In light of this week’s release of Disney’s newest live action remake, The Little Mermaid, we decided to revisit some of Disney’s other live action remakes and give our personal ranking.
*Note: For purposes of this ranking, only true remakes are considered. Live action films that were inspired by classic Disney films (i.e. Cruella, Maleficient, Christopher Robin) are not considered (even if they are great films).
11. Pinocchio (2022, dir. Robert Zemeckis)
While Robert Zemeckis’ live action remake of the 1940 animated Disney film had the misfortune of being eclipsed by another Academy Award winning Pinocchio adaptation, having a huge competitor probably would not have done much for the film. Remaining completely void of any level of charm that the original can tout, Pinocchio veers into almost hard to watch territory, despite Tom Hanks’ best efforts. Harping too much on the crude themes, this film continues to prove that the only adaption of Pinocchio that truly matters is the 2000 Wonderful World of Disney release, Geppetto.
10. Dumbo (2019, dir. Tim Burton)
Like many early Disney films, Dumbo (1941) is plagued with problematic theming and depictions that do not age well. While Burton’s adaptation provided a bit more of a modern spin, surrendering more to the director’s whimsical signature stylings, he ultimately couldn’t revive the film. The Burton-style carnival backdrop gave a nice reminiscence of Burton’s classic film, Big Fish (2003), with beautiful production and costume design, and the cast was well stacked with Colin Farrell leading the film. However, the updates to the story were forgettable, proving that ultimately Dumbo’s legacy will forever live on through the iconic rides at Disney World and Disneyland.
9. The Jungle Book (2016, dir. Jon Favreau)
The original 1967 film was most notably the last Disney film to have been worked on by Walt Disney himself. With gorgeous animation, fun songs by Disney legends The Sherman Brothers, and an underrated score by George Bruns, The Jungle Book soon found its ranks among classic Disney films, particularly during a time that saw fewer hits from the studio. While the film is not without its share of controversy, it holds up for the most part. While Jon Favreau’s 2016 live action take on the film certainly has its bright points- effortlessly blending live action and animation- it loses much of the original film’s charm. This is partially due to the truly hit or miss casting choices made throughout the film. While some performances, like Bill Murray’s Baloo and Idris Elba’s Shere Khan (an underrated Disney villain!) were brilliant, other choices, like Scarlett Johansson as the blood thirsty Kaa (voiced originally by Sterling Holloway, known best for voicing classic Disney characters such as Winnie the Pooh and the Cheshire Cat), or Christopher Walken as King Louie (did Peter Pan: Live teach us nothing?) did not quite make sense. In this author’s opinion, it also loses points for trimming down “Bare Necessities,” one of the best Disney songs of all time.
8. 101 Dalmatians (1996, dir. Stephen Herek)
In what one could probably consider the original live action Disney remake, 101 Dalmatians featured an iconic cast, including Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil, Jeff Daniels as Roger Dearly, and Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams as Cruella’s henchmen, Horace and Jasper. While the film itself has not had great staying power, it thematically exudes 90s comedy action nostalgia. Despite being a huge financial success for Disney, the film was criticized for being too close of a shot for shot remake of the original 1961 animated film. While the story is nearly identical to the original film, the remake itself set the bar for remakes to come.
7. The Lion King (2019, dir. Jon Favreau)
If there’s any live action remake that takes the cake in terms of “shot for shot remakes,” however, it would be 2019’s adaptation of The Lion King. It could be argued that this film does not even really count as a “live action” remake, given that the entire film utilizes photorealistic 3D animation over the original 1994 film’s 2D animation. This film was nearly a carbon copy of the original (except for its cutting out of “Be Prepared,” arguably the best song of the film), with critics and audiences alike criticizing its lack of originality upon its release, even though the film grossed over $1 billion upon its release. However, the animation styling is beautiful and realistic, capturing the beauty of the African savannah, and Elton John and Tim Rice’s iconic score remains spine chilling. The film also featured a stunning soundtrack featuring original songs by Beyoncé (a reminder that “Spirit” deserved a Best Original Song nomination!).
