All Disney Live-Action Remakes Ranked Worst to Best
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what's the best flick of them all?
The House of Mouse will soon be giving audiences a live-action remake of one of its most beloved stories: The Little Mermaid. Starring singer-actress Halle Bailey, the highly-anticipated film is slated to hit theaters on May 26, 2023, and is also confirmed to feature all of the songs from the original classic hit. The Little Mermaid is only one out of the many remakes Disney has plucked out of its repertoire and given the live-action treatment. Some of them have been hits, while others…well, didn’t quite hit the mark. So we’ve listed all of their remakes these past few decades and, of course, ranked them from worst to best.
19) Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)
If you can’t remember Alice Through the Looking Glass, we don’t really blame you. We almost completely forgot about it as well. Set up as a sequel and follow up to box office hit Alice in Wonderland, Disney’s second attempt at another venture in the whimsical world of Wonderland—or “Underland”— doesn’t quite meet the mark. The second film follows Alice as she travels through time in order to save the Mad Hatter’s family and loved ones. Save for the cast of characters derived from Lewis Carroll’s beloved children’s story, the follow-up film’s plot virtually doesn’t share anything with the source material. Which probably contributes to why it just didn’t work out.
18) Pinocchio (2022)
Guillermo del Toro’s outstanding take on Pinocchio came out only months apart from Disney’s remake, which only served to make Disney’s live-action adaptation come off 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 on 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 worst thing that could go wrong also played a huge factor in the film’s subpar reception: Pinocchio looks a little too creepy.
17) 102 Dalmatians (2000)
Glenn Close reprises her role as Cruella De Vil in this follow up to the 1996 film 101 Dalmatians. 102 Dalmatians shares many of its plot elements with its predecessor. Here, Cruella is released from prison on good behavior and promises to never so much as look at spotted fur again. That is, until she realizes that her parole officer’s partner runs an animal shelter. Old habits die hard, as they say.
16) Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)
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.
15) 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, separated from his mom, who is then made to perform for the entertainment of others. The fact the 2019 remake 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?
14) The Lion King (2019)
Some have argued that The Lion King’s 2019 remake 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.
13) Mulan (2020)
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 the 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.
12) 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 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 talking, considering how lifelike they are, to the matter of Belle’s iconic yellow ballgown, which some found a little too plain.
11) Lady and the Tramp (2019)
Lady and the Tramp has an unfair advantage from the other remakes on this list, because they used real dogs to make it. So our 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 original’s problematic themes—which was, of course, an excellent call. Actress Yvette Nicole Brown, who played Aunt Sara, even adopted one of the dogs after production. Adorable.
10) 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 in 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 its viewers. The same couldn’t be said for critics, who mostly pointed out the length, and, well, several of the film’s plot holes.
For the most part, though, Burton’s Underland embodies the whimsy spirit of Carroll’s work. Plus, Alice In Wonderland features featured stellar performances from Mia Wasikowka, Anne Hathaway, and the late Alan Rickman.
9) 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.
8) Cruella (2021)
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 ten times removed from the world of its source material, but it takes cues from those broad strokes. The film centers its narrative between a competition between two designers and showcases a spectacle of colors, costumes, and music.
7) Maleficent (2014)
Ah yes, the villain origin story that started it all. 2014’s Maleficent saw Angelina Jolie donning the infamous fairy’s horns and wings. 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 to 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 with the family.
6) Aladdin (2019)
Aladdin is one of my favorite remakes out of the many stories Disney as attempted to rehash. Its leads, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, are stellar singers and have excellent on-screen chemistry. Like with most of Disney’s remakes, the film mostly stayed faithful to the source material. There were 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 worked!
5) 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. The film is both heartwarming and sad at various points. But overall, it’s a flick that just feels like a warm hug.
4) Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1994)
Some would probably argue that this one shouldn’t have made it on this list, considering that it feels more like a sequel to Disney’s original animated film. But it’s just too good to not include it. This 1994 version of The Jungle Book is also, technically, the first of Disney’s live-action remakes. Mowgli is all grown up in the city, attempting to search for an old bracelet given to him by a childhood friend. This remake is entertaining and just tugs at your heartstrings.
3) Cinderella (2015)
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) 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.
1) The Jungle Book (2016)
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.
(Featured image: Disney)
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