Over the past few years, Disney has enjoyed a lot of success with live-action remakes/re-imaginings of its animated classics. From Cinderella to The Jungle Book to Beauty and the Beast, Disney is bringing its beloved and classic tales to the big screen with all the pomp and circumstance of modern blockbusters.
There are criticisms to be levied at these films, from the nostalgia play to the unwillingness to stray too far from the originals, but by and large, the remakes are critical and commercial successes. Because of that success, these remakes are becoming a big component of Disney’s box office strategy too, alongside Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel. That will be especially true in 2019 when Disney has a whopping three live-action remakes of its animated classics heading to theater screens: Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King as well as Lady and the Tramp, which is bound for the new Disney+ streaming service.
It’s an exciting prospect for Disney fans, but the amount of Disney live-action remakes in 2019 and the many that have been rumored or reported to be in some stage of development has raised an interesting inevitability; that at some point, Disney will run out of animated classics to remake. And at the current rate of adaptation, that time may come sooner rather than later. Basically, Disney only has so many movies that would be obvious candidates for live-action adaptation.
So when Disney has exhausted its supply of animated classics to remake, it will have to do something to fill that void and keep that gravy train rolling. I think there are a few possibilities at what that something could be…
Remake The Less Acclaimed/Popular Films
Walt Disney Animation Studios proper has made 57 films, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937 to Ralph Breaks the Internet this year. But not all of those titles are classics or have the nostalgia factor like the films of the Disney Renaissance in the 90s. So if Disney is to continue adapting its animated films to live-action, it could opt for the more challenging path of remaking those that are less popular, well known and acclaimed. Home on the Range live-action, anyone… anyone?
Most of the remakes Disney has done or has in the works up to this point have been films that are bona fide classics, but Disney has plenty of other titles that aren’t viewed on that level but still have their fans and strong name recognition. Films like Hercules, Robin Hood and The Rescuers come to mind. And CinemaBlend’s Adam Holmes has argued that the underrated Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire are both deserving to be made for live-action.
If Disney chooses to tap films that are considered to be near the bottom of the oeuvre (The Fox and the Hound is a classic, I won’t hear otherwise), there is an opportunity to do what most of the live-action remakes haven’t: something different. By taking movies that don’t have the same devotion or acclaim, Disney can capitalize on its catalog while creating something new and better that future generations can look back upon fondly.
The Black Cauldron is considered to be one of Disney’s worst films, but a few years ago Disney locked up the rights to The Chronicles of Prydain, the series of novels upon which that film was based. We haven’t heard much since then but maybe that’s a sign Disney is willing to look to past failures for the possibility of future success.
Franchise The Classics
Of all the moves Disney could make once it has tapped its well of animated classics dry, this one seems the most likely. Instead of, or perhaps in addition to, adapting less beloved films, Disney can take the successful live-action remakes it has already done and sequel-ize them, thus creating individual franchises of Disney classics.
This strategy has already been put into action to a degree. Disney’s 2014 reimagining of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is getting a sequel film in 2020. Likewise Disney’s 2016 film The Jungle Book, which grossed a near $1 billion worldwide, is getting a sequel as well. Disney clearly sees an opportunity with its most popular and successful live-action remakes to continue to profit from those brands.
It’s an understandable strategy, too. Not only are the first film’s hits but the sequels will have the benefit of compounded name recognition and brand awareness thanks to the original animated movies upon which they are based as well as the first live-action remakes. The interesting thing about going the sequel route is that going beyond the narrative of the original film basically forces Disney to do something different with the story; the Mouse can’t just do a shot-for-shot remake of a film that doesn’t exist. New stories would be born from familiar ones.
Adapt Other Properties
Another strategy that Disney could employ once it has remade all the animated classics that it deems worthy is to turn to the Mouse’s many other properties to see what might make for a good live-action film. Disney is a many-tentacled leviathan and it has plenty of properties under its belt that don’t fall under the Walt Disney Animation Studios film banner.
For example, one thing we have seen and are seeing is Disney turn to its beloved theme parks for inspiration. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has delivered billions for the company and that’s why it is getting a reboot. Disney’s next ride adaptation, Jungle Cruise, is done filming and will arrive in 2020, and Disney still has plenty more rides it could adapt into films and then make sequels out of should it so choose.
Disney fans didn’t just grow up watching Disney stories on the big screen, the Mouse’s small screen offerings also played a role in many a childhood and Disney has an untapped reservoir of nostalgia goodness there just waiting for the live-action treatment. Cartoons like Recess, Darkwing Duck, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers could all be brought back in a big way. And it always amazes me that Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears has never been revisited.
Jordan Peele apparently was interested in making a Gargoyles movie based on the 1994-1996 animated series. So… why isn’t that happening? Admittedly some of these properties would be better served with a computer-generated or (gasp!) hand-drawn animated film than live-action, but the point stands that Disney has a wealth of properties beyond its most famous animated movies that it can adapt for the big screen.