Why Do Disney Remakes Keep Making Money?
July 31, 2019
(The Channel Awesome logo and show opening play, before we go to NC in his room. NC is shown feeling down, with his hand on his cheek)
NC: (monotone) Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. Sorry if I look a little disheveled right now, but did you hear how this did recently? (The poster of the 2019 remake of The Lion King, which has become the year's second biggest hit, grossing over $1.6 billion worldwide, as well as becoming the highest-grossing film ever from Walt Disney Pictures, is shown) Did you hear what the next few films from Disney are gonna be? (An image of future remakes made by Disney is shown. NC shouts the next part, though his expression doesn't change) AREN'T YOU EXCITED?!?
(Footage of these remakes are shown, including The Lion King, Aladdin and the then-upcoming Mulan)
NC (vo): Most everyone I know is sick of the Disney live-action remakes. Even those who like them are getting tired of them. We've gone from one maybe every four or five years to one every year to several every year, and there's even more on the way! It wouldn't be too bad, if there was more variation in their work...
NC (vo): ...but the more they make, the less they try something different...
(Another snippet of the Lion King remake is shown, illustrating just how closely it follows to the original animated movie)
NC (vo): ...even giving us what feels like a shot-for-shot, line-for-line redo of a beloved classic.
(Now footage of the Tim Burton version of Alice In Wonderland is shown)
NC (vo): "Disney used to be cool," I hear people say. "Why are we being given the same thing over and over?"
NC: Well, the short answer is... (A cash register ding is heard and several dollar bills fall down around NC briefly) But the long answer may be a bit more complicated.
(Footage of Maleficent is shown briefly)
NC (vo): And in order to understand it, we first have to understand the company that puts them out.
NC: Disney is a cultural phenomenon, I think it's safe to say, unlike anything the world has ever seen.
(A shot is displayed of the concept art for the Wonderful World of Animation fireworks show at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World)
NC (vo): Don't get me wrong; the world has seen fairy tales and amusement parks and technological advances...
(Cut to a shot of the Partners statue in front of WDW's Cinderella Castle)
NC (vo): ...but to my memory, there is no entertainment company centered around families that is as massive or recognizable on the planet.
NC: I can take three identical circles, put them together, (An image of the three circles forming the familiar logo of Mickey Mouse's appears in the corner) and most people would know that means Mickey Mouse. Just from (holds three fingers) three circles. Think about that!
(A closeup of the logo is shown, with the camera zooming in on it)
NC (vo): It doesn't even look like a mouse, but most people recognize it as that because of this company.
(A shot of almost every Disney character all gathered together is shown)
NC (vo): And the fact that a lot of this long-lasting empire is based on stories that both children and adults can relate to is beyond impressive.
(Now we cut to a collage of various movie directors throughout the years)
NC (vo): Think of other studios, directors, producers. They've made many stories that'll stay with people, too, but most would agree...
(The iconic Disney Castle logo for Walt Disney Pictures is displayed)
NC (vo): ...Disney not only has the highest number of stories that stay with us, but they're the most frequent in putting them out.
NC: When you think about it, it's brilliant. It takes something that people already know or relate to, like, say...
(An image of the various Disney princesses are shown standing together)
NC (vo): ...fairy tales, put your own unique touches on it, and suddenly, everyone thinks your version.
NC: It's hard for a child to hear the name "Snow White" and not imagine that she looks like this...
(A clip of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is shown, showing Snow White as she kisses the Dwarfs goodbye at the end of the film before riding off with her prince)
NC (vo): If comic books are modern-day Greek mythology, as some people have declared...
NC (vo): ...then Disney is modern-day fairy tales.
(Cut back to footage of Disneyland parks)
NC (vo): And from that, they spawn new ideas, new technologies, new imaginative ways to entertain everyone. And that's the key word: everyone. (Mark Twain's photo is shown briefly) Mark Twain used to describe his work as water. Many people drink wine, he says, but everyone drinks water. Disney clearly has that same mindset. It not only works from an entertainment perspective, but from a business perspective as well.
NC: But that's the thing about show business: it is show and business.
