"We are such stuff as dreams are made on." Shakespeare, The Tempest

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Disney Re-Making Stories: The End of Creativity?

Politicians running for re-election may “remake themselves.” Companies “reinvent themselves.” If the company happens to make films, are the stories necessarily reinvented—essentially being retold—too? If this becomes the norm, is the implication that storytellers have exhausted the story plotlines that the human mind can conceive? Perhaps retelling old stories is simply laziness and corporate expediency at the expense of substance.

In March 2015, Walt Disney Pictures announced that it would concentrate on live-action versions of classic fairy tales.[1] That the latter had come from Walt Disney Animation Studios renders the strategy synergistic, which is to say, convenient financially. For one thing, the same market-segment is “carried along.” In the case of “Cinderella,” the operative demographic is girls. Other “reinvented” stories on Disney’s radar screen at the time included “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Dumbo.” Novelty in storytelling seems to be lost in the same old, same old—albeit in new packaging.

To be sure, some narrative creation goes with even such re-tellings. For example, the re-made “Cinderella” includes a back story explaining the step-mother’s cruelty, new stuff on the prince’s relationship with his father, the king, and a reason why Cinderella “doesn’t run from home or fight back.”[2] These additions take the basic story as a given, however, and this tendency may imply that we have squeezed out all the great plot-lines that we can possibly imagine. Even if the well of plot-types has not gone dry because they have pretty much already been lifted out into the light of day, the habit of “re-inventing” existing stories can orient energy away from narrative creativity to the extent that the empty well becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Audiences used to being spoon-fed the same story over and over may come to expect nothing more and reward the film companies that take the road most travelled. That is to say, the status quo can become a virtual black hole to which potential creative energy cannot escape. As real as the limitations facing creative storytellers may seem, at least some of the constraints may be contrived, and thus artificial.

[1] Ben Fritz, “Disney Recycles Fairy Tales, Minus Cartoons,” The Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2015.
[2] Ibid.