Remakes and Sequels in the Service of Story

Matt Lynn Digital recently reviewed the Disney animated movie Dumbo (1941). We did so anticipating the live action movie Dumbo (2019)‘s theatrical release in the United States on Friday, March 29th. Without making a fine distinction between remake and reboot, we at Matt Lynn Digital wanted to review why some remakes work well while also looking at why sequels, as a distinct thing from remakes, also are worth the time.

Remake - A Star is Born 1937,1954, 1976, & 2018(The movie A Star Is Born was first made in 1937 with remakes in 1954, 1976, and 2018).

Followers of the 2019 Academy Awards will recognize A Star is Born (2018) as a featured nominee for best movie. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga starred in the directorial debut for Cooper. Part of the success this movie enjoyed rested in starring a well known musician and actor (Cooper and Gaga) in featured roles executing their craft using contemporary film and musical take on a movie that had been made three times before. A Star Is Born (1976) with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, A Star Is Born (1954) with Judy Garland and James Mason, and A Star is Born (1937) with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March were others that succeeded with a similar compelling story.

Remake - The Wizard of Oz - The Wiz - 1937 & 1978(1939’s movie The Wizard of Oz was remade as The Wiz in 1978).

We at Matt Lynn Digital have ranked the movie The Wizard of Oz (1939) as the fourth best movie ever made. Starring Judy Garland and her friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion singing and dancing in the service of an adventure of rural versus city, labor versus management, poor versus rich, the music enhanced the telling of a story that has endured for many years. The same themes with a Motown soundtrack and an African American cast including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Lena Horne, and Richard Pryor starred in The Wiz (1978). A powerful story serving powerful audiences are powerful reasons to remake a movie.

Remake - Annie - 1982, 1999, & 2014(1982’s musical movie Annie was remade in 1999 and 2014. All take inspiration from Little Orphan Annie of 1932).

The final look into remade movies includes the music filled song of looking towards tomorrow with family with Annie (1982). In reprising a heartwarming tale of the adventures of a young girl in finding her family, whereas The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz both reinforce getting back home, the original stars Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Aileen Quinn and others. Annie (1999) rebooted the franchise for television with Kathy Bates as a notable star. Annie (2014) offered an entertaining review of the movie with a more robust and contemporary telling of the underlying story with stars Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, and Cameron Diaz. The 1982 and 2014 movies experienced commercial success. Each of these movies trace back to the comedy and drama Little Orphan Annie (1932).

The notion of making sequels to movies often is more creatively deliberate. It’s goals are often are not to retell a story with a more modern take or for a more modern audience, as we explored with some examples above. Instead, sequels seek to extend a story or take themes explored within a story to something more robust or fanciful.

Sequel - The Godfather - 1972, 1974, & 1990(1972’s The Godfather experienced sequels in 1974 and 1990).

The Godfather (1972) joins with The Godfather: Part II (1974) and The Godfather: Part III (1990) to tell the trials and tribulations of an Italian American mafia family with the surname Corleone. The story tells of how Vito Corleone became a major American criminal, how he died, and then how his youngest son Michael Corleone succeeded him and then became corrupted. The first two movies often are considered superior to the third movie in the sequence. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, and Talia Shire are notable stars in these movies.

Sequel - The Dark Knight - 2005, 2008, & 2012(2005’s Batman Begins was followed by The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises in 2008 and 2012, respectively).

The Dark Knight Trilogy of movies collectively refers to Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Gary OldmanMorgan Freeman, and Heath Ledger are notable stars telling the background story of Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), his becoming a crime fighter, and some graphic crime and violence he fights while simultaneously fighting his own emotional baggage wrought by the death of his parents at the hand of violent crime. Christopher Nolan became a director of worldwide reputation thanks to these movies.

Sequel - Jaws - 1975, 1978, 1983, & 1987(The 1975 blockbuster movie Jaws was followed by sequels in 1978, 1983, and 1987).

The movie Jaws (1975) led to three sequels, namely Jaws 2 (1978), Jaws 3-D (1983), and Jaws: The Revenge (1987). The first movie launched the career of director Steven Spielberg, who directed only the first movie. Roy Scheider starred in the first two movies, as did Murray Hamilton, and Lorraine Gary. Other notable stars in the original were Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss. The notion for all four movies was to extend the suspenseful interplay between unsuspecting folks on the beach, a hungry great white shark, and the engaging conflict the allows the audience to question who is the predator and who is the prey. Each movie in the series had a different director. Both the quality and originality of the series suffered from one movie to the next in this series, which is to say that this series demonstrates cases where sequels failed in the mission to extend the story into new and original places.

In walking through some notable remakes and movie sequels, my aim was to begin a dialogue for where one or the other is appropriate. Especially with some examples of  sequels, we are aiming to stake more ground for where sequels are not appropriate. For example, two sequels for Batman Begins seem justified, and a second sequel for The Godfather seems unwarranted. Multiple follow-ups for Jaws seem clearly unnecessary. The remakes of films largely seem justifiable reaches into new territory. What do you think?

