Disney Live Adaptations: Nail or Fail?

Kristiana Angela Cato, Reporter

Real vs Illustrated (Graphic illustration by Kristiana Cato with use of right illustration by Amy Sam.)

“The Lion King” (2019), “Aladdin” (2019), and “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) with over a billion dollars in box office internationally, were live-action remake successes; in terms of money. The stunning animations of “The Lion King”, the women empowerment, the humor, and the amazing casting of “Aladdin”, and the songs and magical scenery of “Beauty and the Beast” were some of the positive highlights of these movies.

The well-known Disney live-action adaptation flop, “Mulan” (2020), with a budget of $260 million and only made around $70 million, streaming revenue and international box office combined. The underwhelming film lost $190 million, which is equivalent to buying 23 mansions in Beverly Hills (roughly $8 million each) and 6,000 iPhone 12 Pros. The film did poorly because of the changes they made; removed the lovable dragon character, Mushu, took out the iconic hair cutting scene and montage, Mulan had no character development, incorporated chi, not a musical, added a female villain, Li Shang being with replaced with Hong Hui, the film being more historically accurate. These changes are what made the beloved and fierce “Mulan” (1998) into a serious, disappointing film. 

Jian Levi Calayag, a freshman from James Campbell High School (JCHS) said, “Watching the disappointment that was 2020’s ‘Mulan’ was like watching an engaging musical without music. I was disappointed that there wasn’t a dragon or songs, and the phoenix came out of nowhere. The original animated Mulan has an amazing plot and what goes along with its music. It’s action, it’s engaging, but most importantly, it connects to a lot of us. The music hypes up the scenes and has us anticipating what is to come next. But what happens when you get a modern-day ‘Mulan’ that doesn’t follow much of the original plot and doesn’t have music at all?”

Since Disney’s first live-action adaptation was “Treasure Island” in 1950, it has been over 70 years since then, so their movie techniques have changed significantly. Currently, live-action remakes rely on editing and CGI (computer generated imagery) for an enhanced viewing experience. Take the movie, “The Lion King” (2019), as an example, every frame of it had CGI, allowing the studio to make very realistic animals move and talk in any way they wish. 

Disney creates live remakes solely for the purpose of making money. These remakes have the factor of nostalgia, whether the audience likes them or not, the films still have a huge potential to make a ton of money. 

The soundtrack from the original Disney animated films is one of the factors that creates a nostalgic feeling; while watching it or singing along. Movies use songs to move the story along, the orchestral version of those songs allows them to add more detail into the film and for the audience to focus more on the plot and action. An example of this is in “Mulan” (2020), who used the orchestral version of “Reflection” in the background as she unravels her hair and gets to fighting. 

The live-action remakes already have all the materials in terms of writing. So make a few tweaks to the plot and dialogue, add any political aspects (representation, diversity, women empowerment), add some editing and CGI to make viewing experiences more engaging, and a Disney live adaptation is created. It’s disappointing to see that instead of making new ORIGINAL movies, they’re making ones where it follows the same plot and ending. 

However, “Maleficent” (2014) and “Cruella” (2021) offered something different in the live adaptation by telling “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) and “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” (1961) from the perspective of a villain. Both have their own backstory and original plot, their upbringing to villainess. Disney made these stories refreshing, and after seeing how the audience enjoyed those two films, the studio might make more villain-based movies in the future. 

“The Little Mermaid” is another classic Disney film made into a live-action movie, scheduled for release in 2023. It’d be interesting to see how they would execute scenes underwater since most of the movies by Disney are on land and animated.

“What I particularly don’t like about all the new live-action movies is that somehow they take away the magical elements by adding more modern touches where there shouldn’t be any. I also think removing the classic songs that made the movie also takes away from its magic. This is why I don’t have very high hopes about the live-action ‘The Little Mermaid,’” said Kelly Beesley-Wadzinski, a junior from JCHS. She doesn’t expect much out of the upcoming film. 

Disney tends to have more success with its live-action remakes when they stick to the original script since audiences expect the same storyline. Whereas in “Mulan” (2020), they fiddled around with the plot, and people were disappointed because they were expecting a lot more and disliked the changes they did. Movies such as “Maleficent” (2014) were original, something different, and thrilling. If they deliver great quality content and movie production, people will pay more to watch it because it’s a movie worth watching. Hopefully, Disney will learn from its mistakes in “Mulan” (2020) and create a film that audiences will enjoy.