In recent years within the movie industry, there has been a surge of media houses creating live-action adaptations of animated films with the hope that these films will feel more personal and closer to reality.
Disney, a multinational mass media and entertainment company, has created a total of fifteen (15) live-action movie adaptations of its classic animated movies. Just within the last five (5) years, Disney fans have been able to watch Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and—most recently—The Little Mermaid in theaters: all with human actors rather than animated.
The Little Mermaid 2023 live-action remake has been making headlines in newspaper articles and on social media platforms for the last few months. Rob Marshall cast Halle Bailey, an American singer-songwriter and actor, as Ariel, the protagonist and main character of the 1998 original animated fantasy film, who was white.
The recasting of Ariel with a Black actress sparked worldwide conversations on the impact of representation in media.
Many fans of Disney expressed their outrage and disappointment that Ariel, who originally had blue eyes and red hair in the animated version, will now be black through the hashtag #NotMyAriel on Twitter.
Other fans commended Disney’s decision, stating that representing people of color in a positive light will increase the self-esteem of young girls from marginalized groups. Videos of little black girls excitedly discovering that the new Ariel looks like them flooded social media!
Nevertheless, Disney was not immune from criticism, and millions of people worldwide debate that Disney’s decision to remake live-action films—rather than create original stories—is solely financially motivated.
“Remaking Disney classics is an easy way for the company to print money at the box office. They’re four-quadrant films, meaning they’re films that appeal to men and women below and above 25. Disney was able to deliver something nostalgic for fans of the originals while offering something new for young children, many of whom may be children of fans who grew up with the originals.”
Here Are the Facts:
Although Disney’s live-action remakes keep the original plot and key themes presented in the original animated movies, many directors take the creative freedom to retell these stories subtly or boldly through a modern lens.
For instance, in The Little Mermaid (2023), Ariel’s character has become more nuanced. Ariel and Eric, her love interest, bond through similarities, such as their advantageous personalities and their feelings of being outcasts in their families. This is in contrast to the original film, where the attraction was rooted in superficial reasons.
In an interview with Vanity Magazine, Alan Menken, one of the composers of The Little Mermaid (2023) soundtrack, expressed that lyrics in the songs “Kiss the Girl” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” were changed to highlight that consent should be active in both parties and that it is okay to speak out if being mistreated.
How Does Financial Benefit Play into the Remake?
According to data from Box Office Mojo, the percentage increase in domestic box office revenue from the original, animated versions to the live-action remakes is as follows:
- Dumbo (2019), 8,728.18%
- Aladdin (2019), 63.58%
- The Lion King (2019), 63.59%
- Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019), 120.80%
- The Little Mermaid (2023), 54.44%
This data clearly shows there is a profit incentive for mass media companies to create live-action adaptations of these classic films. These percentages are also only based on domestic ticket sales and do not indicate the full earning capacity of these movies with regard to international theaters and movie-related merchandise.
In the debate surrounding Disney’s incentive to create live-action film adaptations—whether to creatively retell classical stories or to maximize financial rewards by profiting from the nostalgia of older generations—there is no clear answer.
There are arguments for both perspectives, but with limited insight into the inner workings of the decisions of the individuals at Disney headquarters, we can never be sure.
However, one thing is for certain: this technique is lucrative and keeps Disney in business. By recreating these classical movies, Disney can cater to previous and current generations, especially if the casting is strategic and includes popular actors such as Halle Baily. Moreover, Disney benefits by addressing modern themes in these live-action films, which differentiates them from their animated counterparts while aligning the film to fit the viewpoints of our current society.