Disney live-action remakes ranked, from The Lion King to Beauty and the Beast

As Disney brings back The Little Mermaid for a new audience via a live-action remake, it’s worth going back and looking at the films that came before it.

In 2010, Disney kicked off a new era of regular live-action adaptations, films that either reimagine or completely trace over the timeless animated classics from where they come from.

While we only deal with films that have come out post-Alice in Wonderland (all apologies to the 1990s 101 Dalmatians) and don’t include sequels or spinoffs (2021’s Cruella won’t count), we do have 13 films to take a look at that hem pretty close to the films that they’re adapted from.

Let’s take a look at these live-action remakes. Some of them are quite good (Pete’s Dragon), while others are quite bad (The Lion King).

13. The Lion King

There are a lot of things you can say about the 2019 Lion King, but it’s just not worth much analysis past the point of saying that it’s one of the worst studio films of the 2010s.

It’s the film on this list most guilty for pointlessness. It does just about everything wrong, from its lifeless character renderings to its absolute refusal to do anything even remotely different from its predecessor.

It’s a two-hour shrug created purely to pad Disney’s bank account, a film that has absolutely no respect for the audience because they knew folks would just show up to watch this no matter how bad it was.

The Lion King 2019 is Disney at its worst, a soulless carbon copy of a vastly superior film that exists only to pander to nostalgia and reap financial benefit. Jon Favreau is just a much better filmmaker than however this turned out.

12. Beauty and the Beast

This ghastly adaptation of the 1990s landmark original feels like it deflates anything grand or witty out of some of the most impressive animated filmmaking of all time.

It’s not to say Emma Watson does anything wrong as Belle, but she’s trapped in a movie that feels more like cheap imitation than it ever should. The remake completely renders itself useless with its shotty visual effects and it’s complete lack of thematic style.

The “Be Our Guest” sequence zaps all the goosebumps you get from the original, and the film’s complete and utter lack of understanding about how the Gaston character functions undercuts the original’s most stunning music number (the aptly named “Gaston”).

This film is a careless exercise in capital gain; it mines a true cinema classic for commercial value and leaves nothing artistic in its wake.

11. Alice in Wonderland

The 2010 Alice in Wonderful film holds the rare distinction of being Tim Burton’s worst film.

It’s an overwrought hodgepodge of tonal inconsistency and weighed down by whatever in the world Burton is having Johnny Depp do as the Mad Hatter.

It’s not the worst film on this list by any stretch, but it does feel like a product of its time. It’s a Disney film so obsessed with the 3D boom that it forgot to make anything meaningful out of its exaggerated visuals.

It’s a whole lot of noise thrown together with loose hands into not much of anything.

10. Mulan

Disney had to send this Mulan adaptation home during the pandemic, and it certainly was not worth the outrageous price it would’ve cost folks to watch it.

The film zaps the fun out of the 1990s smash hit (including those catchy songs), making this the rare live-action remake that actually could’ve benefitted from leaning heavier on the nostalgia.

While there is commendable production design within, the film feels joyless for much of its runtime and concludes with an incredibly weak third act that lacks the visual splendor of the 90s film’s fireworks-driven finale.

The 2020 version of Mulan already feels forgotten, and it’s largely because it just feels like such a chore to sit through.

9. Aladdin

Aladdin is about as middle-of-the-road as you can ask for with these live-action Disney remakes.

It’s not bad enough to make you want to head for the aisles, but it’s not good enough to not have Robin Williams’ voice in your ears for the entire runtime telling you to just go home and watch the original.

Will Smith tries his best for his Genie to be its own thing, but the Williams performance is towering for a reason. This film packs in far too many extraneous details, but it’s not quite as aimless as it could’ve been with a lessor filmmaker than Guy Ritchie.

It plays like the most expensive Disney Channel Original Movie of all time; it’s not as cinematic as it is ready to stream. Some of the films higher up on this list deserved a theater slot much more than this one.

8. Maleficent

Angelina Jolie’s impressively spiteful performance as Maleficent keeps this film from veering into pointless territory as Disney respun Sleeping Beauty into a more sympathetic telling for its villain.

While the film can fall victim to an overuse of CGI and isn’t nearly as strong when Jolie isn’t on the screen, it is a film on this list that aggressively tries to stand apart from what came before it.

Even if Maleficent has its faults, you can experience this one and get some separation from the film from which it takes its inspiration.

7. Dumbo

Tim Burton found much more success with his live-action adaptation of Dumbo than he did with his Alice in Wonderland film.

