Disney and Grocery Money

“There is no free lunch, so if you’re playing with the big train set – on big movies – it’s a lot of money they’re entrusting you with, and you have to get that money back for them. I don’t take that responsibility lightly.”
Jon Favreau

Disney and Grocery Money

When a director picks a play it is because he or she wants to shed new light on the work. Years ago a theater company in Colorado wanted to have Don Quixote tilting at oil rigs making Man of La Mancha a political story. Those who own the rights said no.

Still, you can occasionally go see a King Lear set in World War 1 or even with an all female cast. It seems that the older the work, the more room you have to mess with it.

Disney is cranking out live action versions of its big selling animated flicks. We’ve seen Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo and Aladdin. Maybe another in there, I’ve forgotten.

Was there a new take on the work when translating these classics to live action? If not, then it is just grocery money for Disney. The director has no motive beyond a faithful reproduction of the cartoon.

If the director has no new point of view on the work (why not a female Mowgli?) then there is only one reason to go see these films: for the ballroom scene.

I’ll call it a ballroom scene as a catch-all for the big memorable number in the original. Bare Necessities is a ballroom scene in that we look forward to this number when we buy our ticket. It was the only song used in The Jungle Book. Whether or not this was a good choice, this movie was the most original take on the classic of all the Disney tries so far.

The director has one job: nail the ballroom scene. If done well, then the audience is happy. A Whole New World in Aladdin was lovely! I was happy as can be. The ballroom scene in Cinderella was fantastic and lovely and beautifully presented. Dumbo missed the mark with Baby Mine in some forgettable scene that I can’t recall. Dumbo failed.

We have three more Disney grocery-money movies coming this year. The Lion King, Mulan and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Do you think that we’ll see a unique slant in these versions? I’m guessing grocery money all the way! That’s our Disney!

Hakuna Matata will be the song that we are looking for in The Lion King. It is memorable and fun like Bare Necessities. Nail that one scene and we’ll forgive almost anything else.

Mulan? No songs in the live action version. There was so much wrong with the animated version (a Chinese girl in geisha make-up for one) that we’ll watch this one almost as historians of the original. But, this version seems to be from the Chinese lore and will have little to do with the animated version — no Eddie Murphy making us laugh.

Maleficent? Ugh. An Angelina Jolie ego-fest, the first one changed the story to make the evil queen into a good guy. I couldn’t bear it. I might go see this one, but maybe not.

With The Jungle Book and maybe the Lion King using only one song from the classic, I ask a question: why go see it again? I’ll watch Beauty and the Beast, either version, over and over because of the musical soundtrack.

Really, the key to the Disney success is that kids will watch them over and over, adults too. Maybe having a huge single blockbuster is enough but, with Disney, they usually want more and more and more money.

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