The essentials of a good live-action remake


By Claire Guo, Opinion Editor

They’re coming.

Aladdin, Pokemon, Kim Possible, Dora, Mulan, The Lion King, Akira—

The live-action remakes are coming.

We must be prepared. Hold onto your popcorn as producers remake beloved animations with real people and modern CGI. Withhold your judgment as producers decide to gasp not make “Mulan” a musical and gasp get rid of heartthrob Li Shang. (Who’s going to make a man out of us, now?)

No, no, we must save our popcorn and judgment for the movies when they arrive in theaters. After all, we know these remakes will exploit our nostalgia and take our money, but the real question is whether or not they will be good.

To answer that, consider the following criteria. A good live-action remake does these three things:

  1. Respects the original.

A remake doesn’t have to follow the same plot with the same characters. It does have to maintain the essence and fundamentals of the story. Mulan’s motivations should not be changed from selfless love for her father and country to teenage rebellion. Simba must struggle to accept his responsibilities as king of the jungle. And if possible, please have Will Smith’s Genie pay a subtle homage to Robin Williams’ legendary performance.

Respecting the original also means respecting a movie’s cultural origins. The 2017 “Ghost in the Shell” remake rightfully received heated criticism for casting white Scarlett Johansson as protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi.

See the problem?

The original manga “The Ghost in the Shell” and the anime adaptation both came from Japanese writers and centered on Japanese characters in Japan. Casting Johansson as the starring role and scattering a few Asians in secondary roles certainly disrespected the originals. An American remake of Akira, a Japanese manga and anime that also follows Japanese characters, has now entered production. Hopefully producers learned from “Ghost in the Shell” and other whitewashed box office bombs — cough cough “The Last Airbender” cough — and will pursue an authentic remake of this story.

2. Adds something new.

You can’t remake a movie just for the profit. Well, you can. But you shouldn’t. Instead, producers should incorporate a new element to the new movie: expand the world, refine a plot point, tie up a loose end.

The 2015 “Cinderella” remake met this criterion beautifully by adding a few plot points. In the original, Cinderella first meets Prince Charming in the palace, where he finds himself drawn to her at first sight. Why? Her radiant inner beauty, of course. Contrast this with the remake, in which Cinderella first meets Prince Charming in the woods, charming him with her authenticity and outlook on life. “We must simply have courage and be kind,” she tells him. Later, when he sees her at the palace, he finds himself drawn to her because he has been looking forward to getting to know her. This admirably shifts the narrative from one commending looks to one commending character.

3. Does something that the original couldn’t.

The first “Pokemon” episode aired in 1997. “Aladdin” came out in theaters in 1992. “Lady and the Tramp” was released in 1955.

Decades after the original animations were released, producers should recognize that the remakes can now do things that the original couldn’t. “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” and “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” now have broader, more mature audiences than the originals did, meaning the director can explore more mature storylines. The incredible CGI of today means that we can see what “The Lion King” looks like with realistic animals and what “Pokemon” looks like with realistic Pokemon.

For “Aladdin,” doing something the original couldn’t — or in this case, didn’t — means addressing the cultural stereotypes and inaccuracies perpetuated in the 1992 original. The film followed lighter-skinned, Westernized Aladdin and Jasmine as they fought greedy street merchants and main villain Jafar, whose physical features and accents were exaggeratedly Arabian. The remake is already drawing controversy for casting half-English half-Indian Naomi Scott as Jasmine. Hopefully they will accurately portray Arabian culture and avoid vilifying the darker-skinned characters.

When “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu,” the first of these remakes, arrives in theaters May 10, I will have my popcorn and judgment at the ready. Does it respect the original?, I’ll ask. Does it add something new? Does it do something the original couldn’t?

I have high, high hopes for these reincarnations of my childhood. If they fall short, why I’ll… well I’ll watch them anyway. But I would enjoy the upcoming remakes that much more if they do deliver.