I was lucky, as a kid, to be growing up when Disney was going through its second renaissance – quality movies like The Lion King and Hercules were hitting the cinema at a yearly rate, and there was a palpable excitement whenever a new Disney picture was going to be released. Watching the trailers for Disney’s upcoming films, I had no such feeling of excitement – perhaps it was the fact that it’s yet another live-action picture, and perhaps it’s because we’ve seen all these films before. Disney has ceased to be an exciting purveyor of new films – instead, it’s now shamelessly trading on nostalgia. What’s on Disney’s upcoming slate? If we’re to go by the trailers, it’s all remakes, re-imaginings and sequels for the foreseeable future.
Christopher Robin returns in the eponymous film, which sees him all grown-up and without a sense of imagination, however, his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood re-enter his life in order to help him find it again. Now, the teaser trailer for Christopher Robin is an incredibly boring watch. Ewan McGregor is sad because he has to work on a weekend in order for his business to streamline and the only thing that gives it any character is the uncanny valley appearance of a CGI Winnie the Pooh at the end. A tedious looking movie is essentially being pushed on an audience’s nostalgia for the Pooh character.
These aren’t new, exciting films that are being flogged to us
It’s a similar story with the Mary Poppins Returns trailer. Mary Poppins emerges from the sky – check. Her reflection has a mind of its own – check. These aren’t new, exciting films that are being flogged to us. This is Disney playing on our memories to flog stuff that looks like garbage. Even their ‘new’ properties look painfully rubbish. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms promises the same confusing CGI faff that made the live-action Alice films such tedious slogs by offering the ‘legend you know’ (as though anybody today actually knows the story of The Nutcracker). The only upcoming Disney film that seems to have any degree of originality is Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2, but even that is a sequel.
In all of these trailers, you’ll notice that Disney advertise themselves as the makers of Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book – sure, it makes sense because these films were two modern smash hits, but it also offers an interesting hint as to where the company is headed. Within the next two years, we have live-action retellings of Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, Peter Pan and Mulan on the release schedule as well as others. We’re going to have to wait until the end of 2022 for their next original animation, Gigantic.
Disney is building on an established audience and charging them again for something they’ve already seen
There are several issues with this plan. We’ve already seen all of these films and in all honesty, what is going to be added? Disney is building on an established audience and charging them again for something they’ve already seen. Some of these movies, such as Maleficent, actually work because they offer something new and because they’re adapting a film that wasn’t particularly good the first time round. Beauty and the Beast is regarded as perhaps the best animated movie ever, and the live-action remake massively fell flat – won’t the same happen with The Lion King?
Disney ought to stick to what it does best: quality animation that appeals to everyone. People are already getting fed up of this increasing slate of live-action facsimiles whose sole shtick is ‘here’s a character you recognise’. A few new songs or a slightly tweaked story is not going to change that fact. I love Disney and I love watching Disney films, but this shameless nostalgia bait just doesn’t appeal. Disney is at its best when it pushes the boundaries, producing movies like we’ve never seen before – it’s a shame that every movie on its release schedule is the exact opposite of that.