Over the past decade, Disney has been remaking its classics in a live-action format, starting with Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” in 2010. However, as the company kept the production going in this subgenre, many of these adaptations proved to be a hit or miss for ratings.
Some performed fairly well, such as “The Jungle Book” and “Christopher Robin,” while others including “Pinocchio,” “Peter Pan & Wendy” and “Dumbo” received mixed to below average reviews by critics and audiences alike.
The performance of previous live-action remakes hasn’t stopped Disney from bringing these timeless stories to the big screen once more. Yet people can’t help but wonder if Disney’s intent is to tell the tales to another generation or to recycle ideas from the company’s glory days.
“The Little Mermaid” starring Halle Bailey came out earlier this year and “Snow White” has been pushed from 2024 to 2025. The latter spiked controversy with the lead actress, Rachel Zegler, bashing the themes of the original “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” themes that defined the beloved tale people have come to know and love.
In an interview with Variety in September at the Disney Fan Club’s D23 Expo, Zegler spoke about bringing a “modern edge” to the original story of Snow White.
“I just mean that it’s no longer 1937,” Zegler said. “We absolutely wrote a ‘Snow White’ that ... she’s not going to be saved by the prince, and she’s not going to be dreaming about true love; she’s going to be dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be and that her late father told her that she could be if she was fearless, fair, brave and true.”
This, along with other interviews with the actress, received backlash toward Zegler and Disney itself. “Snow White” has since been pushed to 2025 and is currently predicted to flop at the box office.
Not only did Zegler give the film a bad rep among fans, but originally Disney replaced the seven “dwarfs” with a diverse group of people. This sparked even more controversy among people, and Disney ended up replacing the group once again with CGI dwarves.
Its live-action predecessors may have included some modern elements to overshadow ideas that are now “outdated,” but those stories had better PR, according to John Tchernev, an associate professor in the department of media, journalism and film at Miami University.
“One thing that upset people was that [Zegler] seems like she has no reverence for the source material,” Tchernev said. “It seems like she is pretty flippant about kind of dismissing a lot of things that people probably love about the original even if some of those ideas are a bit outdated.”
Yet Disney may not be shooting for quality as much as quantity in terms of profit.
“It’s kind of just a way of pretty much generating money. Because all of these remakes seem to be pretty profitable,” Tchernev said. “Even if they’re not really well received by audiences, they still get seen by a lot of people.”
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To contribute to the profit, viewers seem to attend airings of live-action films for the sake of nostalgia.
With the horrific reception of “Snow White” prior to the release of a teaser trailer, it looks as though Disney may not utilize the nostalgia factor to its advantage in this upcoming adaptation.
Overall, live-action remakes may strike some as worthwhile for the nostalgia — but to Disney, this subgenre strikes its company as worthwhile for the recyclable profit.