Classic Disney Director Reveals How He Really Feels about All These Disney Remakes

There is no end in sight for Disney remakes.

We’re not breaking any news here, but the entertainment industry is absolutely cyclical. Just take Disney, for example. The studio created the first full-length animated feature in 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. And since that pioneering moment, Disney animation has experienced its fair share of ups and downs.

The Disney Renaissance reinvented what Disney animation is capable of in the 1990s, and the current era is following suit nicely. But what really sets Disney apart right now is its devotion remaking its classic animated films. Not only is Disney dusting off these stories; they’re remaking them into big-budget, live-action — or, ahem, photorealistic — tentpoles.

Directors John Musker and Ron Clements
Directors John Musker and Ron Clements | Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Disney has been raiding its own vault

When 101 Dalmatians passed $100 million domestically in 1996, Disney took the win and green-lit a less successful 2000 sequel. But they didn’t decide to revamp their entire back catalog. That all changed in the last few years. Alice in Wonderland‘s billion-dollar box office in 2010 gave Disney the confidence to make Maleficent in 2014.

And ever since, the studio has been cranking out live-action remakes of its animated films left and right. Since 2015, audiences have seen Disney remakes of Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Plus, the studio made a live-action Winnie the Pooh film in Christopher Robin as well as Alice and Maleficent sequels.

The problem with revisiting classic Disney animation

As 2019’s The Lion King and Aladdin proved, audiences are still very much open to Disney remakes. But John Musker — one of the filmmakers behind animated classics such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Moana — iss more conflicted about these new films.

As he told The Hollywood Reporter, Musker supports the new technology filmmakers use to tell stories in animation. However, Disney’s focus on using these tools to retell old stories is less appealing.

I am bemused by the live-action remakes, although the more successful ones to me are the ones ironically that reinterpret the source to a greater degree, like Maleficent. … The shot-for-shot fealty to the hand-drawn Lion King, as well as the inexpressive animation in his film, left me uninvolved. … Fairy tales particularly by their nature don’t seem to accommodate or demand the extension and/or repetition of their self-contained narrative arcs. But Frozen 2 just made more than $1 billion, so what the heck do I know?

Musker makes a lot of good points. In fact, the biggest criticism regarding Jon Favreau’s “photorealistic” remake of The Lion King is how slavish it is to the 1994 version. Whereas that film and others simply reenact classic Disney tales, others — such as The Jungle Book, also directed by Favreau — largely reinvent and deepen the original stories.

Lots more Disney remakes are on the way

As Musker mentions, Disney remakes and sequels are big business. So the studio isn’t planning to stop anytime soon. In 2020, the live-action Mulan hits theaters, followed by the Emma Stone-led Cruella101 Dalmatians with a Maleficent-style twist — in 2021. Both films seem like they’re at least presenting a fresh perspective on their respective stories. So perhaps Musker may get his wish.

We’d love to see Disney develop more original projects. But that approach isn’t at the forefront of the studio’s strategy these days. If Disney remakes do stick around, hopefully the House of Mouse can find more exciting ways of updating these tales for a modern audience. Maybe — just maybe — Disney can slow down the remake machine for a while too. It deserves a break.