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Home > Why Are There So Many Horror Films Based On Public Domain Disney Properties?

Why Are There So Many Horror Films Based On Public Domain Disney Properties?

“Mickey’s Mouse Trap” Courtesy of Into Frame Productions

The Origins of This Overdone Trend

Since the original Steamboat Willie was released to the public domain, filmmakers were quick to capitalize on this. In quick succession, trailers for the horror films Steamboat Willie and Mickey’s Mouse Trap were released, in addition to the horror game Infestation: Origins. Last year, the horror film Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey was released based on the property, with the director planning a Peter Pan film in the future. Immediately, many fans expressed their exhaustion at these uncreative re-imaginings of these properties. Of course, one has to wonder how and why the trend started. 

Mascot Horror and Creepypastas 

The first reason for this trend’s popularity is one many are familiar with; the rise of mascot horror. Mascot horror is a subgenre that deals with characters from kids’ media being turned into horror monsters. The codifier of the genre was Five Nights at Freddy’s: an extremely simple horror title that skyrocketed in popularity and influenced the entire horror genre. Other entries in the genre are Bendy and the Ink Machine, Poppy’s Playtime, Baldi’s Basics, and many more. As an example of this genre’s current popularity, the long-awaited Five Night’s At Freddy’s movie beat out The Marvels at the box office. Even before then, the slasher films Willie’s Wonderland and The Banana Splits were capitalizing on the trend. It’s easy to see the resemblance when watching the trailers for these films. 

Before Five Nights at Freddy’s, Creepypastas were another popular trend. Creepypastas were internet horror stories that had memetic fame, and a common subgenre for dark parodies of children’s shows. While these were internet phenomena back then, nowadays, people remember them for their overused cliches and reliance on shock value. Given that the kids who grew up watching creepypastas are adults now, the creators of these films are probably trying to cash in on nostalgia for this trend. However, it also appears these filmmakers have copied the same mistakes as their inspirations. 

Through both of these mediums, one can see that these films are the evolution of a decade’s worth of internet memes and culture. 

“Untitled Steamboat Willie Film” Courtesy of Lens Productions

Mockery of Disney

The next, more cynical reason, for why these films became popular is to get back at Disney. Out of the “big five” entertainment companies, few are as consistently made fun of as Disney. This is partly due to their ubiquity, but also since they are infamous for buying everything and maintaining a squeaky-clean brand image. As such, these horror parodies are another example of a long line of jabs at the company.

As for the idea of public domain, this is another subject where Disney has been criticized. Originally, any work would be freed from copyright when the creator passed away. However, Disney spent millions lobbying to the government to prevent their IPs from entering the public domain. Because of this, public domain laws were drastically shifted for the worse. As such, it is understandable that the creators of these paradisiacal horror films would celebrate Disney’s grip finally ending. 

Additionally, there is a level of irony in producing a dark parody of a Disney movie. Disney had built their reputation on making sanitized versions of old fairy tales, such as Snow White, Hamlet, and The Little Mermaid. The original fairy tales were a lot darker than the Disney versions and had far fewer happy endings. So, in a way, these horror spoofs are turning the tables on Disney. 

Over the years, Disney has earned their status as a magnet of ridicule for their corporate decisions and brand image. However, the problem lies in the fact that these films care more about sticking it to Disney instead of creating something worthwhile on its own.

The Fate of the Parody Genre  

For the past few decades, the parody genre has seen many changes. Starting with classics such as Young Frankenstein and Spaceballs, many other directors have followed suit. However, parodies of specific films making it to the big screen waned out over the years. This is due in no small part to the infamous works of Friedberg and Seltzer. Nevertheless, parodies of entire genres such as Austin Powers and Galaxy Quest are more fondly remembered.

In the internet age, the parody genre has had far more success. With massive channels such as Honest Trailers and How It Should Have Ended being household names and thousands of fan animations being released every day, the parody genre appears to have found a new home. Of course, given the scale of online productions, these ideas inevitably climbed back to the big screen.

Despite this, several transformative works successfully create a unique spin on public domain properties. A recent example of this is Lies of P from Korean developer Neowiz, which turns the classic tale of Pinocchio from Carlo Collodi into an acclaimed Soulslike title. There are many other examples one can find of classic tales turned on their heads. 

To conclude, the purpose of the public domain should be to expand what a piece of art is. It isn’t enough to create a work just to capitalize on a trend or get back at a creator, but to use classic stories as a foundation for a unique work. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose of making a work public domain. 

“Infestation Origins” Courtesy of Nightmare Forge Games

Official Mickey’s Mouse Trap Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Elisabeth joined Dead Talk News in 2022 and loves movies and TV! After working for various sites, including Screen Rant and Showbiz Cheat Sheet, Elisabeth joined DTN to critique and review various movies, from horror flicks to Disney live-actions.