Disney’s beloved animated classics have become ripe remake material for the studio over the past decade. With The Little Mermaid the latest cartoon to receive the live-action treatment, you might be wondering exactly how many of Disney’s other animated hits have been brought to life in new ways, and more importantly, were they any good?
We’ve consulted review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes to find out which of Disney’s live-action remakes is the best and which have been butchered.
The best and worst of Disney’s live-action remakes
The Jungle Book (2016)
Rotten Tomatoes score: 94%
The best of Disney’s live-action remakes to date is The Jungle Book. The movie follows the same story as the original, that being the origins of a young human boy who is raised by animals in the jungle. But somehow, the remake brings this to life with new nuance and context as well as breathtaking CGI.
Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Rotten Tomatoes score: 88%
The often-forgotten Pete’s Dragon actually turned out to be one of Disney’s best live-action remakes. The story of Pete, an orphan who goes on a quest to find his missing friend Elliot, who happens to be a big green dragon, is full of charm and heart.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 83%
The Cinderella remake was possibly one of the most anticipated, starring Lily James as Ella, Richard Madden as the Prince, Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother and Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother. Full of colour, flair and excellent performances, the remake managed to maintain all the charm of the original.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 75%
While not a direct adaptation of 101 Dalmations, Cruella gave insight into one of Disney’s most famous villains. The origin story saw Emma Stone star as Estella, a young grifter with a desire to leave her mark on the fashion world, which eventually leads her to go down a wicked path and become Cruella de Vil.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 72%
The live-action Mulan remake brought some modern updates to the classic story, without losing the impact of the original. Yifei Liu stars as Mulan, an adventurous young woman who rebels against the path set out for her and instead, disguises herself as a male soldier in order to save her father.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 72%
Serving as more of a sequel than a strict remake, Christopher Robin follows Winnie the Pooh in a new stage of life as he seeks the help of an older Christopher Robin to find their lost friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. Critics said the movie fell short of the original A.A. Milne stories but still managed to capture that childhood magic.
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Rotten Tomatoes score: 71%
Emma Watson and Dan Stevens star in the remake of Beauty & the Beast, which maintains all the musical moments and plot beats from the original in a beautifully detailed style. In the story, Watson’s Belle is taken prisoner by a Beast and kept captive in his castle, which is inhabited by enchanted talking objects that act as the staff.
Peter Pan & Wendy (2023)
Rotten Tomatoes score: 64%
The most recent of Disney’s live-action adaptations is the straight-to-streaming release, Peter Pan & Wendy. The movie is more of an adaption of J.M. Barrie’s novel than it is a strict remake of the animated film, and stars Jude Law as Captain Hook.
Lady and the Tramp (2019)
Rotten Tomatoes score: 66%
Despite a stellar cast that includes Tessa Thompson, Sam Elliott, Justin Theroux, and Janelle Monáe, Disney’s live-action Lady and the Tramp didn’t retain the magic of the original. The story stars two admittedly adorable CGI dogs in Lady (the cocker spaniel) and Tramp (the lovable stray), who overcome their differences on an unexpected adventure, but it failed to bring anything new to the table.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 57%
Another live-action adaptation that fell short of the original was Disney’s Aladdin remake, by director Guy Ritchie. The film delivered the spectacle required but viewers felt it had nothing new to add to the classic tale.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 54%
Maleficent has always been one of Disney’s most iconic villains, but she arguably became even more iconic after Angelina Jolie put on the horns. Say what you will about the movie, which is a fairly lacklustre origin story in the Sleeping Beauty canon, but it’s worth watching for Jolie’s performance alone. The film also received a sequel but it wasn’t as well liked.
The Lion King (2019)
Rotten Tomatoes score: 52%
Despite having a cast that includes Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, and freakin Beyonce, The Lion King live-action remake didn’t hit the same high notes as the original. Something about translating the joyful cartoon characters into lifelike CGI animals just didn’t bring the same amount of humour or heart, which is a shame for such a beloved story.
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Rotten Tomatoes score: 51%
Lewis Carroll’s pivotal Alice in Wonderland novels have always been tricky to adapt, but props to Tim Burton for trying. Alice In Wonderland was a visual feast and full of incredible stars – including Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway – but its story failed to resonate with critics. The movie got a sequel in Alice Through The Looking Glass, which was received even less favourably.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 45%
Tim Burton tried his hand at the Disney machine again in the live-action Dumbo remake. Supported by Tim Burton’s visual aesthetic, Dumbo has its share of incredible moments, but critics pointed to its overcrowded cast and thin story as weak points.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 29%
Last on the list is Disney’s 2022 adaptation of Pinocchio, which suffered both from being a weak adaptation and also from opening in the same year as Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning animated version. Critics called this one the definition of an unnecessary remake.
As you can see, Disney has tried its hand at reviving the magic in many of its animated classics with the remake edition, but few movies have lived up to expectations. Will The Little Mermaid be the same? We’ll find out when it hits cinemas on May 25.
If you’d like to watch and judge these movies for yourself you’ll find them streaming on Disney+ here.
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