Oobee Doo, All of Hollywood Wants to Be Like Disney, Too

Disney movies are hitting big on all fronts, and Hollywood wants a piece of that fire, but most of the time they’re sure to get burned
By  · Published on April 19th, 2016

Look around, all you see are Disney movies. The top film at the box office is the studio’s remake of one of their own animated classics. The most anticipated release of the next few week’s is their latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This week’s big opener is a fairy tale action flick that calls to mind one Disney animated feature (Frozen) while being a spinoff of a copy of another (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). And their most recent animated feature reigns as the top-grossing movie of the year, worldwide.

Everyone is putting too much focus these days on the (fan-manufactured) Marvel and DC rivalry. Superhero movies aren’t the only kind worth focusing on in the narrative of how the rest of Hollywood wan’na be like Disney (oobee doo). There’s also the unnecessary Snow White and the Huntsman sequel, The Huntsman Winter’s War, which is so far receiving even less critical favor than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And there’s Andy Serkis’s own live-action take on The Jungle Book, which is due in 2018.

The latter, like Batman v Superman, is a Warner Bros. production. And like Disney’s current hit, it’ll be an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s fables using innovative performance capture effects to make the adventures appear as realistic as is possible when talking animals are involved. Because of the success of Disney’s The Jungle Book, the industry is reportedly concerned about whether the later version is now doomed. But if the new movie was a bomb, they’d be having the same conversation, only with even greater worry.

It’s the same with any “dueling” pair of similar movies. The first one out of the gate tends to be the winner. It doesn’t matter which is better. The questions for the other Jungle Book is will two years be enough time for the public to forget they just saw the story on the big screen, and did they love what they saw enough to ignore anything after. Most “twin films” (as Wikipedia calls them) are released closer together. Last year’s Steve Jobs, though, had the two year gap, and it wasn’t long enough. But how much time would be?

Dueling biopic are always going to be trouble for the one in second (and third, etc.) place. Exact adaptations of public domain classics are not as bad, but they do need space between them. The current big Disney concentrations — superheroes and live-action fairy tales — are totally different. There are too many of the same things coming from all directions. All the majors have their comic book holdings, and all of them seem to want to challenge the Mouse House at their own game of recreating that studio’s most iconic material.

Batman v Superman is less a copycat of The Avengers than The Huntsman is a copycat of Alice in Wonderland, at least as far as the money they’re chasing. The DC movie is actually labeled a “twin” of the upcoming Marvel sequel Captain America: Civil War  because both pit heroes versus heroes, but they’re not that comparable. Civil War might even make more at the box office, though that’s no more noteworthy than Zootopia making more (very soon) than every one of the Ice Age movies.

And The Jungle Book will surely make more than The Huntsman. It’s too bad Disney backed out of their plan to do a live-action remake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs back when it became apparent the other dueling versions, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, were both ahead in their scheduling. In a rare feat, the latter hit theaters later and made more money. Was it the title? The infusion of more action into the tale? Would Disney’s brand loyalty have made its version even more successful?

A few years have passed and they’ve now announced a movie about Snow White’s sister instead. Disney will not stop until all of their traditional animated films are brought “to life” with actors and photorealistic computer-generated animation. They even just announcedPeter Pan movie despite last fall’s Pan, which was also made by Warner Bros., being a flop. It’ll do very well. But should other studios stop trying to do their own versions of Peter PanPinocchioCinderellaAlice in WonderlandThe Jungle Book, etc.?

I do love the way the studios used to have specific types of movies that they alone were masters of. MGM was king of the musical, Universal had monster movies, and Warner Bros. killed with crime films. Now everyone is going for the same gold nuggets, and a lot of those swipes only catch air. But Universal has shown they don’t need superheroes by having the best box office of any studio last year without a single one. Some of that was Jurassic WorldFurious 7 and Minions money, some from profitable niche efforts like Straight Outta Compton.

Warner Bros. also doesn’t seem to need them when they’re most lucrative with magical fantasy films, and while the Hobbit trilogy wasn’t quite as big as they’d hoped, they’re getting no flack at all for stretching their Harry Potter movies further with this year’s eagerly awaited Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. They shouldn’t give up their DC franchise, especially because DC Comics is owned by Warner Bros. Entertainment, but they don’t need to think so big with them. They didn’t need to rush into something akin to Disney’s model.

There is a benefit to them doing so, however. The more attempts there are to produce the same thing, the more competition there is for each studio to make better product. In theory, at least. Even if it’s just Disney continuing to make better live-action fairy tale and superhero movies, that’s a good thing. But if Warner Bros. is able to spend the next two years somehow improving on the flaws of Disney’s The Jungle Book (I believe it has many faults, but the mainstream moviegoers might not agree), that’s even better.

And some of that competitiveness isn’t just about doing a better copy. Consider where Paramount is allowing the Star Trek franchise to go in spite of Disney’s enormous success with (fan-manufactured) rival Star Wars. Simon Pegg recently stated that Star Trek Beyond is not out to conclude a trilogy or continue any overarching dominant narrative. It’s going to be more of a standalone story, which is rare these days and sounds totally fresh and exciting as a result. Nobody is going to be another Star Wars anyway, so why try?

In fairness to DC and Warner Bros., they have been trying to do go their own way somewhat by aiming for a darker tone than the MCU has. Unfortunately, that’s not working for them. Or they just aren’t do it right. Either way, experimentation is fine if not so costly. Disney may seem genuinely magical at times, like when they broke the pirate movie curse, but otherwise they work with a lot of proven properties that began much smaller, including Star Wars and Marvel, and have grown bigger over a period of time.


Occasionally other studios find residual fairy dust and hit fairly big with something blatantly Disney-like, such as Snow White and the Huntsman, but that film’s sequel won’t be quite as successful (it’s already doing underwhelming business overseas) and probably shouldn’t have been made, especially without its Disney princess at its center. They should have seen that the first was a fluke. And sadly it will send the wrong message, that these live-action fairy tale movies only work when more reminiscent of Disney’s classics.

We’re sure to see more close-copy aping with studios walking like Disney and talking like Disney in the future, but just like Louie in The Jungle Book, the fire they seek is just as likely to burn them as it is to give them brightly lit comfort.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.