Disney’s “Mountain” remake

Walt Disney Studios has announced that it will remake the 1975 movie Escape to Witch Mountain. The updated version will still feature two kids with telekinetic powers whose real origins are unknown, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Disney is not the only studio in Hollywood to contract a remake, as studios realize that updating an old standard can be lucrative. Everything from The Thomas Crown Affair to Shaft to The Nutty Professor has been rehashed recently on the silver screen. But Disney seems to use remakes more often than most. And this is just yet another instance in that pattern, as the venerable studio tries to recapture its dominance of the youth market, with mixed results.

The Jungle Book (1994) starred Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli in a live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s seminal work. Disney already made a fortune in 1967 with its animated musical. Mowgli may have been raised in a jungle with many animal friends, but not many went to see it in the theater. The Jungle Book only pulled in $40 million.

The 1996 101 Dalmatians, a live-action remake of the 1961 animated classic, starred Glenn Close as the wickedly evil Cruella De Vil. It scored well at the theater, bringing in $136 million. (The 2000 sequel, 102 Dalmatians, which critics dismissed as a remake of a remake, went to the dogs. It managed to make only $66 million.)

The bottom fell out of the remake market in 1997, though, with That Darn Cat. This Christina Ricci vehicle was an update of the 1965 family classic with the same name. Despite being given an edgy, satirical twist by award-winning director Bob Spiers, That Darn Cat brought in a paltry $18 million.

Yet Disney boldly forged ahead with the trend, releasing George of the Jungle (1997). Starring Brendan Fraser, this also was a live-action remake of the 1967 animated cartoon. George was a beast at the box office, raking in $105 million.

On the heels of George, Disney released Flubber in late 1997. Robin Williams uncovers a green thing in this modern remake of Disney’s 1961 classic, The Absent-Minded Professor. Flubber bounced to a robust $93 million at the box office.

In 1998, Disney remade Mighty Joe Young based on the 1949 black-and-white original. Zoologist Gregg O’Hara comes across the 15-foot-tall gorilla Joe while in the remote Pangani Mountains in Central Africa. The release of Joe wasn’t so mighty, bringing in a mere $50 million at the box office.

Also in 1998, Disney’s new The Parent Trap used the same plot as the original, but assembled it in a much more stylish package. The original The Parent Trap was made by Disney in 1961 as a modest production, boosted mostly by a breakthrough performance from Hayley Mills as twin 14-year-old sisters who scheme to reunite their divorced parents. The Parent Trap‘s domestic ticket take was only slightly higher than Mighty Joe Young at $66 million, still a disappointment.

Not to be dissuaded from a string of remakes, Tarzan was released by Disney as an animated feature in 1999. Starring the voices of Minnie Driver, Rosie O’Donnell, Nigel Hawthorne and Tony Goldwyn, Tarzan swung its way to $171 million at theaters. But Tarzan had the power of being an animated film, which always seem to perform better for Disney.

Disney’s next remake, Inspector Gadget – also released in 1999 – returned the studio to live action. Matthew Broderick was featured as the bumbling, yet somehow effective, detective. Inspector Gadget rocketed to a $97 million take, reaffirming Disney’s faith in the remake.

Thus it’s no surprise that Disney would go ahead with an update of the once-popular Escape to Witch Mountain. The 1975 original was followed in 1978 by a sequel, Return From Witch Mountain. Disney has commissioned newcomer Adam Kukalow to pen the new version for Disney’s Gunn Films.

According to reports, the new flick will remain faithful to the spirit of the original, but filmed more in the genre of TV’s The X-Files or Roswell. The children in the film also will become teenagers rather than pre-teens, and will not be brother and sister but friends. Disney has not scheduled a production date as yet.