After 'Aladdin,' Should Disney Consider a Live-Action Universe?
[This story contains spoilers for Aladdin]
This weekend, Disney’s Aladdin will take audiences on a magic carpet ride, traversing the nostalgic sights of the 1992 animated classic and adding a few new stops along the way, courtesy of director Guy Ritchie. Aladdin is the second Disney remake in what will be a banner year for the company’s efforts to capitalize on its animated classics with Dumbo released back in March, and The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Disney+’s Lady and the Tramp still to come.
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Since Disney began diving into its back catalog with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), the studio has glided through the realm of sequels, remakes, and reimagings of its animated classics with ease. While some films fared better than others, both critically and financially, the post-Alice lineup of Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), Beauty and the Beast (2017) and Christopher Robin (2018) have proved there’s plenty of life left in this method. So far, only Alice’s sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016), proved to be a true box office bomb, raising the question of these re-adaptations' sequel potential.
With Aladdin projected to bring in a healthy haul domestically for the long Memorial Day weekend, Disney is unlikely to be worried about the continued viability of its animated remakes. As if that was ever really in question. But what comes next for these characters? While we’re still a ways off from a situation where Disney has run out of animated films to adapt, the studio is moving through its library with a quick confidence that is perhaps suggestive of a larger plan. With Marvel and Star Wars at its disposal, Disney has learned the power of longevity, and telling stories that last an era. Is it possible that Disney’s remake magic, as financially successful as it is, holds more creative potential than just nostalgia?
Still to come on Disney’s docket are Mulan and Cruella, both set for 2020, and there are a number in development, though the status is unclear for projects such as remakes of The Little Mermaid, The Sword in the Stone, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Lilo & Stitch. There’s still plenty left to pull from, both modern classics and the more niche titles. It seems inevitable that we’ll see announcements and releases for The Princess and the Frog, The Rescuers, The Aristocats, Hercules and my personal pick, The Great Mouse Detective, within the next decade. But Disney’s remakes and its animated films seemed destined to meet in the middle, as the time that divides their releases grows increasingly short.
At the rate Disney is moving, both in terms of theatrical releases and streaming, live-action remakes of Frozen, Moana, and Zootopia don’t seem out of the realm of possibility. How long until it feels like Disney is just making animated movies to eventually remake them in live-action? Maybe it already does given how effectively Disney has managed to push nostalgia ahead. I’m sure parents everywhere are aghast at the idea of children already being nostalgic for Frozen and anticipating a live-action film, but maybe it's coming sooner than they think. Perhaps Disney has a way to appeal to their nostalgic base while also telling new stories.
Aladdin is the first of Disney’s remakes to establish a clear path for a sequel, with the villainous Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) getting trapped in a lamp but not before promising revenge on Aladdin (Mena Massoud), Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and Genie (Will Smith). This sequel setup doesn’t exactly come as a surprise given that Disney’s direct to video animated sequels, The Return of Jafar (1994), and Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996) have become semiclassics in their own right, at least for the generation that grew up with them. Certain events, like the Genie’s freedom resulting in his human transformation prevent direct adaptations of those sequels, but further Aladdin movies seem like a safe bet should this one prove successful. Outside of Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, both reimaginings, Disney has yet to pull the cord on sequelizing its remakes. A sequel to The Jungle Book was announced but has yet to gain traction since director Jon Favreau moved on to The Lion King. But should it happen, then there’s also the potential for the stories of Belle, Cinderella, Aladdin and Jasmine to continue.
Last year, Disney’s marketing for Ralph Breaks the Internet was centered around seeing all of Disney’s animated princesses together for the first time. That prospect partly overshadowed the excitement about a continuation of Ralph’s story. If Disney could get that much interest out of what amounts to a few scenes, then perhaps it should consider doing that for an entire film. The animated movies themselves are perhaps too precious for a company-wide crossover, though Disney did do something similar on television with House of Mouse. Live action though seems like a more fitting space to test this idea of a cinematic universe of Disney characters. ABC’s Once Upon a Time did something similar though the versions of the characters were significantly different from their Disney counterparts, despite the references to those animated films, and eventually the show became more of a collection of characters in the public domain than Disney exclusive. But a film with Emma Watson, Lily James, Angelina Jolie, Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, and some CGI animated voiced by Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Seth Rogen and Donald Glover, with music and lyrics by Alan Menken would have to be a success, right? Or maybe Disney can just skip the pretense and make a live-action Kingdom Hearts film. In any case, these characters seem too big to simply be confined to remakes, and perhaps sequels and crossovers are the means to craft something new out of the familiar.
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