Disney Remakes Are Aiming To Be More Progressive

by S. Atkinson
Walt Disney Pictures

Ours is an age of endless remakes, and, mostly, I'm fairly dismissive of them. Who needs the same old story told all over again? But I make one key exception for Mickey Mouse's studio principally because a narrative feels totally different if the politics of the piece are radically new. When you think of all the ways Disney's live remakes have become more progressive over the years, it turns your remake-born frown upside down.

After all, we're talking Disney: white cis princesses, a happily ever after that's usually symbolized by marriage (to a prince, if possible), and size zero bodies. While I'm not denying Disney's immense magic and charm, many of its original movies convey messages to kids that are a little toxic. It says that if you're white and heterosexual and traditionally good looking, then — after a long period of adversity and torture — you'll probably get your happy ending.

So, thank goodness for the live remakes. While I will never not love Disney's beautiful hand drawn films, live remakes give the studio the thing it most needs: a do-over, allowing them to communicate the same gorgeous stories with a more modern, nuanced approach to gender, sexuality, and race. Let's explore.


The 'Beauty And The Beast' Live Remake Features An LGBT Character

Director Bill Condor revealed to Attitude that the remake would feature an "exclusively gay moment" when LeFou realizes he has feelings for Gaston.


The 'Mulan' Remake Will Feature Almost All Chinese Actors

Following the publication of an anonymous open letter on Angry Asian Man from someone claiming to have read the spec script and arguing that Mulan's love interest would be a "30-something European trader," there was mass outrage, and a petition was created to campaign against potential whitewashing in the script. However, an insider told Vanity Fair “Mulan is and will always be the lead character in the story, and all primary roles, including the love interest, are Chinese.” The casting call for Mulan also requires many of the cast to speak fluent Mandarin Chinese, adding to its authenticity.


Emma Watson's 'Beauty And The Beast' Is A More Feminist Take On The Tale

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Watson argued that her Belle would be a more feminist version of the traditional heroine. She argued that Belle wouldn't be a Stockholm Syndrome victim, because she "actively argues and disagrees with [the Beast] constantly. She has none of the characteristics of someone with Stockholm Syndrome, because she keeps her independence, she keeps that freedom of thought."


Disney Is Giving Its Nasty Women A Voice

One of the more tiresome aspects of the original movies is how it focuses on women who are sweet and good. Sure, women can be nice, but they can also be wicked, and to deprive them of that side is to suppress their humanity. It's reported that Angelina Jolie may reprise her role as Maleficent in the follow-up to the origin story of Sleeping Beauty's villainess, while Emma Stone may play Cruella de Vil in an origin story for the fur coat fashionista.


Disney Is Also Promoting Gender Equality Behind The Camera

Jesse Grant/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

By appointing a female director to helm the live remake Mulan, Disney is making the history books. Niki Caro will be "the fourth woman to ever solo-direct a live action film with a budget over $100 million." She's joined in that very exclusive club by Ava DuVernay, who is directing Disney's upcoming A Wrinkle In Time.


And Gender Equality Will Go Both Ways

Don't delude yourself that only Disney's princesses and villainesses will be getting live action remakes. Prince Charming's brother (who suffers from a lack of charm) will be getting his own live action remake, too.


There's No Animal Cruelty

If you got nervous at the news of a live-action Dumbo, worry not. The film won't use real elephants, but, instead, a mixture of CGI and live action, which the A.V. Club speculate "presumably means the elephant will be a computer-animated creature."


Tinker Bell's Casting Suggests Disney's Campaigning For Change

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

It can be tough getting work as a female actor over 40 in Hollywood, so thank goodness for the casting on the live action look at Tinker Bell; Reese Witherspoon has been announced for the lead role.


'Beauty And The Beast' Wants You To Check Your Privilege

The live action remake is more self-conscious about the Prince's flaws and the context as to why he might be so heartless. Dan Stevens told The Hollywood Reporter:

"It’s not just about refusing an old woman shelter in a storm, which is what happens and triggers the curse, but there’s a lot of behavior leading up to that — there’s something not quite right in his heart, and it needs to be put right. Something Bill, Emma and I wanted to put out is this sense of entitlement and privilege of this spoiled prince who was raised wrong, really, and left to grow into a monster, a hideous man child. It makes for a more interesting journey."


Belle Has More Volition

In the remake, Belle has more power over her own narrative. When the Beast catches her father stealing a rose from his castle for her (an annual family tradition), he wants to imprison Maurice. Belle persuades the Beast to open the cell door for one last goodbye and pulls a switcheroo, pushing her father out of the cell and taking his place.


The Casting Call For 'Aladdin' Sounds Promising

Hopefully, this suggests Disney will also be avoiding whitewashing when it comes to casting Aladdin. In a time of rising Islamophobia, with reports of 569 anti-Muslim attacks over the course of just 512 days, having more Middle Eastern actors on screen feels essential.


Disney Will Be Giving A Voice To Even Their Most Unpopular Character

That's right, we're getting a film focused on Chernabog, the seriously scary demon from Fantasia. While you might feel like scary, evil voices already dominate airtime in 2017 America, presumably they'll be giving a backstory to explain why Chernabog is the way he is. And understanding the context to evil is always important.


2017 Belle Sounds Like She Could Encourage More Girls To Get Involved In STEM

In the Disney original, Belle was smart, but we only knew that because she read a lot. In this remake, Belle makes her own washing machine — which in 1700s France is a big deal. The emphasis on Belle as an inventor suggests a subtle way of marketing STEM to women, something which the field badly needs.

If you weren't rooting for the live remakes, I hope you're now reconsidering. Sure, there'll be less adorable retro drawings, but there'll also be less retro politics. That's definitely something we can all get behind.