Disney live-action remake stills of Cruella, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Aladdin. A blank box sits in the middle, containing a question mark.

A New Leader Has Emerged in the Disney Live-Action Remake Ranking

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what's the best flick of them all?

Disney loves to bring their own animated classics back to life in live action. Some are better than others, and everyone’s ranking differs. Two of us worked on this list and I, Rachel Leishman, would have personally ranked Mulan a lot higher on the list, but I also recognize why it is where it is on the list. Point is, this is a topic of conversation that really does vary from one Disney fan to the next.

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Now, with the release of The Little Mermaid upon us, fans are once again reorganizing their rankings of Disney’s live-action remakes. We’ve updated our own to include the 2023 version of The Little Mermaid. To keep things simple, we’re including villain origin stories (hello, Cruella!) and excluding sequels to remakes (to be honest, we’re all better off not talking about Through the Looking Glass).

17. Pinocchio (2022)

Gepetto (Tom Hanks) holds Pinocchio's hand in Disney's live-action remake of 'Pinocchio'
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Guillermo del Toro’s outstanding take on Pinocchio came out just months after Disney’s remake, which only served to make Disney’s live-action adaptation look even worse. A lot of things could go wrong with Pinocchio. Disney appeared to be on top of this after hiring legend Robert Zemeckis to sit in the director’s chair and none other than Tom Hanks to play the toymaker, Gepetto. In the end, however, it still falls a little flat. The story’s best and most heartwarming elements (let your conscience be your guide!) feel a little forced and, at times, cliché. The biggest thing that could go wrong also played a huge factor in the film’s subpar reception: Pinocchio looks a little too creepy. 

16. Alice in Wonderland (2010)

If this were a ranking based on the success of each of Disney’s forays into remaking its animated tales, Alice in Wonderland would probably land in the top five. This film grossed over a billion at the worldwide box office in 2010 and won two Academy Awards. Tim Burton’s over-the-top take on Lewis Caroll’s fairytale captured the heart of viewers. The same couldn’t be said for critics, who mostly pointed out the length, and, well, several of the film’s plot holes.

15. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil poster
Disney

Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent returns for a royal wedding—with a twist. In this sequel to 2014’s highly successful Maleficent, young Queen Aurora and Prince Phillip have decided to tie the knot. Maleficent refuses to give her blessing, but Aurora is insistent. Later on, we see that Maleficent was partially justified, because Phillip’s mom turns out to be an evil queen who hates fairies. The film lacks the flair of the original but has touching moments between Aurora and Maleficent. 

14. Dumbo (2019)

He had big ears and one dream: to fly. 

Honestly, I’ve always avoided Dumbo—even as a kid—because of just how sad it is. Think about it. A baby elephant is separated from his mom and then made to perform for the entertainment of others. The fact that the 2019 remake, directed by Tim Burton, makes him so adorable and lifelike only makes it even sadder—but beautiful all the same. Also, did I mention that Colin Farrell is in this?

13. The Lion King (2019)

Simba and Mufasa in The Lion King
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Some have argued that the 2019 remake of The Lion King probably doesn’t count as a live-action rendition, considering that it’s mostly CGI. But given its ranking in Disney’s trove of legendary hits, it deserves a spot on this list. The film itself doesn’t deviate much from its source material and essentially rehashes it. But the fact that it makes THAT scene (you know … the stampede) even more realistic and painful than it already was … well, I think that speaks for itself. 

12. Mulan (2020)

Live Action Mulan
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Of all of Disney’s stories, Mulan feels like the best story to adapt to live action. For the most part, the 2020 film did deliver in some aspects. It’s visually stunning, for starters, and has excellently choreographed fight scenes.

Unfortunately, the film was wrought with controversy behind the scenes, with its production team composed almost entirely of persons with no Chinese ancestry—which explains its half-baked approach to the culture it was trying to represent. There is also, sadly, the glaring lack of the LGBTQ+ representation that made the source material so remarkable and important. 

11. Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Notable for being the second-highest grossing film of 2017, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remake had most of the elements that made us all fall in love with its source material. Emma Watson was the perfect casting choice for everyone’s favorite bibliophile princess, Belle. And we hear Ewan McGregor sing again as the candelabra, Lumiere! The movie is, of course, not without criticism—from how some of the objects just look all a little too eerie, considering how lifelike they are, to the matter of Belle’s iconic yellow ball gown, which some found a little too plain, and the whole disingenuous “gay” subplot with LeFou that was barely noticeable in the slightest.

10. 101 Dalmatians (1996)

Before she was Emma Stone, everyone’s favorite infamous fashionista and dog abductor (is that a thing?) was played by none other than Glenn Close. And Glenn Close went on to be nominated for her performance on this film. 101 Dalmatians is a childhood staple that remains both a fun and entertaining watch even today. 

9. Lady and the Tramp (2019)

Lady and the Tramp has an unfair advantage over the other remakes on this list because they used real dogs to make it. Sorry, but the furry actors get a higher ranking because of it. The film follows the story of two dogs from very different worlds who fall in love and find a home of their own. It also notably cut out some of the problematic themes from the original animated film—which was, of course, an excellent call. Actress Yvette Nicole Brown, who played Aunt Sara, even adopted one of the dogs after production. Adorable. 

