Monday, September 30, 2013
More Stupid Rebooting
Disney has announced that a live action "origin" film about Cruella de Vil is in the works... You read that right, a live action origin film about the evil, vain, puppy-murdering villainess from One Hundred and One Dalmatians...
Yes, it was reported by /Film today and quite frankly, I don't care who is writing it, who is going to be in the cast, yadda yadda yadda. This is a foolish idea, and one that tells me that Disney has no faith in their live action studio after the failures of Prince of Persia, John Carter and The Lone Ranger. It doesn't help that Marvel and Lucasfilm are going to be the ones supplying them with live action hits and big franchises... And Bob Iger loves those franchises...
Look, it's not right to pre-judge it, but the problems I have with this project are the same ones I have with the upcoming Maleficent.
First of all, why does Disney feel the need to take the stories they adapted into their animated classics and re-imagine them as darker, grittier live-action films? To get teens into the theater? To cash-in on the already beloved classics? Why? Alice in Wonderland was huge for many reasons, it looked great, it was the first major 3D film after Avatar and the marketing made it look like something that made everyone say "I gotta go see that!" Oz did well because the original is beloved, and people went to see the new take on it out of curiosity. The marketing was good, too.
Soon, this rebooting fairy tales/family-friendly stories trend will come to an end. Alice in Wonderland's massive success was lightning in a bottle, as Oz couldn't recapture it neither could non-Disney fairy tale reboots like Snow White and the Huntsman and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Maleficent probably won't set the box office on fire next summer, at best it'll perform like Oz. I'll be very surprised if it does much better than that film did.
But this rebooting fairy tales thing and the whole reaction to The Lone Ranger's box office performance makes me worry about the Walt Disney Studios. Now, not every live action release from the company over sixty years has been great, but at least there were different stories to be told. Walt Disney himself, not being too fond of sequels, usually opted for something different with many of his live action films, whether it was a period piece or a good old-fashioned family adventure or a zany goofball comedy or even a drama. Even during the 1970s and 1980s, at least they weren't trying to reboot the animated films as live action films, despite gravitating towards Herbie sequels and madcap comedies like the 1960s ones.
Now the plan is to explores stories that have already been told. I could care less for the Maleficent film because I don't need an origin story that paints the mistress of all evil as a sympathetic figure, plus she's a terrible villain, why have any shred of sympathy for that? Same goes for Cruella. Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella? Walt Disney was able to tell the story of Cinderella with all the drama and heart in less than 75 minutes, will this new film add another 50 minutes of pointless exposition, medieval violence and back story stuff? Will it include the violence that Walt Disney didn't opt to put in the original film? Because, you know, Disney's animated fairy tale adaptations suck because they aren't violent or gory like the original fairy tales. Right? Right?!
The Jungle Book? Disney already did a decent live action adaptation that was closer to Rudyard Kipling's original story than Walt's bizarrely-flawed but enjoyable animated film. Pete's Dragon? As if that 1977 family-friendly musical needed a remake that doesn't have (gasp) songs. The Rocketeer? Can we please leave an already good cult classic alone? Why not just give the original some kind of big re-release and do a sequel to it instead, like you did with TRON: Legacy? Flight of the Navigator? Again... Why not just introduce newer generations to the damn original, instead making a new film?
If anything, it seems like Walt Disney Studios will only be specializing in two things: Small-scale live action fare... And blockbuster re-imaginings of stories that they have already covered. I guess we won't be seeing the likes of The Stuff of Legend or Matched or Terra Incognita and the other fresh projects that Alan Horn happened to green light last year.
It baffles me that executives aren't figuring out why John Carter and The Lone Ranger, instead they assume that they should just drop that kind of approach to live action tentpoles and just be very, very safe. So you'll let Marvel and Lucasfilm go all out because they can, but you won't at least try something new for your own studio? Touchstone is doing okay with their small-scale stuff, as Disney should do well with that stuff too. (The Odd Life of Timothy Green, for example, was a profitable success.)
There is some hope. Brad Bird's Tomorrowland could very well blow the likes of Oz and Maleficent out of the water, while also being the success that John Carter and The Lone Ranger weren't. What if this thing is an all-out blockbuster that makes more than just a big profit? In 2014, they've also got Into The Woods, which is at least something they haven't done before - regardless of how it turns out! I'll be more than happy if those two films outdo Maleficent and show the suits that people want fresh, new live action fare from Disney. John Carter and The Lone Ranger? We all know why those two films flopped, so Disney should not assume that audiences don't want something fresh and new.
I mean... Pirates of the Caribbean, anyone?
Big risk. Paid off. Started a big multi-billion dollar franchise...
Oh, and the first was put into production when pirate films were considered box office poison. Oh, and it was a PG-13 Disney release. Not a Touchstone one.
Sometimes people want something fresh, new and even risky. They just have to go about it the right way. Disney didn't for John Carter, which could've very well launched a trilogy and subsequent franchise. They also screwed up with The Lone Ranger, and they're ignorantly showing TRON the door despite the fanbase and the newly-acquired fans brought on by the 2010 sequel... Meanwhile, they pour the marketing love into Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm's releases... Oh, and Walt Disney Animation Studios' films to a lesser extent.
I think the ambitious Pirates of the Caribbean should more than be a great lesson for the current Disney brass...