(The clips from Snow White are played again)
NC (vo): People now see Snow White as a masterpiece, but back then, it was a huge gamble, threatening to destroy Disney Studios if it didn't turn in big bucks. Thankfully, it did, though, as well as made history.
NC (vo): But after that, their following films, Fantasia, Dumbo, Pinocchio and Bambi, did not turn in the profit they were hoping for. In fact, they rarely turned in a profit.
NC: We know them as classics today, but back then, they weren't really seen as big moneymakers, at least nowhere near what Snow White was. So they were hurting business.
NC (vo): On top of that, war. Most businesses were hurting because of it, and Disney was no exception. The films they were putting out at this time were a collection of shorts, because they couldn't afford to put out one completed story. They just kind of combined the stories that they started before the war broke out and said, "Here you go. This is a movie now."
NC: When the war ended, though, they finally had breathing room to do complete movies. What did they do?
(The clips from the animated Cinderella are shown)
NC (vo): I think it's fitting to say they made another Snow White. Now, don't get me wrong, I like Cinderella a lot; in fact, it was one of Walt's favorites; but if you were to say which of their past completed motion pictures was it like, it's clearly Snow White.
NC: And from here, Disney would take risks in other departments, but not really in their animated features.
(The posters of all classical Disney films from Cinderella to Oliver and Company are shown)
NC (vo): They've just gone through too many shaky times and they needed to stay afloat. Not to say they didn't put out top-notch quality work, I mean, I love a lot of these movies...
(Back to footage of the first five Disney movies, then of Cinderella again)
NC (vo): ...but where their first five films stylistically were very little alike, now, every animated film following would have to be like one of those five. Again, not an awful thing, as many of these films were great, but what I'm getting at is pushing the envelope in terms of originality had slowed down, because that's what made sense from the business side: give the people what they know they like.
NC: Sound familiar?
NC (vo): It's no secret Disney has gone through slumps over the years, and will happily put out lesser material if it's deemed popular.
(The footage of live-action remakes is resumed)
NC (vo): It seems like the recent Disney remakes, as well as the recent Disney sequels, are either their way out of some sort of financial mud, or a way to make even more profit to venture into other...pray to God...creative avenues.
NC: While it seems similar to what Disney has done in the past, the remakes do seem...off a little.
(The footage of two Ben-Hur films (1925 and 1959), The Ten Commandments (1923 and 1956) and Scarface (1932 and 1983) is shown)
NC (vo): Now, the idea of remakes is nothing that crazy. Back in the early days of cinema, giant epics were remade when they went from silent films to talkies. Movies like Ben-Hur, Ten Commandments, and even Zorro, were remade with sound, sometimes even by the same director. This was more than just doing the exact same thing, though. While they followed the initial story and characters, the dialogue, style and performances were noticeably different. They were great stories that deserved great updates.
NC: For a while, that's what Disney seemed to do with their remakes. (hesitates) Ehh...kinda.
(The clips from 1994's The Jungle Book by Stephen Sommers are shown)
NC (vo): The first remake of The Jungle Book had little to do with even the book or the Disney film. It was pretty silly...aside from the horrifying deaths that still haunt my childhood memories.
(One clip shows Sergeant Harley (Ron Donachie) drowning in quicksand. Lieutenant John Wilkins (Jason Flemyng) grabs Harley's hand to take him out)
Wilkins: Come here!
Harley: Don't! Don't let go!
(His hand eventually slips out of Harley's)
Harley: (gurgling) Damn you, Wilkins...! (drowns)
(A clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is shown)
King Arthur: Jesus Christ!
(We are then shown clips from 1996's 101 Dalmatians)
NC (vo): Films like 101 Dalmatians brought in a pretty penny, and, though not great, was more fitting of what a remake should be: Follows the same initial story, but had enough differences to be its own thing, like the animals not talking, more focus on the people, and the goddamn craziest Glenn Close performance since she played a pirate in Hook. (An image of Glenn Close's cameo in Hook is shown)
NC: Yeah, her IMDb is weird.
(The Wikipedia list of Disney's remakes is shown)
NC (vo): As you can see, though, these remakes are few and far between. They did well, but seemingly not enough to repeat over and over and over.
NC: A lot of people say the official Disney live-action remake "fad" started with Alice in Wonderland.
