Live-action Disney remakes have been a dime a dozen as of late. From Lilo and Sticth to the Disney princess Snow White, a number of the most well-known films are set to get the live-action treatment in the next few years. But what about those remakes that have already been released?
We’ve seen everything from stark Disney movie reimaginings of Mulan to more by-the-book remakes of classic tales like Beauty and the Beast. To take an animated movie that has such a special place in so many people’s hearts and childhoods and try to give it the live-action treatment is definitely a risky move: it will either be a mega hit or a miss so depressing that it can tank a few people’s careers in the process.
Either way that doesn’t stop Disney from trying. If you’re wondering which ones you should watch and which ones you should skip, you’re in luck — here, I’ve devised a ranking of the best live-action Disney remakes from worst to best, so you can thank me later.
Live-action Disney remakes ranked worst to best:
- Lady and the Tramp
- Alice in Wonderland
- Beauty and the Beast
- The Lion King
- 101 Dalmatians
- The Jungle Book
- The Little Mermaid
Lady and the Tramp (2019)
At its core, the Lady and the Tramp is meant to be a love story. A modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet through the eyes of adorable, doe-eyed dogs. The scene where they share a strand of back alley spaghetti in the romance movie will warm your heart and make you believe in love again. Seeing it in live-action just made me want to get a tetanus shot.
Listen, we’ve all seen Dumbo. But nobody ever sits down and says, ‘Hey, shall we watch Dumbo?’ It was always one of the duller Disney movies, and giving it the live-action treatment doesn’t change that in the slightest.
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Coupled with the fact that you’re meant to root for an uncanny valley-looking elephant thing, you can’t blame people for being less upset and more slightly disturbed at any attempt at emotion in this live-action Disney movie. The fact it has Danny Devito in it is the reason it’s not ranked the worst.
What happens when you strip a much-loved movie of everything that made it great: like the music, Li Shang, and Mushu the Dragon? It becomes a steaming hunk of garbage. Mulan’s failure isn’t the result of a failed transition from 2D to 3D. It’s the fact that they got rid of pretty much everything enjoyable about it.
And the less said about the bloated premium price on top of your Disney Plus subscription that you were expected to pay to watch the Snoozefest on release, the better.
Will Smith’s CGI Genied-mode still keeps me up at night. I mean, look at it. So, yeah, as you can imagine, the 2019 remake of Aladdin wasn’t our cup of tea. Despite the fact that Princess Jasmine got a banging new Disney song, the film still felt bland compared to the original and left us wanting more. If we ever get an Aladdin 2, hopefully, it learns from past mistakes.
Of course, the best of (many, many) Disney remakes of Cinderella will always be A Cinderella Story, for the simple reason that Jennifer Coolidge absolutely bodied the Disney villain role of the evil stepmother almost as much as she bodied on-screen son Stifler’s friends in American Pie.
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But as far as straight-up remakes go, this live-action Disney remake stays true enough to the source material while giving us some pretty stunning visuals. The problem is the actors that they chose were no less two-dimensional than the cartoon characters they were remaking.
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
The wackiness inherent in Alice in Wonderland makes it a perfect fit for Tim Burton, and it’s clear from watching the movie that he was able to fully unleash his weirdness in the directing, storytelling, and style of the movie.
Although Helena Bonham Carter was a standout as the Queen of Hearts, Johnny Depp, Burton’s other ol’ reliable, was given an unnecessarily inflated role as the Mad Hatter and, in all honesty, was creepy.
While creepiness and exaggeration are to be expected with Tim Burton movies, it felt like this live-action Disney remake was less Alice-in-Wonderland and more Emotionally-Unstable-Mad-Hatter-Dominating-Screentime-In-Wonderland.
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
The reason 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is one of the better live-action Disney remakes is that it doesn’t stray too far from the source material, with the live-action format giving the opportunity for big spectacle numbers like ‘Be My Guest’ to really flourish.
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Casting was also a strong point in this film, with Luke Evans, Josh Gad, and Emma Watson being perfect choices for Gaston, Le Fou, and the Disney princess Belle (even if Watson’s singing left more than a little to be desired).
The Lion King (2019)
Listen. It’s The Lion King. When the source material is great, then a live-action version of it will be, at the very least, kind of good. Although it’s difficult to immerse yourself into the story with very real-looking talking lions, the sweeping visuals during sequences at Pride Rock and Circle of Life are obviously epic, and Beyoncé on the soundtrack definitely helps matters too.
101 Dalmatians (1996)
Forget earnest, gritty origin stories trying to humanize the Disney villain Cruella De Vil. We want a high-camp, pantomime villain that balances gorgeously over-the-top costumes with biting one-liners.
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Dalmatians, cartoon or otherwise, are always going to be cute, but it’s Glenn Close alone as Cruella De Vil that makes the 1996 adaptation of 101 Dalmatians (as well as its sequel) such a genuinely enjoyable family movie that isn’t afraid to lean into the silliness of the concept of the film rather than trying to take it too seriously.
The Jungle Book (2016)
Although this live-action Disney remake, like The Lion King, also has photorealistic animals, they seem infinitely more engaging and expressive in this film, especially when paired with talented human actors like the young Neel Sethi as Mowgli. It also helps that the voice talent in this film is perfect, from Idris Elba as the sinister Sheer Khan to Christopher Walken as King Louie.
All the classic musical numbers are also re-imagined as this remake, while stripping away the cartoon element, doesn’t strip away the fun.
The Little Mermaid (2023)
The shining jewel of Disney live-action remakes is undoubtedly the 2023 musical, The Little Mermaid. With music from legendary composer Alan Menken, and the amazing talents of Halle Bailey as Ariel, The Little Mermaid manages to capture the essence of the original ’80s movie while being original at the same time.
Do you agree with this ranking? Passionately disagree? Never heard of half of them? Well, you can watch all of these live-action Disney remakes and their animated counterparts on the streaming service Disney Plus.