The live-action remake of #BeautyAndTheBeast is the latest in a series of highly-successful reboots. It's already tipped to net a tidy sum for the House of Mouse, chasing the $1 billion notch of #AliceInWonderland and #TheJungleBook. The staggering commercial successes of its standalone properties has begged the question: is it finally time for Disney to embrace the interconnectivity of these films?
The dream of a #Disney cinematic universe has stuck in fans' minds like a venereal happy thought for years. But beyond fleeting Easter eggs, the renaissance era of Disney animated feature films never connected.
Tying these remakes together would necessitate a lot of alterations to the original pictures, and if the outcry at a nominal change to a secondary character in Beauty And The Beast is anything to go by, people don't like change.
Problems With A Disney Cinematic Universe
'Cinematic universe' has been a trendy and lucrative phrase ever since Samuel L. Jackson strolled into the end-credits of Jon Favreau's #IronMan. In the 9 years since then, audiences worldwide have witnessed the rise of the #MCU, the faltering start of Warner Bros.' #DCEU, and the fledgling beginnings of the #Monsterverse - which is brawling its way towards the titanic 2020 release of Godzilla Vs Kong. We've seen the expansion of the #XMen Universe through multiple timelines and into R-rated territory. Even #LEGO is building on the trend.
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Shared universes represent an enormous proportion of recent blockbuster releases. In 2016, half of the top 10 worldwide-grossing movies belonged to one of these heavy-hitting franchises.
It's easy to see why rumors about potential crossovers gain so much traction. Men In Black via 21 Jump Street. The #Nottinghamverse featuring Margot Robbie as an outlawed Maid Marion. But the Disney rumor has been around for much longer than the rest - it's also more flawed than most.
For one thing, Disney's focus on live-action remakes means they can't stray too far the originals without facing the furious masses of Disney-purists. #Maleficent was criticized by Sleeping Beauty fans for humanizing the iconic, evil sorceress, despite the fact that this sort of revisionism is driving the live-action era.
The second and most glaring problem is that the live-action remakes are far-flung across history. Many will argue that these stories exist in their own magical bubbles irrespective of space and time, but Mowgli lives in the jungles of India, Belle reads Shakespeare, Mulan saves China. They're rooted firmly in specific places, and despite countless historical inaccuracies, occur at very particular points in time. Disney blogger Aish put together a detailed timeline of approximately when the animated movies are set. Below is a snapshot:
Fine, nobody's stumbled across the Vale from Maleficent in Britain somewhere, but nobody's ever visited #Marvel's Sokovia either and that doesn't make the #MCU any less believable. If you accept that The Jungle Book takes place in a fictional version of India where the animals talk, and that #Aladdin occurs in a magical Middle East, it's not a stretch to believe they exist in the same world, similar to our own, only more magical and musical.
Even so, they're still separated by thousands of miles, even years in some cases. Consider that #Mulan is based on a Chinese ballad which dates back to 386 AD, and that Beauty And The Beast is based at some point in 18th Century France. Nobody's ruling out a 'Beauty And The Beast And Zombies' film just yet, but undead Mulan is a bit of a hurdle to maintain the family audience. Or is it?
So, How Could It Work?
The concurrent universes of Marvel and #DC might be the most popular model, but they aren't the be-all and end-all for shared cinematic narratives. Quentin Tarantino has confirmed that his films are all connected, yet each stands apart from the framework of the others. You don't need to know that Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs is the brother of Pulp Fiction's Vincent Vega to enjoy either film. Mr. Blonde remains a deplorable psychopath regardless. Then there's #AmericanHorrorStory, all 6 seasons of which are tantalizingly linked across generations by mere allusions and cameos, slowly becoming more of a whole as time goes on.
Could a cinematic Disney-verse use a similar format? It could. We've all seen the theory that the European Princesses are connected via lineage, including a left-field connected to Tarzan.
Yet, it could go even further. First off, let's look at the live-action Disney remake era as it currently stands.
1. Alice In Wonderland
- Release: 2010
- Director: Tim Burton
- Featuring: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway & Helena Bonham Carter
- Setting: England & Wonderland, approximately 1877
Set around 12 years after the events of the original animated Alice In Wonderland, Tim Burton's directorial effort set a precedent for change - one that hasn't always been embraced by audiences around the world.
- Release: 2014
- Director: Robert Stromberg
- Featuring: Angelina Jolie
- Setting: England(ish), 14th Century
Sleeping Beauty was considered to be set in Medieval England for a variety of reasons. For brevity's sake, here's one: the alias that Aurora gives; Briar Rose, is a prevalent English flower.
- Release: 2015
- Director: Kenneth Branagh
- Featuring: Lily James & Richard Madden
- Setting: (Probably) France, 17th Century
Cinderella was a pretty straightforward remake, though it lacked musical numbers and talking animals. Poor, muted Gus.
