Favourite cartoon character: Sonic the Hedgehog, Bugs Bunny
Personal Quote: "Aside from the times I've lied to you, when have I ever lied to you?"
The Great Disney Remake Train shows no sign of stopping, especially after its most recent entry, “Beauty and the Beast”, managed to make a killing at the box office despite being, y’know, pretty Not Good At All. Combine that with the fact that, last year, they were even willing to do a remake of “Pete’s Dragon”, a movie which has only ever been a cult classic at best, and it becomes clear there’s basically no aspect of its considerable film library Disney isn’t willing to mine going forward. So, rather than bemoan the admittedly-tiresome reality of just how Corporate that strategy is, I thought I’d take the opportunity to think over a few Disney films that I’d actually like to see receive a remake. The only criteria here are pretty simple:
1.) If Disney publicly attached its name to the film in question, regardless of in what capacity, it’s eligible.
2.) The movie cannot have been remade by Disney already, nor can a remake be, concretely, in the offing. There are a lot of prospective remakes supposedly under development at Disney right now, but if they don’t have as much as an announced director, I don’t count them as really underway.
Otherwise, though, it’s basically all fair game. So let’s see what Disney movies might, in fact, have something to gain by being revisited, shall we?
10.) Atlantis: The Lost Empire (Gary Trousdale/Kirk Wise, 2001):
I don’t necessarily share the immense nostalgic affection with which quite a few Disney fans view the original “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”. Even so, I do feel like it’s a movie with an easily workable core and a solid cast of characters which, by virtue of the rather-desperate circumstances under which it was made (the movie was pretty transparently aiming to capitalize on the then-recent explosion of Anime into the American mainstream, to the point where some suspect it cribbed more than slightly from “Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water”), came out rushed and incoherent. A remake, able to capitalize on the aforementioned Nostalgia cache the move has built up over the years thanks to its atypical-for-Disney aesthetic and tone, could very easily step in and fix those flaws (not least of all by doing more to address the White Savior stuff that fuels the plot). As well, I can’t help but feel like Live Action/full-stop CGI animation could prove a much better fit for the Mike Mignola-designed aesthetic of the original. And, if nothing else, don’t you want to find an actress capable of bringing Kidagakash to life?
9.) Oliver and Company (George Scribner, 1988):
For the most part, the beginning of the “Disney Renaissance”, that period of consistent box-office and critical success Disney experienced during the late 80’s and early-to-mid-90’s, is credited to the 1989 release of “The Little Mermaid”. And to be sure, that mega success is unquestionably important. But prior to that, Disney kept itself afloat with somewhat humbler success stories. But where, to my mind anyway, 1986’s “The Great Mouse Detective” is basically perfect as it is, its successor, a peculiar attempt to translate Charles Dicken’s classic “Oliver Twist” to modern-day New York City with animals as its primary characters, feels like an interesting concept marred in the execution. Keep the animal conceit, sure, and maybe some of the songs too. But dump the more dated stuff (Bill Sykes as a predatory lender especially) and try to find some way to put Dickens’ edges back into the story a bit. Definitely work to make the cast better defined and more engaging, too. Do all that, and you could wind up with a version of this story that is just crazy enough to work.
8.) Condorman (Charles Jarott, 1981):
You know what’s all the rage these days at the movies? Superheroes. And wouldn’t you know it, Disney currently owns the absolute cream of that particular crop in the form of Marvel Studios. But, as the smash-hit successes of both “Deadpool” and “Logan” over at 20th Century Fox have shown, audiences are also growing hungry for works that poke fun at, deconstruct, and do something to meaningfully comment on the nature of the genre as a whole. So far, though, Marvel Studios proper, and thus Disney itself, has yet to capitalize on that quickly-growing trend. The thing of it is, though, they already have a perfect vehicle to do so if they choose to use it. The original “Condorman” is not an especially good film, awkward and uneven as it is. But its dopey attempt to send up Spy Films and superheroes, combined with the brilliant design of its title “hero” (in reality a dorky comic book artist who stumbles into an espionage plot almost purely by accident), creates, to my eye at least, a perfect blueprint for a potential remake to run with in a sharp, satirical direction.
7.) The Aristocats (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1970):
The 1970’s were not one of Disney’s better periods, either creatively or financially, and a lot of that can be seen pretty clearly in “The Aristocats”. It’s not without its charms, to be sure, but it’s also pretty obviously just “101 Dalmatians” all over again, except with contemporary-England-and-dogs swapped out for old-school-France-and-cats. Still, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that idea, and hey, as far as I’m concerned, cats could always use more movies about them that portray them in a positive light. Plus, the opportunities for a remake to improve on this one are almost painfully obvious: heighten the absurdity, tighten the pacing, and if you’re really feeling daring, maybe do more with the class gap between O’Malley and Duchess the original only ever lightly touched. It’s the absurdity element that feels especially key to me, though, especially in terms of differentiating “Aristocats” from “101 Dalmatians”. The original’s best moments are unquestionably its most ridiculous, after all, and amping that up, could do a lot to inject the movie with a more unique and enjoyable sense of personality.
