Live Action Remakes: The Art of Missing the Point


Amy Jayasuriya ’26
Staff Writer

From the re-emergence of popular intellectual property such as Barbie to the numerous podcasts created by classic sitcom actors and former child stars attempting to relive their glory days, it’s clear we live in a time obsessed with the past. And nowhere is this more prevalent than in the recent renaissance of live action remakes. 

The recent obsession with live action remakes has generally been accredited to Disney, which has been repopulating local movie theaters with remakes of their classic animated movies. Ranging from Lady and the Tramp to their iconic Best Picture nominated classic Beauty and the Beast, the company has released 28 remakes and greenlit countless others. The initial response to these movies was favorable, with legions of Disney adults, as well as many members of the general public, excited at the prospect of reliving their favorite childhood classics. Early remakes, such as 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and 2019’s Aladdin, performed favorably and grossed over one billion dollars in total. 

However, in recent years, there has been a sense of live action fatigue, with Disney’s movies significantly falling flat in the box office. The best example of this is the 2023 remake of The Little Mermaid, which was projected to make over a billion dollars after its release but barely cracked 500 million. With an extremely high budget of 250 million dollars, the movie yielded middling results. This turn in profit mirrors the critical response to these movies which critiqued the nostalgia bait and the simplification of the beautifully complex stories that made their original counterparts so beloved. 

While Disney is a larger culprit in this shift to live action, it is not the only Hollywood studio that relies on this tactic. The recent release of the Netflix live action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender as well as the early production of How to Train Your Dragon are just two other examples of this epidemic plaguing Hollywood. These projects beg the question: why are studios so obsessed with the live action remake? 

The obvious answer to this which is question would be the desire for profit, what ultimately drives the existence of movie studios to this day. The live action remake of the 1994 classic The Lion King clearly exemplifies the greed of Disney executives. The decision to call this movie a live action remake is confusing, as it replaces the animated lions from the original with photoreal CGI characters — CGI being more attractive for movie executives partly because visual effects workers are not unionized like other entertainment professions. The movie relies on its ability to distract the audience, making them marvel at its photorealistic characters and fabricated VR set. However, what Disney advertises as impressive technical feats is nothing more than a shot-by-shot remake of the original movie with little changes made to the script or plot. The genuine emotion on Simba’s face as he watches his father die is replaced with the blank stare of a CGI lion in the live action version, sacrificing the emotional richness of the scene with a visual one. Every excuse that Disney uses to justify the existence of these movies — their hyperrealism, for example — is nothing more than a distracting incentive for audiences to continue forking over money.

Live action remakes are a  distraction that extends not only to how a movie is shot and produced but also to how the characters are written and who portrays them. The recent adaptation of The Little Mermaid was met with an intense amount of scrutiny due to the film’s casting of Halle Bailey, a Black actress, as Ariel. While the attacks against Bailey due to her casting were abhorrent and obviously rooted in racism, it’s interesting to dissect how the actress herself was often forced to bear the brunt of the backlash alone and was given little help from Disney, who rarely made an effort to defend her against online trolls. Wanting all of the glory of diverse casting but none of the criticism, the company often scapegoats the young BIPOC actors and actresses they hire in their films to face the horrific backlash alone. The ongoing backlash to Rachel Zegler’s casting as Snow White in the upcoming film is another example. The company rarely takes the time to write original stories centered around women of color and their multifaceted experiences; instead, it only allows for diversity when it benefits them. 

These issues are prevalent in how female characters are written in live action remakes as well. In the 2020 live action Mulan remake, Mulan changes from the strong-willed, charismatic character in her animated form to a stoic, dull iteration of the character in the live action. While the animated movie highlights that Mulan might not have the brute strength of her male counterparts, she is exceptionally resourceful and demonstrates how other types of strength and ingenuity are equally important but overlooked in society. The movie finds its emotional heart in Mulan’s consistent perseverance and dedication, so both the movie characters and the audience become invested in her story. In the live action, however, Mulan’s entire character arc is erased and replaced with a character who possesses a natural gift and power due to her abundance of chi. Rather than have her go through a journey of learning to rely on her instinct and wit, Mulan is paradoxically dumbed down in the live action rendition. In an effort to make the movie outwardly feminist, the live action loses the nuance that made Mulan such a complex, well-written, and loved character to begin with. 

Whether it be The Lion King’s technical achievement, The Little Mermaid’s manufactured diversity, or the failed attempt at a pop feminist movie in Mulan, Disney advertises each remake to disguise the real reason why live action movies exist. However, while studios intensely fixate on profit, there is hope for a better future for movies. As seen with the lackluster performances of the past few live action remakes, audiences are beginning to break free from the nostalgia-tinted gaze that has been infecting our society for the past few months and yearn for more original content. The massive box-office achievement in Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse may demonstrate to studios the importance of animation and its continued value as a medium. Similarly, experimental and indie movie studios such as A24, which have captured audiences’ attention, may force larger companies to move on from the predictably boring live action remakes they hold so dear. Ultimately, what made Disney’s animated movies so special and beloved was not only their originality but their heart, which the studio desperately needs to revive.

Image Courtesy of Business Outsider

Don't Miss