In the last few years, Disney has made live-action remakes of its classic animated features a major pillar of the studio’s release calendar. Most recently, we saw The Lion King, one of Disney’s most successful films ever, given the remake treatment, though, in that case, calling the film “live-action” is something of a stretch, given the rest of the movies from the studio actually have humans in them.
These films are as important to the company’s bottom line as Marvel superhero movies and Star Wars have been. While this list covers all of the movies we've seen to date, there are still more on the way. While many of these remakes have made money, how many of them are actually good? How close do they come to the animated original, and to what degree is that even a good thing? I've taken it upon myself to rank every Disney remake, starting with one you may or may not remember. Take a look.
13. The Jungle Book (1994)
Disney’s first attempt at a live-action remake probably goes back much further than anybody remembers. Before The Jungle Book we all remember there was actually another Jungle Book. The movie isn't bad on its face. It's technically fine for what it is, but the film is neither a strong retelling of the original animated Disney Jungle Book or Rudyard Kipling’s original stories. This is a “realistic” version of the story, so the animals don’t speak, but it's really a key component of both previous versions to leave out.
What we get instead is closer to a Tarzan movie than a Jungle Book movie. Jason Scott Lee is also a much older Mowgli than we’re used to seeing on the screen. It's a decision that clearly was made because somebody decided that what The Jungle Book needed was a love interest.
12. Alice Through The Looking Glass
At first glance, Alice Through the Looking Glass makes a lot of sense. The first film was a box office smash, and Lewis Carroll’s original novel has a sequel of its own to adapt. Unfortunately, the animated Disney version, and by extension the first remake, utilizes a lot from both books, and thus the sequel movie has basically nothing to do with either.
Whatever magic the first movie had is pretty much gone in this second movie. To me while watching, this one feels like a cash grab, and it's not even a very good one. Sometimes even Johnny Depp in a funny hat can’t save your movie.
11. 102 Dalmatians
Another sequel that clearly went forward because of a previous success, 102 Dalmatians clearly suffered from not having any real idea for what a sequel would do. 102 Dalmatians scores slightly better than Through the Looking Glass largely because, while Johnny Depp seems to be going through the motions, Glenn Close is clearly still having a blast playing Cruella de Vil.
The film was largely panned on release. Honestly, while people may have loved the original live-action remake, nobody was looking for a sequel to this one. It starts out trying to make Cruella de Vil the hero of the sequel, a not ridiculous idea considering the character's popularity the first time around, but the idea doesn't hold up and then we basically get a retread of the previous movie.
10. Christopher Robin
Christopher Robin is a bit of an anomaly among the Disney live-action films. While most of them attempt to recapture the magic of the original, Christopher Robin is not only more of a sequel than a remake, but it’s also designed for a more mature audience. This isn't a movie for kids who love Winnie the Pooh. It's a movie for adults who grew up loving Winnie the Pooh.
To be sure, if you’re looking for a magical time with Winnie the Pooh and the gang, this is not that movie, and children will likely be bored with it easily. However, the movie deserves some points for attempting to create something original, even if it doesn't always stick the landing.
9. Alice In Wonderland
The popularity of the Disney remake can be largely traced back to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. While remakes had been done previously, this was the movie that absolutely blew up at the box office; in fact, it’s still the second-highest-grossing Disney live-action remake worldwide, and it showed the studio how much money there was to be made with the concept.
The movie got a lukewarm reception by critics, and the movie is sort of a weird combination of a sequel and a remake, but that allows the movie to satisfy two audiences, in my opinion. By covering familiar ground and doing it in a new way, the studio was able to get audiences to flock to the theaters. This was also the first time we saw Johnny Depp in this particular funny hat and Alice in Wonderland has a novelty that makes it fun.
8. 101 Dalmatians
The second of Disney’s live-action remakes took a page from the original Jungle Book idea and made the animals in the film actual animals; therefore, the movie focuses instead on the human characters. This makes Glenn Close’s Cruella de Vil the star of the show, and she’s clearly enjoying every minute of her take on the famous character. Glenn Close has been known for playing villains, but here she gets to adapt her usually more mature characters for a family audience.
The movie is fine on its own. It was generally panned by critics, but it was a box office hit and Close’s performance is something that should not be missed due to all of its scenery chewing, full-camp goodness.
