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Modern Fairytales or Realistic Reimaginings? Examining Disney’s Remake Run


The all-powerful House of Mouse known as Disney is at it again.

In recent weeks, the entertainment giant has been dominating the movie world with its remake of The Lion King, as the film has become the company’s fourth this year alone to hit the $1 billion mark at the global box office.

It is an incredible achievement and, with the impressive ‘realistic’ computer-generated visuals and star power of the likes of Beyonce, Donald Glover and Seth Rogen powering it forward, it will truly be fascinating to see how much the remake of the 1994 animated classic ultimately goes on to make.

A trailer to the 2019 take on The Lion King

Disney is not resting on its laurels with all of this success though, as it has recently confirmed that The Little Mermaid would be its next classic animation in line for the remake treatment. Halle Bailey has been cast as the next Ariel and all eyes are now on how the rest of the casting for the film will pan out. With so many of the company’s best-known creations being reimagined for modern audiences, it will be interesting to see how this particular fairytale is brought to life.

Classic storytelling

Of course, ever since Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as its first-ever feature film back in 1937, the company has become synonymous with classic storytelling – and fairytales at that. After all, their versions of tales ranging from Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella to Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin are now regarded by many as quintessential takes on those stories.

With all of the films, characters and songs being so iconic and movie-making technology evolving in a major way, the company has undoubtedly seen an opportunity to breathe new life into the stories while also tapping into the love for the classics that many people have.

Furthermore, fairytales, in particular, remain an intrinsic part of our popular culture. They have been riffed on to spectacular effect in the series of Shrek films, while so many characters from the stories were also brought to life in the ABC series Once Upon a Time. It is also a core part of gaming, whether in titles such as Disney Princess: Enchanted Journey or in online slot machines like Once Upon a Dime Jackpot. Available on sites such as Wink Slots, the latter title features a host of links and references to the world of fairytales.

However, while Disney’s classic films and fairytales, in general, remain hugely popular, what is ultimately driving the studio’s run of remakes? Are they trying to recapture the magic of fairytale storytelling or are they simply trying to update the stories to give them a more realistic feel?

A kind of magic?

There are certainly plenty of suggestions that they have been reaching for recapturing the feel and emotion of classic storytelling. Perhaps Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 take on Cinderella starring the likes of Lily James, Cate Blanchett and Richard Madden is the best example of that, with critics noting that the charm of the film was its very traditional take on the classic tale.

Elsewhere, CGI and special effects have certainly given Disney the opportunity to create some dazzling set-pieces and reinvigorate well-known moments from its animated classics. The 2017 take on Beauty and the Beast starring Dan Stevens and Emma Watson featured some impressive set-pieces perfect for watching on the big screen, with the story’s iconic ballroom dance certainly being given a new lease of life.

The ballroom scene from the recent Beauty and Beast remake

Furthermore, while it may not be a fairytale in the strictest sense, surely only the coldest of hearts would not have been melted by the rush of orchestration and the sight of Mary Poppins appearing at the end of a kite in the 2018 sequel starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Embracing reality

However, while those moments might be evidence of reaching for classic cinematic storytelling, it is fair to say that some of the remakes have seemingly attempted to update the originals and bring a more modern sensibility with an element of realism.

The ‘realistic’ animation employed in Jon Favreau’s versions of The Lion King and The Jungle Book is a fairly literal sign that they are attempting to do that, while the same could be argued – to an extent – about Tim Burton’s 2019 take on Dumbo. The flying elephant is brought to life impressively using CGI, while the story itself features more human characters and has been expanded on from the hour-long original.

Changes and updates to stories have been seen in some of the other remakes too, with an emphasis seemingly on improving the female characters. For example, Beyonce’s version of Nala gets much more to do than the character did in the original take on The Lion King. Furthermore, in Guy Ritchie’s version of Aladdin, Princess Jasmine becomes a much stronger character and even comes complete with a new song of defiance called Speechless. Not only that – spoiler alert – she ends up being chosen to be the ruler of Agrabah at the film’s conclusion.

Naomi Scott sings Speechless in the recent version of Aladdin

A new sensibility

So, are Disney attempting to bring classic fairytale storytelling back in style or are they simply wanting to bring a more modern – more real – vibe to their stories? Only the company truly knows its aims are, but it generally seems like a bit of both.

The process of remaking films has given them an opportunity to tap into the enduring love that people across the world have for fairytales and heartwarming classic stories, while also perhaps bringing a new sensibility and expanding on elements of the originals.When all that is considered, it will be truly fascinating to see whether The Little Mermaid can – pardon the pun – sink or swim when it is released in the next few years.


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