When people say Hollywood have run out of ideas, this is the kind of thing they’re talking about. It’s hard not to be cynical about all of these live action remakes, especially since Disney has announced so many of them in such a short time. While some of these films have original stories, much of the work of coming up with ideas and characters has already been done. So far, most of the remakes haven’t improved on the original films, though they’ve certainly earned Disney a hell of a lot of easy money.
101 Dalmatians (1996) | 102 Dalmatians | Alice In Wonderland (2010) | The Sorcerer’s Apprentice | Maleficent | Cinderella (2015) | The Jungle Book (2016) | Alice Through The Looking Glass | Pete’s Dragon (2016) | Beauty and the Beast (2017) |
Made almost two decades before Disney’s latest obsession with remaking everything in their catalogue, the live action version of 101 Dalmatians is mostly a showcase for Glenn Close to be a gigantic ham. For the most part, it sticks to the plot of the original film quite closely, but the animals don’t talk this time, the puppies have different names and personalities, and Anita gets knocked up too. The film was better than I remembered it being, but I still don’t really know why it needed to exist…
- Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams as Jasper and Horace are quite entertaining. Laurie gets to do his snarky jackass bit that he’s so good at, and Williams plays a rather endearing Horace. And…okay, I guess Glenn Close’s performance as Cruella de Vil is memorable. It’s quite possibly the hammiest performance I have ever witnessed, but Cruella is a thoroughly hammy character. All three villains are basically the cartoon come to life.
- I also liked the plot point of having Anita be Cruella’s employee rather than a friend she met at school. It never really was all that believable that the glamorous tempestuous heiress would be dear friends with the simple working class homebody (they don’t even look like they’re the same age!).
- This film was written and produced by the late John Hughes, and it REALLY shows. The third act is basically one long ripoff of Home Alone’s slapstick pranks, and it got very tedious. Ha ha, they slipped on the ice. Ha ha, she fell into molasses. Ha ha, the animals set a trap. Though I suppose if Hughes had to rip off his own scripts, I’m glad it was Home Alone and not Sixteen Candles (holy crap has that movie aged poorly).
See Also: One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, 102 Dalmatians
Yeah, they made a sequel. Only Glenn Close and the dude who played her assistant reprised their roles. I’d really like to know what it would take for a Hollywood exec to realize that if most of your original cast declines returning for the sequel, maybe you shouldn’t make that sequel. So the plot is that Cruella is released from prison after seemingly being reformed (by a doctor ‘hilariously’ named Dr. Pavlov), but then she snaps back to her old self, hooks up with a fashion designer/furrier played by Gerard Depardieu, and kidnaps a bunch of dalmatian puppies again, but this time she is stealing 102 dalmatians because she wants a hood on her fur coat. Yeah.
- Okay, so you probably remember the Twilight Bark from the original 1961 film, right? It’s used again here, except the dog that is primarily sending out the alert is Pongo & Perdita’s granddaughter Oddball (so named because she has no spots). She’s a pretty small puppy. One of the other new characters introduced for this film is a extremely verbose Scarlet Macaw voiced by Eric Idle, who thinks he’s a Rottweiler. (??) The Macaw translates the Twilight Bark message sent out by Oddball, but comes out as baby talk. “De puppies aw in twouble!” It was the only genuinely funny bit in the whole movie. And it just shows why, despite my usual indifference to the talking animals movies, the dalmatians should talk, dammit!
- It’s the same damn movie over again. It has the same problem that the animated sequel has, in that you’re just waiting for Cruella to relapse and go through the same self-destructive obsessions she did before. Even the endings are similar – instead of being dumped into molasses, Cruella instead is baked into a giant wedding cake (and somehow survives being trapped in a giant oven??) The 1996 film, as I mentioned, was already heavily derivative. This is derivative of a derivative. Derivaception. If this movie were a dog, it would be a very, very bad dog.
See Also: One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, 101 Dalmatians (1996)
The trendsetter of the live action remakes parade, Alice In Wonderland is more of a sequel (as it is about a 19-year-old Alice returning to ‘Underland’ to fulfill a hero’s quest prophecy) to the original 1951 film than it is a remake/reboot. Directed by accessible example of auteur theory Tim Burton and starring most of the people he likes to work with, this film is a CGI extravaganza that includes a few more elements from Lewis Carroll’s books that weren’t in the original film (such as the Red and White Queens). This movie made a truly comical amount of money (over $1 billion at the box office) despite being as average as a piece of soggy Wonder Bread that has been left out on the counter all day.