(We are shown more footage of Burton's Alice in Wonderland)
NC (vo): Well, you can certainly say this one didn't just copy the original, to a goddamn fault! Like many of these remakes, I've reviewed this movie in the past and confirmed the barrel of dick that it is, so you can find out more by watching those. But even though it sucked the big one, it didn't matter, because this film was a hit, a big hit.
NC: But Disney had to figure out what was a hit about it.
NC (vo): Did audiences like the elements similar to the original, or did they like the elements that were different? Well, four years after Alice was released, Disney started budgeting their money to make even more to find out. If they liked Alice as the exact opposite of what she was, maybe doing the same thing for the villain in Sleeping Beauty would work. If they enjoyed more of the original simplicity of the story, perhaps Cinderella being more faithful would win them over.
NC: Much to their delight, they both did well.
(Two posters of the about-to-be-mentioned remakes are shown)
NC (vo): So now, we can have a totally different Dumbo, where none of the animals talk, or we can have a scene-by-scene retelling of Beauty and the Beast, except, you know, moved around. Now we can submit it for Best Picture of the Year! Oh, yeah. (An image of a "For Your Consideration" box of a possible Best Picture nomination for Beauty and the Beast is shown) Disney tried that. GOOD FRIGGIN' GOD!
(Footage of the remakes resumes showing)
NC (vo): Bottom line, unlike before, where there needed to be some changes made to a remake to make it interesting, Disney discovered it wasn't totally required. So now, these films could be made a lot faster, because the story and characters were already set. And, if anything, the fewer changes made, the better.
NC: Thus, we went from one, maybe two a year, to five.
NC (vo): At the same time people were noticing this fad growing, Pixar was putting out even more sequels than before. (An image of the list of planned release dates for Pixar's sequels, Monsters University, Finding Dory, Cars 3, and Incredibles 2, is shown, along with the original release date for Toy Story 4) This couldn't be a coincidence. Chances are, Disney was desperate for stability, whether to make up for lost costs or conquer other endeavors, I don't know. But what I do know is, as of now, these are definitely stable.
NC: But while their business history clearly shows why they would want this stability, the question remains...why is it stable?
NC (vo): Why do so many people go back to these and keep making them hits? The films they've done in the past have certainly had similarities, but they were still different movies. We're now getting shot-for-shot remakes, and plenty of audiences are totally okay with it. What's the secret? What are we missing?
NC: (smiles cheekily) Well, I have the secret to Disney's live-action remakes. (Holds up a piece of paper that says "Disney Remakes Secret. Shhhh...") And as long as it doesn't go dark and I accidentally lose it, I'm gonna make millions... (Suddenly, the NC theme starts to play and we start to fade into a commercial, annoying NC) Yeah, yeah, sure, right now, perfect.
(We go to a commercial. When we come back, we see a bored-looking NC, and he is no longer holding the paper)
NC: (deadpan) Well, shit. I guess I have to speculate.
(Footage of the remakes resumes showing)
NC (vo): While everyone is getting sick of these remakes, millions still go to see them and make them tons and tons of money. What are the reasons?
NC: Well, in my opinion, it comes down to four factors. One: Nostalgia.
(A clip from Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol is shown)
Ethan Hunt: No shit!
NC: Yeah, pretty obvious.
(Footage of Disney's animated features are shown alongside the continuing-to-be-shown footage of the remakes)
NC (vo): But like I said before, Disney has done a brilliant job making sure their characters always stay with you. (An image of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy at the Disney Parks is shown as NC describes what they look like in appearance) So even seeing a person in a costume at a theme park can make you feel the warm fuzzy-wuzzies. Even seeing the trailers for these films get so many people in the feels, because they connected so much to their childhood and what arguably played a major part in developing their ethical and imaginative sides. So now, these characters have returned, and you can go back to feeling like a kid again, when things were simpler and therefore presumably happier.
NC: You associate it with seeing an old friend.
(More footage of the 2019 Lion King is shown, along with footage of the original)
NC (vo): Look at that old friend. He hasn't changed at all. Like...at all. My God, you grew up so much, and he didn't. He's still stuck in the past doing the exact same thing. Isn't that sad? Isn't that sad?! That's so friggin' sad! (Cuts himself off) Uh, I mean, the stuff that's still good about him is good. Right? I think.
