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Illustration by Tom Abi Samra

Disney's Remakes: Will People Get Tired of the Nostalgia?

With more remakes of classic tales set out to be released in the coming years, one comes to wonder why they’re being made in the first place.

People are talking, and it is not just about Lady Gaga’s performative entrance at the 2019 Met Gala. People are also talking about The Walt Disney Company release of numerous sequels and live action remakes of beloved classics in just three years. The likes of The Jungle Book (2016), Beauty and the Beast (2017), Dumbo (2019), Alice Through The looking Glass (2016), Christopher Robin (2018), Pete’s Dragon (2016) and Mary Poppins Returns (2018) have all been remade by the movie production giant. Disney shows no signs of slowing down this project: the company is set to release Aladdin, Maleficent 2, Frozen 2, and The Lion King all in 2019, and has announced plans to release even more live action remakes in the upcoming years A number of reasons have been advanced for the company’s focus on live-action remakes and sequels. Firstly, according to some analysts, these live actions are the results of an effective business strategy based on one thing: nostalgia. The new Disney productions give older audiences, who own the majority of the wealth, the opportunity to relive some of their fondest childhood memories and share these memories with their children and grandchildren.
“From a business standpoint, Disney has made a calculated decision that people are willing to pay for nostalgia and there seems to be this wave of nostalgia that comes in a generational format. I have Disney movies that I remember very fondly. People who grew up before me also have Disney movies that they remember very fondly. And as our generations grow up and new movies come out that we remember fondly from our childhood, we would want to take our own children to watch those,” noted creativity consultant Nick Skillicorn of Creativity and Innovation. The numbers do seem to support Nick’s claims. The live action Dumbo saw the beloved elephant’s story soar at the box office, making Disney over 339 million U.S. dollars worldwide. In 2017, Beauty and The Beast made more than a whooping 1.2 billion U.S. dollars at the worldwide box office, making its way to become the 15th highest grossing movie of all time. With the 2016 The Jungle Book, Disney took home 966 million dollars globally. The 2019 remake of The Lion King is expected to cement Disney’s position as the king of the movie industry, with the film’s earnings approximated at 2.3billion U.S. dollars worldwide.
Moreover, the release of remakes and sequels appears to give the company time to work on the productions coming out from its acquisitions: Lucasfilms, Marvel, and Pixar. Again, this appears to be a financial move on the part of the movie colossus. Five of the Star Wars films are among the top 20 highest-grossing films in America when adjusted for inflation. Again, in 2018, the company earned more than 5.24 billion U.S. dollars from its Pixar and Marvel productions; the last installment of the Avengers franchise, Avengers Endgame now occupies the position of the second highest grossing movie in history, having made more than 2.3 billion U.S. dollars globally. Some, however, are not impressed by the nostalgic appeal of the live actions, and believe Disney’s focus on remakes is more than a business strategy: the remakes are evidence that Walter Disney’s brainchild is running out of ideas. The argument here is that these remakes are simply just that, remakes. For critics, the live action films appear to be indistinguishable with the earlier classics, devoid of original characters or plot twists.
“Though well-cast and true to the original story, aside from Cinderella’s new hairdo and the elimination of musical numbers, “Cinderella” felt like nothing more than a bland replica of the original feature. Personally, I think simple regurgitations of well-loved classics are pointless... I am not interested in watching the same story unfold with the addition of famous faces,” wrote self-acclaimed die-hard Disney fan Christi Carras in a 2016 article for the Daily Bruin. Veronica Wambura, Class of 2021, also agrees with the Disney remakes’ similarity to the originals, “I was watching the live action Beauty and The Beast with my cousins and I fell asleep because I was like ‘I already know this story from the original.’ It could be true that Disney is running out of ideas, and that is really sad because when you imagine Disney, [you] imagine creativity. The news that Disney is going to rehash twenty of its old animations in the upcoming years is really disappointing to someone who has grown up loving Disney.”
The discussion over whether Disney is losing its creative magic raises the question on where exactly does the mega corporation's creativity lie. According to an article on The Disney Review, Disney has hardly ever produced a movie based on its own original story; most of its classics are adaptations of well-known fairy tales. The creativity of the movie giant lies in how it presents these stories to its audience.
“The reason many people ask if Disney is running out of ideas is that they think Disney used to produce original content. But understand…the Disney Company is built on original ideas, not original stories. While Disney is not excessively original in its story selection, it has always excelled at creatively presenting stories. The music that sticks with you for generations is painstakingly plunked out in the backrooms of Disney with lyricists rehashing words over and over. The animation and colors that fill your dreams and excite your imagination – that is where Disney’s creativity shines,” the article stated. “I think the originality of Disney showcases itself in the fact that whenever you watch a movie, you can tell if it is produced by Disney or not,” commented Felicia Annan, Class of 2021, as she shared her perspective on the rehashing of the many classics.
The 2018 article [“Disney Isn’t Running Out of New Ideas, but it is Allergic To Them,”] ( agrees with this point of view. According to the article, Disney is committed to a mainstream audience, and so there is a limit to the messages its movies can present. To avoid the scenario of producing original content that may offend a group of people, the company sticks to its tried and tested classics. Again, in this explanation, one observes how the monetary demands of the business may be dictating the scene. The same article goes on to compare Netflix and Disney to show how revenue models affect the latter’s scope of originality. A large portion of Netflix’s revenue comes from monthly subscriptions; by contrast, one of the major sources of Disney’s revenue is box office earnings. Thus, Netflix has the liberty to push the boundaries in movie-making and, in the words of the article, “pump out new shows and films that almost entirely consist of new ideas.” Whatever the reason behind Disney’s new undertaking, the remaining remakes yet to be produced ask the question: how long will it take before audiences grow tired of watching the replicas of well-known stories?
Chisom Ezeifemeelu is a staff writer. Email her at
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