Disney Remakes: Are They Really Better Than the Classics?

An in-depth analysis of the various Disney remakes of the classic animated movies. Considering both, are the remakes really better?

October 24, 2019


A side-by-side comparison of the classic, animated Belle and the live-action Belle played by Emma Watson.

Disney has been dominating the entertainment industry for almost a century, creating movies that are personal, touching and exciting to watch. While the classic Disney movies such as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Aladdin make up large portions of DVD collections everywhere, the remakes of the same movies are taking over box offices, selling millions of tickets to the public. Starting with the reproduction of The Jungle Book in 1994, Disney has consistently produced remakes of old animations. Some of these remakes have been fundamentally changed, and some were kept shot-for-shot.


Many Disney fans, however, do not watch these remakes. They believe that Disney is exploiting the audience’s nostalgia to lure them to box offices and gain profit; they feel that Disney has lost its unique spark. I certainly agree with these claims. Disney has officially stopped trying new and creative things as they have done in the past, and now they play it safe by using the same story plots in new movies. 


One huge box office hit in 2019 was the remake of The Lion King. The movie pictured beautiful savanna landscapes and animals in great detail. However, shortly after its release, many critics questioned why the classic was rebooted. This remake was not even a live-action movie; the animation eerily mimicked reality for the two-hour-long period. Why create another animation? According to Kendra James, a writer for The Verge, “the new Lion King will make a lot of money, and hopefully, some of that money can be used to make films that have more artistic integrity, narrative ambition and bare reason to exist.” Disney’s ultimate goal for The Lion King was not just to appeal to the audience’s nostalgia; rather, the film was another way for them to make money. They definitely succeeded, however, accumulating a revenue of $540 million in the course of several months. 


Another film that is egregious compared to its predecessor is the 2017 live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Although most of the movie seems similar, it is much longer than its original, screening for 129 minutes rather than 84. Yet, throughout the movie, it fails to capture the emotional crescendo like the classic had. Audiences have already watched and know the storyline, which is why Disney attempted to modify the scenes but failed miserably, making them incongruous with the rest of the movie. For example, the scene “Be Our Guest” contained a combination of both Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) of certain characters such as the candle Lumiére, the teapot Mrs. Potts and the clock Cogsworth as well as real-life acting such as Belle, played by Emma Watson. The combination of CGI and live-action features make the scene very blocky and disorganized. Especially because the inanimate characters were designed to be more realistic and detailed in the film, they overall become very expressionless and less impactful. 


A famous scene from the new 2019 Aladdin.

Some may argue against this claim, discussing the power of new Disney music. From the new “Beauty and the Beast” score composed by Alan Menken to the song “Speechless” from Aladdin that dominated all of social media, Disney produced numerous memorable songs that made it onto millions of playlists. In the 2019 Aladdin, Disney reproduced one of the greatest hits in history: “Speechless,” sung by Naomi Scott. Touching on ideas of feminism and princess power, the song carried a great message, and the scenery was also very empowering. 


But what about the other songs in Aladdin? Not so great. Throughout the supposedly wondrous flying carpet scene, the horrible green screen backgrounds and tiring visuals ruined the focus. On top of that, the song “Friend Like Me,” sung by Will Smith, also relayed a very hectic scene with an abundance of genies replicating everywhere. It is true that some new Disney songs from these remakes were enjoyable; however, Disney failed to revitalize the pre-existing songs, and this cost them the overall quality of the movies. 


Despite their low quality, Disney will be releasing more live-action remakes in late 2019 and throughout 2020. One of the most anticipated movies in 2020 is Mulan. Disney dropped the trailer on July 9, gathering every Disney fan’s attention. Nevertheless, this one-minute clip already shows flaws, according to various news sources. In the Mulan trailer, Disney portrayed Mulan living in round tulou houses, traditional homes of the Hakka people from southern Fujian. However, according to the original movie, she was not Fujianese and lived in northern China. Also, tulou houses were prevalent during the Ming Dynasty, a time period that was a millennium before her existence. These historical inaccuracies angered the international audience, bringing Disney’s reputation down. One Chinese Disney enthusiast sarcastically wrote on Twitter: Disney shouldn’t be so careless and just think that because tulous are beautiful, they can make Mulan live in one.”


However, I understand to a certain extent why Disney went with the safer route. Back in Disney’s early days, the company did not face much competition – it had the freedom to experiment and try new and creative things. Now, it is the complete opposite; major competitors such as Warner Brothers Company and Universal Studios restrict Disney’s capability to showcase its full potential.


But why remakes? Disney has the ability to create more animations like the 2016 Moana. Yes, the movie had a typical happy ending, but it was still a very creative approach to depicting the setting and characters. Not only that, but Disney also made a lot of money while using a $100 million smaller budget, compared to the usual $250 million for typical live-action remakes. 


Classics or remakes? Although it all comes down to which type of a movie you prefer, I believe Disney’s remakes will never have the same impact that the classics had on audiences. Most of Disney’s remakes were very uncreative, and I am certain that future ones will be the same. 


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