4. Alice Through The Looking Glass
- Release: 2016
- Director: James Bobin
- Featuring: Sacha Baron Cohen
- Setting: England & Wonderland, approximately 1880
Alice has spent 3 years exploring and establishing trade routes, notably with China. Through The Looking Glass also dabbled in time travel.
5. The Jungle Book
- Release: 2016
- Director: John Favreau
- Featuring: Sir Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray & Scarlett Johansan
- Setting: India, (probably) 19th Century
The Jungle Book brought back our beloved talking animals, building a compelling jungle mythology and imbuing the animals with their own societal quirks.
6. Pete's Dragon
- Release: 2016
- Director: David Lowery
- Featuring: Bryce Dallas Howard & Robert Redford
- Setting: The Pacific Northwest,1983
The live-action update of Pete's Dragon eschews the talking animal trope, just like Cinderella. Alice In Wonderland does feature talking animals, but Underland has never abided by the same rules as the real world.
7. Beauty And The Beast
- Release: 2017
- Director: Bill Condon
- Featuring: Emma Watson & Luke Evans
- Setting: France, pre-1789
Beauty And The Beast builds on the successes of Alice by taking the agency of the lead protagonist and running with it - in riding boots, not ballet shoes. This time around, Belle is the inventor, not her father Maurice.
A Tale As Old As Multiple Timelines
There's a disparity in when these stories are happening that rules out direct crossovers between all but Alice and The Jungle Book. Alice could make a trade detour to India, drawn by stories of a boy who grew up in the jungle - one who can talk to animals. She could appear in Jon Favreau's #TheJungleBook2, even if only as a secondary character wandering in the background.
The most straightforward tie-in would be to expand on Alice's time in China. #Mulan is going back to 1st Century China, yet the original animation dealt heavily with spiritual ancestry. Alice the trader could encounter the ghost of Mulan in the shrine at her home, even in passing. Or she could call upon the help the the 'Great Stone Dragon'.
There're hosts of brief tie-ins that Disney could utilize through a series of slightly more coherent Easter eggs. But that doesn't mean the LADR Univserse can't connect in more concrete ways.
Let's theorize chronologically.
The events of Maleficent introduce audiences to a consistent racial war between humans and the mythical creatures of the Vale, taking place in medieval England. While Aurora comes to accept the fairies and ogres into her heart, the rest of humanity might not have been so kind. Say the years of bitter rivalry can't be swept away with the true love of a mother's kiss, and medieval factions spring up to challenge Aurora's rule. What is Maleficent to do to protect her people in the face of the renaissance sweeping England?
The sorceress could come to the heart-breaking conclusion that fairies and humanity cannot coexist, choosing instead to hide her magical compatriots from human eyes. Whether she creates the safe haven or merely stumbles upon it while gazing at her glorious cheekbones in a mirror, Maleficent comes to Underland, a mythical place somewhere under Cambridge. Aurora's allegiance to the Vale seemed paramount at the end of Maleficent, yet she stays behind in order to broker understanding between humans and fairies.
This clearly doesn't work, as fairies and magical creatures remain in the dark. Aurora, growing steadily depressed at this reality, retires abroad with Phillip, relinquishing her claim to the throne.
Flash forward a few hundred years to France where a girl loses a glass slipper at a ball.
Perhaps she's the several times removed granddaughter of Aurora, perhaps she's an unrelated servant girl. Whoever she is, she meets her Prince Charming and lives happily ever after at his rural castle nearby. The city life was never for her, having spent most of her young years cramped in an attic.
As is wont to happen with the entitled nobility, their child grows up spoiled and immodest. Poor Cinderella dies of a mysterious illness before she can correct her son's behavior, leaving an embittered Prince Charming to turn nasty towards his beastly child. My bet is that the lonely little lad eventually greased a staircase to reap the benefits of his inheritance. Whatever the case, his little prince inherits said rural castle when his father perishes.
As we all know, he winds up cursed for his impertinence, remaining trapped in his castle in the form of a beast. That is, until Belle comes along.
Much of the live-action Beauty And The Beast plays out just as we remember, with a few notable differences:
1. Belle's the inventor.
2. There's a magical book that can transport the reader anywhere.
It still ends with the happy couple dancing, surrounded by well-wishers and newly humanized servants. Yet, there's the looming specter of political upheaval on the horizon. The French Revolution is coming, and the nobility are not long for this poor provincial town. Belle has her magical book if things get hairy, but no amount of enchanted literature can protect you from heart-wrenching betrayal. That's right: some of Beast's loyal servants are not quite as content as it might appear. To the barricades!
Consider Belle's attitude to some of the working classes even when she's just a peasant herself. She borrows books from the bookseller instead of buying them - that's not how commerce works, Belle. In the song "Belle," she insults the baker as he goes with his tray like always, only to take one of those same old bread rolls without paying. Added to that are the slain carcasses of furniture in the West Wing, servants who displeased the master, perhaps.