Matt – Wednesday, March 27, 2019


Walt Disney’s animated film ‘Dumbo’

The fifth movie released by the studio created by Roy and Walt Disney was the animated movie Dumbo (1941). With the live-action Dumbo (2019) coming to theaters later this month, we watched the 64-minute feature film originally released 78-years ago.

Dumbo 2 - Mr. Stork(Mr. Stork as voiced by Sterling Holloway in Dumbo).

The story of the original Dumbo movie began with the tale of the circus at winter’s rest in Florida. We are introduced to the fact of the circus with many storks bringing joyful packages of new animal kids for the animals in the circus. Arriving a bit later than the other delivery storks was the flying character of Mr. Stork, bringing to the circus the title character of the movie, our very own Dumbo.

Dumbo 4 - Dumbo(Dumbo as voiced by Mel Blanc in Dumbo).

Dumbo was delivered to his mother for nurturing, raising, and the emotional support one would expect from her mother, Mrs. Jumbo. Dumbo begins his time rejected by the adult elephants within the circus with his mother, though Mrs. Jumbo takes it upon herself early within the sequence to shelter her boy with big ears from the jokes that come his way for his looks as well as the clumsiness that become a part of his experience.

Dumbo 3 - Mrs. Jumbo(Mrs. Jumbo as voiced by Verna Felton in Dumbo).

The circus lacked a way to Dumbo into their show, and with the cultural norms of the period went about movie the big eared little buy immediately into an attraction for the circus with all the full grown elephants. This initially included interacting with the circus patrons, which led to a dimwitted, big-eared boy teasing Dumbo for Dumbo’s big ears. After coming to her son’s defense, Mrs. Jumbo was declared a mad elephant and separated from her son.

Dumbo 7 - Smitty, the kid who bullies Dumbo(Smitty the bully was not voiced in Dumbo).

Separated from his mother, the adult elephants would not give Dumbo the emotional support or friendship he needed to learn how to interact with his ears in the circus. Seeing the struggle that Dumbo was experiencing, the larger story of Dumbo began to take a more positive turn when a mouse came to the first level of rescue with friendship.

Dumbo 8 - The adult elephants who bully Dumbo(The adult elephants who rejected the character Dumbo in the movie Dumbo).

Timothy Q. Mouse sized up the predicament in a way that no elephant, adult, or other animal in the whole circus would. The fundamental need for any person is to be liked for who they are, and the larger aim at redemption for Dumbo the movie rested right here. Timothy makes friends with Dumbo, helps get Dumbo into see his isolated mother Mrs. Jumbo, and even speaks into the ear of the evil ringmaster at the center of the circus.

Dumbo 5 - Timothy Q. Mouse(Timothy Q. Mouse as voiced by Edward Brophy in Dumbo).

It was Timothy Q. Mouse who whispered to the Ringmaster of the circus as the ringmaster slept one night between after Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo were separated. Timothy suggested ways to incorporate Dumbo into the circus act, which the ringmaster proceeded to heed. While this first effort did not work, the effort did lead to Dumbo being paired with the clowns in a prophetic sequence for the story.

Dumbo 6 - The Ringmaster(The Ringmaster as voiced by Herman Bing in Dumbo).

Dumbo would be paired with the clowns after being rejected by the adult elephants for a second time. After dismissing all concepts of feelings in Dumbo and seeking to have him jump from ever higher heights, one careless night the clowns managed to get both Dumbo and Timothy Q. Mouse inebriated with some special water.

Dumbo 9 - The Clowns(The clowns who worked the character Dumbo  into their circus act in the movie Dumbo).

The special inebriation led to an extended and disconnected dream sequence for Timothy and Dumbo. Much fanciful music and imagery followed this sequence. The prime delight of the sequence as experienced was the Pink Elephants on Parade.

Dumbo 10 - Elephants on Parade(The pink elephants on parade in the movie Dumbo).

When our movie heroes awoke, confused and high above the ground within a tree, they met a new set of friends. The crows had the wisdom to suggest flying to Dumbo and Timothy as the means to escape the tree, return to their circus, and survive the risk introduced through the circus clowns interested in keeping their places within the circus.

Dumbo 11 - The Crows(The crows with friendship and support for Dumbo and Timothy Q. Mouse in the movie Dumbo).

The out-of-sight outcome that won the movie was when Dumbo and Timothy needed to jump from their highest height in the movie to survive the fall demanded of the clowns. Dumbo’s had learned to use his ears as wings, took flight to win the esteem of the audience and his circus mates, and was rewarded with an outcome that recognized who he was and what he could do in earning love.

While the trope and narrative arc of this movie are showing the age of being almost 80-years old, the movie was well-constructed and seemingly appropriate for the time it was written. From a young age, this film has not been a favorite Matt Lynn Digital contributor Lynn. Overall, our movie rating of the animated Dumbo as 3.5-stars on a scale of one-to-five stars.

Matt – Saturday, March 23, 2019