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After months of stalling and uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disney has finally released Mulan (2020) to those with premiere access on their streaming platform Disney+.  This updated version of Mulan serves as Disney’s newest addition to their rapidly growing catalogue of live-action adaptations of nostalgic classics making a comeback to the big screen. As is the case for the live-action films Disney has released over the past decade, Mulan (2020) featured all of the essential moments fans of the 1998 Mulan film expect to relive, along with several noticeable changes such as the omission of friendly animal sidekicks and the inclusion of storylines based on real-life events. Disney’s initiative to retell Mulan’s story with new themes and characters creates a universe of potential remakes and directions that they can be taken in! Disney already has quite a few live-action adaptations in the works, including The Little Mermaid (2021), Hercules, and Snow White, but there are some outstanding titles not yet in the conversation of being adapted that have great potential to pay tribute to, and even surpass, the legacy of their original.

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The Requirements for Future Disney Live-Action Movies

After viewing Mulan (2020), I revisited all of Disney’s live-action adaptations back to 1996’s 101 Dalmatians and discovered some common trends found in the process of developing these beloved animated titles into today’s live-action blockbusters. These four choices are key to understanding the shift in direction from animated to live-action Disney film: 

  1. The first distinction to be made is whether or not to darken the tone of the adaptation. The 2010 Alice in Wonderland film took a major step away from the whimsical tone of the original and settled in a much darker and dangerous take on Wonderland, whereas the most recent Aladdin film decided to maintain the light tone of the original. 
  2. The second distinction is whether the adaptation will include musical numbers. Some remakes like Beauty and the Beast decided to include this element of the original and others, such as the recent Mulan film, chose to exempt these moments from the story. 
  3. The third element that assists in determining the direction of a Disney adaption is the level of realism brought in the live-action. Some of these updated films have gone in a hyperrealistic direction whereas others like Maleficent don’t shy away from the fantasy aspect of classic Disney films. 
  4. Finally, the degree of divergence from the source material is one that often sets the tone for a Disney remake. As previously mentioned, the recently released Mulan takes inspiration from both the original film and from actual events of Mulan’s history, but some adaptations like Cinderella (2015) found themselves successful in remaining faithful to the original. 

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These kinds of modifications are what make Disney’s live-action adaptations exciting and are what allow classic stories to remain relevant to audiences already familiar with the original material, and I will use them to frame how Disney could adapt some of their classic titles in new and innovative ways. 

Lilo & Stitch Is The Next Star Wars

Disney has the opportunity to create an entirely new and epic space saga within the story of Lilo & Stitch. Full of fan-favorite characters still loved today, the thrilling set of outer space, and stellar musical moments, this film is ripe for remaking, and here’s exactly how it should be done when it comes to the four common distinctions taken into account when adapting a Disney film into live-action. This adaptation of Lilo & Stitch does not have to darken its tone! Adding some freaky-looking aliens would assist the spectacle, but there is no need to break up the fun and levity that comes with spending two hours with Lilo and Stitch. Audiences want to see Lilo and Stitch chasing aliens in spaceships and shooting bad guys with laser guns, there is no need to darken those kinds of fast-paced thrills!

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As for musical numbers, “Hawaiin Roller Coaster Ride” is a classic that should not be omitted! In addition, it’s proven that a compelling, nostalgic soundtrack works well in space flicks, so throw in some Elvis songs and we’re off! In terms of whether this film should be angled towards fantasy or realism, there is no question that Lilo & Stitch belong in a world of fantasy, at the end of the day what audiences want from an outer space adventure is some good old fashioned escapism! Finally, this adaptation will be most successful if it remains faithful to the original film while building upon it and expanding the universe already adored by all. Ideally, Auli’i Cravalho would star as Lilo, and Stitch would be played by Sir Ian McKellen… Okay, fine, scratch that.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Goes to the Oscars

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Disney’s most underrated classics and has the potential to become one of the best transformations into live-action yet. The original consists of mature themes such as the wrath of lust and several intense action sequences that, once adapted effectively, could evolve into some serious Oscar-worthy material. That’s right, Disney could go for some real award season sweeps with this live-action adaptation – here’s how. First, it is a must this remake is darker in tone. This will allow for a deeper dive into many of the heavy themes and add to the emotional heft that comes with a story centered around a hunchback living alone in a tower. In the same vein, this adaptation would thrive without any musical numbers and realism is the key! CGI singing and dancing gargoyles would only distract from the sophisticated and complex content of the film. Finally, this remake could flourish tremendously by basing itself in the original Hunchback of Notre Dame novel. The original film is a great backbone, but taking on more influence from the book would allow for greater depth and a more refined story. In order to secure at least some Golden Globes, the role of Quasimodo would be taken on by Oscar winner Rami Malek, Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis would play the villainous role of Monseigneur Claude Frollo, and Emmy nominee Zendaya would portray the enchanting Esmeralda. Disney would be waist-deep in awards after this one!

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Princess and the Frog: A Modern RomCom

The last of the Disney films that must be adapted into a live-action movie is The Princess and the Frog. Ideally written by and starring Issa Rae this retelling of The Princess and the Frog would be the PG-13 story of an average millennial woman falling for a guy and turning into a frog. One of Disney’s bolder directions for a film, this adaptation would be self-aware and meta, having Rae act as a comedic voice of reason for the audience to experience the film through. The tone of this remake should still be as light and fun as the original, but more suited for teens and young adults. This version would remain a musical but the irreverent tone would allow for Rae to recognize the bizarre nature of a musical film, much like Disney’s Enchanted.

As for where this adaptation would fall on the spectrum of realism vs fantasy, Rae’s The Princess and the Frog could fall right in the middle! What would make this adaptation work is Rae’s real-world life being bamboozled by fantasy; she’s aware her situation is like a Disney movie and she’s over it! Finally, yes, this film would follow recent Disney live-action adaptations and diverge from the story of the original film; however, it wouldn’t lose the great story elements audiences love. By keeping all the same characters and story arcs, but placing them in the 2020s, Disney would have an adaptation unlike any they have produced before. The cast would include Issa Rae as Tiana, LaKeith Stanfield or Donald Glover as Prince Naveen, and Billy Porter or Idris Elba as Dr. Facilier. Can we say “star-studded”?

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These are all just some examples of how Disney can really capitalize on the popularity of their live-action adaptations and take their classic films to new levels during this new era! While Disney would be perfectly fine ignoring these suggestions, it would be wise to create remakes that can establish new meaning and experiences for audiences that are devoted enough to go to a theatre and see a film they have probably already seen dozens of times at home. Who knows what direction Disney will take with their films as they continue to produce live-action versions of their classics, but the boundless possibility already exhibited from 101 Dalmations (1996) to this past week’s Mulan suggest that the next adaptations to come will bring nothing short of honor to us all.

By Christopher Davis

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