6. Mulan (2020, dir. Niki Caro)
Released during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mulan was the first film to feature the controversial Disney+ model of allowing subscribers the ability to watch the film on the streaming platform for an additional fee. However, that was far from the only controversy that followed the release of this film. From the production of the film taking place in Xinjiang during a time of civil unrest, to the lack of diversity featured throughout the film’s production team, most notably in areas such as screenwriting and costume design, to controversies surrounding the film’s star, Mulan was a perfect storm of chaos. The film itself is probably the furthest cry from its source material, forgoing almost all of the music (save for the 1998’s signature ballad, “Reflection,” which is reprised by Christina Aguilera during the end credits), and even cutting out principal characters like Li Shang and Wushu, Mulan plays more like an action film. It was honestly frustrating to see such a departure from the original film, as the new story offered little in substance, and perpetuated the idea that strong female characters can only exist without love interests. While the film is visually striking, garnering Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Visual Effects, Mulan has not withstood the test of time (and it’s only been three years) in terms of memorability.
5. Alice in Wonderland (2010, dir. Tim Burton)
Tim Burton relied more heavily on the 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll for his adaption than the 1951 animated Disney film. While this provided more space for the notoriously unconventional director to make an already hallucinatory story even more hallucinatory, the restraints of the film still being a Disney film seemed to hold this film back from reaching its true potential. Coupled with a fully immersive CGI universe that is almost distracting at points, and a complex story that suggests that maybe Burton bit off a bit more of the mushroom than he could chew, Alice in Wonderland fell a bit flat, even if its efforts were impressive. However, flaws aside, the 2010 film managed to bring in over $1 billion in box office revenue, and won Academy Awards for Best Costume Design and Best Visual Effects.
4. Aladdin (2019, dir. Guy Ritchie)
Guy Ritchie’s 2019 adaption of the 1992 animated film was one of the stronger Disney remakes. Offering new elements to a familiar story without being a total departure from the source material, Aladdin was a visually stunning film that featured the iconic Alan Menken/Howard Ashman score of the original (even if the new songs added for the film did not measure up), strong performances, and fun effects. While Robin Williams left impossibly big shoes to fill with his take on Genie, Will Smith gave a very valiant effort in living up to the legend. The film was also a financial success, garnering over $1 billion in box office revenue.
3. Lady and the Tramp (2019, dir. Charlie Bean)
Marketed as one of the first Disney+ original films, releasing the day the streaming platform went live, Lady and the Tramp is a remake of the 1955 animated film. Like The Lion King, the film relies on photorealistic animation, however, unlike the former, it does so through a hybrid technique, featuring action provided by real dogs. Featuring an impressive voice cast lineup of Tess Thompson and Justin Theroux as the title characters, Janelle Monáe as Peg, and Benedict Wong as Bull, Lady and the Tramp is a charming remake that stays true to the original film while removing some of the more controversial elements, such as the Siamese cat scene.
2. Beauty and the Beast (2017, dir. Bill Condon)
The original 1991 Beauty and the Beast made history as the first Disney movie to receive a Best Picture nomination. With an iconic score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, the film has kept its status as one of the most iconic Disney films of all time. Bill Condon’s 2017 live action remake can only be described as, in the words of Harry Styles, “a movie that feels like a movie.” With sweeping, grand sets, stunning costumes, and an overly cinematic feel, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast remains the most expensive musical film made to date. However, despite the lofty investment, the film managed to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Despite some additions to the story that feel unnecessary, and motion capture animation that can be hit or miss, Beauty and the Beast is a gorgeous film, with a strong cast led by Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, and Luke Evans. This film also brought us the iconic Josh Groban ballad, “Evermore,” which for that, this author is grateful.
1. Cinderella (2015, dir. Kenneth Branagh)
Taking the cake for the strongest live action remake so far, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the 1950 animated film of the same name is a gorgeous and charming remake, that strikes the perfect balance of new addition and classic odes. Giving Ella a story that feels a bit more modern than the source material, but without being self congratulatory, the film focuses on the importance of kindness and resilience. Led by a charming leading cast of Lily James, Richard Madden, and Cate Blanchett, the 2015 adaptation of Cinderella currently stands as the most critically acclaimed live action Disney remake, even if its box office numbers did not perform as well as some of its successors, and garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design.
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