- Helena Bonham-Carter’s performance as the Red Queen was very entertaining. I liked that she used the ‘noble’ British accent when speaking*, I liked the general Elizabethian look she had, and in some ways, I sympathized with her near the end when she complained to her sister the White Queen about their parents favouring her, and how the crown was her right since she was the elder sister. I also liked her interactions with Alice, especially the running gag of a gigantic Alice being called “Um from Umbrage.” The 1951 film’s Queen of Hearts drives me nuts (and not in the good Wonderland way), so if I had a choice, I’d take Bonham-Carter’s Queen every time.
- *Does that accent have a name? *googles* Received Pronunciation. That’s hard to remember.
- The Futterwacken. Practically everybody hates that stupid, stupid scene, and for good reason. The dance looks terrible, the wonky CGI looks terrible, and the name is terrible. Telling me that Mad Johnny Hatter was good at this dance and won’t dance it again until the crown goes to the White Queen means nothing, because it’s still an awful scene. No more celebratory dance parties, goddammit!
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)
Ostensibly based on the most famous sequence from Fantasia, but it might as well not have any connection to Fantasia at all. There’s no Yen Sid, no Mickey, and they couldn’t even bother to include the iconic starry blue hat. All it has in common is one really short homage where the title character uses magic to try to clean up his room and the magic brooms flood it. I really hated this “”””remake””””, and I’m not going to try to give it a neutral introduction. This is a cliche-ridden mess that was produced by Sultan of Schlock Jerry Bruckheimer, and seems to have been a vanity project for Nicolas Cage. He plays Balthazar, a 1000+ year old acolyte of Merlin’s, and he and his friends/enemies have been preserved inside Matryoshka Dolls, and the big bad is Morgana Le Fay who wants to destroy the world yadda yadda The Arthurian Legends are much older than only 1000 years it’s more like 1500 and that’s a gigantic mistake to make that’s how little they actually cared about this movie anyway Balthazar is looking for the Prime Merlinian, who is Merlin’s reincarnation or something and the title has nothing to do with geography despite its name and
UGH GOD WHY DID I DO THIS DISNEY PROJECT WHAT WAS I THINKING
- The (sigh) Prime Merlinian/Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a dude named Dave, played by the guy who voices Hiccup in How To Train Your Dragon. Dave is a New York University student who is particularly good at physics, and knows how to manipulate Tesla Coils. He eventually uses the Tesla Coils not only to make music, but he eventually combines magic and science and destroys Morgana Le Fay using said Tesla Coils. Yes, I spoiled the ending, but trust me, you do not want to watch this movie. The combination of magic and science (rather than making them opposed or eschewing science entirely) is one of the few moderately original things this movie does, so I guess that was alright.
- If I had to rank my least favourite A-list actors, Nicolas Cage would be Rock. Effing. Bottom. I have hated him ever since Moonstruck, and I find it almost unbearable how Hollywood is so insistent in making him star in every goddamn thing, regardless of how poorly cast he is. I couldn’t even get past the first two scenes in The Croods, I hate him so much I can’t even stand hearing his voice. So…having to sit through an entire fantasy B-Movie with him in it, wearing a disgusting wig that made his hair look greasy, where he didn’t even TRY to sound like a 1000+ year old sorcerer (Alfred Molina was acting circles around him in that respect), all of his line readings were snide and deadpan (even when he was apparently supposed to sound heartbroken), and where he seemed woefully miscast in a part that was apparently written for him, and I long for death’s sweet embrace now.
See Also: Fantasia
Maleficent, despite being the antagonist of Sleeping Beauty, was undoubtedly its breakout character. So it made sense to retell the story from her perspective. The marketing didn’t actually make it clear that this was going to be a “the story you think you know wasn’t the real story” style of perspective flip, which either worked in its favour or was the source of its problems (depending on how you feel about the movie). Painting Sleeping Beauty as being a propaganda story does have the unfortunate side effect of undermining the original film rather than building on it (for one thing…if the ending has Queen Aurora bringing the fairy and human kingdoms together, who exactly started this propaganda?) Most of the other remakes have a general audience consensus (ranging from “This is garbage!” to “Surprisingly good!”), but this one seems to be split down the middle.
