel these films are successful because they bank on nostalgia more than anything. They know that people who love these classic movies are happy to come and pay to see them again with not much more than a facelift. Even Marvel, with the number of films they have, at least try to give every film a specific purpose or reason to exist.
Disney isn’t really doing that with these films, choosing instead to essentially copy and paste much better movies into a worse format for seemingly no reason other than profit. Maybe instead of just going the easy way, Disney could actually try to do some reinventing or just make more things that are entirely new.
Will I go see “Aladdin” in theaters? Probably not, unless someone else is paying for my ticket. However, I probably will watch it later on when it becomes available for streaming mainly out of a sense of curiosity. Perhaps that makes me part of the problem, encouraging them to continue down this lazy path. At the end of the day, I just really want to see “Frozen 2.”