Reviews.org released a report spelling out two truths about The Walt Disney Company’s history with re-making their animated classics:
1. By an overwhelming margin, consumers prefer the animated originals to the remakes.
2. Regardless of fan preference, the remakes perform surprisingly well, given the general consumer indifference to the live-action content and its execution.
Consider me among the many surprised to learn that Disney’s live-action remakes have racked up a whopping $8.76 billion at the box-office (with past financial performances adjusted to 2020 dollars.)
Doing a casual survey, asking friends and family which Disney remakes they preferred the most, the recent release of Jon Favreau’s The Lion King, easily topped the list. Reviews.org actually aligns with my utterly unscientific poll, with The Lion King earning the top spot, scoring the highest box office, best reviews and greatest “consumer satisfaction.”
When pushed, few of my colleagues could even remember other Disney remakes, but some ultimately mentioned Beauty and the Beast and others managed to recall the remake of The Jungle Book (also directed by Favreau.)
Disney has been re-making its animated classics into live-action feature films since the early 2000’s, starting with Cinderella. Over a dozen titles have been remade since, some spawning sequels, such as the Glenn Close-starring 101 Dalmations and Angelina Jolie’s spin as Sleeping Beauty’s evil tormentor, Maleficent.
While many of Disney’s classics remain cherished by consumers and critics alike, few, if any, of the remakes garner the same level of audience or expert affection.
Hollywood has had an unsteady relationship with taking a second swing at known titles.
The rule of thumb used to be that if something was great, why touch it?
In other words, remakes were generally considered to be opportunities first and foremost for reinvention, when the original content either wasn’t that memorable or technology had advanced so much, a remake was a natural idea.
Some examples of successful remakes have been King Kong and Scarface.
Neither title when originally produced was beloved, but both had ample creative room for reinvention and each title continues to be remade.
Disney is unique among the legacy studios for its unabashed exploitation of classic, cherished content.
Whether it’s The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, or a multiple Tony-award winning Broadway version of The Lion King (only years after the animated, instant classic was released), Disney management sees reinvention, reimagination and reconstitution as a hallmark of its business, versus the precious way other studios maintain certain titles as being off limits (I’m talking to you Paramount
It’s as though Disney’s rivals don’t get it that the classic, original titles will always remain and can therefore always be re-experienced. Disney, better than any other entertainment giant, understands that it doesn’t diminish the original product when new content emerges from the old.
When Mulan premieres on Disney+, subscribers will have a chance to not only rent the film, but own it for their libraries. Reviews.org estimates that 6.6 million of Disney+’s 54 million subscribers must purchase the title, for it to make back its $200 million budget.
We’ll have time in the future to discuss whether Disney made the right decision premiering this film on its streaming service, versus waiting to open it in theaters, as it originally planned.
There’s obviously an inestimable value add for Disney+, the fastest growing streamer in history, to continue to add high profile content like Mulan to its menu (the way they already have with Hamilton and Black Is King), as the other new services lag far behind.
Whatever experts conclude after Mulan’s release, as an entertainment concern, Disney continues to stand for a boldness, courage, flexibility and vision that few other studios seem to possess.
Disney makes the most out of their entire company and its many assets – – including its new streaming service — and knows better than any other Hollywood studio how to not treat any element of its company, especially a single movie title, as too sacred.
Disney paid $4 billion for the entire George Lucas film library, which not only includes all of the Star Wars characters and stories, but the Indiana Jones universe as well (along with several other lesser-known Lucas-related Intellectual Properties.)
It’s breathtaking to see what Disney has already done with Star Wars since the acquisition in 2012 (five new Star Wars feature films, entirely new Star Wars-inspired additions to its theme parks), including using a TV spin-off, The Mandalorian (another Jon Favreau creation!), to launch Disney+ itself.
Looking back, that $4 billion now seems like the deal of a lifetime.
Some might think Indiana Jones should never be touched.
Believe me, I can guarantee you that the search is already on for someone new to wear Indy’s fedora hat, despite what Harrison Ford himself thinks.
After all, no title is more important to the company than the Disney brand itself.
Maybe they should have Favreau give Indiana Jones a look?