- Scoring Angelina Jolie to play the title role was a gigantic coup, and the movie knows it. I don’t think this even could have been made without Jolie, because I can’t imagine any other actress being able to do that role. Her days of wearing vials of Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around her neck are long behind her, but she still has that sinister kookiness. Similarly, Jolie’s widely known devotion to her enormous family lent itself very well to the maternal themes of this story. Jolie’s image thus works very well for an anti-heroine who straddles both extremes of good and evil. Although the scene itself makes me incredibly uncomfortable, (Guess what my Worst is going to be! Go on, guess!) her wails of despair, heartbreak and painful agony after losing her wings is some really amazing acting, and she was clearly having a lot of fun with the more comedic scenes.
- The way that King Stefan’s character has been rewritten is painful, especially the whole “this all started because of a former lover’s betrayal” thing. The least of the character’s problems is his very strange-sounding Scottish accent (Sharlto Copley should have just used his natural South African accent – it’s not like most North Americans can really tell the difference). Turning a supporting character who was a loving father and benevolent (if pompous and short-sighted) ruler into a cruel, ambitious, paranoid metaphorical date rapist was a poor choice. Despite being live action, he ended up being more cartoonish than the cartoon. I greatly disliked Disney’s Oz The Great and Powerful for using the same bad writing cliche (the magical woman turns evil because a man broke her heart). I still liked this film in spite of itself, but it’s a little hard to reconcile “Maleficent is a motherly woman who made bad choices because she was date-raped and mutilated” thing with “Maleficent is a demon fairy who cheerfully uses the powers of Hell and screws around with good people just because she can.” Like…her name is still MALEFICENT. Thank goodness we can just chalk this one up to “alternate universe.”
See Also: Sleeping Beauty
I once read that Cinderella (and its many variations) is one of the most adapted stories of all time, so what’s one more adaptation (of an adaptation?). Cinderella 2015 is a lot more faithful to the original film than the other remakes are. The plot uses the basic framework of Perrault’s original fairy tale, Ella sings a few bars of “Sing, Sweet Nightingale,” the stepmother & stepsisters are still named Lady Tremaine/Anastasia/Drizella, and the Fairy Godmother mutters “Bibbity, Bobbity, Boo!” a couple of times. However, it’s not a musical, and everybody has British accents this time. Interestingly, this film is comparable to Cinderella III: A Twist In Time in that both films go out of their way to fill in narrative holes (such as Prince Charming’s flat characterization) in the original 1950 film.
- The purpose of this remake seems to have been to show off the kind of amazing stuff that the makeup, costuming, props, art direction, orchestration and computer animation departments can do. Despite director Kenneth Branagh casting his dear friend (Derek Jacobi) and his ex (Helena Bonham-Carter) into prominent roles, Cinderella 2015 is not an actor’s film – it’s a film for the people behind the scenes. Almost every shot is absolutely gorgeous, with lots of detail and care given to everything the viewer sees on screen. I really like the score too – the music that plays when Cinderella and Kit’s parents pass away brought me to tears.
- I was originally going to discuss the surprisingly terrible old age makeup they slapped on Bonham-Carter (she can’t even move her mouth properly!) but then I got to the end of the movie, and was assaulted with the worst end credits song Disney has ever foisted on the world. It’s apparently called “Strong” and the artist is someone named Sonna Rele (who appears to be a YouTuber?). I have no idea if Ms. Rele has a good voice or not, because her vocals were autotuned to hell and back, resulting in a horrid robotic sound. That boring, generic song was so unpleasant to listen to, I was really relieved to exit out of the credits and go back to watching Deep Space 9.
See Also: Cinderella (1950), Cinderella II: Dreams Come True,
This is the first remake to make exhaustive use of Mo-Cap, Green Screen and CGI. The Jungle Book 2016 has got much more in common with Kipling’s stories (it’s mostly drama/action rather than comedy), but it still is directly connected to the Disney version through its music and characterization. The cast is absolutely crammed with A-Listers, but it was actually kinda distracting. Bill Murray is playing Bill Murray, not Baloo. It’s considerably better than the 1967 film (as you may know, I HATE the original film), but it still ranks as the “Yeah I guess that was okay” tier Disney for me.
