On Disney’s Live-Action Remakes

Earlier this month, Disney announced the star of the new live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. Around the same time, the new trailer for Mulan came out. Aladdin came out in May, to a resounding “eh” from Rotten Tomatoes, and The Lion King came out last week.

It’s a pretty obvious pattern. While Disney is coming up with the occasional new movie⁠—Frozen 2, Toy Story 4, Onward⁠—it seems that most of their time and effort has been going into re-hashing old classics for some quick cash. And to be honest, I have mixed feelings about that. 

Live-action Disney movies fail to capture a lot of the magic and wonder that the animated classics do. As a result, the live-action ones seem really…well, cheesy. A lot of the time, it feels like the movie as a whole is trying too hard. The ease with which the animated classics captured our imaginations is missing when it’s live-action. 

Alice in Wonderland was okay. Cinderella had its moments. Beauty and the Beast was awful. And I’ve psychologically blocked 101 Dalmatians. It seemed like the writers were trying to fix plot holes and story problems that didn’t exist. I don’t want to sympathize with Cinderella’s evil stepmother; she’s an abusive, greedy bitch, end of story. If we really need to know what happened to Belle’s mother, make it one line rather than a whole drawn-out thing. And why is the Mad Hatter beat-boxing? 

Having said that, I did see and enjoy the live-action version of The Jungle Book, and I do have every intention of seeing The Lion King at some point simply for Beyoncé, although I might wait to be able to stream it for cheap. And while not exactly a remake, Maleficent was awesome. Girl power, baby.

I definitely appreciate the surge of actors of color and, at the very least, an attempt at feminism. If there’s one thing that needs to be “fixed” about the classics, it’s the horrendous white-washing and the fact that a lot of the princesses had little to no agency. 

That brings us to The Little Mermaid. I’ve always had mixed feelings about that movie, and a lot of it has to do with how you interpret it. Is Ariel giving up everything⁠—her voice, her body, her family⁠—for a guy? Or is Eric the final push she needs to pursue her true passion: humanity? Both sides have good arguments. 

Here’s what an “ideal” Little Mermaid would look like to me:

  1. She’s aged up. In the animated film, she’s sixteen years old, and gets married at the end. At sixteen! I personally think it’s insane for anyone to even consider marriage until they’re at least twenty-five, but pegging her somewhere between that and nineteen (Tiana’s age) works fine.
  2. Downplay the “I want to be a human to get that dick” and ramp up the “I want to be a human because humans are cool and I want to study them up close like the little archaeologist I am.” Romance is fine. In Disney, it’s to be expected. But they’ve got a great streak of women characters whose worlds do not revolve around the guys they’re crushing on, and I’d like to keep that going. 

If Disney does those two things in The Little Mermaid, then I will have no complaints. The fact that they got Halle Bailey to star in the upcoming version is a stroke of genius, because it means that there’s every possibility of getting Idris Elba or Terry Crews to play Triton. 

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