Reimagining Disney

2015 seems to be the year of the remake in Disney’s eyes. The children’s entertainment conglomerate has announced plans to remake a number of its animated classics into live action films. The cynic in me sees this as a ploy for Disney to rake in even more money. As a fan of the original animations, I am also worried about the new adaptations and how it might affect my memories of the previous films. For me, Disney is synonymous with animated fairytales.

If done well, I will view the remake as equally good but if done badly (or not to my taste) then I would most likely be very protective over the animations. I think this problem may only affect my generation and older who have watched all the Disney classics as animations on video or the cinema (with the exclusion of the live action version of 101 Dalmations from 1996) as we have grown up with the animated tales and the gradual developments in animation style from 2D cell animation to CGI/digital animation. New audiences of young children may have less of an issue with the live action films especially if these are the first versions of the story they have seen.

I have been slow and reluctant to see any of the remakes that have already been released. Although, technically not Disney, I have shunned Snow White and The Huntsman and Mirror Mirror (I have seen about half of Mirror Mirror) which were reworkings of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. These films deviated from the traditional narrative of Snow White and completely reimagined it in a way that made the story seem alien to me.

I have seen Maleficient and Cinderella which are recent remakes of the 1950s animations Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella actually made by Disney. Although reluctant initially to see the films, I was pleasantly surprised as the films generally captured the feeling of the originals and were fairly obedient to the narrative. Maleficient was a slight deviation from the original but I enjoyed seeing the story from the “villain’s” perspective. It was almost like the musical Wicked in the way that it told a well-known tale from a different perspective. (Starkid have done a parody musical called Twisted which is similar to Wicked and tells the tale of Aladdin from Jafar’s perspective – worth a watch!). Cinderella, on the other hand, was faithful to the Disney film’s narratives. I really enjoyed Cinderella as the narrative was recognisable with lovely nods to the animation (a mouse called Gus – albeit not singing/talking!). What I loved most about Cinderella was the exquisite production and costume design – as to be expected from a director such as Kenneth Branagh. The blue ballgown was just perfect! This is an example of how a remake can enhance memories of original films.

This year alone Disney has announced that it will be producing live actions of the following films: Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Dumbo and Pinocchio. The film that appears to be already in production is Beauty and the Beast. The film has already cast many of its leads: Emma Watson as Belle; Dan Stevens as the Beast; Luke Evans as Gaston; Josh Gad as Lefou and Ian McKellan as Cogsworth. This remake is interesting as it will include the songs from the film and subsequent musical. None of the existing remakes have included the original Disney songs. I really hope that Disney do the film justice as it is literally my favourite Disney film ever!

I personally don’t understand how Dumbo will be made into a live action film. It is easier in films with slightly inhuman characters such as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast and titual character of Pinocchio to recreate them with clever makeup, costuming and prosthetics. With Dumbo, I don’t particularly understand how they will do a live action with animals without embarassing CGI and dubbing.

I think the one that may cause the most controversy is Mulan. There will be a lot of pressure on Disney to cast this film well using ethnically correct actors. It can be argued that the cast should be entirely Chinese to be truthfully representative of the characters and location of the film. However, I believe Disney may well hire actors from Asia in general or Asian American actors/actresses. This may anger some fans as it would suggest that the nationality of Asians is unimportant to Disney and that Disney has generalised China and Asians as one and the same. Whilst it would be best for Disney to hire Chinese actors, it would be better for them to have Eastern Asian actors such as those of Japanese or Korean descent than to whitewash the film with Caucasians under make up and prosthetics. There were rumours that Scarlett Johansson was to be cast in the film. This would be damaging for Disney as the live action version of Mulan is a chance to quash its record of orientalism. Examples of orientalism include the animations of Pocahontas, Aladdin and Mulan which are set in other non-Western cultures – whilst efforts are made to be representative of the countries, Disney orientalises the characters by making some of their features and traits westernised. I hope Disney do the right thing – it would be great for cultural representation to be accurate!

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