A Movie Entry – Robbing the Vault

This is basically the Disney special of the previous entry on re-whatevers.

Disney, because the studio is so old, has made nostalgia as much a part of its brand as Mickey Mouse and rewriting public domain laws to keep Mickey Mouse as part of its brand. For a long time (and currently I think) Disney only releases its classic movies once every five years or so (marketed as “opening up the vault”) and usually on either a “5” or “0” anniversary. That kind of marketing works (as I own the 40th anniversary edition of Mary Poppins). Part of that is Disney is playing with supply and demand, but also because it plays up the nostalgic value. “Do you remember this movie from when you were a kid? Do you want to own it? Well, pony up now because you only have a few months and then you have to wait another five years.” This strategy also keeps those old movies relevant because parents will want to share them with their children and thus the cycle of consumerism continues (“it’s the circle of life…”).

Now, Disney makes money. Because of the studio’s policy of generally not releasing sequels to theaters, it releases them direct to the home market. Most of them are cheap knock-offs that only serve to keep small children quiet (although I found the Lilo and Stitch sequels to be enjoyable). Those movies don’t really have any nostalgic value which is why they don’t go into the vault. Those sequels are disposable media of the most disposable kind.

However, remakes, reboots, and reintepretations cheapen that nostalgic value of the classic movies. To me, it doesn’t matter if the original movie was very good or not. The more Disney does this, the less its brand has to do with nostalgia (the “Oh, I remember this!” factor) and more to do with greed and laziness (the general Hollywood attitude of why do anything new and potentially risky when it’s easier and a safer bet to put the same old stuff out there). Yes, I know the studio is out to make money, but especially for Disney, it would behoove them not to make such obvious lazy cash grabs. I know, this isn’t exactly new (Race to Witch Mountain was a remake of an obscure ’70s movie called Escape to Witch Mountain), but with so many other studios doing the same thing, and apparently making money, Disney is just ramping up its efforts. But still, I shouldn’t have to wonder who the hell greenlit a remake of Pete’s Dragon. Is there any reason ever for Disney to re-whatever its classics? Such classics fall into two general categories:

1) Animated Fairy Tales – Fairy tales, because they are public domain, are ripe for remakes and reinterpretations. I don’t begrudge a studio for trying its hand at a new version of Cinderella, for instance (goodness knows that one has been done a LOT). There are a lot of ways to tell a story and some versions are definitely better than others. I’m all for improvement. But Disney’s new trend of remaking classic animated fairy tales as live-action movies doesn’t improve on the original.

a) The live-action Cinderella, for example, was a lazy retread of the animated movie. The only substantial difference was that the mice didn’t wear clothes and talk, but the subplot of their battle with Lucifer was still present. I found Lady Tremaine to be less interesting in the live-action than she was in the animated movie. The glass slippers were pretty cool though.

b) Sleeping Beauty was not a good movie, to say the least. It borrowed a lot of elements from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as well which made it kind of a cheap knock-off. But Maleficient was awesome, so I guess a remake/reinterpretation starring Maleficient seemed like money in the bank. Of course, the reason Maleficient is awesome is because she’s just so evil (and can turn into a giant freakin’ dragon). Making Maleficient the hero completely misses the point of her character and thus ruins the only good part of the original movie.

c) 101 Dalmatians had a very memorable villain, but the movie was really just okay. It was created in the period after Walt Disney had died and the board of directors just didn’t understand why it was a good idea to pour money into the animation department, and it shows. It was fine for a kids’ movie, but nothing special. And yet not only did it get the live-action treatment, the live-action got a sequel!

d) Despite the above movies not being very good, at least I could say the source material wasn’t exactly Oscar bait. But Disney is working on a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, and that is the only animated movie to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. In short, the original animated movie is just that freakin’ good. How in the world can a live-action remake begin to improve on that? Is Disney just going to rehash snippets of songs from the original to play upon the audience’s nostalgia (see the trailer for The Jungle Book).

2) Live-action Family Movies – this is where Escape to Witch Mountain and Pete’s Dragon are categorized. The remakes of these that I recall weren’t very good (the originals were okay) nor do I recall them going gangbusters at the box office either, so I’m not sure why Disney is continuing down this path.

a) Escape to Witch Mountain – this was based on a book, apparently, and centered on two children with psychic powers who were drawn to a place called Witch Mountain. I think the idea was to make it look as though the children had supernatural/magical powers but the twist (SPOILER) is that they’re part alien. This (and some of the plot elements of the sequel) was remade as Race to Witch Mountain, which starred the Rock and a lot more car chases.

b) The Parent Trap – based on a book, the original was made in the ’60s and starred one of Disney’s many, many disposable child stars (Hayley Mills). Identical twins separated by their divorcing parents so young they don’t remember each other randomly meet up, figure out their pasts, and switch places in a zany scheme to reunite their parents. The original was cute, but not great. So Disney remade it with another disposable child star (Lindsey Lohan) and got no better result.

Rumors are that some kind of re-whatever is in the works for Mary Poppins, which, like the title character, was practically perfect in every way so why remake this? A little Google-fu for “Disney remakes in production” is just damn depressing. I know why Disney keeps doing this; these remakes make bank. That frustrates and annoys me because from what I’ve seen of the remakes, there’s nothing about them that is any better than the original. Tim Burton just slapped his trademark weirdness to the already weird Alice in Wonderland and it made a billion (that’s with a “B“) dollars!

Nothing is sacred. Once upon a time in 1940, Disney released a film titled Fantasia. However, “movie” is not the right word to describe this film. Fantasia is an artistic experiment in eliciting emotional responses using a combination of Western classical music and matching animated imagery. Like a lot of art, it was not appreciated in its day but has since been recognized for its artistic merits. The penultimate musical piece (and finale of the film) is “Night on Bald Mountain.” The mini-story set to this piece of music is Chernabog raising the dead and forcing them to dance for him. Rumor has it that Disney is going to turn that brilliant vignette into a full-length, live-action movie.

So much for nostalgia; what Disney’s doing is cinematic cannibalism, and I can live without that. But until people stop paying to see the shambling, live-action reanimated corpses of what came before, the studio doesn’t have much incentive to cease its shameless cash-grab grave-robbing. The Disney vault has been turned into a crypt.



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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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