NC: This brings me to #2: The name is associated with quality.
(An old book of Cinderella is shown, as well as a clip from the Disney original)
NC (vo): How many versions of Cinderella have been told in the past? Hundreds. Maybe even thousands. But this Cinderella is easily the best-known.
NC: And if that's the best-known, clearly it must be the best, right?
(An image of a McDonald's restaurant is shown)
NC (vo): I mean, McDonald's is one of the best-known restaurants in the world, and nothing beats that, right? (An image of a McDonald's chicken nugget, which is in the shape of a chicken, is shown) Oh, God! IS THAT A CHICKEN HEAD?! (We cut back to a clip from Burton's Alice in Wonderland) You've probably caught on that just because something is popular doesn't always mean it's great, but it does still mean a lot of people like it, and there has to be a reason why.
NC: Let's say you thought the original Beauty and the Beast was just okay.
(Footage of the original Beauty and the Beast is shown, along with images of the film's related merchandise)
NC (vo): You'd probably hear over and over how a lot of people say it touched their childhoods. Both kids and adults dress up as the characters, and even shirts and merchandise are bought because they want to celebrate how much they love them. It's likely that even though you may not necessarily be won over by all this, you would have to acknowledge there's something that's winning people over, and maybe it's worth taking another look.
NC: One of the Disney remakes that wasn't a financial hit was Pete's Dragon.
(Footage of the remake and the original Pete's Dragon is shown)
NC (vo): And I think a big part of that was, it wasn't a strong enough property. I'm sure it has its fans, but while a decent amount know what Pete's Dragon is, everybody knows what Beauty and the Beast is.
NC: A while ago, I did an editorial about movie parodies being dead...
(Footage of various parody movies is shown)
NC (vo): ...where I discussed how satire films were doing less mocking of popular movies and more displaying the fact that they know they're popular. When people saw all these big movies at the same time being mocked in one film, they assumed there would be good writing that lampooned them, because the writers of these movies rarely even saw the films they were satirizing. Rather, they just saw production photos and went off of that. Regardless, for a while, people went to see them because they thought they would be the same quality as, say, Airplane or Spaceballs, by the simple act of showing something they recognized in it.
NC: Disney remakes are essentially the same thing.
(Footage of both versions of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King is shown)
NC (vo): It doesn't matter if their motivations make no sense or if the acting is off, because you already connected to the original. You're filling in the blanks the movie is leaving vacant because it was so hastily written. Simba and Nala clearly have no chemistry in the new Lion King, but you think they do because you remember when they did in the original. Same thing with Beauty and the Beast. Your nostalgia is filling in what's missing.
NC: If they trick everyone to seeing the movie at least once, they've already made a profit.
NC (vo): And the thing is, people want to believe something they cherished as a child is still good. So they're willing to put up with the faults of the remakes because they still recognize it with something positive in their lives. It doesn't have to be good, it just has to make you feel good.
NC: The third reason is kind of a weird one, but I do think it plays a big part here: Kids like seeing something that makes them feel grown-up.
(A still from the 1989 Batman movie is shown)
NC (vo): I remember when I was a kid, I was excited to see the new Batman because the only movies I had seen prior were (Adam West's Batman and Batman and Robin in The New Scooby-Doo Movies are shown on the left and right) Adam West and Scooby-Doo.
(The posters for the Ghostbusters movie and its Saturday morning cartoon are shown)
NC (vo): I remember going crazy when I found out there was a live-action Ghostbusters based on my favorite Saturday morning cartoon. I mean, okay, the movie wasn't based on the cartoon, it was the other way around, but I didn't know that at the time or cared.
(Stills from Ghostbusters are shown)
NC (vo): I felt older watching it, that they did grown-up things like drink and smoke and swear and...give ghost BJs, it was weird. It was awesome to be watching something that adults enjoyed; it made you feel cooler and smarter.
NC: I even remember being excited for the new...
NC (vo): ...Super Mario Bros. movie. I didn't care that it looked nothing like the original because I thought this was gonna be like Batman and Ghostbusters, more adult and gritty, and it was...
