As we eventually saw, that was pretty indicative of the film itself. But though Beauty and the Beast may be the worst recent offender, it’s not alone. In the month of March we’ve been treated to nostalgia for X-Men (Logan), King Kong (Kong: Skull Island), and Power Rangers. This ties into the fact there’s less originality in films, certainly in mainstream release films, than there was in decades past. But we seem specifically to be living through a nostalgia kick for Hollywood, eager to cash in on TV and film we remember from childhood. Right now, the specific target is media from the 80s and 90s, which only makes sense. The children of those decades are now adults trying to make their way in a tough and often unfulfilling world. And so those icons of their past, those reminders of a simpler time are a very attractive escape in 2017 whether they be Smurfs, Baywatch, Alien, Transformers, Star Wars, Jumanji, Pirates of the Caribbean, and of course comic book movies galore.
Clearly Hollywood’s in the business now of cashing in on name-brands in order to manipulate a specific demographic. It isn’t exclusive to movies either. We live in an age now where Full House, McGyver, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and DuckTales are all on TV, just like in the early 90’s. The only reason Riverdale is as popular as it is is because it’s a dark re-imagining of Archie comics characters. Everyone’s read an Archie comic or two growing up.
On the one-hand this is a bit excessive and creatively limiting. But on the other, it’s interesting to see characters and worlds we know being looked at from a new perspective. There has to be a reason for example, for this new Smurfs film, apart from just being that Smurfs exist and people like them. When that new perspective isn’t taken advantage of, you get stuff like Beauty and the Beast. The Transformers movies likewise have a long history of pandering to their audiences and offering nothing fresh. But nostalgic media can also breathe life into familiar properties, make them feel new and interesting. As goofy as it may be, the idea of the Archie cast in a Twin Peaks-style murder mystery sounds enjoyably bizarre. It doesn’t have to be this extreme a gimmick though. I’m looking forward to the DuckTales reboot in part because that kind of adventure show just isn’t done anymore. Same with Netflix’s upcoming Mystery Science Theatre revival. But I do expect changes where necessary.
Perhaps the bigger conundrum is whether this onslaught of 80s and 90s nostalgia is hindering the creation of new nostalgia for the next generation. The idea of not letting good ideas and good stories die only goes so far.
It should be borne in mind that just because nostalgic TV and movies being resurrected on film is a larger-scale enterprise now, it’s not new. Back in the 80s and 90s it was nostalgic TV from the 60s and 70s that was being rebooted: Dragnet, The Addams Family, The Fugitive, The Flintstones, The Brady Bunch Movie, The Avengers, My Favourite Martian, Wild Wild West, Charlie’s Angels, and Mission Impossible -still a running film franchise to this day! -to name just a few.
We are being inundated with reboots of nostalgia today and it does look like Hollywood’s just trying to make a quick buck, but there are original ideas in film and TV to break through the recycled material. Disney may be making soulless remakes like Maleficent, and Beauty and the Beast (not to mention Mulan, Aladdin, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, and Dumbo all in development), but they’re still giving us new classics like Frozen, Inside Out, and Moana. Among all the 80s and 90s TV shows being remade on film and television, we’re still getting new greats like Stranger Things and Steven Universe that kids of today will carry with them into the future (and no doubt begin rebooting around 2030). And let’s not forget not every nostalgic reboot has been bad. For every Ben-Hur and Jem and the Holograms, there’s a Mad Max: Fury Road and The Peanuts Movie. As sure as Hollywood’s always going to return to the well of nostalgia to rein in audiences, there will always be an abundance to choose from.