By JENNA JARDINE The icy wind on the Hudson invigorates the crowd of moviegoers, clutching their pre-ordered tickets, at Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11. They brave the rowdy streets of New York City on St. Patrick’s Day not to see an action-packed blockbuster or a tear-jerking drama, but a film about a strong-willed princess and a world full of magic—Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (2017).
The enthusiastic faces of full-grown adults are visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the building as the line files on. As giddy as they were the first time they saw the film, the crowd of Disney fans awaits the remake of one of their childhood favorites. Millennials are exhausted with the effort of adulting and longing to be a kid again. Disney is rejuvenating childhoods with their newfound love: live-action remakes of iconic classics. Hakuna matata!
It’s a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme. No, really. Disney has spent the last few years revamping their most popular films, adjusting story elements for an older audience and rounding out timeless characters. Mining the vault for films of the ’90s golden age, these live-action remakes are drawing millennials to theaters to see the movies they grew up with on the big screen again. “I love that Disney is making these new versions of their old classics,” moviegoer Luke Preston, 25, said. “My generation grew up on these movies so it is amazing to see that these timeless stories are being resurrected and remade for a wider audience.”
With a new configuration of film and marketing, old stories, and a fair amount of ‘90s nostalgia, Disney is bringing millennials to theaters to see their new childhood favorites. Ranked the “Most Intimate Brand” for millennials, Disney is one of the biggest franchises around, according to the MBLM 2017 Brand Intimacy Report. Changing to fit their most loyal viewers of the golden age, millennials, Disney moved from animation to creating new, live-action films from their old franchise classics. But what is it about these remakes that is taking them to infinity and beyond?
All it Takes is Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust
As a studio built on the animated classics, Disney took a risk transitioning to live-action—it paid off. The studio’s first true attempt at a revamped live-action, “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), brought home two Oscars and grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, according to IMDb. Disney stuck with the strategy, using Angelina Jolie’s star-power for “Maleficent” (2014), a remake of the classic “Sleeping Beauty” (1959). The studio then brought back the magic of their quintessential princess with “Cinderella” (2015), taking the box office by storm with a nearly $70 million gross in the first weekend alone, according to IMDb. Disney is also utilizing their vault of artists for amazing feats of visual effects, even winning an Oscar in the category this year for their remake of “The Jungle Book” (1967). Considering the success of the latest, visual masterpiece remake, “The Jungle Book” (2016), this new technique is here to stay.
Disney has jumped on the bandwagon of modern technology, but they continue to utilize the techniques of their founding animators, Rochelle Miller, a New York University graduate student who is set to teach a class on Disney animation in summer 2017. She explains that artists on “The Jungle Book” (2016) modeled real animals to create realistic renderings, just as their predecessors did. Film director Jon Favreau told the Disney company site OhMyDisney that a simulation of the multiplane camera, developed in the ‘30s by Walt Disney, was even used to create the movie’s depth. “Although digital technology has greatly changed the processes by which animators work, I don’t see the movies straying too far from some of Walt Disney’s basic principles,” Miller said.
This combination has proven a trusty guide for the company in the field of storytelling as well. Much of the praise for Disney has stemmed from the ability of their writers to recreate classic tales by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, or Victor Hugo, turning them into fairy tales that appeal to the audience of the day. Miller sees the continuation of this process, started by Walt Disney himself in the 1940s, in today’s trend of live-action remakes. “The Walt Disney Company remains ever conscious of its history,” Miller said. “Since the reissue market dropped out, remakes seem like a logical way for Disney to continue to draw from its past catalog and capture a new generation of children, while capitalizing on their parent’s nostalgia.”
You’ve Got A Friend in Me
Just keep swimming, Disney, because whatever you are doing you’ve got millennials, and more, on your side. The MBLM report ranks Disney the second most intimate brand overall, jumping 12 points and four spots since 2015. The company’s biggest draw, outscoring all other brands on the count, is nostalgia, reminding millennials of the days when they played their favorite Disney VHS on a loop.
Disney’s success goes beyond nostalgia. MBLM Managing Partner Mario Natarelli told Adweek that millennial faithfulness may be “due to how Disney has adapted and evolved and also how millennials in particular, are looking for escape and entertainment in their lives.”
Their new grown-up audience also has Disney dealing with the social concerns of modern millennials while reimagining these classics in a new social era. Within hours of the studio announcing plans for a live-action remake of “Mulan” (1998), following “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) they faced hard questions about possible whitewashing of the film, leading to the hashtag #MakeMulanRight. Avoiding disaster, Disney execs quickly distilled the outrage assuring a Chinese actress in the leading role and no white, male protagonist, Vulture reported.
Still, a dream is a wish your heart makes, and Disney sure has millennials thanking whoever dreamed up live-action remakes of their old favorites. With a record-setting $170 million opening weekend, “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) is already the seventh-largest debut in U.S. history and the largest ever opening for a PG-rated film, Box Office Mojo calculates.
A perfect choice for Belle, Emma Watson, brings fans from her Harry Potter days as well as her cult following of feminists. Disney also brought in some more advanced thematic elements to align with their ideals and keep viewers entertained when they already know the story. The film features the first “exclusively gay moment” as director Bill Condon put it, in Gaston’s henchman Le Fou as a markedly gay man, Vulture reports. The movie also absorbs some of Watson’s girl power aura. In Vanity Fair’s March cover story on Watson, the actress describes feminist changes such as making Belle the inventor as opposed to her father. A wealth of wardrobe changes were also made in consultation with Watson including a pair of riding boots, a pocketed, corsetless ball gown, and get this pants on a princess!
If their new films are anything to go by, Disney has certainly developed alongside their millennial fans. Psychologist Jean Twenge told the American Psychological Association that for millennials “things that used to be taken for granted as social rules are no longer.” In Disney’s case their adaptations have proven beneficial. Gone are the days of an all-white character array, submissive women waiting to be saved, and exclusively gender-binary characters.
I Just Can’t Wait To Be King
All the hype has fans asking, mirror mirror on the wall, which classic will they revamp next? Disney studios has released plans for an additional nine live-action adaptations. Filmmakers plan to give “The Little Mermaid” (1989) legs with a new story and characters, taking only hints from the original. Disney will bring their inaugural princess to life with a remake of their first feature film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937). In the spirit of “The Jungle Book” (2016) Disney is set to revolutionize visual effects with remakes of “The Lion King” (1994), “Dumbo” (1941), and “Peter Pan” (1953). Even Winnie the Pooh is promised to make a triumphant return to the big screen with a new story following a millennial Christopher Robin. Tinker Bell is getting her own movie too, with Reese Witherspoon taking on a role she was practically made for to sprinkle fairy dust on eager viewers. So can you feel the love tonight? Disney’s newfound love of live-action remakes that is.
“I am so glad they are making more of these movies,” Hannah Liu, 20, said. “They are just such a great way to memorialize the classic versions while turning the old-fashioned stories into modern ones.” Liu’s excitement is mimicked in more than one fan of Disney’s golden age. Proving, as Disney always promised, when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true, if that dream is a live-action remake of your favorite classic.