With the launch of Disney+, nearly 100 years of media will be suddenly available in the cloud — with much, much more to come.
Given the Walt Disney Company's rapid expansion and huge back catalog, it made perfect sense that they’d have their own dedicated streaming option, on which audiences will be able to watch hundreds of films from the company as well as thousands of their TV shows. With such a deep archive, paired with the newly acquired Fox treasure trove, Disney+ will serve as an endless trip down memory lane.
Of course, like any streaming service worth its salt, Disney+ will have new movies, too. One of the new films available on launch day will be a live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp, in keeping with the studio’s other live-action and/or CG remakes of its hand-drawn animated films. In my opinion, in an ideal world, Disney would just stop remaking its older films, period. In this world, though, it’s better to imagine some older, less beloved films that Disney could remake for its streaming service without raising too many hackles.
Let’s consider 15 of the possibilities.
Treasure Island (1950)
Fun fact: the 1950 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's adventure novel Treasure Island is the very first, fully live-action film released by Walt Disney Pictures. (The studio had made a few films, including Song of the South, in the 1940s that blended live-action and hand-drawn animation.)
Since that time, this iteration of the story of the intrepid young man Jim Hawkins and the one-legged pirate Long John Silver who tries to steal his treasure has gotten somewhat lost in the shuffle. Disney has made a number of other pirate-heavy films, including a Muppet version of the same story and an animated version set in space. However, Robert Newton’s performance as Long John Silver is arguably the template for the prototypical, “Arrrr!”-shouting pirate, making Treasure Island ripe for a remake. Even with a non-massive budget, this story could easily find a new home and a new vision on Disney+.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
There have been pretty consistent discussions about the possibility of a remake of this adaptation of the Jules Verne novel for a while. Disney nearly got in business with auteurist director David Fincher and star Brad Pitt on a version of the film a few years ago, but it came to naught.
The story of Captain Nemo and his mysterious submarine Nautilus would make for an intense, moody action film in the 21st century. The 1954 version, which was the first time Disney swung for the fences in terms of the scope and scale of its live-action films, has its charms and an impressive bevy of special effects. But its story is less engaging than its visuals, and there’s a way to balance the two. The only real downside for this is that it might be too big for Disney+.
Old Yeller (1957)
Here’s a title that probably most people even moderately aware of pop culture are familiar with. Just as people know that Bambi features the heartbreaking death of the title character’s mother at the hands of an offscreen hunter, they know that Old Yeller culminates with the death of the title character, a friendly dog who’s put down after becoming rabid.
Tearjerking dramas where dogs die are a moderately durable subgenre of weepie, and Old Yeller wouldn’t need to be very high-budgeted. People love dogs, and they (weirdly) seem to love crying about the loss of dogs on the big screen. So a film like Old Yeller would be heartbreaking to remake, but it’s also the kind of thing that might cement Disney+ as being a repository for more emotional fare than what audiences can find in theaters.
Third Man on the Mountain (1959)
Nowadays, this drama may be best known by some theme park diehards, as it served as a kind of inspiration for the Disneyland roller-coaster Matterhorn Bobsleds. Otherwise, the drama has largely been forgotten (though it’s likely to show up on Disney+ on November 12, because it’s not like any other streaming service has snatched it up).
The basic idea, in which a young man tries to successfully climb a mountain his father died trying to scale, might seem like a bit more large-scale than Disney would be willing to pay for the service. But if Amazon and Netflix can aim high with their own feature-length efforts, Disney ought to shell out for the kind of adventures that would appeal to the YA crowd. This premise would make a fine exhibit of that kind of adventurous film.
The core of the Walt Disney Company, its unshakable foundation, is nostalgia. Nowadays, that nostalgia arrives in the form of revivals of '80s- and '90s-era stories and worlds. But back in 1960, the nostalgia Disney trafficked in manifested itself in a rose-colored view of small-town Americana.
That vision is best exemplified by the 1960 adaptation of Pollyanna. The lengthy old-fashioned drama is all about a little girl played by Hayley Mills (in her first of six Disney films), and how her indefatigable spirit inspires the small town where she arrives. This is a classic tearjerker of a movie, and its Main Street, USA-style vision of a small town is both quaint and inviting. It’s the perfect kind of low-budget remake that would find a home on Disney+.
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Back in 1960, Disney’s adaptation of Swiss Family Robinson was a massive success at the box office. (Adjusted for inflation, it's sold more tickets than Avengers: Age of Ultron.) Though it oddly hasn’t had the same staying power of other 60s-era Disney films, the idea of Swiss Family Robinson is such that a filmmaker with the right budget and cast could revive it for the modern era.
The story, in which a family is shipwrecked on a deserted island and ends up fighting off some fearsome pirates, could work just as well in the 21st century as it did nearly 60 years ago — if Lost could succeed on TV, why couldn’t a film like this succeed on a streaming service? You could almost argue that this might even work well as a limited series. It would just have to look realistic enough for people to latch onto it.
The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964)
One of the earliest stars in Disney’s coterie was Tommy Kirk. Kirk predated other Disney mainstays like Kurt Russell (more on that later), and appeared in everything from Swiss Family Robinson to Babes in Toyland to The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. The film depicts some of the wacky exploits of the title character, a mildly nerdy college student with a gorgeous girlfriend (Annette Funicello).
The way the story is designed, the finished product basically feels like two episodes of a possible TV series. But if anything, a place like Disney+ would be the perfect place to create new misadventures for Merlin Jones (or a Merlin-esque character), in a way that feels less TV-like. Here’s a case where the remake would be perfect because the target audience might have no idea there’s an original film being remade.