7. The Lion King
The newest adaptation isn’t really a live-action movie, as there isn’t a single living thing on the screen and only one shot that's live action. All the characters and nearly every shot were created entirely through computers. It’s also, for better or worse, the movie that keeps the closest to the previous source material. This makes it a pretty accurate adaptation, but it also keeps the new movie from doing anything creative with the story. Still, it’s The Lion King, and The Lion King is a pretty great story. Just sayin.'
The CGI is likewise a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the photorealistic animation is absolutely breathtaking. These shots could have come from a Disneynature documentary. Yet, at the same time, the realism prevents the characters from displaying emotions. Simba can’t look scared or angry or happy. Every plus has a minus, and the movie falls in the middle of this ranking.
Dumbo was something of an anomaly among these remakes because it’s one that didn’t succeed wildly at the box office. This may have something to do with the fact that it’s the oldest Disney animated feature to be remade, but that’s part of why I feel it works as well as it does. It has a bit more freedom to be its own thing.
The events of Disney’s original film are completed by the end of Act I in Dumbo's 2019 live-action film. What follows that is really the movie that Dumbo should have been the first time around, a story about what happens after the little elephant becomes a star. Not all of it works perfectly, but any movie that has the guts to make its villain an evil Walt Disney deserves credit.
5. Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast holds a special place in the history of Disney as the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. It was also the first remake to make the jump to live-action virtually untouched. It worked for audiences, as the movie made $1.2 billion worldwide.
Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast falters, like Lion King, due to its fear of taking risks. The only real changes to the original film seem to exist to answer questions about the animated movie that only nitpickers ever had. Still, the soundtrack is gorgeous and at least the Beast can make actual facial expressions. Not the best, but not the worst in Disney's live-action canon, either.
Maleficent is the live-action adaptation that more of these movies should have been. It's something that takes a new look at a familiar story. In this case, audiences were able to see Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the villain. Like Glenn Close in 101 Dalmatians, Angelina Jolie chews all of the scenery in the title role. It's unfortunate nobody else seems to be having quite as much fun as she is.
Maleficent has a glorious beginning and a bonkers over-the-top ending. It only stumbles in the middle when it is forced to actually do the Sleeping Beauty part of the story. Kudos to Disney for making a movie that makes the villain look like a hero in what amounts to a rape revenge story. It’s a shocking thing to see, but shock is one thing these movies tend to lack.
Aladdin is one of Disney animation’s most iconic films, thanks to the big blue Genie and one Robin Williams. Being willing to even to try and remake this one was a brave move to start with. The solution was to find a star who was full of style and charisma, but one whose particular style was as far from Robin Williams as possible. The remake found Will Smith.
Aladdin is still basically the same movie over again, but the one big aforementioned change, adding Will Smith to the mix, gives the movie a much needed shot of, well, something different. It’s the movie you know, but not exactly the movie you know. The jokes, for example, are very different. There are new subplots and some new music too.
2. The Jungle Book (2016)
While The Lion King may be setting box office records, it wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the success of The Jungle Book. It was the first to show how real CGI animals could look and even threw in a couple of songs for good measure.
It also has the benefit of making a human child the main character, so the issues that CGI causes The Lion King aren’t as big or noticeable in this movie. It also has a voice cast that feels far more invested in the work. Scarlett Johansson's gender-swapped Kaa is far more menacing than the character is in the animated film. Idris Elba makes Shere Khan feel like he could leap off the screen and go for your throat at any moment.
Cinderella is another rarity on this list because it's actually a Disney movie that could use a bit of a remake. The original is a romance that barely introduces one half of the couple that is going to fall in love, and actually spends about half its runtime dedicated to a literal game of cat and mouse.
The remake fixes real problems. It makes the relationship between Cinderella and the Prince more substantial so the audience can get invested, plus it gives the antagonist Wicked Stepmother some real motivations, and even a slight bit of sympathy. It’s still the movie you love, but it’s actually better, and that’s why it’s the best remake so far.
There are even more live-action movies coming from Disney with a Maleficent sequel set for this year, as well as Lady and the Tramp set for a Disney+ debut, and that's just what's left for 2019. There is no end in sight for the Disney remake train. Which of the current films is your favorite? Let us know in the poll below.
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CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.
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