By the end of 2023, almost every animated Disney classic will have a live-action successor. Last year, Robert Zemeckis delivered a Tom Hanks-starring Pinocchio, and most recently Rob Marshall premiered The Little Mermaid starring Halle Bailey. And audiences won’t have to wait much longer for the next selection: we’ll have Bambi, Hercules, and even Snow White.
#6: Despite the excellent source material and a decent cast, Bill Condon’s remake of Beauty and the Beast (2017) is one of the few live-action Disney adaptations that doesn’t interpret the material in a new way. It’s exactly the same story, only longer because of unnecessary additions that fill up the running time, of course, but also confuse the characters’ motivations and shoot holes in the already complex plot. What makes the film one of the better ones is the casting of Emma Watson as Belle in the post-Harry Potter film, which was a very clever move on the part of the studio.
#5: The prequel to the 101 Dalmations movies follows the youth of puppy mass murderer Cruella de Vil, whose journey from obscurity to fashion icon draws heavily from The Devil Wears Prada and even The Count of Monte Cristo. The strength of Cruella (2021) is definitely the cast! Emma Stone brings her Oscar-winning acting talents to the title role in this devilishly entertaining tale of an aspiring costume designer at war with her ruthless boss: the Baroness, played by the great Emma Thompson.
#4: The biggest advantage of Pete’s Dragon (2016) over the original is Lowery’s script (co-written with Toby Halbrooks), which not only effortlessly expands on the unpopular 1977 Disney gem, but also honestly captures what makes the original story of a boy and his pet dragon worth revisiting. David Lowery’s remake does away with all the classic songs and instead of a wackier storyline, highlights the emotionally honest tale of a lost boy whose only friend is a giant dragon. Lowery is most interested in exploring our modern capacity for wonder, turning the eccentric tale into a beautiful and timeless movie.
#3: Tim Burton’s remake of Alice in Wonderland brought his wacky, gothic perspective to the topsy-turvy world of Underland: in fact, the 2010 Disney adaptation is most directly responsible for opening the tap to the IP trend at the studio. The film is most notable for its unique costume, make-up and set design, with Helena Bonham Carter memorable as the Queen of Hearts, but let’s not forget the great Johnny Depp, who earned the most praise for his performance as the Mad Hatter. Although the film was a stunning disappointment for critics, it ended up, to everyone’s surprise, making over $1 billion at the world box office.
#2: The live-action remake of Cinderella, Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 remake, retains the original, classic plot while developing the characters: it gives the evil stepmother (Cate Blanchett) a sensible motivation for her treatment of Cinderella (Lily James), it gives Cinderella clear principles to justify all her decisions, and it gives the prince (John Madden) enough time with Cinderella to truly fall in love with her in a believable way. A movie reminiscent of the best romantic films, it is finally undoubtedly better than the original! Several things could be pointed out: the casting is perfect, Lily James’ Cinderella is very much in the right place against the always memorable Cate Blanchett’s wickedly subtle Lady Tremaine, reminiscent of Anjelica Huston’s performance in 1998’s Forever. But we could also mention the truly fabulous set design or Chris Weitz’s strong script. Cinderella is the crown jewel of Disney’s live-action remakes.
#1: Okay, Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book (2016) uses so much CGI that calling it “live-action” is probably a misnomer; there’s only one character who isn’t animated, and even the realistic environment is digitally created. But either way, this is one of the best of the Disney adaptations. Favreau eschews the loose, episodic structure of the original film in favour of a more focused adventure in which Mowgli (Neel Sethi) gradually takes over responsibility for saving the jungle from the deadly Shere Khan (Idris Elba). The film grossed $966 million worldwide, making it the fifth highest-grossing film of 2016, and won an Academy Award for its achievements in visual effects. A sequel is already in the works, with Justin Marks again writing the script and Favreau returning as director and producer.