Disney has been releasing a series of live action remakes. The “Beauty and the Beast” remake starring Emma Watson is the most notable success to date. The box office total for the live action “Beauty and the Beast” passed a billion dollars at the box office, earning more than the original animated film. It proved that live action remakes – regardless of what you think of them – could be very profitable.

However, live action versions of classic animated films aren’t guaranteed blockbusters. The “Beauty and the Beast” remake earned more than twice the live-action version of “Cinderella” in 2015. This led to “Aladdin” coming out in 2019. A live-action version of “The Lion King” is due out this summer. The questions for many are why Disney is investing in the live action remakes in the first place and why they are only taking place now.

One answer is that Disney owns the scripts and music, making these remakes cheaper than a totally new movie. Advertising is simpler and cheaper, too. Why try to create various movie trailers to tell the story without giving it away when you already know what marketing worked well? All you have to do is promote the story to the kids and tell the parents it is out.

Yet the remakes have an advantage over the classic films in another way. You can tap into nostalgia without wearing people out the way re-releasing the animated film would. You don’t turn people off by advertising it as a re-release of the movie on its 25th anniversary, making them feel old and reluctant to go.

By remaking the “classics”, they know that the movie will have significant interest and viewings. There’s less risk than with a new movie, though the 2016 remake of “Pete’s Dragon” shows the remake is not a guaranteed blockbuster. They also avoid the risk of movies being panned and criticized the way the “Sleeping Beauty” adaptation “Maleficent” was. The various “Snow White” retellings that have come out over the past ten years like “The Huntsman” and “Mirror, Mirror” show that an attempt to update “Snow White” isn’t a guarantee they’ll make money. By sticking to the successful storyline with new window-dressing, they minimize risk and maximize profits.

A live action remake refreshes the intellectual property rights and prevents it from going into the public domain for another few decades. That alone may be worth putting $50-100 million into a live action movie regardless of how it does at the box office. However, it will revive interest in all related merchandising and intellectual property. For example, the famous songs will be back on the radio. I don’t know how much Elton John will get for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” if it hits the top 50 again, but Disney will get its cut. If someone else covers the song, the classic version will still see a spike in sales.

The advances in computer animation help to explain why live-action remakes really took off after 2015, as well. Disney has made movies where people interacted with animated characters since the 1940s. “Mary Poppins” is a perfect example of this. The live-action remakes, though, rely on computer animation so good that it is hard to tell what is real and what isn’t, though that’s obvious when the animals talk. Yet I don’t think the fact that the animators were hungering for this type of project is reason enough to invest hundreds of millions in the Disney live-action remakes. They’d only do it if the accountants were certain it would yield enough dollar signs.