6.) The Black Cauldron (Ted Berman/Richard Rich, 1985):
At this point, “The Black Cauldron”’s reputation as one of the biggest flops in Disney history precedes it, even given the not-insignificant cult following it’s picked up after finally receiving its first home video release in 1998 (nearly a decade and a half after its theatrical run). But lost in analysis of its contentious place in the studio’s canon is the fact that it’s also a weirdly garbeld adaptation of the first two books of Lloyd Alexander’s “Chronicles of Prydain” cycle of fantasy novels. And as often happens in those cases, that means there are a lot of details that go unexplained or unresolved, from running gags like Flewder’s harp and its breaking strings to significant plot points like the magic sword Taryn discovers. But a big recurring choice in a lot of Disney’s remakes of late is restoring elements of the source material that the previous Disneyification left out, and I don’t know that any movie in the canon would benefit from that choice more than “The Black Cauldron”. You can keep the broad structure of the original, i.e. the characters of the first Prydain book, “The Book of Three”, placed into the general plot of the second book for which the film is named. But not only can we add some clarification around the edges (seriously, it is so easy to connect the story of that sword to even the heavily-revised version of the Horned King Disney created), more importantly we can also implant a lot more of the arch tone the books had, which would go a long way toward reconciling the original’s rather confused take on the more-than-slightly deconstructionist story elements, to say nothing of likely making the movie less of a chore to sit through. Supposedly, a new “Chronicles of Prydain” movie is in fact under development at Disney, so who knows? Maybe we’ll get the chance to see if this idea could actually work sooner than we think.
5.) The Black Hole (Gary Nelson, 1979):
You’ve probably noticed a running theme of my choices here, namely that a lot of them come from eras where Disney, facing the loss of its traditional audiences in the wake of a changing cultural landscape, decided to start experimenting well outside their usual wheelhouse. And perhaps the most wildly experimental periods of them all occurred in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when Disney committed its efforts to making some surprisingly-dark Sci-Fi/Fantasy live-action films. But where 1982’s “Tron” became a cult classic (if not an especially strong box office success) and 1983’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” has its Ray Bradbury source material to keep it alive in the cultural memory, “The Black Hole” has more or less fallen down the memory hole. Not that it’s hard to figure out why; its grim, existential tone and nightmarish imagery (most noticeably its robotic villain Maximillian) combined with its vague, confusing plot make it a movie without much in the way of a natural audience. And while that sort of thing is no easier to sell to a massive audience now than it was back then, there is nonetheless too much potential that can be dug out of “The Black Hole” without really having to alter too much of the fundamentals. Working to really dig into the sense of cosmic dread of the original, clarifying the moral and personal conflicts that drive its central antagonist, the Captain Nemo-esque Reinhardt, maybe easing up on the cutesy robot sidekicks (or else leaning into them as a way to underscore just how unnerving the atmosphere really is)…but most importantly, working to earn the frightfully illogical ending of the original. Of all the picks on this list, “The Black Hole” strikes me as the least likely, because even today an outright Horror movie seems outside the Disney purview…but for that very reason, it feels all the more compelling a choice.
4.) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Gary Trousdale/Kirk Wise, 1996):
Even just a couple years ago, I don’t know that I would have put this one on here at all, let alone this high up. Disney’s first “Hunchback” movie, while certainly not perfect, is nonetheless one of the more uniquely mature and well-crafted entries in the canon, and I don’t know that the various simple nips and tucks one could make to it (like committing to the Gargoyles as solely creations of Quasimodo’s imagination, as was originally planned) would really warrant a full-blown remake. But then, early last year, I learned about a Broadway-style stage musical based on the movie (adapted from a German production from 1999). This version, though it retains the original’s soundtrack and some of its creative choices, incorporates a lot more of Victor Hugo’s brutally-dark novel into the story (in particular, it is one of the only adaptations ever that allows Frollo to be the archdeacon of the cathedral as he was in the book). That is not a choice I ever would have expected Disney to sanction (indeed, the original German version is a much more straightforward adaptation of the Disney movie), but now that I know they have, I’d say it is a very, very intriguing notion to bring that idea to the big screen. Like “The Black Hole”, that would indeed mean a movie the tone, themes, and aesthetic of which would indeed be well outside the studio’s usual box, but not only is that a risk the company can afford to take more so now than ever before, I’d say there’s a not-insignificant audience out there that is waiting for them to make exactly that kind of choice. After all, as Disney and the studios it owns take up more and more space on the release schedule, a movie like this one could be might be welcomed as a positive sign that the studio can and will use its power position to take genuine risks.
