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Disney+ is spending billions on sequels, reboots and remakes. But where are the new ideas?

There are so many creative ideas out there, especially by historically marginalized people. Giving us the familiar risks missing out on the next big thing.
Image: Bob Iger
Bob Iger during Disney Investor Day on Dec 10, 2020.Disney

For years, Hollywood has leaned into reboots and remakes, trying to put a newer spin on classics like "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" or "The Italian Job" — and some have even been wildly successful, like Al Pacino's turn in "Scarface" (a remake of the 1932 movie) and the Bradley Cooper-directed "A Star Is Born." Still, others almost certainly could've been left in the past, since the original versions were and are easily accessible for current and future generations to enjoy at their leisure.

Yet, reboots and remakes aren't going away anytime soon. And in these unprecedented times, when regularly going out to the movies may very well become a relic of the past, Disney has decided to double down on its reboot efforts in a significant way. Deadline reported the company will be spending $14 billion to $16 billion for new content — but few new ideas — on its Disney +, Hulu and ESPN+ streaming services by 2024.

It's easy to see why studios and streaming services would want to lean on older brands. Beloved classics like "The Lion King" already have a built-in audience, and they were such massive successes during their initial debuts that they covered debt and less lucrative ventures. With Disney hemorrhaging billions after its park closures in 2020 due to the pandemic, it looks like the company is more than ready to put all of its eggs in one money-making basket.

There are sound arguments for updating some classic films in some ways. The forthcoming live-action version of "The Little Mermaid," for example, features a multicultural cast, including Halle Bailey of Chloe x Halle starring as Ariel. For young Black girls in particular, this a significant shift toward true representation.

Moreover, delivering on sequels to classics that have been buzzed about for years — like "Hocus Pocus 2” and "Sister Act 3," which are bringing back their original casts — allows fans of the original films to revisit some of Disney's greatest hits while indulging in the continuation of the storylines.

But other announcements out of the Disney+ investors meeting are more puzzling. Actress Gabrielle Union is set to stand at the center of yet another reimagining of "Cheaper By the Dozen," which was barely interesting when Steve Martin took on rebooting the warmed-over storyline back in 2003.

With so much recycled material, there seems to be little room for truly fresh ideas.

Moreover, the news of a remake of the 1989 film "Turner and Hooch" — which Tom Hanks himself probably wants to forget about — has left people baffled. They rather infamously kill off the titular dog, but it's supposedly OK because he sired a litter of puppies before dying of on-camera gunshot wounds. (Plus, Disney already tried and failed to reboot it as a television show in 1990.)

Then there is the reaction of Chris Columbus, who talked in November about finding out his holiday classic "Home Alone" was getting the reboot treatment from Disney+ and was none too pleased about it. Of course, the three sequels the studios did without Columbus did not fare well without him or the iconic Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, who made the movies what they are. During an interview with Insider, Columbussaid, "Nobody got in touch with me about it, and it's a waste of time as far as I'm concerned."

"I'm a firm believer that you don't remake films that have had the longevity of 'Home Alone,'" he added. "You're not going to create lightning in a bottle again. It's just not going to happen. So why do it?"

Not everything Disney is doing is terrible — save perhaps Hulu's deal with the Kardashian-Jenners for new and original content. From the people sitting in the director's chairs to the faces in front of the camera, the company is openly trying to make their content more inclusive. For instance, the forthcoming animated sci-fi series "Iwájú" — set in Lagos, Nigeria, and focused on "deep themes of class, innocence and challenging the status quo" — is one in a handful of standouts.

However, with so much recycled material, there seems to be little room for truly fresh ideas. And while people are grasping for familiarity in the midst of so much uncertainty, reheating the same leftovers feels neither useful nor inspiring. Furthermore, by plugging people of color into past films with all-white casts, Disney may be trying to unravel its past mishaps — but covering something with a fresh coat of paint does not erase what was there before.

During the Disney+ investors meeting, Disney's executive chairman and former CEO Bob Iger said the forthcoming titles and projects would be about "quality not volume." However, with reimaginings of everything from "The Mighty Ducks" and "Percy Jackson" to the ever-expanding additions to the "Star Wars" and Marvel universes, this feels a lot like creating more of what we already know, rather than finding new ideas — which is what "Inside Out," "Coco," "Brave" and even "The Princess Diaries" were.

These varied reboots, sequels and revamps may all very well be wonderful and well-received films and shows, but with so much within Disney's grasp, and a ton of untapped talent looking to be discovered, it's all rather disappointing that Disney is sticking with what's familiar to us rather than introducing us to what could have been the next big thing.