Disney remakes and the market of nostalgia


"The Lion King" is one of many Disney classics being remade with lifelike animation. Photo Provided

Liberty Walton, Memorial Staff Writer

If you’ve gone to see a movie in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed the abundance of remakes and sequels in theaters. Some viewers are irritated by the lack of fresh content coming out of Hollywood, but to movie studios, derivative works such as sequels, remakes and reboots represent guaranteed profit in the box office. 

Of 2018’s top ten highest grossing movies, nine were sequels or based on an existing franchise. The remaining film was Bohemian Rhapsody, which capitalizes on profitable 80’s nostalgia. 

“In terms of the box office, familiarity is king,” writer for digitalspy.com, Ian Sandwell said.

Walt Disney Pictures, the most powerful movie studio in America, is no exception to the trend. Eight live-action remakes of fondly remembered Disney cartoons have been released since 2016, and there are 14 more in production. A few introduce slightly different storylines to engage modern audiences, but at times, they’re shot-for-shot replicas of the originals. 

Disney relies on two things to draw audiences: nostalgia for the familiar tales and curiosity about the flashy, lifelike CGI. Millennials are notoriously nostalgic; they want to relive their childhood experiences of watching Cinderella, Mulan and Aladdin. They’re also beginning to have children, which means they’re ready to pass on the stories they grew up with. 

The remakes’ animation is a major draw. For “The Lion King,” director Jon Favreau had the animation team set up scenes in virtual reality, then film inside the virtual environment.  Also used in “The Jungle Book,” the cutting-edge technique creates extremely lifelike animation, generating hype that attracts viewers. 

Disney has learned to take advantage of the Millennial market and their business model has worked extremely well so far. Despite budgets of over $100 million for each movie, the remakes’ box office sales total an incredible $9.1 billion

The lack of fresh stories and characters doesn’t matter that much to the average moviegoer. Every single Disney remake to date has an A or B rating on Cinemascore, a research firm that surveys audiences. 

While Disney’s strategy has been extremely profitable and audiences are mostly pleased, critics aren’t impressed. 91% of the time, the remakes earn lower scores than the originals on IMDB, and over half are rated “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Many people that are dissatisfied with the stale content take to social media to voice their complaints. 

“I find live-action remakes of movies I grew up with a bit depressing,” former presidential candidate Andrew Yang tweeted. “It’s like we can’t come up with new stories.”

So why can’t the largest, richest film studio in the US seem to come up with original content? Well, they have, but you probably didn’t rush to the theater to watch it. “John Carter” (2012) and “Tomorrowland” (2015) were major flops, losing about $150 million each. “A Wrinkle In Time” and “MacFarland, USA” were disappointments as well. 

Since originals are so hit-or-miss, as long as Disney can make a guaranteed huge profit on derivative works, they’re going to keep producing them. 

“It’s always going to be worth the complaints from the peanut gallery,” writer for cinemablend.com, Mike Joest said. 

At least for now, criticism isn’t losing Disney enough money to make them alter their course. 

“Angry people on social media are often just a minor part of a whole,” Joest said. 

If you’re with the majority that still loves Disney films, you’ll soon have even more to enjoy. “Mulan” will be released March 27 and “Cruella,” a “101 Dalmations” spinoff, comes out May 28. Many others are in production with release dates to be announced. 


Contact Liberty Walton at [email protected]