Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Mining Nostalgia at the Mouse House (VOR)

More and more Hollywood tentpoles are trading original thinking for recycled nostalgia and regurgitated concepts – and we need to asking more of the entertainment we consume to combat them.

Originality has always been an odd concept to Hollywood studios, but if recent blockbuster output is anything to go by, we’re set to see increasingly large waves of recycled ideas wash up on our cinematic shores.

I’m not just talking about straight-up remakes here; those have existed almost as long as cinema itself. No, what I’m noticing more recently is a groundswell of productions that concern themselves with appealing to our deeply entrenched notions of nostalgia. Rather than just redoing a film or concept in a different or original way, major Hollywood studios are banking on nostalgia to ensure that audiences are parted with their hard-earned cash. It’s even less than remaking something; it’s reheating what is old and making it appear new.

Jon Faverau's The Jungle Book 
The main perpetrator that springs to mind is undoubtedly Disney. Disney is currently hell-bent on remaking their entire back catalogue of classic animated films, starting with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 2010 and continuing with the release of Jon Faverau’s The Jungle Book this past weekend.

But I have to ask the question; why bother? I don’t know about you, but no amount of CGI wizardry is going to capture the same sense of strangeness and psychedelia that emanated from the 1967 original.

Maybe Disney already knows this; the prospect of living up to their own legacy probably doesn’t keep them up at night. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. They know that if they fill the film with the same catchy ditties that got stuck in our heads as children that we’ll rock up to the cinema eager to sing-along to ‘Bare Necessities’ once again.

As Zach pointed out in his review last week, who is it that Disney is hoping to appeal to with this latest remake? It can’t be young children, because the mixture of live-action and photorealistic animals is more unsettling and upsetting than any animation. No, instead it’s those old enough to feel nostalgic for the original – anyone who can recall the creepiness of Ka or the catchiness of King Louie’s scat tunes. Our own sense of nostalgia for childhood classics like The Jungle Book draws us in, just as it did when Disney put out Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent or Cinderella.

It doesn’t stop there; picture any classic Disney animated film and you can be guaranteed that it’s destined for a laboriously recreated live-action remake in the next decade. Beauty and Beast? Check. Dumbo? Check. Pinocchio? Check. Mulan? Check again!

Just last week news broke that the Mouse House was planning yet another Peter Pan remake on top of its already blossoming slate that includes, I shit you not, a Cruella de Vil prequel film. Seriously. Did we learn nothing from Pan?

The new Darth Vader? Kylo Ren in
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Furthermore, there are no shortage of detractors who would describe Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a shameless exercise in nostalgia. After all, the film does share a lot of plot points, character motivations and visual motifs with the Star Wars films of yesteryear, particularly A New Hope.

Disney aren’t alone though; Sony are recycling Ghosbusters almost verbatim later this year whilst Terminator couldn’t get enough of referencing itself throughout the train crash that was 2015’s Genisys. And even though the latter didn’t fare so well at the box office, plenty more have succeeded in exploiting beloved franchises for shameless name recognition. Just take a look at the vast swathes of cash that Star Wars made…

I’ve got no problem with seeing more Ghostbusters films or a revitalised Star Wars series; I just want the films to be more than a recycled version of the original. Y’know, new story lines and directions in which the narrative can be steered – did they really have to make the new Ghostbusters look and feel so similar to the first film, right down to the sassy person of colour who is ‘street smart?’

When you take a step back and look at the recent past, it’s not hard to see why Disney have chosen to commit to their current slate of remakes; in the last few years, they’ve had to suffer through sizeable losses on major live-action films like John Carter, Tomorrowland, The Finest Hours and The Lone Ranger. Granted, none of these films were truly great, but at least they took an existing or original concept and brought new ideas and visual flair to the table.

Disney's Big Hero 6
At least Disney’s animation wing is consistently delivering new ideas to significant success; Frozen was a huge hit, Big Hero 6 was a mature examination of coping with loss and Zootopia pretty much tops them all through its clever layering of colourful animals and commentary on race and xenophobia. Why can’t we have the same mixture of inventiveness, intelligence and pure entertainment from their live-action branch?

I mean, let’s face it – is Disney’s slate of live-action remakes doing anything that’ll distinguish itself from what they’ve already done? Are we going to look back on Maleficent as fondly as we do with the original Sleeping Beauty? I’m not sure we are, and unfortunately, in the meantime, we’re still being sucked back in time and again by our own misguided sense of nostalgia. And until we start placing a greater importance on flawed but fundamentally different and imaginative content like Tomorrowland and John Carter, we’re eventually going to be stuck with just an endless string of remakes for shit like Pete’s Dragon.

Oh, they’re already doing that? Fuck.

This article was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.

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