Live-action Disney movies have been a dime a dozen as of late. When it comes to pushing the reboot button on some of the most beloved animated movies, it’s fair to say that Disney has been a little trigger-happy this past decade or so. From The Little Mermaid to Pinnochio, and the Disney princess Cinderella, a number of the most well-known Disney movies 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 reimaginings with Mulan, to more by-the-book remakes of classic tales like Beauty and the Beast. To take a 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 movies from worst to best, so you can thank me later.
Live-action Disney movies, ranked worst to best:
- Lady and the Tramp
- Alice in Wonderland
- Beauty and the Beast
- The Lion King
- 101 Dalmatians
- The Jungle Book
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 animated 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 Disney’s duller 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 of 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’d Genied-mode still keeps me up at night.
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 movie 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 is to be expected with Tim Burton movies, it felt like this live-action Disney movie 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 movies is because 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 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 humanise Cruella De Vil. We want a high camp, pantomime villain that balances gorgeously over-the-top costume 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 movie, 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.
Do you agree with this ranking? Passionately disagree? Never heard of half of them? Well, you can watch all of these live-action Disney movies and their animated counterparts on streaming service Disney Plus.