Film remakes: an opportunity to see beloved characters (and those you love to hate), come to life in different lights, for better or for worse. Given the attempt to rewrite history through the inclusion of ethnic minority characters in remakes, puts an onus on the social responsibility of filmmakers and gives a sense of agency to those who had before been marginalised. However, remakes are not the only way to do this. Unfortunately, we cannot rewrite history nor blissfully ignore what remakes are increasingly coming to represent: the do-it-better mentality, eclipsing the do-better. The future is yet to be written; the film industry is in dire need of better ideas, and so instead of laboriously correcting our mistakes through remake after remake, there needs to be original and inclusive dialogue.
As of late, Disney has been releasing a lot of live-action remakes, including the so-called live-action The Lion King, which received mixed reviews due to the limited expressions allowed by the CGI animals involved, and how it generally didn’t improve on, or add to the franchise. When Disney first started issuing live-action remakes in 1994 with The Jungle Book, – which ironically, was remade again in 2016 – they were few and far between. However, one year after Disney bought Marvel Comics Universe in 2009, they released the live-action Alice in Wonderland, and assuming their preoccupation with their new Marvel venture, their next live-action wasn’t released until 2014. For every year since then, there has been a live-action movie. Two in 2016, and so far, three in 2019, with two more scheduled this year. That’s five live-action remakes in one year, with plans already being made for Mulan and The Little Mermaid in the near future.
Companies such as Disney and Marvel are built on the back of decades of successful film-making and franchising, but there is a point when they begin to take it too far. Going to the cinema nowadays feels more like a sales pitch, with trailers promoting films such as Playmobil – a film featuring figures sold by the eponymous children’s toy company – to their audiences, and often remakes and reboots are merely extensions of that pitch. What might have been the purposeful extension of a story, or rightful addition to a film portfolio, is often now just a reiteration of the brand film producers want to sell. Films are no longer stand alone pieces of art, but part of an ever-expanding product portfolio that relies on the success of previous films, not whether or not it’s engaging, to bring the audience back for more. In addition, the manipulation of nostalgia in remakes, introduces scepticism into the mix; many viewers will watch a reboot or remake of their favourite franchise or film, despite doubts on whether it will out-do its original predecessors.
The usual commentary on this trend, is that Hollywood is out of ideas; that all that is good has already been. In the book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by the American psychologist Adam Grant, he discusses this concept, saying that “in reality, the biggest barrier to originality is not idea generation—it’s idea selection.” It’s the avoidance of original material in favour of business venture focused projects that has formed the growing trend of remakes and reboots; it’s strategic and less of a financial risk. Remakes such as Baywatch, whilst doing decently at the box-office from the views of a pre-established fanbase, didn’t fail to disappoint critics as a rehash of the original in which celebrity influence is relied upon to carry the plot.
In the end, the film and TV industry is a business; and businesses need to make money. Yet, you would think that more established production companies such as Marvel and Disney, would take more risks, but I’ve found that it’s usually independent and smaller companies that take on riskier projects. An example of this is Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, produced by independent television company Celador and adapted from the book Q & A by Vikas Swarup, which despite its relatively small budget, went on to win eight Academy Awards. The irony of this highlights a problem that, in order to restore the respect that the legacies of Disney and Marvel deserve, needs to be fixed.
That said, there are plenty of examples of films that could have quite easily remade the originals, that instead paid homage to their inspiration. La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle: it’s modern, but at the same time a celebration of musicals from the 1950s and 60s, such as Singing In the Rain and An American in Paris. At a time when remakes are king, it’s time to do-better, not do-it-better.