Tom Jolliffe looks at Disney’s pre-occupation with reboots…
The most powerful mouse on the planet, Mickey. I’m assuming he’s the CEO at Disney, ably assisted by Goofy. Donald is head of HR. They’re the most powerful company in the world, the most recognisable brand. There’s barely a corner of the world that doesn’t know the iconic image of the house of mouse. As a movie production house too, they’ve now monopolised cinema.
As well as now spreading their wing over money churning enterprises like Marvel Studios and Pixar (and now Fox), they have their own productions under the Mouse House. Right now there seems to be a fascination from the company to carry reboot significant chunks of their back catalogue. In particular the recent fad is giving some iconic animated films a live action re-imagining. Whether it was Dumbo (perhaps given the underwhelming returns, maybe best not mention that one) Aladdin or The Lion King, and an impending Lady and The Tramp which appeared to take people by surprise upon the first image releases (they’re remaking…that?).
Now they’re sidelining into rebooting some more old favourites including Home Alone for their VOD platform Disney+. Does the world particularly need a re-imagining of Home Alone? Does it work in the mod-con world of 2019? I’d be interested if they recast Macaulay Culkin as a kind of burned out bum of a dad who accidentally abandons his kid somewhere. Go dark with it. Or as some have suggested, maybe Culkin is now a wet bandit. Oh God…I think I may have been possessed by a Disney Exec at a pitch meeting.
It’s a distinct, perhaps disappointing, lack of originality. Whilst the majority of the live-action reboots have received mostly mediocre reviews they’ve made (Dumbo aside) massive amounts of money. From Beauty and The Beast, to Aladdin and The Lion King this year. Granted, the originals were such revered works of art, that there was no hope of adequately matching them for dramatic heft and craft. The Lion King in particular, considered one of the true great animated films was always destined, at least critically, to feel second best in its live action form.
Despite a lot of furore that ends up surrounding these films too, the box office results (perhaps in part because of the contentious discussions) have been huge. ‘The lion’s don’t look right.’ ‘Will Smith looks weird blue.’ ‘The Genie doesn’t look right, not blue,’ ‘the little mermaid isn’t ginger’ etc. In the modern age of fandom, and direct communicative access via social medias to the stars and studios to voice discontent, to organised campaigns to boost or derail a film, fans have never been so vociferous and indeed, in an age of such ease, often with a sense of self-entitlement. Granted, these films live or die by our ticket purchases, but at the same time the expectation that an individual fan (or small clusters) somehow ‘own’ Star Wars, or Aladdin etc, is a bit far-fetched. It has taken some of the joy out of anticipation for franchise material. Star Wars in particular, under Disney now, just isn’t fun for the old school fan now.
Still, the pre-occupation shows no signs of easing, and won’t until the box office tumbles. Likewise, Disney’s forays into more original material or thus far untouched fiction books (for adaptation) have been underwhelming. Why? In part they just weren’t very good. A lot of the big studios, following in Disney’s wake and their branches (Marvel et al) are seeing that predominantly, the better the standard of film and more appeasable to audience tastes, the better the results. Whilst the live action remakes haven’t been great, they’ve been well made. The biggest issue which was always going to be the case, was the fact we’re just seeing a copy. Then you like at Marvel’s quality bar and it’s set fairly high. As high as you can probably consistently get to with a material aimed at digestible, excitable entertainment (over dramatic depth).
So if we say as a crude and rough example that hitting a Rotten Tomatoes Fresh is the low expectation for Disney to hit, they’re hitting it. Audience scores too, which is where the land really lies for box office, are also generally high but whilst there can sometimes be an audience/critic divide of opinion, largely the two tie-in. You won’t see too many films savaged by critics which fans loved.
If unoriginal works so well (At least now) then how long can they keep restarting and going again? Time will tell. As an audience member past 30 though, I’m beginning to lose interest in the tentpole lineups, largely because I saw all this 20 years ago. Disney’s takings afford them some gambles though, and I’d like to see them take a few more.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/