STEBNITZ: 5 notable Disney live action remakes

%22Mulan%22+was+released+Sept.+4%2C+exclusively+on+Disney%2B+for+%2430.+Photo+via+flickr

"Mulan" was released Sept. 4, exclusively on Disney+ for $30. Photo via flickr

Disney released another shameless live action remake Friday from one of its beloved classics: Mulan. Since 2010, Disney has produced 11 such films, most of them with mixed reviews. Just four of the eleven have received a certified fresh tag from Rotten Tomatoes. So why would Disney continue to release movies that don’t honor the originals and aren’t adored by fans? Money, plain and simple. Disney’s worldwide gross for these 11 movies totals 8.7 billion dollars, good for an average of 790 million dollars per remake.

It looks like these remakes are not going away, unless we choose to stop watching. But that is an article for another day. In the meantime, I have watched the 5 most notable remake movies, including the newly released Mulan. Aspects such as special effects, how they compare to the original, as well as how much fun I had watching them will be considered. In my review, these thoughts are all my own, and feel free to disagree.

Mulan (2020)

“Mulan” is able to succeed at something every remake before it could not: delivering a fresh take on the source material. It scraps characters like Mushu and Shang in favor of a new commander and Xi Lang, a treacherous witch. It also gets rid of all of the songs from the original, electing to go for a more serious product. So serious it almost does not feel like a Disney movie.

This ambition all pays off really well, except for in some areas like the introduction of Qi, the force of Mulan’s culture which is never really explained well. Qi gives Mulan the power to fight better, be more focused and somehow kick arrows out of the sky and in the direction of an enemy. I feel like they should have just left this element out or attempted to develop it more.

The main antagonist, Bori Khan, is also very bland. Bori Khan is a good fighter who likes to conquer land, and his motivation is that his father was killed by the emperor. That’s about as basic as villains come. Despite the flaws of having undeveloped subjects, I would recommend watching “Mulan.” It was extremely entertaining and deserved a remake, but not because the first one was getting old. In fact, the original is the youngest original on this list. “Mulan” deserved a remake because Disney had to show more respect to the source material of this Chinese folk tale. I believe they achieved just that.

The Lion King (2019)

“The Lion King” is the only live-action film to not include any on-screen actors. Disney went all in on showing off their cutting-edge special effects, boasting a budget north of a quarter billion dollars, and this movie earns a place on the list with its dazzling visuals.

The landscape in the film can easily be mistaken for footage from National Geographic. There are no flaws, right down to the detailed hair on a lion mane, and the reflection of the environment off of water. This is truly a crowning achievement for Disney.

However, “The Lion King” does nothing to build off the original. It seems as though a fifth grader who knows how to copy and paste could’ve written the script. The lines from some scenes are exactly identical to the original. Also, because the animals are so realistic, they struggle to convey any emotion. Even Beyonce’s character struggles to come to life.

Despite its flaws, “The Lion King” still raked in $1.6 billion, and placed 7th on the all time highest grossing films list. So while the reception wasn’t ideal, it gave Disney the justification to green light even more of these movies. “The Lion King”  fails to live up to the original, and can’t give much of an explanation for existing other than being a blatant cash grab.

Aladdin (2019)

“Aladdin” did not stir up very many strong feelings from audiences. The reason could be that audiences were numb to the three remakes released that year, or that it essentially acted as the opening act for “The Lion King” that summer.

The main sticking point for audiences was Will Smith’s portrayal of the Genie. Purists bashed him for daring to try to walk in the shoes of Robin Williams. Casual viewers were mostly satisfied. I am in the camp of the latter.

Will Smith benefited greatly from the movie being live action because it made the Genie more relatable, depicting him as a real human with practical ambitions. To me, he is the main draw for this movie.

One aspect that Disney improves upon from the original is the arc of Jasmine. She is more empowered in this movie, which is most illustrated by her song, “Speechless.” In it, she puts her kingdom’s misogynistic culture on blast, and begins to take a stand for herself. It is by far the most impactful song in the movie. “Aladdin” works better than other more animal-centric movies such as “The Lion King” because the humans in it can still convey emotion very well. While it certainly did not need a remake, I still had a good time watching this.

The Jungle Book (2016)

Simply put, this movie is the gold standard for live action remakes. “The Jungle Book” is the rare exception on this list that is both universally loved and successful in the box office. What makes the movie work is that it has reasonable grounds to be done again.

The original Jungle Book was released in 1967, and certainly looks outdated by today’s standards. Once a giant in its own right, “The Jungle Book” was beginning to become an afterthought as Disney released more animated movies like “Frozen” and “Moana.” However, this movie boasts impressive visuals on par with “The Lion King,” and does an excellent job of world building.

The biggest improvement to me in this movie is the darker portrayal of the villains. Shere Khan, the human-hating tiger, and Kaa, a seductive boa constrictor, come off as real threats as opposed to their bumbling nature in the original.

The extended run time allows Disney the opportunity to flesh out characters and even add new songs. “The Jungle Book” should serve as the blueprint for Disney remakes going forward. They should bring life to aging classics, instead of using recent movies as a way to make money.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

A strong, independent young woman falls in love with an ugly and rude creature, who also happens to kidnap her at first. Ah, a tale as old as time. Brushing aside the slight Stockholm Syndrome vibes the movie gives off, I thought “Beauty and the Beast” was a delight to watch. I was never a huge fan of the original, and Belle usually plays second fiddle to Cinderella as far as Disney princesses go. So, watching this movie was a lot of fun for me because there wasn’t much to tarnish in my eyes.

The soundtrack is great, headlined by the classic song “Be our Guest.” I was happy with the visuals of the castle and the musical numbers. It is worth noting that the film also features Disney’s first openly gay character, Lefou. This choice was met with controversy as fans had hoped this distinction would be placed on a character with a larger role. I would say that “Beauty and the Beast” fits in with “Aladdin” in the category of being “meh.” There wasn’t really a need for either of them, but they are still a good time to watch. Then again, any movie with a budget pushing 200 million dollars should achieve that at a bare minimum. I would call it worth watching for a casual Disney fan, although hardcore fans may not agree.

This story was written by Mason Stebnitz. He can be reached at mason.stebnitz@marquette.edu.