For those of you who haven't heard, Disney's live-action Dumbo could be doing better. The latest CGI remake is still short of breaking even on its $170 million dollar budget, but it's not the only remake we'll be getting this year.
In 2019 alone, we'll be seeing Aladdin and The Lion King. This is in addition to the live-action Mulan slated for 2020, along with the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Lady and the Tramp—both with release dates TBD.
Why are we getting so many live-action films? Why does Disney keep on remaking classic movies shot-for-shot, even when the general public has expressed disinterest? Well, money of course. Always money. But in my opinion, there are better ways to go about it.
What Live Action Is Good For
We shouldn't be surprised that the primary purpose for these remakes is money. Beyond the beautiful animation that comes from a massive budget—and Disney's family-friendly face—they're a corporate entity.
Live-action remakes can also be good when you're adding onto an existing franchise. Fairytale adaptations are popular because they usually find a happy middle-ground between recognizable plot points and new elements that are unique to a story. These elements keep people engaged because they want to know what the mystery to them is.
2014's Maleficent was a great example of this.
As a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent turned the animated fairytale on its head by showing us the story from the perspective of the antagonist. This made it clear that the filmmakers weren't afraid to branch out into new material, and that's the key to making sure these things work. Another live-action that attempted to do this was 2015's Cinderella. The film stuck closer to the original than Maleficent, but still tried to deviate enough that it was giving us audiences something "new".
When you follow the original beat-for-beat, however, what good is the film for? We already know the story, and those animated movies were beautiful in their own right. If we wanted to watch the same story we'd watch the movie that we have an emotional connection to. Not the glossy remake.
Why It Keeps Getting Worse
This is the core issue of live-action remakes as they currently stand, and why we see films like Dumbo faltering: they don't feel as innovative as they should. You could chalk up this lack of creativity to a crowded market. Maybe executives see these live action remakes as a way to draw in pre-built crowds.
But when it comes to large companies like Disney, they can afford to be more creative. So why aren't they? The Beauty and the Beast remake exemplifies this question.
Originally an animated film from 1991, Beauty and the Beast's remake was hotly anticipated. Instead of adding to the plot, however, we got a montage of live-action scenes that were nearly identical to the old ones. People already knew this story, so the tension flat-lined. After two hours in a crowded theatre you mind is going to start to drift, no matter how attached you are to the original.
What Live Action Can Do Better
At the moment my personal tolerance for live-action remakes is pretty low. I have my doubts I'll be seeing the newer ones in theaters.
Does this mean the companies that are making these films will suffer financially if I or others don't see them? Of course not. They're so huge there's little that could sink them. Their reputation for visually stunning animation might take a bruising, however, and if they don't innovate others will.
Movie-making is a years-long process, so we're not holding our breath for any discernible change from these studios in the immediate future.