‘Twas 2017’s Beauty and the Beast that pretty much sealed the deal for a new, major arm of Disney film production: live-action remakes. Director Bill Condon’s film updated the 1991 animated classic in a few key ways, but mostly maintained the structure and tone of the original film—which were, of course, key to making it a hit in the first place. And a hit it was, as the movie soared to $1.2 billion worldwide.
This year’s Aladdin and The Lion King have taken fidelity a few steps further, serving as nearly beat-for-beat recreations of the original films yet still grossing over $1 billion each regardless. But sooner or later Disney’s going to run out of existing blueprints to follow, and chief Alan Horn knows it.
Speaking during a roundtable of Hollywood’s major film executives assembled by THR, Horn was asked at what point the “Disney live-action remake” train ends or if they’re going to run the idea into the ground, mining lesser films like Rescuers Down Under. The Disney Chief Creative Officer and Co-Chairman didn’t mince words, but also hinted at how they’re already looking towards ways to iterate upon the “live-action remake” idea with upcoming films:
“There is no question that we, at some point, are going to run out of the kinds of films like Aladdin or Lion King. We have taken a step past that now, so Maleficent is a step away from Sleeping Beauty, and Cruella (2021) is a step away from 101 Dalmatians. But there is no question it’s a finite universe.”
In fact, Disney has already branched out with non-traditional “remakes” like David Lowery’s underrated Pete’s Dragon update or Kenneth Branagh’s lovely Cinderella, but what Horn seems to be getting at here is that Disney will be looking to create new stories using existing characters.
Take Cruella, for instance. The film takes place in 1970s London and is ostensibly an origin story for the titular 101 Dalmatians villain with Emma Stone in the lead role, crafting a heretofore untold story that plays on the audience’s familiarity with the character. That certainly worked wonders for Maleficent, which was one of the first Disney live-action adaptations—although its sequel’s box office performance proves there’s a certain limitation on the longevity of these kinds of stories. Not all are franchise unto themselves.
Indeed Disney has a number of live-action remakes in development that could continue in this direction, like the Prince Charming movie. But there are also still key Disney favorites poised to follow in The Lion King’s footsteps as straight remakes/adaptations like Mulan, Snow White, and of course the final big 90s classic: The Little Mermaid.
Disney is also experimenting with throwing some of these films on its streaming service Disney+, like Lady and the Tramp. That remake isn’t being given the big, flashy theatrical exhibition that films like Aladdin enjoyed, and as a result feels a bit smaller or less essential, so look for additional adaptations to head straight to Disney+ as an alternate route as well.
The point being that Disney is fully aware that the 90s heyday mine is about to run out, but they’ve already been planning for the inevitable empty nest for some time now and intend to pivot to new stories using existing characters. Which I’m kind of fine with. At the very least they won’t just be making the same darn movie all over again with new technology…