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What the new 'Snow White' announcement says about Disney's live-action remake strategy

Posted November 11

Another month, another announcement from Disney about a live-action adaptation of one of its animated classics. And this time around, it’s a biggie. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney has hired “The Girl on the Train” screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson to pen an update of Walt’s original princess movie, 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

With a string of recent hits like Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella” and Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book,” Disney has shown that it has no qualms whatsoever about plundering its back catalogue of beloved animated titles. Thankfully, its track record so far has been pretty stellar, which has kept the fan backlash to a minimum.

But even among other Disney movies, “Snow White” is special. Not only was it the first in what has proven to be a rich history of fairy tale adaptations at the studio that continues today with movies like “Frozen” (an adaptation of “The Snow Queen”) and the upcoming “Gigantic” (“Jack and the Beanstalk”), but “Snow White” is also frequently cited as the first feature-length animated movie ever made using cel-animation.

So even after most people have grown numb to hearing about their favorite childhood memories being revamped, rebooted or remade for modern audiences, this announcement could still draw some strong reactions — whether that’s unbridled excitement at the chance to see “Snow White” reimagined in a new, fresh way or outrage that Disney would dare to mess with its foundational animated feature.

But whichever camp you’re in, this development is potentially significant for a different reason, as well.

Beginning with “Beauty and the Beast” next March, there are at least 16 animated-to-live-action adaptations in the works at Disney, from “Dumbo” to “Mulan” to “The Lion King” — and those are just the ones that have been made public. With so many projects being actively developed, it’s beginning to seem like it might just be easier if Disney instead told everyone which movies it wasn’t planning to remake. (Ahem, that means you, “The Black Cauldron.”)

But announcing a live-action “Snow White” now seems to indicate a strategy on Disney’s part when it comes to its live-action remakes — meaning, this spate of announcements might not be just a blatant attempt to cash-in on nostalgia by adapting anything and everything as quickly as possible the way some fans have begun to fear.

And the evidence for this is simple: Among the projects that were announced in the last year, one of them already involved the Snow White story — namely, a “sidequel” to the 1937 Disney classic titled “Rose Red.” According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Rose Red” would take place after Snow White ate the witch’s poisoned apple and would follow Snow White’s heretofore-unknown sister, the titular Rose Red, as she undertakes “a dangerous quest with Grumpy and the other dwarves to find a way to break the curse and bring Snow White back to life.”

And in terms of development, “Rose Red” seemed like it was already pretty far along, too. It had a script by Justin Merz, a rewrite on the way from Evan Daugherty (who also wrote Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” as well as the sequel) and a handful of producers attached.

Why is this important? Well, it suggests that at least some of the projects announced in the last few years may never see the light of day, and the studio knows it. In the case of “Rose Red” and the newly announced “Snow White” adaptation, it’s extremely unlikely, to say the least, that Disney would opt to compete with itself by releasing two movies based on the same story. Even when two different studios try that, it never ends well. Just look at the all-too-relevant example of “Snow White and the Huntsman” vs. “Mirror, Mirror."

More than anything, the fact that so many live-action remakes are all being simultaneously worked on indicates that Disney is using a shotgun approach to the pre-production process — throwing a lot of resources into developing as many adaptations as it can because this kind of adaptation has proven to be a hot commodity right now, just to see what, if anything, comes out of it.

A studio greenlight, after all, doesn’t necessarily mean a movie is ever going to get made. It wasn’t too long ago now that Disney was still working on another, very different version of “Snow White” that has since been scrapped — a Kung Fu-inflected reimagining titled, at first, “Snow and the Seven," and later, "Order of the Seven." Like many of the projects recently announced, this “radical retelling” of the Snow White story had writers (Michael Chabon, “Spider-Man 2,” and Michael Anrdt, “Toy Story 3”) and directors (Yuen Woo-Ping, fight choreographer for the Matrix movies, and effects artist Michael Gracey) attached at various points, and it had even managed to attract big-name talent (Jet Li, Natalie Portman and Saoirse Ronan).

In other words, all of the 16-plus announcements that Disney has made about live-action remakes, including “Snow White,” should probably be taken with a big grain of salt.

It’s worth noting, too, that, after “Beauty and the Beast” hits theaters this March, only one out of the other 15 remakes has an official release date so far, and that’s the live-action “Mulan,” scheduled for Nov. 2, 2018.

Jeff Peterson is a native of Utah Valley and studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. Along with the Deseret News, he also contributes to the film discussion website TheMovieScrutineer.com.

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