All the Live-Action Disney Remakes RANKED
Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re Ranking All the Live-Action Disney Remakes.
For this list, we’ll be looking at all the live-action remakes of Disney films and sorting them from worst to best. While we’ll be allowing for loose remakes, we won’t be considering direct sequels to the remakes, nor will we be including “Mary Poppins Returns,” as that’s a direct sequel.
Which remake opened up a whole new world for you? Sing its praises in the comments!
#16: “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (2010)
A lot of people don’t think of this one when Disney remakes come up. Seeing as it’s inspired by the Mickey Mouse segment of the same name from the original “Fantasia,” that’s good enough for us. Having said that, “good” is not exactly an operative word most would use to otherwise describe it. There are things to admire, like an eccentric but not too eccentric Nicolas Cage in an era where his choices were less than sound. Otherwise, though, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” feels far too generic to really enchant the way it wants to.
#15: “The Jungle Book” (1994)
The first of the Disney remakes, this one is perhaps the most forgotten by fans. Also known as “Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book,” the movie purports to stick more closely to the author’s original stories, though many critics of the time didn’t actually find that to be the case. On the other side of the spectrum, those most familiar with the animated film from 1967 didn’t recognize enough similarities to draw interest. Not only do the animal characters not speak, but the bulk of the story takes place many years later when Mowgli is a young man. The film was a slight disappointment at the box office, and would eventually be overshadowed entirely by another adaptation that we’ll be discussing in due time.
#14: “Dumbo” (2019)
Of all the classic Disney movies in the vault, “Dumbo” was low on everyone’s list of live-action remakes they wanted to see, especially considering it aged worse than most. While the studio clearly knew which parts to leave out, it didn’t feel like it knew which parts to add to make us believe once again that an elephant could fly. With the inclusion of Tim Burton, Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito, the quasi “Batman Returns” reunion tickled our curiosity. However, nowhere was the same level of creativity seen here. The actual character of Dumbo was once again easy to sympathize with, but otherwise the adventure lacked the kind of je ne sais quoi that would’ve made it truly show-stopping.
#13: “The Lion King” (2019)
We can already hear people saying that this one uses so much CGI that it technically isn’t even a live-action film. They’re probably right. But seeing as it was presented as such by Disney and certainly looks the part, we’re giving it a pass here. Plus, it’s not knocking down its very esteemed forerunner, as this version of “The Lion King” loses a great deal of authenticity and emotionality in its pursuit of photorealism. It also doesn’t help that the story adaptation is beat-for-beat, giving the viewer a been-there, done-that mentality. Still, if you’re satisfied with a largely visual experience, the movie does exemplify some of the best filmmaking technology at Hollywood’s disposal today.
#12: “Beauty and the Beast” (2017)
Another remake that tackles Disney royalty, 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast” similarly stuck very close to the source material. Unlike with “The Lion King,” however, the transition to live-action offers something the animated version didn’t. Namely the charisma of some of its famous cast members as they brought their iconic animated counterparts to life. Unfortunately, the CGI realization of the non-human characters leaves a little something to be desired, and the cartoon versions definitely pull rank here. All in all, the live-action version is a far cry from the original, particularly in terms of vocal talent. But it can still be appreciated as a polished, energetic adventure all the same.
#11: “Mulan” (2020)
Now here’s one that decidedly chose to stray from its animated counterpart. While the live-action version gets brownie points for trying to adhere closer to the more realistic legend of Mulan, we as Disney fans can’t say we didn’t feel the absence of fan-favorite characters like Mushu. Still, we can appreciate the attempt the story made to expand on itself and flesh out the title character. Furthermore, director Niki Caro does manage to inject some truly stellar visuals into the proceedings, making the filmic transition worth a look, even if the ending wants for more fireworks, both literally and figuratively.
#10: “Alice in Wonderland” (2010)
This movie’s standing has had a rollercoaster of an evolution. While the visuals and realization of Wonderland were groundbreaking and striking in 2010, the overreliance on greenscreen does make more than one scene fall a little flat. Public opinion quickly dropped after release, but it began to look a whole lot better in comparison to its sequel, “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” Now over a decade later, we can appreciate it a little more in retrospect, primarily its pitch perfect yet totally bonkers performance from Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. Though the “Alice in Wonderland” from Tim Burton - there’s that name again - lacks in the story department, it is thoroughly weird much like the original, so at least Disney was consistent.
#9: “Christopher Robin” (2018)
Another loose remake, “Christopher Robin” doesn’t lift from one particular “Winnie the Pooh” story, but because it realizes the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood in live-action, we’re including it all the same. Taking place long after the title character has grown up and forgotten all about his old pals, the film details their return in an effort to recapture his youthful spirit and sense of imagination for the sake of his family. Hardly avant-garde storytelling, we know, but the charming nature of the felted friends - particularly Pooh himself - does not miss a beat. We as Disney fans probably didn’t need this to exist, but it was a delightful surprise nonetheless.