The film can’t replicate the original film’s gorgeous animation and crushing “Baby Mine” sequence, but it does add to the story and still capture the same yearning that the titular elephant feels as an outcast removed from his mother.

Burton finds plenty to work with in the circus themes, even if the film can stretch itself a bit too thin with the expanded plot.

However, a talented director like Burton can find bring some real theatrics that some of these other films sorely lack. While this Dumbo only flies so high, it never feels like it lacks for imagination.

6. Lady and the Tramp

For Disney live-action remakes with talking animals, the straight-to-streaming adaptation of Lady and the Tramp found much more success than The Lion King.

It’s not to say this film eclipses the 1955 classic, but it’s far more tolerable in its reimagining than most of the titles on this list. It’s a simpler story to adapt, and movies about dogs are scientifically designed to make dog people get all in their feelings and such.

Tessa Thompson does some endearing voice work as Lady, and the talking animal sections are thankfully a step above your average Air Buddies movie (even if they’re still a bit silly and awkward to watch).

It’s hard for these films to justify their existences, but this one is perfectly fine for what it is. It’s sweet enough to work, and dogs are great so that’s always a plus.

5. Pinocchio

Only a filmmaker like Robert Zemeckis could make a Pinocchio film so joyously demented and occasionally off-putting.

While no Pinocchio film will ever top the original Disney classic, this one has some genuinely inspired bits that diverge from the 1940s film in some visually inventive ways. It also has a cuckoo clock inspired by Who Framed Roger Rabbit. You can’t say that about The Lion King.

The problem with some of the movies on this list is that they feel like boring carbon copies of what came before them. For what you can critique about Zemeckis’ wacky vision, you can’t accuse him of laziness.

This film has a weird streak to it, and it’s heightened by Tom Hanks being very willing to just do whatever with his Geppetto. It’s not a bad time.

4. The Jungle Book

Jon Favreau found much, much more inspiration by adapting the original Jungle Book than he did with whatever the heck The Lion King was.

The voice cast carries this one, and child actor Neel Sethi makes for a great Mowgli. Like most of the films on this list, this one is always held back by a movie that’s much better than it existing in the ether.

However, it’s hard to find a Disney live-action remake that’s this agreeable to watch. Favreau finds enough of a buffer between the original and his film to provide some new sparks of adventure and impressive visuals.

As grating as this trend of remakes can be, Disney knew exactly how to make this one work as well as it could.

3. Peter Pan and Wendy

While this may technically qualify as filmmaker David Lowery’s weakest film, it’s still one of the most worthwhile live-action adaptations on this list.

Peter Pan and Wendy didn’t quite reach the heights of Pete’s Dragon, but it is a perfectly respectable reimagining of the 1950s Disney version.

The “flying to Neverland” sequence the Lowery signature touch of visual inventiveness. It’s just a major step in the right direction if these films start to feel like they’re actively made by filmmakers instead of crafted in a lab designed for audience comfort and nostalgia.

Even if this film can’t fully escape its streaming budget, Lowery still manages to make a story that’s been told plenty of times feel fresh.

It’s better than Hook, at least.

2. Cinderella

Cinderella is the rare film on this list that might improve some aspects of the original film, if only because Cate Blanchett’s wicked stepmother is such a scene stealer.

Blanchett is a world-class actor, and she’s a delightful villain for Kenneth Branagh’s cheerful imagining of the Cinderella story.

Lily James is also fantastic as Cinderella, and this film has much less mice antics. The original film is a stunner, but some of the Tom and Jerry aspects of it haven’t quite aged as well.

Branagh sticks a bit more with the regality of it all, and he’s just too competent behind the camera to ever make this feel perfunctory.

Nobody is going to say that this film tops the original, but you can at least feel like you’re getting as fresh of an experience as you can with a well-worn tale.

1. Pete's Dragon

David Lowery taking on a remake of Pete’s Dragon at the height of his creative achievement was always a curious choice, but he just nailed this delightful adaptation that transcends the 1970s original.

Lowery has two films ranked high on this list, and it’s fascinating that he’s chosen two Disney projects such as this while also making prolific A24 art films like A Ghost Story and The Green Knight.

It also helps to have an all-time presence like Robert Redford floating in and out of frame to melt your heart, and the CG on the titular dragon is more impressive than any of the animals in The Lion King.

Pete’s Dragon is the standard for any live-action Disney remake because it’s one of the only films on this list that actually feels like it absolutely should exist.

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