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The Inherent Danger of Hollowing-out Disney’s Animated Legacy

The Inherent Danger of Hollowing-out Disney's Animated Legacy

Remember when Disney
was an animation-led
company; the kind that
relied upon its animated
features and shorts to
be the engine of
the entire enterprise?
Yeah, me too, but
that was 30 years
ago. The Disney of
today is a vastly
different corporation,
and animation is but
a cog in the
overall machine. Yet while
its rich library of
animated features continues to
bring in the bacon,
new ways of exploiting
them by turning them
into live-action remakes and
adaptations have emerged.

 

David Sims over
at The Atlantic sees
a problem with this.
In his piece entitled
‘Why
Is Disney Trying So Hard to Dilute Its Brand?’
, he
has a worry:

 

Both Disney
and
its subsidiary
Pixar
make
plenty
of children’s
films
that
adults
can enjoy,
but
usually
to
pull
that
off the
movies
actually
have
to be
good
(for
example,
Up
and
Wreck-It Ralph).
Remakes
allow
the
studio
to
avoid
that
problem.
A
Cinderella reboot
that
features
Cate
Blanchett
vamping
it up
as
the Wicked
Stepmother
can get
every
generation
on
board,
kids
or not.

 

So-called ‘tent-pole’
films are all the
rage at the moment,
and as many have
proven, just because they
don’t win any favors
with the critics (Alice
in Wonderland, The Sorcerer’s
Apprentice
, and Maleficent
are all certified ‘rotten’
on Rotten Tomatoes) that
doesn’t mean audiences won’t
cough up their hard-earned
cash to see them.
Large-budget, blockbuster
films have been the
Disney norm ever since
Snow White. Sims’ issue
is that by allowing
standards to slip,
Disney’s vaunted reputation for
quality is being squandered
in favour of current
box office revenue.

 

That’s a valid
concern, but my issue
is that the company
is undertaking such films
by raiding its animated
legacy. Now I for
one do not deny
that the company has
used its library for
inspiration; 1996’s 101
Dalmatians
was a
live-action remake of
the animated original. Yet
Disney has, until recently,
shown a remarkable reluctance
to remake old films
in deference to other
Hollywood studios. All
of Disney’s animated films
outside of the special
case that is Fantasia,
remain unique to this
day. Arguably this proves
that Walt’s influence is
still felt in the
feature animation department,
if nowhere else.

 

Which makes the
live-action treatments even
more egregious  The company
is hardly out of
new ideas, but since
feature animation is now
merely one part of
a mammoth organization,
its influence is smaller;
its drive for new
and exciting ideas is
not felt in other
places where the mantra
is reliable revenue at
all costs. 

 

This leads to
the crux of the
issue: Disney’s reputation and
legacy has been built
up over decades by
a series of original
animated films, but is
in danger of being
torn down by less-than-stellar
remakes and adaptations
of those same films.

 

This is a
grave concern! What kind of effect could a poorly
executed version of Disney’s The Jungle Book, or Disney’s Beauty and the Beast have?

 

To put things
in context, there’s a
reason why Ron Miller
instituted the Touchstone Pictures
label in 1983; a
public-relations problem that
loomed large after films
with adult themes were
released under the Disney
name. A different brand
solved that problem and
allowed the core Disney
name to remain untarnished.
This desire to preserve
it is partly the
reason why Pixar and
Marvel have retained their
own branding despite being
purchased outright.

 

The decision to
use the Disney brand
for a series of
films that are not
within the studio’s traditional
artistic range is a
marketing misstep, and
a confusing one too.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
was much closer in
tone and content to
a Walt Disney Picture
than Tim Burton’s Alice
in Wonderland
, but firing
the former up on
DVD reveals the Touchstone
logo. Isn’t that a
tell-tale sign that
the studio believed the
content would have to
stand out on its
own? It’s hard not
to wonder whether Alice
in Wonderland was capable
of succeeding if the
Disney label had not
been taped on and
used throughout the film’s
marketing campaign.

 

Where do things
go from here? What
happens if a couple
of dud films casts
a dark cloud over
the Disney brand? Will
the company’s animated
features be able to
continue the legacy, or
will it have been
tarnished by a
series of half-baked live-action
remakes and adaptations?
Only time will tell,
but right now, I’m
pessimistic.

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