Beauty As long as people have kids and money, Disney will keep producing live-action remakes. In honor of the release of The Lion King (2019), we dov
Beauty As long as people have kids and money, Disney will keep producing live-action remakes.
In honor of the release of The Lion King (2019), we dove back into the spotty track record of Disney’s reimagining obsession to suss out which projects were and weren’t worth all the time, effort, and nostalgia.
FYI: Sequel films, like Mary Poppins Returns (2018), and remakes of Disney classics that were largely already live-action, like Pete’s Dragon (2016), have been excluded. Enjoy!
11. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
At first glance, filmmaker Tim Burton and author Lewis Carroll seem like a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, as both of Burton’s Alice films illustrated, that really isn’t the case.
Interminably cynical, Burton’s Alice in Wonderland transforms a beloved adventure down a rabbit hole into a Joan of Arc-esque tale that sucks all the fun out of a world with talking cats. Stars Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Johnny Depp offer performances that are by and large fine, but fall short of cartoonish amazement by adhering to the film’s bitter tone.
While the Academy Award-winning costuming and art direction are enjoyable enough, Alice in Wonderland remains a prime example of why some classics are better off left alone.
We did not need this.Image: walt disney studios
10. Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)
The sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland ranks higher on our list if only because it doubles down on its annoying qualities with remarkable bravery.
With a vibrant color palette, Alice Through the Looking Glass tries to be more fun than its predecessor — but when time travel and a bizarre nod to the sexist medical practices of Victorian England are introduced, everything goes back to being a big ol’ bummer.
Whether the film’s underwhelming box office was due to scandal surrounding its star Johnny Depp or its generally insufferable nature is tough to say. Either way, Alice Through the Looking Glass was a misfire for both Disney and its audiences.
And we *absolutely* did not need this.Image: walt disney studios
9. Dumbo (2019)
Tim Burton’s take on Dumbo wasn’t quite as exhausting as his two Alice in Wonderland projects, but it was similarly self-indulgent.
Jam-packed with lingering shots of the adorable baby Dumbo whimpering for his mother and welling up with big elephant-sized tears, Dumbo (2019) plays more like a vaudeville-era ASPCA campaign than a children’s movie. As Mashable’s Angie Han pointed out, it’s not that Dumbo’s cuteness is a problem on its own, but it often feels like unearned pandering in a film with little else going for it.
Yes, parts of this uneven remake — namely Michael Keaton’s whole schtick and the Colin Farrell-ness of it all — are enjoyable enough. Unfortunately, the project overall fails to prove that resurfacing a 77-year-old classic was worth the effort.
Despite Dumbo’s efforts, we would not be blinded by his cuteness.Image: walt disney studios
8. Christopher Robin (2018)
Technically speaking, Christopher Robin is a follow-up to Disney’s original Winnie the Pooh films — not a remake of them. But this is the first time the animated residents of the Hundred Acre Wood have received the live-action treatment, and as such we’re allowing them a spot (albeit a low spot) in our rankings.
A less magical Hook rip-off, Christopher Robin follows the return of an adult Christopher to his childhood fantasies. Star Ewan McGregor does his best to keep the rickety story on its tracks, but it’s the incomparable Pooh, voiced by Jim Cummings, who steals the show.
Delivering dazzlingly funny dialogue with nostalgic perfection, Pooh is exactly as you remembered him. It’s the saving grace in a film that often feels forced — so much so, in fact, that we would watch Christopher Robin again, if only to play another round of “Say What You See.”
It’s not perfect. But that’s one cute bear.Image: walt disney studios
7. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Beauty and the Beast tries just a little too hard.
Starring the exceptionally cast Emma Watson, this 2017 remake attempts to retell that “tale as old as time” with tons of added backstory, new characters, an all-star cast, a sorta-kinda (not really at all) LGBTQ inclusive subplot, and a uniquely rich visual style unlike that of any Disney princess film.
Unfortunately, these many efforts tend to muddle the story of Belle and the Beast rather than elevate it. There are moments where the updated fantasy is worth the price of admission — namely, the staircase appearance of Watson in what is essentially a yellow version of the dress Hermione Granger wore to the Yule Ball. But as a whole, it isn’t particularly memorable.
With a running time in excess of two hours, Beauty and the Beast (2017) is without question more of the story you’ve come to know and love. But, as Mashable’s Angie Han explains, that doesn’t make it any more magical.
Tale as old as tiiiime, now in two thousand and seventeeeen.Image: walt disney studios
6. Aladdin (2019)
When images of a nauseatingly blue Will Smith first hit the web in February, we feared the worst. But, as it turns out, Aladdin (2019) isn’t all bad.
