In 2010, Walt Disney Studios remade their 1951 animated adaptation of Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a live-action film. The cult of Walt had dabbled in remakes before, with their first live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book coming out in 1994 and two live-action adaptations of One Hundred and One Dalmatians released in 1996 and 2000, but none of them had made anywhere close to the whopping $1.025 billion that Alice in Wonderland made.
Disney’s next live-action remake, Maleficent, riffed on their 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent made $700 million at the box office. After that, the live-action remakes of classic Disney-renaissance era animated films became more frequent, creeping into movie theatres like an infectious, CGI-heavy plague. Cinderella came next, then The Jungle Book. The most recent films (with the exception of Mulan) all made over $1 billion at the box office.
Despite doing well at the box office, Disney’s live-action remakes are all widely agreed, by both critics and audiences alike, to be pretty mediocre. They receive lukewarm reviews and are torn apart online, especially on Twitter, with tweets like “I think I’ve finally come to the realization that I can’t wait to die so I won’t have to be around for the animated remakes of the live-action remakes of Disney Animated Films” (Hernandez 2021), and “The amount of people willing to die on this hill of defending the live-action remakes makes me wish the world ended in 2012” (Gladiator 2020). Twitter user @danny8bit says, accompanied by images from four Disney remakes, that they are “forever grateful to these movies for proving, once and for all, that animation is superior to live-action” (Barnes 2020).
The downgrade from animation to live-action is what puts many people off. Disney’s excessive use of autotune and CGI in their remakes creates a soulless carbon copy of the original, with an uncanny valley spin. Alice in Wonderland is the only film that attempted originality in its design, with its relentlessly bleak post-apocalyptic Wonderland. It’s visually interesting, but substanceless. In my opinion, the original charm of 2D animation simply doesn’t translate well to live-action.
But my opinion means nothing, nor does anyone else’s. Critic and audience reception is meaningless to Disney, and it’s clear they’re going to continue churning out remakes so long as they’re making a profit, because to them, the number on Rotten Tomatoes means nothing compared to the number next to the dollar sign.
There’s a reason people keep coming back. Clearly, from the reviews, it’s not because of the quality of the films. It’s the nostalgia. The adults who grew up on their animated films and now have children of their own watch them with their kids to relive the memories and then complain to said kids about how much better the original was. The adults without kids also watch the remakes to relive the memories and then complain on the internet about how much better the original was. Either way, there’s a lot of complaining happening.
It’s clear from the criticisms of these remakes alone that the sole motivation behind people watching them is nostalgia. No one goes to watch a Disney remake expecting fine art. You watch a Disney remake expecting to see the exact same scenes from your childhood redone with three-dimensional people instead of two-dimensional people. This lust for the familiar comfort of the original films stifles any room for genuinely reimagining them. Audiences complain that the movies are exactly the same as the originals, and then complain when they’re not exactly the same as the originals.
The constant buzz around every new live-action remake, whether negative or positive, just means more money for Disney. In fact, they’re already planning on remaking Snow White, The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hercules, to name a few.
Maybe you love Disney’s remakes, maybe you hate them. Maybe you agree that they’re outstandingly mediocre. So is Disney ever going to stop making live-action remakes? The record-breaking box office numbers speak for themselves: nope.