Have you ever come across something that instantly flooded your mind with memories from your childhood? It could be memories stored so far back that you didn’t even know they were there, and yet somehow a random smell or a sound or an image triggers a connection and causes that distant memory to surface – often tied to an assortment of strong emotions. This is what we call “nostalgia,” a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, as explained by this article about the science behind nostalgia:
We see this yearning as a comfort, a socially acceptable way to sigh and dream for those Christmas mornings, Disney movies and ice cream drippings in the stressful and tense moments of life. The childhood comforts we took for granted for so long come back to warm us in the turbulent and developmental years of becoming an adult.
It’s not that things like Christmas mornings, Disney movies or ice cream drippings on their own make us feel emotional, but rather they act as triggers that cause us to think back to a personal memory of a time, a place, and – most importantly – a person.
“I love baking ‘cause it reminds me of my grandmas. It makes me feel like I'm a kid trying to sneak cookie dough when they're not looking. It makes me feel like I'm with them and that I'm one of them.”
- Christina Tosi, founder of Milk Bar, on Netflix’s Chef’s Table
This article by Rutgers University says, “When people engage in nostalgic reverie, we are usually thinking about our relationships – the people with whom we share our most cherished memories.” This is the main reason nostalgia is so powerful: it makes you feel connected to other people in a very human way, even if you are not physically present with them. The article also describes nostalgia as something that can “satisfy basic social needs without actually having to connect with others. That can be even more important in this day and age when so many human connections are mediated through digital technology.”
Some even think that digital technology is the reason that Millennials (born 1981-1996) seem to be more nostalgic than other generations. Millennials grew up and experienced a world without digital media, where face-to-face, human interaction was essential, but they’ve also experienced a world so reliant on and attached to digital technology that devices like iPhones, Apple Watches, Google Glass, etc., have become everyday accessories. For example, this article says:
"The idea of the nostalgia generation bleeds out into almost all of the millennials, but I think it most strongly refers to those kids who grew up in the ‘90s and even the first few years of the 2000s. The nostalgia generation is made up of those kids who saw entire technologies emerge, commercialize and die within their childhoods… It has made them feel much older than they are, and long to be much younger than they feel.”
This is the same generation of Millennials who grew up going to see the original Disney classics in the theaters, and they are one of the reasons why Disney is planning to remake many of them into live-action films (The Lion King, Mulan, Aladdin, Dumbo, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lady & the Tramp, etc.). While some believe this decision is related to profitability or lack of original content, others see it as an opportunity to reengage with the Disney brand as an adult. These live-action versions give us the stories that we remember as kids, but they are told in a more grown-up way, using the modern advancements of cinematic technology.
Kelsey Stahler, contributing editor of Bustle, writes:
Revisiting the worlds (and music) of Belle and Mary Poppins and Dumbo and Simba and Princess Jasmine is, for many of us, a willfully indulgent act. Like shoveling another helping of buttery mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and stuffing on your plate only to finish it up a with a slice of pumpkin pie with extra whipped cream, we know we won’t be better for the choice, but it’s a momentary comfort, something we allow ourselves as the world angrily swirls around us. In the theater, with our phones carefully silenced and nestled in our pockets, as familiar music plays over reimagined, yet familiar visuals, the nostalgic, wondrous sensation is about as close as we can get to seeing the original film for the first time all over again. It’s cheesy, it means that too many of our childhood memories are tied to the corporate giant that is Disney (whoops), but it’s why these movies work.
Even those in opposition recognize that it is human nature to want to watch these Disney remakes in the theater:
As much as we complain about Hollywood’s lack of original ideas, we want to see reboots; or at least, the majority do. The film industry is a democracy, and we all vote with cinema tickets. We seem to want to take a trip back into childhood, however brief, and see our memories reconstructed in glossy photorealism.
And the timing of it all makes a lot of sense. Many of the Disney classics were originally released in the ‘90s, which aligns with the 20-year “sweet spot” of remakes described in this article:
Twenty years gives you enough distance to look back with fondness, without remembering all the bad stuff. And 20 years is enough distance for the time period to seem quaint and interesting to younger viewers, when compared to the present day.
Millennials remember the happy times of seeing these Disney classics in the theater with their parents or friends, but enough time has passed that they don’t remember getting in trouble for shooting a spit wad at their sibling before the movie started. And for those millennials who have kids of their own, they want to share and recreate those same experiences with their own offspring. So not only is Disney able to reignite a fan base of nostalgic Millennials, but they are also able to expose a whole new generation of youth to the classics.
And because this is a new generation, it is not enough to just release these remakes in theaters as they have traditionally done in the past. That’s where Disney’s new streaming platform, Disney+, slated to release in late 2019, comes into play. In an effort to compete with the Netflixes of the world, which have a hold on younger generations, it is necessary that Disney expand its distribution efforts to meet the streaming demands and needs of young, technology-driven viewers.
Twenty years from now, this new generation of Disney fans is going to remember a time when they streamed the live-action Disney classics on their flat-screen TVs (or even mobile/tablet devices) in the comfort of their home. And so the nostalgic “circle of life” continues.