A wave of criticism engulfed the new Disney remake – the live-action Aladdin directed by Guy Ritchie. Disney is being blamed for exploiting nostalgic feelings for profit instead of creating original content. After an opening weekend, the movie received only 58 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But for a millennial like me, who grew up with the original Disney cartoons, these remakes keep beautiful stories alive while also improving upon past mistakes.
Critics say the remakes are made for pure profit as most of Disney’s new movies grossed billions worldwide with only Beauty and the Beast making $505 million. Anti-remakes public argues that Disney exploits our childhood memories and nostalgia by repurposing old fairy tales as their cash cow with four more live-action remakes coming to screens in 2019. But people showed their love for remakes since Tim Burton’s Alice in the Wonderland scored $116 million in the opening weekend. There is no supply without demand as new remakes fulfill consumer needs. The fact that Disney makes a profit confirms people wanting to see their favourite cartoons on the big screen. In its opening weekend, as Bloomberg reported, Aladdin earned $86.1 million unseating John Wick. Disney makes so much money only because we demand live-action versions of the classics.
New remakes give Disney a chance to fix their culturally inappropriate remarks and fill stories with greater diversity. Initially, as Michelle Smith writes for ABC, the original Aladdin came under fire for the depiction of Arabic culture as “barbaric people” of Agrabah in the song “Arabian Nights”. The story lacked cultural appropriation and the cast behind the original was largely white. In theremake, Disney secured a diverse range of actors with Aladdin being played by Cairo-born actor Mena Massoud and Jasmine by Indian-British actor Naomi Scott. Will Smith of African-American origin takes on the role of Genie, while Dutch-Tunisian actor, Marwan Kenzari, plays Jafar. It would be hard to argue this isn’t a diverse cast for Hollywood as according to Annual Annenberg study, 70 per cent of film characters are white in Hollywood. Disney meets the criteria of the multi-cultural public.
Disney reimagines female roles and takes a more feminist stance on its modern-day princess characters. In the remake, Jasmine forgets her marriage aspirations and longs to become the next sultan. Disney even added a new song with Jasmine proclaiming she won’t stay silent, “All I know is I won’t go speechless”. Critics say Disney is pushing the original characters too hard, completely transforming them from the beloved originals. The New York Times commented on Aladdin’s effort on inclusivity: “the shoehorned-in progressive messages only call more attention to the inherent crassness of Disney’s current exercise in money-grabbing nostalgia.” But the progressive messaging isn’t a complete change: Jasmine has always been a badass princess with a tiger as her pet. Adding new ambitions matches the current theme of boss women who represent female empowerment. It should be encouraged, not criticized.
Those who slam Disney for its lack of new stories should pay more attention: Disney still produces successful original content. In 2016, Zootopia received a worldwide approval and become the fourth animated film to earn $1 billion at the global box office. Frozen kept up with current trends of female empowerment by portraying girls who look for independence rather than a prince. Moana was also critically acclaimed for its amazing cultural research of Polynesia proving Disney’s ability to be commercially successful with their new content.
Disney remakes compare to folklore being retold by oral tellers as they adapt their stories to connect with today’s audiences. As our views and politics change, so must the fairy tales we love to binge. Disney wants to keep its stories alive and introduce them to younger generations through live-action remakes. As anticipation for the Lion King grows, many cannot wait to see our childhood memories being played on the big screen again. Stories can be altered and updated, and every generation deserves its own version of a fairy tale. Don’t make Disney a villain.