Our (Un)Familiar Childhood
Since it started over 90 years ago, Disney has become a household name, synonymous with all of our childhood dreams and fantasies. We grew up idolizing the princes and the princesses, rooting for the underdog, crying tears of joy when families got back together, and so much more. Disney has gone from being a small animation company (headed by Walt Disney, a small-time animator) to being one of the largest production companies in the world, a multi-billion dollar establishment. Disney’s films have become iconic, from the famous Lion King (based on ‘Hamlet’) to Mulan, Lilo and Stitch, Aladdin, and other fairy tales that have become popular because of the Disney adaptation.
With the release of the new Lion King movie, questions arise as to what Disney’s game plan is with these remakes. One argument is that Disney wishes to reimagine classic movies for new generations to enjoy so that these ‘classics’ never truly die out. Another, the more cynical argument, is that it is an easy cash-grab, allowing Disney executives to reap funds as these classic remakes will ensure audience members — both old and new. The idea of ‘nostalgia’ comes into play here, a longing for an earlier time when the animation was good enough to watch, stories were moving, and things were simple to understand. The new remakes are both nostalgic and a call to current technology; by revisiting popular childhood favorites, Disney can guarantee older audience members to revisit their favorite childhood movie, and impress younger audience members with technological feats and marvels. All this is well and good until a line is crossed and the movie created is not wistful, but uncanny (and not in a good way).
The concept of ‘uncanny’ was first introduced by Freud, where he theorized that the uncanny is a mix of familiar and unfamiliar, creating an unsettling feeling where you recognize something, yet it is different. Think of the doppelgänger, someone that looks familiar, yet isn’t. This feeling of ‘uncanny’ is used in horror stories, to create sentiments of unsettlement — a haunted house, for example. Disney has (in my opinion, unwittingly) managed to produce the same sentiment through its live-action remakes; little Simba is meant to feel anguish over his father’s death, but Simba in the remake shows no emotion and is therefore disturbing. With the upcoming release of Mulan, questions arise as to what exactly Disney executives have in mind when greenlighting such projects. Sure, it will bring in funds, but at what cost? Newer generations may not click with the more serious film remakes, and older generations will forever hold the classics close to their hearts.
For now, Disney has returned to earlier cinematic ideas — a fascination with technology, an emphasis of spectacle over narrative. As audience members, we’re also aware that spectacle guarantees members in seats only once, and the effect eventually wears off. Stories? Stories last the test of time. I look forward to when Disney goes back to producing compelling narrative cinema. It looks like it will be quite a long wait.