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Disney, your film remakes are starting to take the Mickey

By Sean Haines | China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-30 08:11
A poster for  Aladdin (2019). [Photo/Mtime]

If you've been to the cinema this year, the chances are it was to watch a Disney movie. The house of Mickey Mouse is tearing up the global box office. Of the $18 billion spent at cinemas globally this year, nearly half (43 percent) has gone to the big dungeon of gold Disney keeps under Cinderella's castle.

By July, the company had broken its annual record thanks to five films earning more than $1 billion (Avengers: Endgame, Lion King, Captain Marvel, Aladdin, Toy Story 4). And there's more to come, with Frozen 2 and a new Star Wars movie due by the end of the year.

So far, Disney has earned three times more than second place Universal. And it is on course to become the first studio to earn more than $10 billion at the box office in a single year.

These are big numbers. And it might feel like we're drowning under Disney at the moment. That's because we are-and for a good reason.

Disney is taking on Netflix and launching its own streaming service on Nov 12. And while the company is sitting on nearly 100 years of beloved classic content, it wants to launch Disney+ with a bang. Cue many, many releases, rushed out to cinemas and onto the new streaming platform.

But quantity doesn't mean quality. The money might be up, but so are critic's noses.

Take the recent computer animated "reimaginings" of Disney classics. This year alone, we've had three. All with huge budgets, groundbreaking computer imagery, and experienced directors. Combined, they made nearly $3 billion. Yet, a quick look at Metacritic shows something is going very, very wrong.

Dumbo (1941): 96/100 vs Dumbo (2019) 51/100

Aladdin (1992) 86/100 vs Aladdin (2019) 53/100

Lion King (1994) 88/100 vs Lion King (2019) 55/100

Audience's remarks have been scathing too. "Boring.""Dull." "Pointless."

True fact. In the original Lion King, Jeremy Irons put so much into his performance as evil Scar that he exploded his voice box. In the new one, Scar actor Chiwetel Ejiofor sounds like he's reading his lines down the phone.

The original Dumbo was a redemption tale: bullied baby elephant, discovers talent, squirts water on the bullies. It was short (64 minutes! Take note, modern Hollywood!), trippy, and full of heart.

But the new one-as far as I can work out-is about Dumbo's zoo being taken over in a corporate buyout. Because that's what the kids want. A two-hour movie about mergers and acquisitions. Mm. Initial share offerings.

So it's the filmmakers' fault we have these crummy knockoffs, right? Big bad Disney grabbing money again? No, not totally. I'm part of the problem. And I'm sure you are, too.

These films sell. Disney knows that people like you and me, who grew up watching the originals, will skip off to the cinema to see what's different.

Disney knows that it can make a shot-for-shot remake of Lion King, that's somehow 30 minutes longer, less fun and with "I think my glasses are blurry, oh no, it's the picture that's blurry" visuals. Why? Because the audience, pepped up on nostalgia, will fall for it every time.

"Give me more childhood!" we shout, holding out our money.

"Ah ha ha," Disney laughs back. "You idiot, idiot sheep!" And punishes us, and sets the song Can you feel the love tonight? in the daytime.

"Noo-!" we cry back, "Fooled again!"

The truth is: we get the films we deserve. The onus isn't just on filmmakers to make something original; it's for us to make good decisions.

More to the point: it's your responsibility, China. You.

China is about to become the world's biggest film market. Wandering Earth and Ne Zha-two supremely original films-are the world's seventh-and eighth-biggest movies this year, despite only really being released in China. That made Hollywood sit up.

And you've done it once already. In June, the beautiful, 18-year-old studio Ghibli classic Spirited Away topped the Chinese box office, rather than the "It's ok, but, why do we need this, didn't the third one end the series perfectly already?" Toy Story 4. Good job China. Keep going. Send a message.

Disney are taking the Mickey. Don't let them.

Next time a remake comes out, threatening to jump over your childhood: don't give in to the curiosity. Let it go.

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