The Love Bug (1968)
Being fair, Disney has already tried its hand at remaking, or reviving, The Love Bug. (You do remember the 2005 summertime comedy Herbie: Fully Loaded starring Lindsay Lohan and Matt Dillon, right? Right? And that’s not even counting the TV-movie from the '90s directed by Peyton Reed and starring Bruce Campbell.)
The premise of this film is inherently goofy and dumb: a Volkswagen Beetle is inexplicably sentient without being able to speak. Yet there’s something durable and versatile about Herbie that’s allowed it to stick around in people’s memories for decades, and inspired a handful of films. Earlier versions of the story have obnoxious and/or ridiculous humor; in the right comedic hands, though, this could work really well. Just imagine what the right filmmaker could do in blending comedy and action with a sentient car. (Seriously.)
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)
Hard as it may be to believe, there was once a time when Kurt Russell was one of the most reliable stars in the stable of Disney actors. Before he grew up and started working with directors like John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino, Russell played family-friendly characters like Dexter Riley.
In the 1969 film The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Dexter is one member of a slacker group of college kids who ends up becoming super-smart. Or, rather, within the confines of the film, he becomes a walking, talking computer. To call the original film quaint would be both a compliment to The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and an insult to the definition of the word “quaint."
But here’s an idea that could easily be revived and refashioned for the late-2010s. What does it mean now to be a walking computer? How could a college student impact the world with that power? A remake of this low-budget film could easily answer those questions.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
On one hand, remaking Bedknobs and Broomsticks might be a fool’s errand. The 1971 film was a not-entirely-successful attempt to recapture the magic of the 1964 classic Mary Poppins: the same director, the same songwriters, a couple of the same cast members, and a mix of live-action and animation couldn’t quite equal the earlier film.
But just as it’s impossible to imagine someone taking over for Julie Andrews as Mary (as Emily Blunt did in Mary Poppins Returns), it’s pretty difficult to imagine someone taking over for Angela Lansbury as witch Eglantine Price, charged with overseeing three displaced siblings during World War II. Casting would be the big challenge here — the story isn’t quite as impossible to replicate as it is to find a new Lansbury. But if Disney+ could pull that off, it’d be a hell of a magic trick.
The Island at the Top of the World (1974)
The basic idea of this turn-of-the-century science-fiction film is captivating: a rich man mounts an expedition to save his son. The film feels like a proving ground for steampunk culture, with its balance of early-1900s culture and technology that vastly outpaced the real tech of that era.
In the same way that a remake of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea could be visually exciting and daring now, so too would be the case for The Island at the Top of the World. The kind of ballsy visuals — the heroes use a massive dirigible as their vehicle for traveling to the northern part of the world — that Disney could pull off could easily be married with an updated script and modernized cast.
The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)
The calling card for Disney live-action fare of the 1960s and 1970s was wacky comedy. One of the obvious examples of this is The Apple Dumpling Gang from 1975. The Western comedy starred Don Knotts and Tim Conway as a pair of hopelessly dimwitted criminals who run into a scrappy bunch of kids. Knotts and Conway had good chemistry with each other, even as the overall film is terminally goofy and cutesy.
To remake the movie, you wouldn’t need a big budget; the key would really be casting two actors to play the leads who bounce off each other hilariously. (At first blush, I think of Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, but no idea is a bad idea.) Figure out the leads, and the rest would easily fall into place.
The Black Hole (1979)
Two years after the massive, game-changing success of Star Wars, Walt Disney Pictures released its first attempt to successfully ride on the science-fiction bandwagon. The result was The Black Hole, a Jules Verne-esque story of how a crew of astronauts discovers a mostly abandoned ship on the edge of a black hole, overseen by a persuasive, charismatic madman (Maximilian Schell). And, as you would expect from that description, the film concludes with a 2001-inspired finale in which the madman is posited as a living version of the Devil. Seriously.
Whatever else is true, the basic idea of The Black Hole would be fascinating to see redone, possibly by a director with a better sense of visual splendor and sweep. It’s hard to imagine the story staying the same, but that would probably be a good thing.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Ray Bradbury was entrenched in Disney culture for a long time. His own view of the future managed to gel with the optimistic futurism espoused by the late Walt Disney, and Bradbury was also involved in the design of Epcot’s Spaceship Earth. The studio notably turned one of his scarier stories, Something Wicked This Way Comes, into a live-action film in the brief period of the '80s before executives Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg arrived at the studio and turned around its prospects.
Something Wicked isn’t a perfect film, but with Jonathan Pryce and Jason Robards as the leads, it’s an odd, creepy thing that feels decidedly, surprisingly un-Disney-like. If Disney+ was to remake the film, it would only work if the movie was just as committed to being weird and haunting the way the original was.
The Mighty Ducks (1992)
The 1990s featured something of a renaissance of live-action, low-budget comedies for Walt Disney Pictures. One of the most successful and beloved was The Mighty Ducks, a film so popular that it managed to inspire the name of a real NHL team (which resides, of course, in Anaheim).
The original film is as much, if not more so, about the adult coach of a ragtag group of young hockey players as it is about the kids themselves. Featuring a young Joshua Jackson as one of the best players and Emilio Estevez as an ex-player-turned-alcoholic lawyer, The Mighty Ducks isn’t a great film (I say this as a child of the '90s), but it’s the kind of movie Disney did best for a while. It’s also the perfect kind of film to be revived on a streaming site like Disney+: not too big, not too small, and with an unbeatable premise.