Disney producer says live-action remakes give classics crucial modern update: “Not the stories I want my daughter to hear”

Disney producer Don Hahn spoke to RadioTimes.com about the live action remakes and why it's time the stories were reinvented.

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Disney remakes v original animation

Disney has been on a run of remakes over the last few years, diving back into the archive, dusting off its big hits, and giving them a new lease of life.

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The live-action films divided fans from the start, with some arguing animations don’t need a redo, while others called for more updates for a new generation.

The remakes have been around longer than you think, with Alice in Wonderland and Maleficient kicking things off in 2010 and 2014 respectively.

But Disney stalwart Don Hahn, who worked on the original animations and the remakes such as The Lion King, welcomes the new films.

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“The remakes are interesting,” Hahn said, speaking to RadioTimes.com fresh from directing docu-film Howard coming to Disney+ on 7th August. “A lot of people are skeptical of them, but when you see them, the amount of focus those filmmakers put into them is pretty amazing.”

It’s not just the momentous amount of work that impresses Hahn – he strongly feels stories are supposed to be reinvented. After all, isn’t that what the animations did to the fairytales?

“Stories are meant to be told,” he added. “They’re not meant to sit on a shelf and it’s been 25 years since most of these stories have been told by us so it seems right to have those stories retold by somebody else – let somebody else have a crack at it. I had my chance!”

The Jungle Book (2016), Cinderella (2015), and Beauty and the Beast (2017) paved the way for more Disney remakes, proving to be box office smash hits despite the grumblings.

Luke Evans (Gaston) and Josh Gad (LeFou)
Luke Evans (Gaston) and Josh Gad (LeFou)

Since then the pace has picked up. We’ve had Mary Poppins Returns (2018), Dumbo (2019) and Aladdin (2019) starring Will Smith followed swiftly by The Lion King (2019) with Donald Glover and Beyonce – with the latter two taking a billion dollars at the box office – and there are even more Disney live action movies on their way.

Mulan’s release date may have been pushed back, but the “martial arts expert” is set for release on Disney+ (4th September in the US).

While fans cried ‘where’s Mushu and Li Shang?’ at first, Disney confidently ploughed on, tackling a few cultural issues and the Westernisation of the original ’90s animation.

Mulan

For Hahn this is another example of why remakes work – it’s not always about just changing the story for story’s sake, they also allow Disney to ‘correct’ more outdated ideas.

“I feel really good about what we did, but let’s see some other people’s crack at Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast or Mulan. We fought hard to get those stories told so it’s nice to see someone new take a look at it, with a new angle – and also a new angle in more modern times,” he said.

It was actually working on one of the reimagined Disney films, Maleficient, that shook up Hahn’s view especially when thinking about his daughter.

He said: “When we were working on Maleficient a few years ago, we thought ‘we can’t tell this story from the ’50s about a girl who sleeps all the way through the movie until her man shows up!’.

“That’s not the story I want my daughter to hear so we really had to go back and think, what is the moment in this movie? What do we want to say about these characters? That love’s true kiss can come from anyone. Beauty and the Beast is a little bit the same way.

Maleficent, image.net

“Those are hard-fought stories. I actually enjoy seeing them retold by somebody else. They wouldn’t do exactly as I would do it, and thank God! It’s great to see someone else reinvent them.”

Disney’s upcoming live action slate has changed somewhat recently thanks to the pandemic, with Mulan now set for release on Disney+ alongside a limited theatrical release, Cruella starring Emma Stone set to shine a light on the character’s punk days, and The Little Mermaid having cast Black actress Halle Bailey as Ariel.

Snow White is also currently in the creative hands of La La Land’s lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and Lilo & Stitch is getting the live action treatment too.

Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Pinocchio…the list goes on. While we don’t know how many of these films will be cinema offerings and how many will land on Disney+ (like Lady and the Tramp and Mulan) they’re all a sure sign that Disney is committed to reinventing, reimagining and remaking for the foreseeable future.

You can watch Howard on Disney+ on 7th August. Sign up to Disney+ for £59.99 a year and £5.99 a month.

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For more Disney+ suggestions check out our best movies on Disney+ guide or visit our TV Guide.