Disney live action remakes you probably won’t see

Disney has been cranking out remakes of their classic animated films in zany live action form. Why? To make buckets of money, of course. There is no other reason. Artistry is a byproduct of this, not part of the design. Cynical? Yes! True? Pretty much.

And so far the buckets of money part has been pretty good for them. The only real disappointment so far has been the live action version of Dumbo, which suffered from a couple of things:

  • too old to benefit much from nostalgia
  • being old, it was also never a mega-success in its original, which is what Disney wants these days–there was not enough to build on
  • Tim Burton. He’s also flitted between brilliant and pedestrian as a director, and of late he’s done a lot of walking, if you know what I mean
  • flying elephants are kind of dumb

The Lion King is next and will probably be a huge hit, but to me the photo-realistic animals kind of kills the point of the whole thing. Photo-realistic animals can’t emote like humans, so they just kind of stand there and look like they’re part of as nature documentary. Also you get a weird animal version of uncanny valley when they start talking.

Nevertheless, The Lion King is beloved by modern audiences in a way Dumbo isn’t, so creepy animals shouldn’t keep it from making hundreds of millions of dollars.

On the other hand, even Disney might hesitate before committing to live action versions of the following:

  • Song of the South. Okay, this is a mix of live action and animated, but yeah, not gonna happen. Would be very interesting to see how they’d handle it, though. Very interesting.

Actually, Song of the South is the only one I think Disney would never touch. I mean, they won’t do a live action version of their WWII animated documentary Victory Through Air Power because it’s obscure and not something people think of when they think of Disney. People don’t think of Disney as being hilariously racist, either, hence Song of the South remaining firmly a thing of the past.

Solo vs. One

This month the second non-trilogy Star Wars film came out, Solo: A Star Wars Story. The first, Rogue One, released in December 2016.

Box Office Mojo posted a comparison of their domestic haul after 17 days. It shows a rather astonishing gap of $248,882,233.

Rotten Tomatoes gives Rogue One an 85% fresh rating, which is pretty good. Solo gets a more middling 71%. Still, the difference in popularity is drastic. Some reasons offered for the reception of Solo:

  • too soon after the previous Star Wars movie. The Last Jedi came out just six months ago.
  • difficulties with production somehow affected perception/demand (the original directors were fired and Ron Howard was brought in, reshooting up to 70% of the scenes while allegedly sticking to the script)
  • everyone knows Solo dies at the hands of his jerk son, Kylo Ren, so watching how he starts out is kind of depressing
  • Harrison Ford is too closely associated with the role
  • enough with the nostalgic trips into the past

There’s probably some validity to all of these reasons, but my hunch is that most people just don’t care much about a Han Solo origin story, even one that’s told well. It would be like a Boba Fett movie. The character came out with this built-in reputation as a cool bounty hunter, but did very little and got eaten by a giant worm. Why would you want to watch a story about him? Would the opening crawl start with “Before he was devoured by the Sarlac, Boba Fett was a renowned bounty hunter…”

Anyway, I was just surprised by the huge disparity between the two movies. While Rogue One was also set in the past, it didn’t center around well-known characters, it was a new story and one that actually helps set up the very first Star Wars film. And was incredibly popular–especially considering that (spoiler!) it kills off all of its major characters by the time the credits roll.

Saturday Night Fever remake: Should we put on our boogie shoes again?

First, let me clarify that there is no Saturday Night Fever remake, this is just some idle thinking on my part. Apologies if anyone got excited at the thought of seeing a white disco suit on the big screen once more.

Saturday Night Fever is usually considered a classic film (it stands at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and film critic Gene Siskel declared it his favorite movie ever) and had a lasting cultural impact stretching well beyond its 1977 debut. It helped usher in the era of disco, made John Travolta a superstar and did the same for the Bee Gees. It was a new kind of musical in which music was part of the fabric of the film but where no one suddenly broke out into song. At its core it was a coming of age story in which the young and impudent Tony Manero has to decide whether to break away from his dead-end life in Brooklyn (“Life going nowhere, somebody help me”) for something better in Manhattan.

A lot of people would argue there’s no need to remake the movie. I wouldn’t disagree and am always a bit dismayed when classic, highly-regarded films get remade into inevitably inferior new versions. There are plenty of good but flawed movies that are ripe for improvement via remake but they lack the cachet of a classic and so get passed over.

So if I don’t necessarily want a Saturday Night Fever remake, what am I going on about? I happened to be listening to the soundtrack while on my usual lunch walk (side note: the 8-track version–which I owned, dang it–has a live version of “Jive Talkin'” that blows the doors off the CD/digital studio version of the same song. Why they used a live version on the 8-track I don’t know and probably never will, alas) and it suddenly popped into my head that, given that the film is close to 40 years old it’s perhaps more of a surprise that it hasn’t been remade yet. This led to thinking about how it might be handled if someone greenlit a remake.

Here are the possibilities as I see them:

  • the Psycho approach. In 1998 director Gus Van Sant made a mostly shot-for-shot remake of the 1960 classic Psycho. Many saw this not only as inferior to the original, but a pointless experiment in duplication. Given the film was both a critical and financial flop, I doubt this approach would be considered. Also, Saturday Night Fever is as much of its era and wouldn’t necessarily translate to being modernized as Psycho was (see the last entry below for more).
  • a comedy remake, also known as the 21 Jump Street approach. The TV series was played straight but the movie remake and sequel play it for laughs and it works, mainly because the premise of 21 Jump Street is flexible enough that it can be stretched without breaking. While it’s obviously possible to make a comedic coming of age story, I think it would change the tone of the movie enough that it would come off more as a parody than just a different take. Speaking of…
  • an outright parody. That scene in Airplane! is enough. As are the other million parodies already out there.
  • the keep-it-faithful remake. This would keep everything as faithful to the original as possible–setting it in 1977, making the disco central, keeping the characters and story the same. It wouldn’t be a shot-for-shot remake and the biggest question would probably be whether to re-use the songs or create new ones that sound like they are from 1977. It would be challenging and some might still argue a bit pointless to take this approach. It also might come off as unintentional parody.
  • the keep-it-faithful-except-not-really remake. In this version the story and characters would stay the same but the trappings surrounding them would change. Instead of being set in 1977 and having everyone go to the disco, it would be set in 2016 and everyone would go to…wherever people go now. Since the music is such a fundamental part of the film, weaving throughout both the background and foreground, it might prove tricky keeping the feel of the original while updating the music. There’s a variety of popular genres to pull from–hip hop, electronica and its many variants and offshoots–but could any of them replicate the feel of the disco music of 1977 and serve as the basis for the film’s dance competition? It’s possible and this is probably the best approach to take.

Simon Cowell was apparently interested in a remake back around 2009 but it looks like nothing came of that. In a way it’s too bad because I suspect it might have been entertainingly awful.

I also thought about a possible remake of 1980’s Xanadu, which featured Olivia Newton-John and the music of ELO. Watching any clip from the movie–and I do mean any clip–quickly convinced me that it would be impossible to remake this without lapsing into parody, whether intended or not.