Doing a “live-action” remake of an animated film, particularly one as enduring as so many of Disney’s, is not actually a bad idea by definition. It is nakedly a commercial enterprise. The inherent conservatism of a company rehashing properties it’s already dined out on for decades for yet another round at the box office is undignified whoever’s doing it. That said, there’s no reason why this can’t result in a great film.
A lot of the Disney remakes aren’t great films. I’ve seen most of them now. The ones Linda Woolverton has (co-)written are the most interesting conceptually, since they are the revisionist takes on Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, but the resulting films are the least successful. Then you have the remakes of the 90s films – Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin – which are relatively inoffensive, and make some interesting changes, but mostly they seem entirely unnecessary. I enjoyed 101 Dalmatians as a kid, and 102 less. I’d like to watch them again.
The Jungle Book and Cinderella are towards the top of the pile. It might be because they are more interested in the source material of the films, and the experience of watching the animated versions, rather than rather shallowly aping the original. It could be that Branagh and Favreau are more hit than miss when it comes to films on this scale. It could be dumb luck. In any case, they’re the only ones where I’d consider putting them on rather than the original once in a while, rather than hardly ever.
The best films are ones that fit the definition more dubiously, since they’re based on hybrid movies. Pete’s Dragon turns the musical comedy into a children’s fantasy adventure in the woods. It’s far from perfect, but I admire it, and I should seek out more films by David Lowery. The best is Mary Poppins Returns, which does the Force Awakens sequel-remake trick right. I love that film with bells on. It’s approaching Paddington when it comes to the best modern family entertainment.
So with all that throat-clearing out of the way we come to the remake of Lady and the Tramp. You’ve got to be honest about how you reacted to a film. Since it was released straight to Disney+, I had no confidence in it at all. However, not only was I pleasantly surprised, I really enjoyed it. Critically, it’s a game of two halves, to use a cliche. The CG dog faces never work, but the real dogs are very cute. The script essentially turns the slight original into a boilerplate pet adventure film, but the classical romance overtones really work. The song replacing “The Siamese Cat Song” is forgettable, but it’s 300% less racist.
Uncritically, it’s a warm hug of a film. The classic moments are recreated and improved upon. (“Bella Notte” is pretty funny, and still sweet.) The voice acting is never less than engaging throughout. The human actors are perfectly fine. “He’s a Tramp” is a more convincing musical number than the entirety of Cats. I highly recommend it, particularly in such strange and uncertain times. It tickles the part of my brain that loves Once and the Before Trilogy. It’s certainly worth spending the £5.99 or doing the free trial to get Disney+ and watch it. You may be surprised by how much you like it – although less likely now that I’ve hyped it up somewhat.
Over the past four months or so I’ve (re)watched most of the Star Wars films, leading up to the one that happened before Christmas, and today I’ve just finished off the Indiana Jones series. I wasn’t blogging while I was watching Star Wars, but now I’m in a position where I’ve seen the popular pre-Disney Lucasfilm output, in many cases for the first time in perhaps decades. My post-Disney opinion is very linked to my position on the films made in the ‘70s and ‘80s: I didn’t watch them a lot growing up, so I don’t have the intense nostalgia for them others do, and so I prefer the ‘10s films that shake things up to the ones which attempt to just coddle the adult fans of these, as Patrick Willems puts it, movies about space wizards intended for children.
You would think, then, I wouldn’t care for the film I watched today, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Certainly, public opinion is pretty cool on this film. It is also the least liked among critics, at a glance, but at 78% on that accursed site Rotten Tomatoes it’s still well in the clear as far as that’s concerned. (The first is at 95%, the second 85%, and the third 88%, which proves nothing except to comfort me in my assertion that the first film is a league apart from any of its sequels.)
Actually, I liked it as much as any of the others, and even prefer it to one. It doesn’t bother me to have a divergent opinion, nor do I take it as a badge of pride. It is useful, though, to explore why you think something, and putting my workings in front of me in this regard has meant what was intended as a quick note on Letterboxd has quickly expanded into a 2000+ word thesis with a potted history of Lucasfilm and its position in the industry, just so we’re all on the same page.
They’re threatening an Indiana Jones 5 without the involvement of either Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, which seems pointless to me. Ahead of that, it’s worth asking myself three questions: how do I view these filmmakers? How do I consider their work? As a consequence, why do I like Indy 4 much more than its reputation would suggest? We’ll start with the history.