Belle's magical book might allow her to escape from the castle, but with the Beast betrayed and murdered by a once loyal divan, where would she go? No enchantress comes to save her now. The darkest hour of the LADR Universe is nigh.
Here's where things get a bit wibbly-wobbly. Belle is rescued from the trials of revolution by none other than time-travelling Alice Kingsleigh?
Would the time machine even work outside of Underland? Who knows. The boundaries of rabbit holes and mirrors are as of yet untested. In Through The Looking Glass, the Chronosphere powers all time. Alice is called upon to use it in order to save the Hatter. Let the film speak for itself:
But why would Alice bother going back to save this nondescript princess?
Well, Belle is an inventor. She's also had first-hand experience of magically animated servants and magical mirrors. Both integral to Alice's time travelling episode. In Through The Looking Glass, Time introduces his minuscule artisans, known as his "seconds," as well as his invincible Chronosphere. Yet there's no proof that he created it, only that it belongs to him. He's part machine himself in fact, so who created him? According to Disney Wiki:
Time is a magical being who sits on a black throne in a castle of eternity. He has one human hand and one mechanical hand and possesses the Chronosphere, a glowing, spinning, metallic sphere inside the chamber of the Grand Clock that powers all time. If removed from the clock, the Chronosphere will allow the person who has taken it to travel the Ocean of Time to the past. Trying to get the Chronosphere back, the lord of Time gets weaker and the only way to restore him is to return it to its rightful place.
All The Time In The World
What if Alice goes back in time to save Belle, because she is the creator of the Chronosphere? Countless tales tell of inventors driven mad by the loss of a loved one. Perhaps she builds the Chronosphere in an attempt to save Beast's life, ignoring Alice's warnings that she cannot alter the past.
Which means that Belle has always been rescued by Alice, and that time is a constant loop. (Terminator eat your heart out.)
Paradox, right? Just wait.
First of all, Alice squirrels them away to Cambridge, or China, or India to explain her situation. She's realized that Underland owes its very existence to the long-missing sorceress Maleficent. Not only that, but Belle owes her short-lived happiness to Maleficent too.
So where's the sorceress been all these years?
It turns out that Aurora did disappear into France, but Maleficent could never let her go. She spent her many years looking in on Aurora and her family, gently nudging them here and there. Appearing in the guise of a fairy godmother to Cinderella in order to secure her happy ending. Bestowing a curse on a prince which is actually a blessing in disguise. She's been shepherding this family towards happiness for centuries.
Yet, Alice has come to understand that happily ever after is a loaded phrase. Time is not what they think it is. Much like in #MatrixReloaded, time itself is a cycle. She has slain the Jaberwocky countless times. Belle has broken the Beast's curse countless times. It's all occurred over and over again, with slight deviations en route to the same end point. How else do you explain all the remakes? Think of the lyrics to 'Tale As Old As Time:
"Ever just the same
Ever a surprise
Ever as before"
This is why the remakes are different from the originals. The animated era is in an alternate timeline to the live-action era, where everything is ever just the same, ever a surprise. Alice has realized this, and is gathering a team to track down Maleficent, who's been missing since the end of Beauty And The Beast.
They go in search of that most mythical of creatures: a dragon. For it's their belief that a dragon will know where Maleficent is. She is one herself, from time to time. Yet there's a crucial difference between the LADR Universe and the animated one. Animals don't talk. Eliot in #PetesDragon is wonderfully emotive, but he doesn't speak. That's where Mowgli comes in.
Can Mowgli even speak to these ancient lizards? That might be part of his character arc. An internal worry that will take him to the depths of his soul and the heart of Africa, where he'll need to beg the assistance of a brand new #LionKing. He does own everything the light touches, after all. If anyone knows where the dragons are, it's Donald Glover's Simba.
Alongside this struggle, Belle must come to terms with the limits of time. By the time she builds her own Chronosphere she's come to understand that Beast is truly lost to her. She decides to put the time machine where it'll be safe from those who would abuse it. But where does Time come in?
If only we knew of another one-handed antagonist obsessed with time somewhere in the Disney canon. Belle's had first-hand experience of clockwork men in the form of Cogsworth. What if she makes a cyborg of Captain James Hook?
All the while, Alice must wonder if she's really on a new path at all, or if this isn't all another turn in a tale as old as time.
While Disney hasn't announced any plans to have their live-action remakes share a universe, a film that tied several of them together like this could inject new life into the franchise and would be a fun story possibility to explore that would be unlike anything else we've seen from Disney to date.
What do you think about this live-action Disney remake (LADR) theory? Feel free to point out any ideas, plot-holes, or general 'you have too much time on your hands' puns in the comments below.