2019’s been a big year for the Walt Disney Company, releasing five live-action remakes of their animated classics within nine months. Although Disney has been releasing live-action remakes of their content since 1994’s The Jungle Book, this recent trend arguably kicked off with 2014’s Maleficent, with the company re-hashing their classics for a newer audience. But there’s a bigger question here, especially in an age where animation is gaining respect as an art form: “but why?”
Well, to answer that question, we must go back a long time ago, in a kingdom far, far away…
America, 1984. Michael Eisner is the President and CEO of Paramount Pictures, and gives this speech:
“The pursuit of making money is the only reason to make movies. We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. Our obligation is to make money, and to make money, it may be important to make history. To make money, it may be important to make art, or some significant statement. To make money, it may be important to win the Academy Award, for it might mean another ten million dollars at the box office.”
Shortly after, Eisner leaves Paramount to become the CEO of the Disney Company, a job he would retain until 2005, overseeing both the Disney Renaissance of 1989-1998 and the eventual destruction of the traditional 2D animation department.
Eisner implemented his philosophy to the Disney Company primarily through the production of direct-to-video animated sequels, prequels and mid-quels of established Disney properties, which are debatably, the prequels themselves of the live-action remakes.
Current CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, is for all intents and purposes an apprentice of Eisner’s, and also adheres to the philosophy that making money is vastly more important than making art.
Now, this is not to say that the company’s philosophy has never been to make money – Walt Disney, after all, was a ferocious capitalist – but this is a shift from the earliest incarnation of the company and its artistic values. Even Walt himself was known to express disappointment at being unable to produce such great works as the movie adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird after a private screening of the film in his home, remarking: “Now that’s the kind of movie I wish I could make.”
But despite this, the current trend in Disney movies seems to be this: take a property, find something people don’t like about it, and make an entire movie addressing it. This was the sweet spot that Eisner never quite hit; it wasn’t enough to create additional content for the original movies – in order for people to accept that the remakes were something other than a shameless cash-grab, you need to say something about the movies you are remaking.
Why else would the 2019 Dumbo end with Danny Devito running a 1940’s cruelty-free circus after all his animals are returned to their natural habitats? And they cut out the BEST PART of the original movie because it’s ‘problematic’ to show a baby elephant getting drunk and tripping some pink elephant monstrosities?
But the most egregious example of Disney using wokeness for fun and profit is 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, which seems to exist only to counteract every single piece of internet criticism ever lodged against the original movie by making a boring piece of slog with a dash of neoliberal #GirlPower that makes you long for the sweet release of death.
But more so than the forced girl power elements that seem only to be there to refute the internet accusations of Belle having Stockholm syndrome, is that the company seems to want to widen its demographic – but in the stupidest way possible.
You see, the queer community has always really, really, loved the Disney company, especially the villains, and Disney has no idea how to feel about this. Much like Disney’s attitude towards women, the company sees the queer community as an extremely valuable source of income, but also a massive liability – because if they’re too nice, they lose markets all over the world from countries who don’t want to allow content ‘encouraging/endorsing homosexuality’.
Which is why the first confirmed queer character in any Disney property is 2017’s LeFou, played by Josh Gad.
In a movie with Sir Ian McKellen, Disney decided to make the buffoon sidekick character played by Olaf from Frozen its first ever example of queer representation. Waiting for Jack Whitehall in Tiger Cruise might have been more worth it.
But overall, the film grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide, teaching Disney that lazy fedora-tips to Hollywood’s version of progressivism is fundamentally going to make them more money than any form of risky original product. If anything, it’s more profitable, as not only are you increasing the prestige of the Disney brand, you are increasing what Disney internally refers to as ‘brand integrity’. And you can get away with creating a ninety-minute advert for the Broadway show of Aladdin starring Will Smith.