- We’re in a magical era of computer-generated special effects. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi demonstrated that an entire photorealistic world could be created with Mo-Cap/Green Screen/CGI, and I’m absolutely certain that film influenced this one. The special effects are absolutely stunning, to the point where I had to keep reminding myself that the only thing that actually existed on screen was Neel Sethi’s Mowgli. I still think including Christopher Walken’s face on King Louie didn’t quite work (hello Uncanny Valley!), but everything else looked so realistic, I didn’t care.
- The scene with Kaa is one of the more interesting ones in the film, because she’s sinister, affable, and almost clairvoyant, rather than pathetic. But how Kaa was written in this film was a gigantic missed opportunity. ONE scene, plus Scarlett Johansson covering Trust In Me in the end credits, is so little I had to wonder why they bothered including Kaa at all. I really enjoy characters of ambiguous morality (as I’ve mentioned in the past), and finding out that the original plans for Kaa’s character were to write her that way (only to cut almost everything out) just makes me really annoyed. The only bigger missed opportunity was Alice In Wonderland 2010 wasting Christopher Lee in a single scene of him playing the Jabberwock(y).
See Also: The Jungle Book (1967)
Alice In Wonderland 2010 made an absolutely ridiculous amount of money. Its sequel, on the other hand, bombed, and bombed HARD. One could speculate as to the many reasons why (too many live action remakes, bad marketing, the film’s story has very little to do with its source material, etc). I personally believe that it’s Johnny Depp fatigue. 15 years ago, he was this weird indie actor who gave great performances in films that had a niche audience. Pirates of the Caribbean thrust him onto the A-list, which was the absolute wrong trajectory for his career. People (myself included) got sick of him fast, and now I just want him to go away for a while and then return to making artsy movies (and without Tim Burton this time). ATTLG has close to nothing to do with the original book, it’s basically a “You guys like Johnny Depp, right? HAVE AN ENTIRE MOVIE ABOUT HIS SHITTY HATTER CHARACTER!” The plot is basically that Hatter discovers evidence that the family he thought was dead might actually be alive, but that he will die if Alice doesn’t use a time-travel doohickey to find out what happened to the Hatter’s family. I really didn’t care, sorry. (Note: This was written before news of Depp’s domestic abuse scandal had broken)
- Okay, seriously, why doesn’t Danny Elfman have an Oscar yet? He’s delivered consistently great work for ~30 years, even when he’s scoring a stinker of a movie (this movie isn’t a stinker, incidentally, just a wasted effort). He should have an Oscar for scoring Edward Scissorhands! The score of ATTLG is fantastic, it’s both beautiful and evocative of the scenes and characters. (Which is saying something, because I can’t stand how the characters are written in this franchise) I have to wonder if his lack of recognition from the Academy is because he usually scores genre movies/TV – he didn’t even win an Emmy for The Simpsons’ main title theme. He deserves better. #GiveDannyElfmanAnOscar
- Jammed into the middle of the movie is this really disturbing sequence where Alice wakes up strapped into a bed in an asylum. The fact that the movie is doing the “Maybe she’s been delusional about Underland all along!” thing is bad enough, but it’s the sexual assault implications of the scene that really disturb me. Alice is diagnosed with “female hysteria,” which, back then, was ‘treated’ by the doctors digitally (and I mean fingers) giving the patients orgasms. Vibrators were invented to ‘assist’ with this task, and the term “hysteria” directly references female reproductive organs. (So maybe keep the etymology of “hysteria” in mind next time you use the word) The doctor tries to jab Alice with a gigantic needle [FREUDIAN IMAGERY ALERT], and she escapes and jabs him instead. This scene has absolutely no bearing on the plot, it just seems to be there to make the viewer extremely uncomfortable.
It’s rather interesting that Disney chose this film to remake over its more popular siblings, but it’s perhaps the only one (so far) that has actually needed/deserved a remake. The original film was a corny, loud, anachronistic and overlong mess. The 2016 remake is everything that the 1977 film was not – all it really kept was an orphaned kid named Pete and a dragon named Elliot. The dragon is now CG, the setting is now the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s, and it’s a straightforward drama rather than a throwback musical.