#8: “Aladdin” (2019)
This one made us very wary prior to release, especially when we got our first look at Will Smith’s genie. Though the design was off-putting at first, the uncanny valley effect wore off in time. Helpfully, Smith made the role completely his own rather than trying to replicate Robin Williams’s wholly idiosyncratic performance in the animated version. True, not every character shined in the long run, but “Aladdin” largely maintained the energy of its songs, and helped sweep us off on a magic carpet ride all over again. It also made an effort to expand the role of Princess Jasmine, and lend the character a little more dimension than the animated original was given.
#7: “Lady and the Tramp” (2019)
Another remake we weren’t exactly clamoring for, “Lady and the Tramp” proved to be an enjoyable ride in its own right without a whole lot of flaws. Sure, the lost pet kind of animal adventure did feel familiar, but that’s kind of what we liked about it. The movie evoked an old-school vibe not seen from live-action Disney since “Homeward Bound.” Does the CGI attempt to make the various animals better emote look a little distracting? Maybe. But at 104 minutes, the film gives us plenty of time to get used to it as a talented voice cast does wonders to infuse the characters with plenty of personality. It’s just a shame it got largely underseen during the early days of Disney+.
#6: “101 Dalmatians” (1996)
Though not beloved by critics, 1996’s “101 Dalmatians” has become more and more popular with Disney fans, much of which can be explained in two words: Glenn Close. Close is absolutely magnetic as Cruella de Vil, somehow managing to make an over-the-top Disney villain work in live-action without losing an ounce of manic energy. On the whole, the story does admittedly lose some of its luster, as we do prefer the pups in animated form. However, in an era when Disney was far more focused on their animated works, this was a surprisingly enjoyable diversion. It’s just a shame that the sequel, predictably titled “102 Dalmatians,” couldn’t replicate the same winning formula.
#5: “Cruella” (2021)
Maybe there’s something about this character in live-action that just works. Or maybe we just got another powerhouse performance by the actor playing her, this time courtesy of Emma Stone. Not to be otherwise compared to the previous entry, “Cruella” seeks out an identity all its own. It finds one in a meticulously crafted, fast-paced origin story for the wicked villainess. And yet, they also managed to layer in a real sense of humanity and depth with all that stylish idiosynchronicity. Indeed, this version of Cruella de Vil works as an anti-hero revenge tale that takes the best parts of similarly-minded films to create something wholly fresh.
#4: “Pete’s Dragon” (2016)
The new “Pete’s Dragon” greatly strayed from the original version in terms of tone, and is all the better for it. While some of us have nostalgia for the original, a lot of it wouldn’t translate to modern sensibilities. With a general spirit that evokes family films of old like “E.T.,” the remake is able to create a real sense of wonder and adventure within the story. The titular green dragon Elliot was given a peculiarly furry redesign in its transition to CGI, but it ultimately works in the movie’s favor, and we grow to care about him and his relationship with Pete. It’s one of the few Disney remakes that actually improves upon the original, and perhaps by the widest margin in this case.
#3: “Maleficent” (2014)
This might be responsible for the recent surge of villain origin story movies. While the original “Sleeping Beauty” remains one of the better films of Disney’s Silver Age, 2014’s “Maleficent” makes a strong case for becoming the definitive interpretation of this particular fairy tale. Going for more of a reimagining than simply telling the same story from a different point of view, the movie makes the title antagonist a much more compelling character and a tragic one at that. Angelina Jolie absolutely slays it, suffusing Maleficent with the kind of nuance and screen presence she needs to resonate. Her interpretation is one of the few reasons the sequel, “Mistress of Evil,” remained at all watchable.
#2: “Cinderella” (2015)
Of all the titles in the classic library, “Cinderella” stands out as one that might be the most antiquated in regards to how femininity has evolved. We knew going in that Kenneth Branagh’s version would provide no end of visual splendor. What surprised us was the maturity in its themes, as well in the development of its storytelling and characterizations. Lily James and Cate Blanchett give masterclass performances in their respective roles. Playing at polar opposites they sell audiences on the notion that courage and genuine kindness are two of the greatest virtues a person can have. Suddenly, we can see a whole lot more people wanting to be like Cinderella.
#1: “The Jungle Book” (2016)
The gold standard for Disney remakes, “The Jungle Book” exemplifies precisely how to remake a movie in general. It’s recognizable in terms of its characters and plot, but adds a series of narrative layers that make it all the more dynamic. Not only that, but it’s polished with some of the best CGI you’ll see today. It’s so impressive that you’ll forget you’re watching a movie and simply bask in the glory of the adventure. Though the original film holds up fairly well, this one surpasses it and then some, making director Jon Favreau Disney’s golden boy in a big way. In short, “The Jungle Book” started with the “Bare Necessities” and worked its way up to perfection.