Looking at Live Action: Ranking the Disney Remakes

The release of a new “Lion King” adaptation has marked about 10 years into Disney’s adventure in remaking many of its animated pictures into live action versions. OK, technically, the new “Lion King” is a fully animated picture, but it’s more or less a de facto live action movie.

With nearly a decade to look back on, plus some others from years past, here is my ranking of the Disney live action and/or life-like remakes of animated classics.

10. Dumbo (2019)


Something I have an issue with concerning most of these live action remakes is the lack of animals talking. By doing so it removes entire characters from the equation.

This is really evident in “Dumbo,” with several characters in the animated flick being non-existent, the biggest example being Timothy Mouse. Instead of those whimsical characters, the remake of “Dumbo” provides a generic businessman villain and two bland child who are more concerned with a sub plot revolving around their father rather than Dumbo.

In fact, Dumbo is almost a side character here, only around to look cute mostly, rather than being an inspiring underdog lead role. Plus, the picture botches what should have been memorable moments, such as “Baby Be Mine” and the pink elephants.

Additionally, the idea of having Dumbo partner with a trapeze artist wasn’t bad in theory, and could have worked, but it was completely shoe-horned in about half-way through and felt in-authentic.

9. Lion King (2019)


Again, not live action, but come on, it’s an attempt to create a live action look.

In all fairness, this “Lion King,” pulled it off, the lions and other animals look very real. Visually, the movie is gorgeous. However, everything else here falls flat.

I’d love to just look at this flick as its own thing, too, but the movie copy and pastes so much. The songs, score, shots and much of the script is basically the same as its animated counterpart.

On top of that, even with such inspirational material, the movie doesn’t do it justice. Many of the voices are lacking energy and they botch musical numbers like “Be Prepared.”

8. 101 Dalmations (1996)


Remember how I mentioned earlier how big of a problem it is when animal characters who spoke in the animated versions of Disney movies end up not talking in the live action? That is the biggest, most glaring issue with this remake.

It’s not to say the original was Disney’s greatest movie, but the dog characters Pongo and Perdita had, you know, character. Plus there were the puppy characters and other dogs who helped the Dalmatians get home.

Prime example:



The biggest credit that can go to the “101 Dalmations” is the performance by Glenn Close. She knocks it out of the park with her performance as Cruella DeVil, convincingly bringing the character to the big screen.

The movie could have used more performances on her level. Unfortunately, she’s basically the only one holding this thing up.

7. Aladdin (2019)


Replacing Robin Williams as the Genie was always going to be basically impossible. While that was true here, though, Will Smith did serviceable work in the picture, providing plenty of energy to the movie with his natural charisma and screen presence.

Additionally, actress Naomi Scott did impressive work here as Princess Jasmine, portraying the character as a strong person ready to do good for her people.

Unfortunately, though, Mena Massoud and Marwen Kenzari are somewhat lacking as Aladdin and Jafar, respectively. Massoud is often upstaged by his co-stars while Kenzari lacks the slimy, and even humorous moments his animated counterpart had.

Plus, the movie’s visuals left a lot to be desired. This is especially true when looking at the flick’s climax. Let’s just say there is no giant snake. Boo.

6. Beauty and the Beast (2017)


Probably the best thing I can say about the “Beauty and the Beast” remake is that it looks pretty damn good. The sets and costume design are fantastic, and the special effects to bring the castle characters to life was impressive.

This is true especially with the Beast, he looked pretty convincing here, all things considered.

Speaking of Beast, the relationship building between him and Belle did provide some cute moments, which added some charm.

Unfortunately, these moments are too few. Plus, the performances leave a bit to be desired. Emma Watson is a bit too bland and Dan Stevens is a bit too gloomy, and neither bring the movie to a crescendo that one would hope for.

It’s sort of like that with the movie as a whole, with things never reaching the heights its animated counterpart did. The biggest example is the library scene in the live action version compared to the remake.

Film Critic Lindsay Ellis probably made the best breakdown where the film struggled.



5. Cinderella (2015)


The “Cinderella” remake is one of the better pictures released as part of the Disney live action lineup. Director Kenneth Branagh gives the flick a distinct vision and the movie is greatly helped by veteran performers Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter.

Lily James and Richard Madden as the titular character and the prince bring a likability and charm to their roles, too, helping the overall production. The movie also earns points for its special effects, with the royal ball prep work by the Fairy Godmother being the standout moment.

I do wish the movie had expanded on the characters just a bit, perhaps making Cinderella a bit more flawed and the evil stepmother maybe a little less evil, to prevent things from being too black and white. But overall, this was an alright remake.

4. Alice in Wonderland (2010)


This movie is flawed, I’ll be the first to say it. Prime example is a break-dancing Mad Hatter which really makes eyes roll. However, with all of that said, I can say I very much appreciate Tim Burton combining his vision with the story’s wacky nature. The two blend together in some good moments and one can appreciate the overall product to an extent.

I also appreciate just how over-the-top and other worldly the performances were from Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter. They portrayed them in exaggerated fashion, which was appropriate here.

Mia Wasikowska’s Alice is sort of overwhelmed by so many more charismatic characters. However, her tale still has some depth, mainly from her journey of realizing she’d been there before and has ties to that world.

3. Maleficent (2014)


Like “Alice in Wonderland,” 2014’s “Maleficent” decided to give audiences something fresh, and the result wasn’t too bad. Making the titular character an anti-hero who an audience can relate to was a great idea, providing something different than just the good Vs. evil.

I didn’t love all of the movie. For example, I thought making the pixies so buffoonish was an absurd and unnecessary move. Plus the king in the movie was a bit too crazy.

Plus, Aurora could have been a deeper character. However, it was still an alright entry and better than many others Disney has done. It had a definite identity while still honoring the source material, making it work.

2. Pete’s Dragon (2016)


While 2016’s “Pete’s Dragon” wasn’t a remake of an animated picture, as the 1977 flick was mostly live action, it still provided a good blueprint of how to do these films correctly. The film holds on to a few core elements of the 1977 picture, but at the same time does a lot of things different, with a modern perspective, making it its own thing.

The movie also doesn’t try to out do its counter part by making the story more grandiose. Rather, the “Pete’s Dragon” remake is content in its charming simplicity, focusing on the boy and his pet narrative, while also featuring a good message about family.

The movie also includes a good leading performance from Oakes Fegley and a solid supporting cast including Bryce Dallas Howard, Karl Urban and Robert Redford. It also helps that Elliot the dragon is brought to life well through the special effects here.

There’s a nice balance overall. It’s a different movie than the original, giving viewers something fresh. But at the same time, there are enough similarities where an audience can enjoy a comfortable familiarity.

1. The Jungle Book (2016)


“The Jungle Book” is where Disney really got it right. Like “Pete’s Dragon,” the 2016 “Jungle Book” lifts core elements from its original counterpart, but does enough to make it its own product.

The film incorporates the same songs, for example, but gives them a different spin, along with giving the characters more personality. The movie also benefits from a fantastic voice cast including Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba and Christopher Walken who all do superb work.

Credit goes to how the main character was handled, too. Mowgli, portrayed well here by Neel Sethi, goes on a path to find out who and what he is, and his story is told quite well.

The animated “Jungle Book” has its place in history, but it’s arguable that the remake surpasses it. So far, in my opinion, “The Jungle Book” is the only one that can legitimately make that claim.

Photos courtesy Walt Disney Studios.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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