While the Genie remained a low point in the film’s final form, stars Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott — both found through an international casting search — are breathtakingly excellent as Disney’s favorite unlikely couple. Nailing each and every character nuance, with some much-needed improvements written in for Scott’s Jasmine, these two carry the film through as many of its pitfalls as they can.
Unfortunately, the film’s under-researched musical numbers hold the pair back from achieving true greatness. Reflecting on Aladdin’s lack of Bollywood-worthy dance numbers, Mashable’s Proma Khosla writes, “It’s disappointing to see that in attempting to pay homage to Eastern dance traditions, Aladdin opted to go the So You Think You Can Dance route and whittle these art forms down to what the West already recognizes of them.”
Better than expected, but still not as good as the original, Aladdin is fine — just not Agrabah royalty.
Thank goodness these two showed up to save 2019 Agrabah.Image: walt disney studios
5. The Lion King (2019)
The Lion King is by no means bad, but it does struggle to outrun its fear of failure.
An unceasingly loyal shot-by-shot recreation of the 1994 masterpiece, Jon Favreau’s take on the Saharan-set Hamlet clings to its source material — offering only the stunning photorealistic animation style as justification for its creation.
Yes, the digitally rendered world of the Pride Lands is a technical triumph and the voice acting by its star-studded cast is largely enjoyable. But as Mashable’s Angie Han writes, “None of this amounts to anything fresh or new or vital. The remake doesn’t deepen our understanding of these characters, or this story, or this world, in any significant way.”
Arguably the most fastidious of the films on this list, The Lion King cherishes the kings that came before it like no other, but fails to earn a throne of its own making.
So uh… why are we doing this?Image: walt disney studios
4. Maleficent (2014)
When it came time for Disney to retell the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty, they didn’t stop at making everything live-action. Instead, they retold the story from the viewpoint of its iconic villain — a decision that has made this reimagining one of Disney’s best to date.
Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning star as Maleficent and Aurora, characters still pitted against each other but for reasons far more complicated than first seemed. Oozing with style, Maleficent creates a dark world that is similar to the kingdom seen in the original Sleeping Beauty, but with a dark texture and slippery personality all its own.
Part prequel, part remake, this Disney revisit is enjoyable both as a standalone and as an extension of the animated original. And that sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil? We couldn’t be more ready for it.
Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent manicure raised this film a full rank. True story.Image: walt disney studios
3. The Jungle Book (2016)
Many Disney live-action remake advocates have argued that recreating classic films can help introduce older stories to newer audiences. Jungle Book is the one that actually does that.
Escalating Mowgli’s jungle adventure to its most cinematic, director Jon Favreau managed to make one of Disney’s lesser-known staples into a top-tier selection for 2016 kids. Bringing the story of a child befriending animals into the real world made it feel at once more thoughtful, more terrifying, and more adventurous.
Neel Sethi shines as the young hero, while Idris Elba and Bill Murray dazzle as Shere Khan and Baloo. Worth every second it took to animate all that animal fur, The Jungle Book is a new kind of classic.
Mowgli’s return to the big screen was well worth the wait.Image: walt disney studios
2. 101 Dalmatians (1996)
Published in 1956, Dodie Smith’s timeless tale of puppies on the run has always been endearing — but Disney’s campy live-action remake made it a full-on event.
Starring the unapologetically fabulous Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil, this 101 Dalmatians transplants the characters of the original animated feature into a stylish world of London-based lunacy. De Vil, now a globally recognized fashionista, enters each scene as a sinister force, her stunning black-and-white costuming almost as iconic as she.
More attuned to the comedic stylings of the late ’90s, this remake struggles to hold up today as the latter half devolves into a slapstick-laden mess. But Close, whose stint as De Vil earned her a Golden Globe nomination, more than makes up for it with her spectacular line deliveries.
Worth a revisit, 101 Dalmatians (1996) is proof of concept that Disney live-action remakes can work.
Cruella only deserves the best.Image: walt disney studios
1. Cinderella (2015)
Told and retold by countless studios and creators, the tale of Cinderella meeting Prince Charming at the ball is as classic as it gets. So, it’s no wonder that this is the only live-action remake Disney has managed to completely nail.
Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, and Richard Madden, Cinderella (2015) honors the masterfully created images of the original film — including an exquisite rendering of that sky blue ballgown — while expanding the central storyline and characters to make the fantasy far more heartfelt.
Populating a fairytale with actual people, Cinderella is everything one could want from a reimagined childhood dream. If only it came with glass slippers.
The most classic of Disney films is also its best remake.Image: walt disney studios