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Classic stories and fairy tales become fodder for Hollywood's remake machine

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Aug. 3 2013 1:00 p.m. MDT

Shanti (center, voiced by Mae Whitman) gets a taste of Baloo's (left, voiced by John Goodman) playfulness when she ventures into the jungle in search of Mowgli (right, voiced by Haley Joel Osment) in "The Jungle Book 2."

Disney Enterprises Inc.

Remake fever has been ravaging Hollywood for years now, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to die down any time soon, especially when it comes to movies aimed at families.

It was announced recently that the House of Mouse has hired Justin Marks (“Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li”) to pen a new live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.”

Not counting a 2003 straight-to-video sequel, this will be Disney’s fourth crack at adapting the material — the most notable, of course, being the beloved 1967 animated musical, which was the last feature Walt Disney worked on prior to his death in 1966.

Given that Kipling's works are in the public domain, it was probably only a matter of time before “The Jungle Book” got another remake.

But Disney’s upcoming iteration might not even be the first new “Jungle Book” movie to hit theaters. Warner Bros. announced more than a year ago that “Harry Potter” screenwriter Steve Kloves would be putting his own twist on the story.

Disney’s attempt to update “The Jungle Book” is just the most recent example of a concerted effort by the company to revitalize its huge back catalog of classics.

No doubt inspired by the billion-dollar box office of Tim Burton's “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Jungle Book” joins a slew of older Disney films — animated and otherwise — set for 21st century makeovers.

Titles already well into production include “Maleficent,” a twist on “Sleeping Beauty” told from the perspective of Angelina Jolie’s eponymous horned villainess, and Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella,” starring Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother to Lily James (“Downton Abbey”).

Also in the works at Disney are remakes of “Beauty and the Beast” (shortened to “The Beast”), “Pete’s Dragon” and the 1979 sci-fi adventure flick “The Black Hole” (with “Tron: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski attached).

As if that weren’t enough, “Tron: Legacy” and “Alice in Wonderland,” both reboots themselves, are also getting sequels. Johnny Depp’s involvement in the latter film was confirmed recently.

And there’s still a good chance the studio’s Kung Fu-laced reimagining of “Snow White,” titled either “The Order of the Seven” or “Snow and the Seven,” could receive a green light after nearly 10 years in development that has seen it passed around from one big-name writer to another, including an Oscar-winner (Michael Arndt) and a Pulitzer Prize-winner (Michael Chabon).

All in all, it’s a wonder Disney has room for any original films on its packed production slate, which also includes all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pixar and now Star Wars.

But judging by the box-office performance of movies like the live-action “Alice in Wonderland” and this year’s “Oz the Great and Powerful,” it looks like audiences are more than happy to indulge in a little nostalgia. All it takes is a fresh coat of paint in the form of a few young, up-and-coming actors and some cutting-edge digital effects.

Don’t worry, though, if your favorite Disney movie isn’t among those already in the pipeline at the Mouse House. There’s a good possibility it either will be at some point, or that some other studio is already hard at work on its own version or two.

In addition to all the Disney-produced remakes, the next few years could see at least two versions of “The Little Mermaid,” a Guillermo del Toro-directed “Beauty and the Beast” with Emma Watson, a Peter Pan origin story starring Channing Tatum as Pan (yes, you read that correctly), a Tarzan reboot from “Harry Potter” director David Yates, and two Pinocchio adaptations (one, an animated version produced by del Toro, and the other, a live-action version directed by Ben Stiller with Robert Downey Jr. reportedly set to play both Gepetto and the titular wooden boy).

Even by Hollywood standards, that’s a lot of recycled ideas.

The appeal for studios of making movies based on fairy tales and classic Disney-type stories, though, is twofold: First, these stories come with built-in four-quadrant fan bases — young and old, male and female. It seems like everyone grew up watching “Cinderella,” “Peter Pan” and all the other Disney classics. Second, like “The Jungle Book,” these are all properties in the public domain, so studios don’t have to worry about buying the rights or paying steep licensing fees.

On the bright side, at least the renewed interest in classic stories and fairy tales could mean more movies aimed at broader audiences, even if the subject matter isn’t exactly new.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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