To Remake A Classic: Nostalgia or Money-Making?

Sam Barnes

The Disney ‘Classics’, as they’re known, are a prominent memory of nearly everyone’s childhood throughout numerous generations; Snow White was released way back in 1938 while others were released far later, such as the Lion King in 1994, and instantly became a family favourite. This has stayed the same up until this most recent decade with the releases of the highly disputed ‘Remakes’. These remakes have faced heavy controversy from the moment of release, with questions ranging from “Why are they remaking them?” to “What’s the point in them?”. These are valid questions, so, why are Disney remaking them now?

Disney likes to play it safe, pandering to nostalgia, instead of trying to create new classics for a new generation

Whilst rumours have often circulated that there was a clause within Walt Disney’s will to remake the films every ten years, this has largely proven to be false. If this rule was being followed, Beauty and the Beast (1991) would be on its fourth redo by now. Instead, there is a much simpler reasoning behind them. The remade films make Disney easy money.

The first film to kickstart the trend was Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), pulling in one billion dollars for Disney as a result of Johnny Depp’s fame coming off The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Since then, another 12 original remakes, or closely related retellings, such as Maleficent (2014), have been released with varying success. Five of these, all being direct remakes of the Classics, have made almost one billion dollars or more at the box office. This is a clear indication that these films are essentially a safety net for Disney, making sure they’re always making profit each year, in case their other ‘risky’ releases fail.

These films still hold pivotal lessons and messages for young audiences about love, respect and friendship

However, to take a less objective approach, it’s important to also look at the opportunities that the remakes offer. Firstly, its key to remember that these films are primarily still movies which are made for children and therefore it allows for them to be viewed by young generations through a renewed lens, in this case, Disney has chosen live-action and CGI which has its own ups and downs. And yet, live-action or not, these films still hold pivotal lessons and messages for young audiences about love, respect and friendship. Building from this, having the chance for creators to retell these stories enables them to expand on new ideas, not addressed in the original, often due to the period they were released. Michael Wilkinson, costume designer for the live action Aladdin (2019) said as much in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, stating that creators can “take these characters and give them literally more depth and details, really think about them as fully-fleshed people”. And as seen in the film itself, the character of Princess Jasmine, portrayed by Naomi Scott, is developed from quite a basic, one-note love interest of Aladdin, into her own personality, who struggles with her own story of freedom. It’s in this aspect where the Disney remakes can excel, by making the story their own or giving us something fresh, such as they have done with the villains of classics: Maleficent (2014) and Cruella (2021).


However, Disney’s chance to explore certain ideas, and include representation, has also been very lacklustre. These problems are largely surrounding the use and inclusion of characters who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. Despite the remakes such as Beauty and the Beast (2017) heralding the introduction of their first openly gay scene with the character LeFou, played by Josh Gad, what viewers got instead was a small scene of him dancing with another man. This moment, plus many more throughout the remakes, where a side character is part of the LGBTQ+ community but is never directly confirmed, have led many to be greatly disappointed at Disney’s ‘Token diversity’ and see it as a missed opportunity.

Modern originals brought out by Disney have little room to breathe and make their own impression on the public

The issues with the constant focus on remakes, whether good or not, is that any modern originals brought out by Disney have little room to breathe and make their own impression on the public. Both Luca (2021) and Raya and the last Dragon (2021) are clear examples of this. Both fun, action packed films with beautiful visuals, and yet both were released straight to Disney+ with very little marketing, hardly making a dent on the box-office being flanked by the mainstream Disney films such as Black Widow (2021). It’s these movies where Disney has a greater chance to include worthwhile representation, having the ability to tell new stories centred around a protagonist whose part of the LGBTQ+ or BAME communities, as we saw in Soul (2021).

They are ultimately hindering the potential that new original films have

And so, Disney has shown that whilst their remakes of classics have a chance at introducing these stories to new generations in a whole new format, and opening the way to expand on new themes, they are ultimately hindering the potential that new original films have. Disney likes to play it safe, with an easy billion in cinema, pandering to nostalgia, instead of trying to create new classics for a new generation. It’s this change that is needed to ensure that viewers might begin to see more creativity and impactful representation within Disney’s movies. But until then, we’re left with the next dozen or so remakes already announced to drop in the coming years.

Sam Barnes

Featured Image courtesy of Barb Watson via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article video courtesy of lionking via Instagram. No changes made to this video.

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