For the most part, though, Burton’s Underland embodies the whimsical spirit of Carroll’s work. Plus, Alice in Wonderland features stellar performances from Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, and the late Alan Rickman. 

8. Christopher Robin (2018)

I will never forget the day the first teaser for Christopher Robin came out. It runs for over a minute-and-a-half and shows the film’s titular character all grown up—and played by none other than Ewan McGregor (I sure seem to be talking about him a lot, come to think of it). Now an adult with a family of his own, Christopher Robin is faced with a demanding job and a domineering boss who leaves him with no choice but to cancel a much-anticipated weekend trip with his family. As he sits and thinks about his choices in a park, we hear a familiar voice talk to him—Jim Cummings’ voice to be precise. As in, the Jim Cummings who I grew up to know as The Voice of Winnie the Pooh (and Tigger!).

There were tears shed, I tell you. TEARS. 

7. Aladdin (2019)

Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud in Aladdin (2019)
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Aladdin is one of my favorite of Disney’s live-action remakes. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are stellar singers and have excellent on-screen chemistry as Aladdin and Jasmine. As with the majority of Disney’s remakes, the film mostly stays faithful to the source material. There are a few additions, like a new song for Jasmine (which I loved—Naomi Scott, great voice).

As for Will Smith—well, he’s no Robin Williams. Then again, there’ll never be another Robin Williams, I think. But it works!

6. Cruella (2021)

Cuella De Vil from Disney
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Craig Gillespie’s Cruella is probably the most unexpected yet entertaining villain origin story that has come out in recent years. Starring Academy Award-winner Emma Stone, the film is 10 times removed from the world of its source material, but it takes cues from the broad strokes. The film situates its narrative in a competition between two designers and showcases a spectacle of colors, costumes, and music. 

5. Maleficent (2014)

Angelina Jolie in Maleficent (2014)
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Ah yes, the villain origin story that started it all. 2014’s Maleficent sees Angelina Jolie donning the infamous horns and wings of the Sleeping Beauty villain. The film gives us the “why?” behind Maleficent cursing Aurora in the original story. Once pure of heart, Maleficent was declared the protector of the Moors while her love interest, Stefan, had ambitions of becoming a king. When a certain King Henry attempts to conquer the Moors only to be mortally wounded at the hands of Maleficent, he declares on his deathbed that whoever kills the fairy will be his successor. Stefan takes up the challenge and clips Maleficent’s wings to make it appear as though he’s killed her. He then becomes King and has Aurora.

All in all, the film is a visual treat and a great watch.

4. Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Pete’s Dragon is an easy favorite, but it’s underrated among Disney’s impressive roster. As its name suggests, it follows the story of a young orphan named Pete who lives in a forest with his beloved pet dragon. Directed by David Lowery (Disney’s Peter Pan & Wendy, The Green Knight) is both heartwarming and sad at various points, and a much better film than the original. It just feels like a warm hug.

3. Cinderella (2015)

lily james disney live action cinderella
Disney

Cinderella stays faithful to the original throughout its entirety. You’d think that would have worked to its disadvantage—let’s be real, a girl who has to scurry home at midnight and a prince in search for her using her shoe doesn’t really sound like much—but that’s surprisingly not the case. I think we have to thank its stellar casting for that. Lily James was the perfect titular princess, opposite Cate Blanchett as her wicked stepmother. And do not get me started on Richard Madden—we’ve been seated since day one, Richard. Day one. We never left! In addition, the film has outstanding costume design which gave us all the complete fairytale package. 

2. The Jungle Book (2016)

Disney

Director Jon Favreau and young actor Neel Sethi hit gold with 2016’s The Jungle Book, which topped both the box office and critics’ reviews. Like with Cinderella, the film doesn’t offer anything new to the narrative we all already know. A young boy who loses is family is raised by wolves and grows up in a jungle with the help of a panther and a bear, all while a terrifying tiger is out to seek revenge on him. Still, Sethi’s wonderful performance keeps you hooked from that very first moment and leaves you singing along with him and his beloved Papa Bear. 

1. The Little Mermaid (2023)

Halle Bailey in the little mermaid
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

It was only a matter of time before a perfect live-action remake happened. Yes, I’m calling The Little Mermaid perfect, because when it comes to adapting a beloved animated movie into something new, the Rob Marshall version of Ariel’s story gives her a new sense of agency, gives Prince Eric his own story, and just genuinely makes this beloved classic new and exciting for audiences. And it helps that Halle Bailey is perfection as Ariel. As a whole, The Little Mermaid is just a well-done movie that honors what we love about the original film while still staying true to its own vision. Ariel doesn’t have to be the same in both the animated and live-action movies, and Bailey understands what it is about this character we love.

It just feels nice to see a movie so beloved come to life in a way that should make fans excited about these live-action adventures again.

(featured image: Disney)

Original story by Danielle Baranda. Updates and adjustments by Rachel Leishman.


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Author
Danielle Baranda
Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.
Author
Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.