Has Disney stopped taking chances?

Sunday, November 15, 2015 - 5:58pm

NOSELL

Walt Disney Pictures

 

Between 2009 and 2016, Disney and Pixar will have released seven new animated movies: “Up,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “Frozen,” “Tangled,” “Brave,” “Inside Out” and the upcoming “Moana.” To put it in perspective, that’s two presidential terms with only seven spunky Disney protagonists to counter the political strife brewing in our hearts.
 
Yet in the past two years alone, Disney released four live-action remakes of classic stories: “Maleficent,” “Into the Woods,” “Cinderella” and “Peter Pan.” Also in the works are remakes of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Jungle Book” and unsolidified plans to reimagine Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh, Tinkerbell and the genie from “Aladdin.” It has also been capitalizing on sequels, with the Pixar branch churning out an equal ratio of sequels to new films. “Toy Story 3” brought the supposedly definitive finale of the franchise, only for producers to turn around and stick in a fourth film because it was so profitable.
 
My nostalgic heart argues that well-made remakes can — and do — generate new artistic content that simply uses the original story as a loose baseline to tease out finer details and unique perspectives. It’s no wonder that powerhouse actors, directors and screenwriters vie for the prestigious responsibility of honoring these treasured characters. Modern technology allows for increasingly sophisticated reproductions of visual worlds. But if the original was so timeless, do we really need another version?
 
The box office screams yes. The prospect of seeing Lupita Nyong’o (“Twelve Years a Slave”), Scarlett Johansson (“Under the Skin”) and Bill Murray (“Rock The Kasbah”) sharing a screen — and romping through the forest from my worn “Jungle Book” VHS tape, no less — will inevitably draw me to the theater. I probably won’t even watch the trailer; my loyalty to the star-studded cast and a childhood favorite is enough.
 
While directors may, at times, be legitimately inspired by classic stories, it’s clear that the current deluge of recycled material spawns not from passion alone. Disney saw the easy money and seized it. But restricting output to remakes confines the imagination to a single world of characters and hampers personal creative expression. Meanwhile, it blocks fresh content, which often features more diverse perspectives and launches new careers, from getting produced. How many potential “Frozens” rot on Kickstarter pages because Disney would rather play it safe and recreate yet another old movie?
 
More than any other studio in the industry, Disney boasts the well-padded coffers and clout to take bold creative risks. Once upon a time, Disney built its fortune on virtues of innovation and discovery; now, it grows stale, greedy. If the unparalleled success of “Frozen” told us anything, it’s that audiences crave new fictional worlds to get lost in. The droves of recent graduates flocking to Hollywood with original scripts prove that there’s no shortage of imagination to make that happen.
 
Is Disney going to take a chance on them? Or will they regret to inform you that they value profit over novelty and will randomly select from a list of classic Disney movies and famous filmmakers to decide their next project instead?