Every year Disney churns out CGI-infused live-action remakes. The entertainment giant has made a lot of these so-called “revivals” of its animated classics in recent years, critics regularly grumble, and yet, as bad as the reception has been, Disney’s live-action remakes just keep coming and coming.
By the end of 2023, almost every animated Disney classic could have a live-action successor. Robert Zemeckis delivered a Tom Hanks-starring Pinocchio last year, and Rob Marshall’s The Little Mermaid starring Halle Bailey was the most recent. And audiences won’t have to wait much longer for the next selection: we’ll have Bambi, Hercules, and even Snow White.
Of course, there have been some pleasant exceptions over the years, so it would be a gross generalisation to say that all Disney remakes are bad, or at least mediocre. Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is an undeniably charming reimagining of the tale, while David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon is perhaps even better than the original. But we could also mention Craig Gillespie’s Cruella, in which Emma Stone plays the notorious fashionista turned dog thief, and does so in a distinctly entertaining way. Now let’s look at the best of the best!
#10: In Guy Ritchie’s remake of Aladdin (2019), we look in vain for anything with the director’s stylistic signature, but instead we get a decently made adaptation that is very enjoyable. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are particularly good as Aladdin and Jasmine, and Will Smith is brilliant as the Genie, and he is particularly good in the kind of theatricality that we often dislike in Smith’s performances. Despite the poor choreography and clumsy CGI, Aladdin is still one of the better films.
#9: In 1996, 101 Dalmatians starring Jeff Daniels and Joely Richardson, whose dogs fall in love and give birth to lots of puppies, was released, but the highlight of the film is Close’s terrific performance as Cruella, who gives a Batman-villain-inspiring, twisted performance that would have been worthy of an Academy Award nomination.
#8: Niki Caro’s adaptation of Mulan (2000) turns the original Disney classic into a mediocre action spectacle. While the film’s art direction, visuals and costumes are pronouncedly strong, the wit and dialogue are pronouncedly weak and often pronouncedly dumb, what does lift it out of the morass of revivals is undoubtedly Liu Yifei’s convincing performance, the impressive fight choreography and the brave departures from the original. Presented with new villains played by Jason Scott Lee and Gong Li, Mulan is ultimately a sweeping war epic that shows an even stronger side of the fabled female hero.
#7: Tim Burton’s second live-action remake, Dumbo (2019), is perhaps even smarter and more emotional than Alice in Wonderland. The story is, of course, about a cute baby circus elephant with giant ears that allow him to fly, but this time his circus is bought by a theme park entrepreneur played by Michael Keaton. Disney has made heartless capitalists villains many times before, but in Dumbo the studio seems to be pointing the finger at itself, which adds an unexpected extra dimension to Burton’s already rich imagination.