We all know that the film industry (of every country, not just America) works in cycles and trends. Whatever makes money will become the new trend. And the newest trend is undoubtedly a rehash of an old trend from some time before (thus the cycles). It would seem that one of the newest trends is for Disney to launch live-action remakes or reimaginings of their older animated films, mostly of the fairy tale variety. And with their success, other big studios are following suit. So, I’ve decided to take a look back at when the trend started and follow the trail to see where it’s going.
Although Disney made The Jungle Book in 1994, it was more of a stand-alone second attempt at adapting Rudyard Kipling’s literary classic, rather than any tie-in or rehash of a previously established Disney film. So, we can’t really make an argument for that one (more on future revisits later in the article). Moving on, we arrive at 101 Dalmations, the 1996 live-action update of Disney’s 1961 animated One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and its 2000 follow-up 102 Dalmations. Both featured Glenn Close as the delightfully evil Cruella de Vil.
There’s a decade-long break after this, easily attributable to the sequel earning about half the profits of the first while working on a bigger budget. After the break, in 2010, Disney released the Tim Burton directed Alice in Wonderland, which was both a sort of reimagining of the animated film as well as a pseudo-sequel, while borrowing more elements from the Lewis Carroll books and surprisingly even more oddities from the director himself. This pseudo-sequel is getting its own sequel by way of Alice: Through the Looking Glass in 2016.
2012 also saw two revisits to the classic fairy tale of Snow White, brought to animated life in Disney’s groundbreaking 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The first of which was Mirror Mirror (Relativity Media), released in March, a family-friendly comedy-adventure film. The second was Snow White and the Huntsman (Universal Pictures), a darker teen-oriented action-drama. Both films putting more focus on the Evil Queen than the Disney version had, also endeavoring to add a slight level of depth and sympathy to the villainess. There are apparently plans to give The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth – Thor) his own prequel planned for 2016.
The next revisionist revisit appeared in the form of Disney’s Maleficent in 2014. Its premise being that story told in the 1959 Disney animated film Sleeping Beauty was false and painted Maleficent as an evil villainess through and through, whereas this is the “true story” of what really happened.
With 2015 we have the arrival of Cinderella, Disney’s next live-action remake of their classic animated film from 1950. And hot on the heels of Ella’s glass slippers comes a lengthy list of remakes coming down the pipe.
Due out in 2016, the same year as the Alice sequel, is Disney’s remake of The Jungle Book (1967) with Jon Favreau (Iron Man) directing. What I find interesting with this movie, is that up until now, none of the remakes have been musicals, yet The Jungle Book remake is set to include fan-favorite The Bare Necessities and a slew of other songs written by one of the originals scribes Richard M. Sherman. The cast includes Bill Murray as Baloo, Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, and Christopher Walken as King Louie. Set to come out the following year, is Jungle Book: Origins from Warner Bros. This film will be directed by Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and also feature Andy Serkis as Baloo, as well as Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan, Christian Bale as Bagheera, and Cate Blanchett as Kaa.
Following these releases Disney plans to release a live-action remake of 1991’s Beauty and the Beast directed by Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Chicago, Kinsey, Dreamgirls). The film is set to star Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as Beast, Luke Evans as Gaston, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Josh Gad as LeFou, and Kevin Kline as Maurice. Following in the spirit of The Jungle Book, this will also be a musical with both Beauty and the Beast songwriters Alan Menken and Tim Rice returning.
Universal Studios was also planning a reimaging of The Little Mermaid, to be directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette), but as of June the director left the project, citing “creative differences”. The Jim Henson Company has announced Pinocchio, a stop-motion darker version of the story, co-directed by Guillermo del Toro and Adam Parrish King, with music by Nick Cave. There is also speculation of a Tim Burton directed adaptation of Pinocchio from Warner Bros. Speaking of Tim Burton, Disney has also announced plans to remake their 1941 film Dumbo, with Burton directing, with a screenplay penned by Ehren Kruger (The Brothers Grimm). Last but not least, following the same revisionist focus of Maleficent, Disney intends to make a new film centered around Cruella de Vil, written by Aline Brosh McKenna, the writer of The Devil Wears Prada. No matter what your thoughts on these plans may be, you have to admit that getting the writer for The Devil Wears Prada to do a movie about an evil cutthroat fashionista is perfect.
