Over the past few years, Disney have brought out various live-action adaptations of the famous classics, including Cinderella (2015), Jungle Book (2016), Beauty and the Beast (2017) and the upcoming, Mary Poppins which will be returning to our screens at the end of the year. The live-action element is not the only thing used to spice up age-old classics. If we look closely, we can see a tendency to bring modern views into our childhood classics. At the same time, a conscious attempt is made to stick to tradition, which poses the question: is this a sign of Disney magic thriving or surviving?
The last few remakes, you could say, are just expensive bids in an attempt to keep the magic alive. In reality, the magic has been replaced with modern-day politics and high-profile actresses to gain the attention of a new generation of audiences. This is the case with Cinderella, starring Lily James, Helena Bonham Carter and Cate Blanchett; three actresses that were surely going to bring more attention to the traditional film. That being said, the critic reviews for Cinderella are astonishingly good, claiming the film sticks to tradition and does not overdose on CGI. This however, is where the positive reviews end for Disney adaptations. The magic seems to be diminishing more and more as the remakes come.
If we consider 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, I do really love this film but even I have to admit the attempt to stay traditional whilst incorporating modernity has failed. On the one hand we see Belle’s mother, once a silent character, finally given a story. In the original film she was a background figure with no name, face, or personal history with the father and daughter. In the adaptation however, we are given answers to questions left unanswered since 1991; where Belle was born, why she has no mother, why her father taught her to read. A painful story is finally told and a female character finally released from obscurity.
But, when we consider the twenty-first century version of Belle, played by the wonderful Emma Watson — a massive advocate for feminism — it is shocking how little has been altered. Though she is definitely still ahead of her time, being curious and literate, in the end, she still falls into the role of a damsel in distress waiting for love and adventure to rescue her from a small-minded town — like most female characters in Disney. Is it possible then, that the attempt to be modern and traditional simultaneously ends up dispelling rather than enhancing the magic we once loved about a classic story? I would say so.
When it comes to the live-action element of Beauty and the Beast, there isn’t much to say because not a lot of it is, in fact, live action when compared with the original. The same could be said for 2016’s Jungle Book. Not so much live action, just more CGI and none of the songs we came to love in the original version. Where did all the music go? The music that gave feeling and all of that Disney emotion to the story — now stripped away and replaced by life-like images. A chance for technology to show off, yes. But taking away the spotlight from a story that once captured our hearts. Of course, we still enjoyed The Jungle Book. But was it magical?
Arguably, the true test of Disney’s ability to grow with the times will come when Mary Poppins Returns is released. When it comes to magic, you can’t get more magical than Mary Poppins; the never-ending handbag of useful items, the ability to make objects tidy themselves up, and let’s not forget that talent and grace for jumping into pictures and ending up in a completely different world! This is definitely one of my favourite Disney films, you can watch it a million times and it will always entertain you; which is why I’m worried for the sequel.
The sequel, which is set for December, sees Mary Poppins return after a family tragedy. Once again, she is back to pick up the pieces of a broken home with her magical charm. Is this not just the same story but in the future? How many times can this be done before it gets old and takes Mary Poppins out of the category of ‘Disney Classic’?
Of course having said all this, it will always be great to see adaptations of beloved Disney classics. It brings them back to our screens to enjoy all over again, which is something we could definitely do with in this day and age. I am an optimist despite the doubts. Let’s hope the remakes continue and maybe, somewhere along the way, the magic will find its way back to us too.