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This isn’t easy to admit, but when I was teenager, before I discovered how cruel and unforgiving life could be, I collected Disney character figurines.
They were gorgeous little porcelain totems to movies that I loved – especially Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. A Whole New World in Aladdin was the most romantic song I’d ever heard. That French chef stereotype in The Little Mermaid cracked me up.
Was 16 a little old to be collecting Disney figurines? I don’t know.
Was I the coolest kid in high school? Hard to say. Probably.
But what I do know is that, aside from some insensitivities that don’t play in 2023, those movies hold up. They’re still fun and funny and heartwarming.
The remakes, however, are the exact opposite. The insensitivities are gone, which is nice, but so is any storytelling element that might evoke a human emotion (other than fear and rage).
I love and respect the relentless pursuit of money, but how much more of this can we take?
When I say remakes, I am not really including the reboots and re-imaginings and spin-offs like Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and Cruella, movies that try to take the original stories into a new direction.
I am talking about The Little Mermaid, which comes out this week and features Halle Bailey as Ariel. As far as I can tell from the trailer, she’s got a great voice and will nail the songs. But look at Sebastian the crab. Look at Flounder the fish. Look at how they massacred my boys.
Real life crabs are not aesthetically pleasing. They look like monsters. And they appear to have stuck a pin in Flounder and sucked all the cute cuddliness out of him because he appears to be… not well.
And if you’ve made the mistake of watching the Kiss the Girl teaser, well, then you probably haven’t slept since because it is terrifying. I would take the plastic bug-eyed animatronic Flounder from 2019 TV movie The Little Mermaid Live! over these cursed sea beasts.
At first, the live-action Disney remakes seemed innocent. There were a couple of Jungle Books. A 101 Dalmatians with Glenn Close. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was pleasantly weird enough. The movies were okay. There were sequels, but we didn’t need to take them seriously.
But then they became dangerous.
Maleficent, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, a third Jungle Book, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Beauty and the Beast and Christopher Robin all came out in a span of four years. There were some fun elements in all of them, but, largely, they were hollowed out carcasses of the originals. All the joy and magic had been unceremoniously beaten out of them by cynicism and greed.
And we were right to be afraid. As in that Back to the Future photo, our very childhoods were disappearing. We were being erased.
Frightening Flounder.Credit: Disney
Then Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Lady and the Tramp came out – all in 2019, a dark, dark year of Disney cinema. It was as if they knew the pandemic was coming and wanted to get people used to the idea of being trapped, locked down in a remake cage where we’d be forced to wonder if the very notion of childhood was a lie.
Then there was Mulan, Cruella, Pinocchio and Peter Pan & Wendy, a true murderers’ row of creative bankruptcy and corruption (aside from star turns by Emma Stone and Jude Law, who are delightful). Exhausted and unable to withstand the pain, we were left to wonder if there was any magic left in the world. If all the love and laughter had been choked out of us. Would we ever feel… clean? Would we ever smile? Hug our children and assure them that everything would be okay? How could we? The remakes had come for our childhoods and they would surely come for those of our children. No one was safe.
I’m old, roughly 78 years old. But my children aren’t. And rewatching some of the original movies and their remakes confirmed my suspicions – that the remakes are a collective graveyard for joy.
In literally every case, the kids preferred the original movies. By a wide margin. I didn’t enjoy having to explain the nasty stereotypes in Peter Pan or Dumbo, but that one scene where an imprisoned Mrs Jumbo cradles her big-eared baby in her trunk, through the bars, has more emotional power than all of the live-action movies combined.
Tim Burton’s Dumbo remake is bloated and full of new characters we couldn’t possibly care about.
The Lion King looks like a depressing nature film. I did not “feel the love”. Tonight or any other night.
Peter Pan & Wendy managed to completely eliminate the point of Peter Pan as a hero.
Aladdin is a laughless parade of the damned and in retrospect, a cry for help from Will Smith.
Tonally and aesthetically, The Jungle Book opts for sheer terror, but at least it’s a choice.
Many people wondered if Tom Hanks had been forced to shoot Pinocchio while he still had COVID.
Now, I know there are a lot of very talented, very hard-working people who put these movies together and I am absolutely sure they are all doing their best. Also, it’s silly to take them too seriously. Some of them are mildly fun. And the spin-offs – Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cruella – tend to be interesting. At worst, these movies are superficial nostalgia plays.
But at their very worst, these movies represent the end of culture, of decency, of integrity, of dignity, indeed, of any universal human value you can point to. It’s over. Close the shop. Save the family photos and the passports. Everything is on fire. The cat is gone. The porcelain figurines have melted. They’re tiny stumps now, brittle, misshapen reminders of a youth and vitality that may never have existed. I can’t taste ice cream or feel the sun on my face. The birds… they’ve stopped singing.
And my question is this: why is this happening? Why?!
Tim Burton’s Dumbo, released in 2019 – a dark, dark year for Disney remakes.Credit: AP
Part of the answer might be that the live-action remakes don’t really have to try. People will see them no matter what and they will make money. A lot of money. Four of these movies – Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King – have made a billion dollars worldwide. A couple others – Maleficent, The Jungle Book – have come close.
I love and respect the relentless pursuit of money, but how much more of this can we take? Our souls cry out to be nourished by modern fairy tales, newly conceived adventures, but instead we’re stuck on a Lunch Line of Pain, with more and more remakes and reboots in the pipeline.
Here are just a few of them:
Snow White, Mufasa: The Lion King, Lilo & Stitch, Dopey Gets a Degree, Hercules, Hunchback, The Mad Hatter Goes on Antidepressants, a Cruella sequel, The Fox Eats the Hound, Gaston & LeFou, another Jungle Book, 1,385,507 Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, Rose Red, Oliver & Company?, Beauty and the Beast and the Baby, Tink, Jafar’s Juggler Journey, Prince Charming, Geppetto’s Drunk, The Black Cauldron, Robin Hood, Flounder Freed, a Prince Anders movie, Tarzan Joins the Circus, Bambi, Piglet’s Dark Childhood, The Aristocats and Moana.
Again, I understand why these movies are made. But has anyone considered what is happening to the children raised on the live-action movies instead of the originals? Will they buy porcelain figurines in high school? Will there be anyone in their lives to say, “Why do you have all these Disney figurines in your apartment? Aren’t you, like, 25?”
I fear not.
Nick Bhasin is a writer in Sydney. His debut novel I Look Forward to Hearing from You will be published by Penguin Random House Australia on June 13. Follow him on Twitter, where he has been stripped of his blue tick and his dignity, or Instagram, where he has no idea what he’s doing.
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