2016 has seen the release of two new live action Disney remakes; The Jungle Book and The Legend of Tarzan. Despite the light hearted, charming nature of the preceding animations, their successors are significantly darker and seem to focus on more adult themes and issues. So where has this change come from? What has driven Hollywood to produce gritty, hard hitting dramas based off much loved animations?
This is not limited to Disney films of course. Daniel Craig’s turn as Bond has seen a darker take on the character, and his first Bond film, Casino Royale, had a particularly gritty and dark tone, especially with the infamous torture scene. These films seem to truly push the 12A rating that is the norm nowadays, with film makers wanting to be appealing to the widest possible audience.
We live in a dark and dangerous world with the threat of terrorism in the news on an almost daily basis. Has this driven the film industry to produce films more fitting to society? Many see visits to the cinema as a way to escape, and the general cinema going audience may not want to have to take a film too seriously, especially when it comes to reboots of classics. It can also feel that when a action film has light hearted comedic moments, they can be frowned upon as being forced or not in keeping with the rest of the films in its genre. Sometimes a film can be criticised for trying to be too original.
Another film genre which seems to fit this trend is that of superhero movies. This year alone saw the release of Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film focused on collateral damage, and whether death and destruction is an acceptable sacrifice for stopping evil. Captain America: Civil War had a similar basic plot. The surprise film of the year was Deadpool. Self-referential and knowingly self-mocking, it provided a new outlook on the superhero genre, and attempted to pull away from the normal clichés and repetitive plots found in superhero films. Deadpool was a resounding success, both critically and at the box office. Maybe this suggests that an action film nowadays does not always have to take itself too seriously, and can still find its audience.
It is difficult to pinpoint where this all begun. In terms of big blockbusters, Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dark Knight Trilogy could be seen as the blockbuster that many other films would look up to and attempt to replicate it’s success. In terms of live action remakes of Disney classics, it may be in order to try and reach out to those who grew up with the cartoons. As time has passed and cinema audiences have aged, still the Disney animations are held as classics, and movie studios may see them as guaranteed successes if they can reach as many people as possible.
Matthew Vaughn, director of the comic book movie Kick Ass, and most recently Kingsman does not feel that this change to the film industry is really what the general audience is looking for when they take a trip to the cinema. Citing films like Guardians of the Galaxy, he suggested that the general cinema audience is looking for escapism and fun rather that gritty realism.
However, these sorts of films seem to bring in a lot of money at the box office compared to more light hearted films. Even children’s animations seem to have to have a deeper message underlying the plot that will fly over many children’s heads. Whether this is to hold the parent’s interest or to try and teach the children something is yet to be seen. Zootopia, another 2016 film had a message of tolerance and acceptance in a multicultural world. Are we now using the cinema to teach us about the world we live in rather than opening our eyes and seeing it for ourselves?
David Tennant once said, “The gritty indie films are a lot rarer than the films that aspire to fill multiplexes”. This may be true, but I think we are seeing a shift in the system. Yes, our multiplexes are full of the latest blockbusters, pushing out the smaller films, but I think they are starting to have more in common with each other than before. Maybe with films like Deadpool, we might see Hollywood swing back towards lighter films, with the dark and scary world we find ourselves in.