In the battle to own the box office, it’s becoming more and more evident that fairy dust is every bit as powerful as spandex.
Disney’s live adaptation of The Jungle Book has already made over $190 million in just over two weekends of release. And unlike spring’s other big ticket—Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice—it’s also very good.
It’s the kind of movie that breaks new ground with visual effects while remembering that effects should still be effective in storytelling. Every spectacular scene was rooted in Mowgli’s emotional journey, which was just familiar enough to appease those who grew up on the 1967 animated Jungle Book musical and restaged with enough confidence to transport you on a new, surprisingly affective, journey.
It’s a feat that Disney has accomplished before in recent years with megahit live-action retellings of Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and Cinderella. (To varying levels of success in the quality department, but indisputable triumph in the visually appealing realm.)
And with The Jungle Book performing with superhero box office success and superpower word of mouth, Disney cannily used the opportunity to announce it would be expanding its on-screen Magic Kingdom. The company announced eight live-action release dates for new films through the end of 2019, as well as some official details on nine live-action projects that rumors had been swirling about.
All of this comes in addition to projects that have already been announced and slated: the sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass, the Pete’s Dragon remake, and the live-action Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson out next spring. It also only refers to Disney live-action movies—so in other words excludes the exhaustive number of releases coming from Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney’s animated branch.
It’s a Mickey Mouse infestation.
We’ve seen this kind of genre over-enthusiasm before, and recently.
The Superhero Movie Boom gave way to the Superhero Movie Bubble, and, when in 2014 Marvel and DC Comics announced plans for 20 movies over six years, many wondered when the bubble would burst. Anyone who survived a Batman v. Superman screening might argue it already has. Of course, preaches The Daily Beast’s Jen Yamato, hope is not yet lost.
Pixar, the cherished animation studio also owned by Disney, has seen its brand suffer when it began scheduling more sequels than its legendarily beautiful original material. The result is a fostered love-hate relationship with audiences.
With every Inside Out masterpiece, the brand gets dispensation. But with every Cars 2 or Monsters University, Pixar fans start sweating as the bubble starts to dangerously expand again. Early buzz for Finding Dory could bring it back down to size. A mishandling of a worrisome fourth Toy Story film could burst it to smithereens.
(That every stellar Disney Animation film released in the meantime—be it a Frozen or, most recently, Zootopia—sparks new thinkpieces about Pixar’s fall from grace as Disney finds its mojo doesn’t help matter, either.)
So here we are with Disney. The company confirmed projects and details that had been rumored in a rundown press release. The films are:
· Cruella with Emma Stone set for the title role and Kelly Marcel writing
· A Wrinkle in Time with Ava DuVernay attached to direct and Jennifer Lee writing
· Jungle Cruise with Dwayne Johnson set to star and John Requa and Glenn Ficarra writing
· Dumbo with director Tim Burton and writer Ehren Kruger
· A sequel to Mary Poppins with director Rob Marshall, starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda
· Maleficent 2 with Angelia Jolie set to return in the title role and Linda Woolverton writing
· The Nutcracker and the Four Realms with director Lasse Hallstrom and writer Ashleigh Powell
· The Jungle Book 2 with both director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Marks returning
· A Tinker Bell project with Reese Witherspoon set to star and Victoria Strouse writing
There are still other projects in the works with apparently not enough concrete information to be included in the release.
According to Deadline, that includes Disney’s own live-action Peter Pan (an entirely separate article could be written about the Peter Pan Bubble). Variety reports plans for a live-action Winnie-the-Pooh, which is actually a whole lot less terrifying prospect after seeing the subtle ways The Jungle Book brought its animals to life. There’s a live-action Little Mermaid project that’s well underway, starring Chloe Grace Moretz. Also in the works, according to Slashfilm: Pinocchio and Mulan.
While overinvesting in a genre has proven to be historically problematic, there’s ample reason to applaud that slate. Five of the films have female screenwriters. A major studio film like A Wrinkle in Time is a major and well-earned directing coup for Selma helmer Ava DuVernay.
That’s not to mention the juicy roles Cruella, the Mary Poppins sequel, A Wrinkle in Time, Maleficent 2, and Tinkerbell offer leading actresses in an industry that—hey, have you heard?—doesn’t typically provide a bounty of opportunity for women in the major studio space.
As for the films themselves, expect them to follow the same narratives that films like Cinderella and Maleficent were met with.
Some decry the bastardization of their beloved children’s classics. Evil Maleficent is actually misunderstood? Cinderella is a feminist? But others are riveted by the infusing of our bright-colored, gee-golly childhood films with darkness and, occasionally, even a bit of realism.
At its best, though, these adaptations, reimaginations—reimagicnations, if you will—are an opportunity to correct some of the antiquated and more problematic themes and morals that have served as poisonous guiding principles to the world’s youth for decades.
We’ve all had the sweat-inducing “Wait, Was I a Racist Child?” come-to-Jesus moment after revisiting the animated Peter Pan at an older age.
The lessons in films like The Little Mermaid—deals with the devil always pay off, don’t bother listening to your parents’ advice, silence your voice in order to woo a man—and Beauty and the Beast—he may be abusive, but stick with him anyway—are harrowing when you actually break them down.
So when last year’s live-action Cinderella toned down the idea that women only find worth when they are saved by a man, gave our titular heroine a little bit of agency, and offered a semi-controversial idea that you can be in charge of your own destiny and also be in love, its boldly revisionist storytelling was celebrated.
What’s in store for Cruella? Maybe a political statement about puppy genocide and a rousing set piece staged at a PETA protest? Are we in store for a darker exploration on the perils of bullying when Tim Burton takes on Dumbo?
Who’s to say? What is evident, however, in Disney’s announcement is a proud continuation of the company’s spirit of ambition and, hopefully, commitment to dazzling us with movie magic.
Each live-action adaptation has employed visual effects in more spellbinding ways than the one before it, and with directors like Robbins and Rob Marshall—who will helm the Mary Poppins sequel—attached, we can only imagine where these adaptations are going to go.
But then there’s the issue of quality control.
Moviegoers are protective of their franchises. Look no further than the war between DC Comics and Marvel fans recently for proof of that. It might sound silly to assume a similar amount of fretting over the fate of Dumbo and Tinker Bell as there is for superheroes, but the life-long investment is there for these Disney fans. That protectiveness lives in the same part of their hearts where nostalgia resides.
Disney magic is a part of us. It’s a real thing. And its greatest trick yet will be pulling off this upcoming Disney deluge with its reputation in tact. Otherwise, it’s scampering into the industry’s most predictable mousetrap.