3.) The Rescuers (Wolfgang Reitherman/John Lounsbery/Art Stevens, 1977):
Sometimes, you want to see a remake because the original has some kind of untapped potential; a wasted premise, an unexplored thematic angle, that sort of thing. Other times, you want to see a remake because you love the original, and simply want to see the thing you love expanded upon. That isn’t quite the case for how “The Rescuers” wound up in this slot; I do love that movie, indeed it and its sequel (the very first Disney-made sequel to one of its animated films, and by a fair margin the best of them to date) are among my personal favorites of the Disney canon. But you know what else I love? The original “Miss Bianca” books by Margery Sharp, to which the film version, whatever else its merits, bears only the faintest resemblance (in particular, as you might note from the admittedly unofficial name I gave to the series, Bianca herself is much more emphatically the main character). It’s another case, in other words, of a Disney movie whose remake could benefit tremendously from returning to the source material and re-integrating it into the overall mixture. But it’s also the case, to my mind at least, where it’s not only the easiest to reconcile the original movie with said source material (like “The Black Cauldron”, the original movie essentially plucks the characters from one book and plugs them into the plot of another, though the attendant adjustments to the characters are less radical in this case, and the plots of both books have a lot more overlap), but also the easiest for me to envision what, exactly, the resulting movie would look like. I realize that one can count, on one hand, without needing all the fingers, the number of actually-good movies centered around realistic tiny CGI characters interacting with a real-life environment, but I can think of no story more ideally suited to the format than “The Rescuers”.
2.) Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Robert Stevenson, 1971):
When one thinks of “splashy Disney musical primarily done in live-action but with significant animated elements”, one naturally thinks first of “Mary Poppins”. Which makes sense, because “Mary Poppins” is a stone-cold classic (with a sequel/remake/??? on the way in the not-too-distant future, in fact). But, even as its attempts to replicate that earlier success are pretty transparent, “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” has always struck me as an underrated little gem in its own right. An ambitious narrative combining witchcraft with World War II, magical talking animals, and more, it’s always resided mostly in “Poppins”’ shadow, but its peculiar, distinctive identity not only could stand a bit more attention, it feels like a strong enough basis for a story that a second bite at the apple would seem warranted. A remake in the present day would not have to contend with the legacy of “Mary Poppins” quite so tightly (even setting aside the aforementioned new “Poppins” film coming down the pipe), which means it wouldn’t feel the need to imitate it quite so consciously, allowing the particular personality of its own story to shine through. Because, for real, especially these days? The idea of an older woman, seeking to explore the full potential of her abilities forced to contend with the relentless destruction of the Nazi War Machine, as seen through the prism of her reluctantly taking on a group of helpless kids in need of shelter? Almost feels too relevant, on multiple levels, to The World Today, even as you don’t need to draw the necessary lines all that explicitly to make those connections compelling. And that’s without even touching a finale that feels like it’s begging for the modern effects industry to give it a go. A “Bedknobs” remake, in other words, would not only rehabilitate a too-often-overlooked original, but provide a great experience in its own right.
1.) Robin Hood (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1973):
Hear me out on this one, folks. I love this movie too, a great deal. A lot of people my age do; even as it is still largely considered “minor” Disney at best, it has become a real nostalgic touchstone for a whole generation of kids. And it’s a great deal of fun, with wit and genuine whimsy and wonderful characters and even a remarkably adult perspective on Romance that is nonetheless entirely in keeping with Disney’s usual fairy-tale love stories. But even with all those things being true, it was also made on a nearly non-existent budget, not only forcing large chunks of it to be done by way of re-used animation (with some swipes going back as far as “Snow White And The Seven Dwarves”, for goodness sake), but forcing the whole thing to just sort of…stop, rather than properly end. It seems to me a remake could easily resolve both those problems (oh what I would not give to see the film’s originally-planned ending executed properly), without losing an ounce of the special charm that made the original such an enduring movie for me and so many others. Heck, it might even provide Disney a good excuse to do a cel-based movie for the first time in over half a decade, since they have every reason to think this thing would have a strong built-in audience that will show up no matter what and can thus afford to risk one last try at the olden ways. After all, two of their biggest hits of 2016 were “The Jungle Book” (a remake) and “Zootopia” (a movie about anthropomorphic animals, with a fox as one of its lead characters no less). Still, it’s the creative more so than the financial potential that secures “Robin Hood” the top slot here. The original is a good, special movie, but there is so obviously a great well of potential right there in plain view, begging for the opportunity to truly realize itself. And that’s the best reason for a remake there is, in the end.