King Koopa: Monkey!
NC: (grins) Not.
NC (vo): Regardless, it got me to buy a ticket, yet the film was so far removed from what the original was and had so little quality, I couldn't enjoy it.
(Footage from the live-action remakes of Aladdin and The Lion King are shown)
NC (vo): These films are varying less and less from the original, so to a kid, it must be good, because it's like that thing you loved, only done in real life. There's a reason they call it the live-action Lion King and not the CG one: kids want to feel like they're seeing something more adult, and it's obviously working.
NC: The fourth and final reason, I think you can associate to a lot of things in entertainment: People like updates.
(Footage from the Cinderella live-action remake is shown)
NC (vo): Now, keep in mind, an update is very different from a stylistic change.
(Clips from Return of the Jedi are shown)
NC (vo): In Return of the Jedi, switching out a song is a stylistic change. You could have kept it and people would have been fine...
(A clip showing a side-by-side comparison to the original and redone special effects of Return of the Jedi is shown)
NC (vo): ...but fixing the flying effects is an update. People would be more open because it looked really bad in the original. It's essentially showing what it was meant to look like.
(Back to clips from the movie)
NC (vo): And I know, don't touch it, preserve a classic and everything, I'm talking about changes, though, that anybody would make when needing to update something.
NC: The Disney remakes, to their credit, do a lot of that.
(More footage from the live-action Aladdin is shown)
NC (vo): Aladdin is set in Arabia; it makes sense that the actors look and sound more like this than...the cast of Full House. (A photo of Aladdin's original voice actor, Scott Weinger, is shown)
(Footage from Dumbo is shown, showcasing the crows)
NC (vo): Some cliches that were seen as sexist or racist could be taken out.
(More footage from the live-action remakes of Aladdin and Cinderella are shown)
NC (vo): Again, kind of to a fault where the more they try to push an agenda, the more it backfires and makes the character either more boring or, ironically, more damaging. (The poster for the 2019 Kim Possible movie briefly pops up with a caption "Hi.") It's also nice to see modern actors you've grown up with in these parts. Not to say that...
(Footage from the original animated Jungle Book is shown)
NC (vo):...all the originals were bad in the least, but in their day, they were big names that everyone knew, so you could be excited to see them in a role.
(Footage from Beauty and the Beast (2017) is shown)
NC (vo): Recasting them with other big-name celebs is another way to relive that excitement of seeing a performer you recognize and enjoy take on a part you recognize and enjoy.
NC: Kids don't know who...
(Photos of Louis Prima and George Sanders are shown)
NC (vo): ...Louis Prima or George Sanders are.
NC: But they definitely know who...
(Photos of Will Smith and Emma Watson are shown)
NC (vo): ...Will Smith and Emma Watson are.
(More footage of Aladdin is shown)
NC (vo): So it allows them to get excited for someone they know playing a role, the same way audiences in the past got excited to see someone they know in a role.
NC: (sighs) I guess when you think about it, it is a perfect plan.
(The trailers for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and the live-action Mulan are shown)
NC (vo): You could argue there's actually more to draw audiences in nowadays than not, as nostalgia is still a big part of our society that Disney has been cashing in on for quite some time now.
NC: But here's the thing, a lot of people are comparing these to the Disney straight-to-DVD sequels that came out a long time ago. Where are they now?
(Footage from Mulan II is shown)
NC (vo): We know they exist, but we don't really connect them that strongly to the original. Is Mulan ruined for everyone because of Mulan II? Are people gonna stop seeing (The poster for The Fox and the Hound 2 is shown) Fox and the Hound because its sequel was so bad? No, people still love the originals, and the sequels, half the time, are barely even remembered.
NC: My guess is, the Disney live-action remakes will probably be the same.
(More footage from The Lion King (2019) and the original animated film is shown)
NC (vo): They're big now, but it'll fade, and the originals will still be cherished long after these are forgotten.
NC: I mean, think about it, Snow White is over 80 years...
(A clip from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is shown)
NC (vo): ...old, and she's still being watched and celebrated...
(Stills of Snow White in Ralph Breaks the Internet and a person dressed as Snow White are shown)
NC (vo): ...even today!
