Although she considers herself to be a Disney fan, Wendy Petrehn did not rush to the cinemas to watch the live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast immediately after its release.
According to Petrehn, her disinterest in the film is partly due to the darker themes recent adaptations of Disney have been showcasing.
“There’s nothing wrong with having darker storylines,” Petrehn, a senior studying environmental biology, said. “But … if I go to a Disney movie, I’m going for the nostalgia.”
Since its success with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 2010, in which the film grossed over $1 billion worldwide, Disney has produced several live action adaptations of their animated classics. The studio has plans for future releases and is currently planning for live action adaptations of films including Mulan, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, according to Forbes.
Akil Houston, an associate professor in the department of African-American studies, believes the studio is being strategic in releasing live action adaptations to an older audience who has grown up with the animated classics. However, Disney is far from being the only company to do so.
With the advancement of technology and films being able to utilize computer-generated imagery to bring realism to the story, other studios, such as Marvel, are also releasing reboots of their classic superhero movies. Spider-Man: Homecoming and Logan are among those being released this year.
However, the main selling point of Disney’s live action adaptations isn’t the new technology. For Petrehn, it’s the nostalgic feeling of feeling like a kid again with movies that fill her with happiness.
One of the reasons why people relate so much to older Disney films is because it’s a way for people to relive a moment in time, Houston said.
“It’s kinda like music, when you hear an old song on the radio, you can recall what you were doing (and) what was happening in your life,” he said. “I think that’s why (the live action adaptations) resonate with people.”
While the films succeed in making people feel nostalgic, Houston said they also allow people a space to not only have nostalgia but also deal with contemporary issues.
“If you look at Disney’s latest releases … those offer moments of nostalgia, but they also invite new pieces that reflect this moment (in life),” Houston said. “For example, people (are talking) about gay representation in Beauty and the Beast.”
Beauty and the Beast is not the only Disney film to have been widely discussed as controversial for having these reflections of life. Maleficent, Disney’s 2014 live action adaptation of the classic Sleeping Beauty, received attention after Angelina Jolie (who plays the lead) confirmed a controversial scene in the movie was an analogy for rape, according to the Huffington Post.
The darker themes in the live action adaptations may not be for everyone, but Monica Acon believes the darker themes add depth to the remakes.
Acon, a junior studying marketing, said she has friends who interned or worked at Disney, and believes the studio is “very intentional” in marketing its films.
Similar to how the target audience for animated films are often younger children, Disney Channel movies are “light and fluffy (and) there’s a lot of happiness and singing” because they’re aimed for teenagers, she said.
“(But) because they’re attracting an older audience (with the live action adaptations), they have to make it darker,” Acon said. “They have to bring more substance to the movies, especially if it’s a remake.”
There’s a market for a more diverse audience and including these themes is just one way to include different perspectives into the films, Houston said. However, he believes the main target audience for these live action adaptations is the generation of young adults who have grown up with the classics.
“I think that’s a big part of it,” Houston said. “People want to relive the fun parts of their childhood.”