There we have it folks, starting back in 1994, 1996, and 2000, with some possible arguments made for ancillary adaptations existing prior and since, such as a few made-for-TV attempts here and there. But things didn’t really kick themselves into high gear until 2010, and now fairytale reimaging is one of the latest repeat fads to sweep the industry. In addition to these specific remakes and retreads, there are other loosely connected works on the way. The success of the film version of Into The Woods has all but guaranteed to long-in-production film adaptation of Wicked is finally being released in 2016. Plus Disney has shows like Once Upon a Time and it’s spin-offs airing on ABC. They’ve also got a made-for-TV movie about the children of all the characters from their classic fairytale adaptations going to school together, called Descendants, set to air July 31, 2015.
Until this money train stops bringing in the dough, things show no signs of derailing any time soon. And though it may not be soon, history shows that it’ll have to derail eventually. These trends come and go, and resurface and go away again. For example, back in the heyday of black-and-white movies, Universal Studios was cranking out horror movies left and right, but eventually killed the cash-cow with oversaturation. Too many crossovers and retreads lead to the eventual death of the Universal Horror franchise. Eventually, these things lose their appeal, if only temporarily, with usually only one or two holdovers coming out on top. Dracula and Frankenstein being the properties that survived. And it’s not to say the genres ever go away, but more that every once in a while these genres experience a surge or bubble, where rather than a few entries are released over time, several come out in what seems like rapid succession. And now, Universal has announced their plans to revive their Horror Monsters franchise.
Take the zombie movie genre. There have been tons of them released over decades. An incomplete listing I pulled up during my research shows that approximately 500 Zombie movies have been released worldwide since 1932. Of those 5oo, over 250 of them were released since 2000, whether you knew it or not. Over half in 15 years versus less than have over 70 years; I’d call that definite oversaturation. And just as the horror genre had it’s Dracula/Frankenstein holdovers, The Walking Dead seems to be the clear zombie holdover for this example.
Thankfully, the numbers of fairytale movies and retreads are nowhere near as high as the aforementioned zombie-movie example. But that’s because zombie flicks are easier to make, and can be done faster and for less money, especially considering that they generally don’t have to go through the trouble of securing the rights for some pre-existing property. And that’s really the crux of the matter. The easier and less costly a movie is, the quicker a studio is to make one, especially, if it costs so little, it’s practically guaranteed to make some profit. The guarantee with zombie movies is 1) the built-in fanbase and 2) the relative inexpensive cost of production. The guarantee with these fairytale retreads is 1) a somewhat built-in fanbase and 2) name-recognition. But that only goes so far, as some fans of the name they’re recognizing aren’t always happy to hear that a new version is coming out. Plus, securing the rights to these stories and whatever lavish production costs are involved increase the risk for studios. So, essentially, as with any business bubble-burst, it’s a matter of time. How long will it take before these movies start costing more to make than they earn in box-office bullion? The first one to bomb in the box-office may pump the brakes on this ride. But these questions remain:, which one will it be? Will it put the kibosh on this trend? How soon will audiences begin to show burn-out? What will the next trend be? And how soon before this trend resurfaces?
Audiences had three retreads in the 1990s. Another five since 2010, and with probably close to a dozen more fairytale reimaginings slated for the next four years, I’d say we’re well on our way to oversaturation. Some people are thrilled about all of these adaptations. Some people are sick and tired of them. Whatever your stance on the subject is, one things for certain: this ship shows no signs of sinking just yet and the “Reimagination Oversaturation” is here to stay.