(Posters for Transformers, Twilight: New Moon, and Epic Movie are shown)
NC: ...people will lose interest, and they'll have to move on to something else.
(The title cards for Pixar's 2020 films, Onward and Soul, are shown)
NC (vo): Pixar is finally releasing two original films not connected to any of their past ones...
(The poster for Artemis Fowl, which was released on Disney+, is shown)
NC (vo): ...and there are a few movies not based on past Disney films coming out, so hopefully, there can be some more creativity in the near future.
NC: But here's my thought, if you're gonna do these Disney live-action remakes anyway, take more chances with them, because people are gonna see them no matter what right now.
(Clips showing side-by-side comparisons of the live-action and animated Beauty and the Beast are shown)
NC (vo): I know the mindset, "People like to see those side-by-side fan comparisons on YouTube, so we're gonna do the same thing".
NC: What you're missing is, people do those for a short amount of time, not an entire movie.
(The poster for the 1998 remake of Psycho is shown)
NC (vo): In fact, they tried it once, with a shot-by-shot remake of Psycho. It sucked. Hard! It sucked hard.
(Footage from Snow White and Cinderella is shown)
NC (vo): I say do with these remakes the same thing Disney did with the original fairy tales. Everyone knew the story of Snow White and Cinderella, but Disney came along and made it uniquely theirs, to a point where people see those versions as the definitive story.
(More clips from the live-action and animated Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King are shown)
NC (vo): Nobody's gonna choose this Beauty and the Beast over this one, or this Lion King over that one, because not only are they not better, they're not different. (sarcastically) Well, okay, they're different in these ways: they lack passion, fresh ideas, and creative need to exist, you succeeded on that front!
(More clips from Snow White are shown)
NC (vo): Walt Disney put his studio on the line to bring Snow White to the big screen. If it failed, he would have been in huge trouble.
(Footage from The Lion King remake and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil are shown once more)
NC (vo): If these failed, you'd just have to find another way to make an easy buck. People can feel the difference both on-screen and behind the scenes.
(More footage from Snow White is shown)
NC (vo): You can't feel anyone half-assing it with Snow White; they made it because they wanted to give families something beautiful to hold on to.
(More footage from The Lion King remake is shown)
NC (vo): You're literally making the exact same thing for the exact wrong reasons, and sooner or later, it's going to run its course.
NC: So, if it's gonna happen anyway, bring something new and exciting to the screen.
(Footage from the Alice in Wonderland remake is shown)
NC (vo): I hate the remake of Alice in Wonderland, but I give it credit that it is at least different. I'd rather watch that a million times than... (Footage from The Lion King remake is shown again) ...another screening of the remake of Lion King.
NC (vo): Even the Disney DVD sequels had their little gems, like Lion King 2 or Cinderella 3, movies that were clearly made just for money, but the makers chose to make the best of it, bringing imagination, passion, and, dare I say it, new elements to stories and characters we were already familiar with! There's a lot of people that like these movies, and for good reason; they're enjoyable and clever, and people can watch and enjoy them just as much now as when they first came out!
(Footage from the live-action Aladdin is shown)
NC (vo): Where people are already getting sick of these.
NC: There's a big difference between Alastair Sim's Christmas Carol and the Smurfs Christmas Carol.
(The posters for the 1951 Christmas Carol and The Smurfs Christmas Carol are shown)
NC (vo): Both are based on the same material, but one gave an intriguing, intelligent, and loving take on a classic story.
NC: Yet for some reason, you're giving all the money to the Smurfs!
(Footage from the animated Cinderella is shown)
NC (vo): It's not fair to those that really bring something new, something charming, something interesting to an already timeless story.
(Stills from the live-action remakes are shown)
NC (vo): I don't know what's next for Disney; I'm sure they'll find other gimmicks, as well as new ideas to give birth to.
(The posters for all of the Disney remakes and sequels are shown)
NC (vo): All I'm saying is, maybe we can encourage the best elements of something old with the best elements of something new...
(The final scene in Snow White is shown)
NC (vo):...to still get something special. That's what you used to be known for, let's make you known for that again.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.
(He gets up and leaves. The Channel Awesome logo is shown, followed by credits)