Recipe for Bad Remakes

Disney has been trending on reboots for a while, hasn’t it? From Sleeping Beauty to Cinderella to Beauty and the Beast, they insist on translating their animated features to live-action remakes, whether we asked for them or not. Most of the time, they range from passable (101 Dalmatians, Cinderella) to absolutely terrible (Maleficent, Beauty and the Beast). What is it that makes them fail almost every time these days? What is it about the art of the remake that’s so bad? Well, I’ve got three theories, so let’s take a look.

#1: Bad remakes misunderstand the original source material

Almost none of the Disney animated movies are original stories. They take a lot of liberties here and there (*cough* Pocahontas *cough*), but the stories are almost always loosely based on a fairy tale, a folklore, or something else. And the thing to remember is, no matter how many liberties they took, the best of these animated movies stayed true to the heart of the original story—or at the very least, they reflect what we love about the original source material. The Beast in Beauty and the Beast is meaner, more unrefined, and more aggressive than his original counterpart, but the theme of seeing more than what’s there is still present in the animated movie. And as much as I believe that Cinderella is done to death, I will acknowledge that the animated classic (while not the greatest version) shows how kindness, perseverance, and faith are more rewarding than we give them credit for.

Sadly, the remakes have a habit of forgetting that they’re an adaptation of an adaptation. They’re more concerned with glorifying/”fixing” the animated movies than engaging with the source material. The live-action Beauty and the Beast is an almost shot-by-shot remake of the animated movie, down to its first teaser trailer. It looks like the story and sounds like the story, but it fails to portray the story. It fails to recognize that the characters and relationships were more captivating and magical than the song numbers and animation. Because of this, the chemistry between characters is so weak that we as audience members can’t get invested, and thus the movie is reduced to an emotionless cash grab.

On the flip side, the live-action 101 Dalmatians is more effective than we originally gave it credit for. The book was a story about cute puppies, the animated movie was about cute puppies, and the remake is about cute puppies. The adults have more prominent roles in the live-action movie, and Glenn Close as Cruella DeVil is a national treasure. But the heart of the story (the adoration for puppies) is present in every version. The remake didn’t need to give the adults an attention-grabbing drama. It didn’t need to make Cruella more unscrupulous than she already is—she wants to kill puppies, for crying out loud! It knew how to tell the story, and it knew how to do it right.

#2: Bad remakes always play it safe

This one kind of ties in to my next point, so I won’t focus on it too much. But it’s worth pointing out the myth that Hollywood has run out of ideas. For a few years, we didn’t see a lot of original stories trending. They were overshadowed by spinoffs and reboots and sequels and callbacks to the 90s. But the myth is exactly that—a myth. There are still tons of original stories that can explore what it means to be human, and thankfully we’ve been successful in the last year or so. As stressful as world events have been, they’ve reshaped the way we connect with one another through different modes of art, and the art of storytelling is more alive than ever before.

#3: Bad remakes put money over artistry

Many of us grew up with stories—both in books and in movies. They’re a break from daily life, they give us something to invest in outside our own sets of joys and problems, and they influence the way we think and feel about the things happening around us. Because of this, classics like Willy Wonka, Cinderella, and others hold special places in our hearts.

That said, it’s easy to forget that Hollywood is—first and foremost—a business. And the thing we have to remember is that even the best of those in business are most likely to make decisions that will financially benefit them the most. Sadly, most of these decisions involve taking shortcuts, undermining hard work, and overlooking passion for the work itself. Just as dancers are passionate about dancing and authors are passionate about storytelling, businessmen and women are passionate about making money. Because of this, they’ll take anything we love and exploit the living snot out of it. That’s what’s happening with these reboots, that’s why they’re terrible, and that’s why the trend of bad remakes will continue for the foreseeable future.

Despite the bleak outlook, good remakes are possible. We’ve seen it with 101 Dalmatians, the Lord of the Rings series, and Cinderella with Brandy (nice try, Lily James, but no cigar). We could see more like these in the future, but it’s not likely. What can we do in the meantime? Celebrate original stories as they come out. There’s a reason Shape of Water and Get Out won Oscars. There’s a reason Children of Blood and Bone became an instant bestseller. We still have a million stories to tell, a million experiences to share, a million perspectives to explore. So let’s get started.

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