- As I’ve mentioned before, I really love morally ambiguous characters. They don’t show up in Disney films very often (the only one that comes to mind offhand is Long John Silver), but Pete’s Dragon 2016 has a very interesting character in Gavin, who was played by Karl Urban. Gavin hunts and tries to trap Elliot throughout the movie (giving shades of King Kong), which normally establishes him as the antagonist. However, he’s shown as having genuine reasons for fearing Elliot, and is also shown as someone who loves his family dearly, and as someone willing to admit his mistakes. It was really refreshing.
- I honestly really don’t like how the CGed Elliot looks in this film. The character was always kind of goofy-looking (and Don Bluth’s habit of over-emoting with his character animation is rather obvious in the original film), but while the CG effects are clearly high quality, they fell flat for me. A furry dragon is just weird (they have scales, and that’s final), I don’t like his weird snout, I don’t like his overly prominent teeth. Blech!
See Also: Pete’s Dragon (1977)
So this is where the remakes trend teetered into the danger zone. Although most of the films that got remakes are well liked, Beauty and the Beast is considered a modern masterpiece. It was the first animated film ever to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, which was back when the nominees were capped at 5 films and there was no Best Animated Feature Oscar. It was also the first Disney feature to be adapted into a Broadway musical. So yeah, a big deal. And it is my personal favourite Disney film, so I, like many other Disney fans, am very protective over it. Although this is, so far, the most faithful of the remakes/retellings, Beauty and the Beast 2017 has the unenviable responsibility of trying to improve upon (or at least recapture) the animated equivalent of lightning in a bottle.
Since Howard Ashman’s passing in 1991, his writing partner Alan Menken has only sporadically returned to score soundtracks for Disney. Tim Rice and Stephen Schwartz have been filling in as lyricists in Ashman’s place, and it’s debatable how well they’ve been able to continue Ashman’s legacy. I’ve never been much of a fan of “Human Again,” the song that was deleted from the original film, added to the Broadway score (with some revisions from Tim Rice), then added back to the film for its 2002 re-release. Fortunately for me (I suppose), “Human Again” does not make an appearance in the 2017 remake, but instead four new songs written by Menken & Rice were added to the score. The best of those songs was definitely “Evermore,” which gave the Beast a solo that also works as a great 11 o’clock number. It’s got a lovely melody and its lyrics add a lot of pathos. I also genuinely liked Dan Stevens’ performance as the Beast/Prince Adam, even if he was almost unrecognizable under that CGI.
This remake’s script seems to have read the original film’s “Headscratchers” article on TV Tropes and decided to insert scenes and lines explaining things that generally didn’t need explanation. It’s as if the screenwriters thought to themselves, “Here’s this incredibly beloved film, which has a few narrative flaws, as all films do. Let’s accentuate these flaws by explaining them!” which is a terrible way to approach a script. A couple of the expansions were beneficial (such as adding the aforementioned solo number for the Beast), but in some cases, the explanations are poorly fleshed out to the point that they create plot problems of their own. I myself criticized the strange time frame of the original film, and while the enchanted castle’s perpetual winter is an interesting idea, they also decided to compress the narrative so that it’s only about a week’s time. Mrs. Potts looked too old to have a young son, so now she’s younger! She’s “Mrs.” Potts, so obviously there must have been a “Mr.” Potts, who conveniently is never addressed by his last name so that this revelation can be a surprise! Chip seemed to have a lot of siblings, so now he’s the only child in the entire castle. Beast was cruel because his father was abusive (this has maybe 2 scenes of brief dialogue, and then it’s immediately dropped). Belle’s mother had Bubonic plague, and Maurice’s reluctance to talk about her is because he’s still grieving. The villagers mistrust Belle because they’re misogynistic anti-intellectuals. The Beast would have been too heavy for Belle to lift, so she asked him to stand and walk to the horse (did this one really need explaining?). Books are a metaphorical escape for Belle, so Beast gives her a book that lets them instantly teleport anywhere in the world…and yet she uses a horse to get back to the village to save her father. LeFou sings an incredibly homoerotic song about the man he worships, so let’s state the obvious and have him waltz with a drag queen. Gaston tries to kill Maurice and nearly gets caught for it, but even though Maurice has a witness in Agathe, the Enchantress in disguise, she doesn’t defend him because…? If Beauty and the Beast 2017 had had a few necessary narrative expansions, like what Cinderella‘s script had, then I wouldn’t have had a problem, but this just seemed to happen over and over.