Banerjee: Nostalgia doesn’t make a movie good

Hollywood remakes are overplayed, leaving untold fresh and exciting stories.

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Banerjee: Nostalgia doesn’t make a movie good

Anna Banerjee, Columnist

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Like many of us, I grew up watching Disney movies. The first movie I remember seeing was The Lion King, and the first CD I remember owning was the soundtrack to Mulan. From this, I should allegedly be the target audience for Disney’s current lineup of releases, which includes 20 live-action remakes of its animated classics, including The Lion King, Mulan, and The Little Mermaid. But, instead, I’ve grown increasingly tired of reading headlines about the new casting choices for yet another remake that I won’t really care about in the end.

Nostalgia marketing is one of the least interesting media formats for me. Whether it’s capitalizing on my childhood love for The Lion King or tapping into my desire to bike freely around town in the ’80s with Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” much of the content centers on trying to appeal to something I’ve either experienced or seen. Plugging content based entirely on nostalgia does nothing for me. It only makes me want to maybe rewatch the original and definitely not pay $12 for a ticket to a mass-produced, expensive retelling of a movie.

The top domestic hits of 2019 are dominated almost entirely by Disney movies, none of which are original content. Sequels and remakes crush the competition, and in a sea of adapted content, I feel pushed out as a consumer. I’m tired of being marketed to based on what I was watching a decade ago. Nostalgia media take away from the revenue and potential that original content makers have, and instead of providing strong plots or characters, they often end up relying on aesthetic and tone more than anything.

Plugging content based entirely on nostalgia does nothing for me. It only makes me want to maybe rewatch the original and definitely not pay $12 for a ticket to a mass-produced, expensive retelling of a movie.”

While there’s nothing inherently wrong in setting stories in familiar worlds or time periods, it becomes artistically manipulative when this premise becomes the sole reason audiences should care about a work. There should be more to your movie than playing the right emotional chord, striking viewers with the right melody or the right assortment of colors that remind them of their childhoods. If the only conceit behind your work is the assumption that I will enjoy it because it’s reminiscent of something else I enjoy, I have no reason to consume your story.

I’m not even against remakes on principle or against the idea of setting movies in aesthetically popular decades such as the ’80s. Sometimes, it really works to capitalize on trends like that and greenlight such movies as 2017’s It, which was a remake set in the ’80s and an adaptation of a novel. But, in the end, I don’t see myself interested in watching the sequel because of the kitschy aesthetics or the nostalgia it tries to drive home — I care about the story and the interesting and engaging ways it can be told.

Disney never tries anything new with its remakes, and even when it does — such as with casting Halle Bailey to play Ariel — I can’t bring myself to care that much. Yes, I’m glad a black woman was cast in that role, and I respect the choice and its importance for representation, but I’m tired of having to pretend to care about Disney casting because it won’t change the way the company functions as a whole. Just because Bailey was cast in a high-profile role in a Disney remake doesn’t mean Disney suddenly cares about black women. If it did, it would write exciting and innovative stories for them.

Disney remakes and other nostalgia trains don’t do anything but allow us to become more complacent in allowing our box offices to be dominated by stories we’ve already heard. We should be bankrolling new and exciting stories and films, instead of waiting for Disney to pat itself on the back by funding the same exact story it did 20 years ago.