Over the last decade or so, Disney has spent a great deal of time and money adapting its classic animated films into live-action remakes, for better or worse. There’s no harm in putting a modern-day spin on a beloved tale, but the Mouse House never ventures too far from the formula; often resulting in hollow imitations that rake in truckloads of cash, but never leave much of an impact in the minds of moviegoers.
Pinocchio is the studio’s latest misguided attempt to recap a classic tale for no particular reason. While it’s not the worst attempt, here is where it ranks among the other Disney live-action remakes.
14. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Tim Burton. Johnny Depp. Alice in Wonderland. What could possibly go wrong? Turns out quite a bit. Where the 1951 Alice in Wonderland is by no means a classic — the toon is far too discombobulated to amount to anything of substance — this updated model somehow twists Lewis Carroll’s psychedelic fantasy into a generic walk in the park.
Also, Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton don’t actually remake Alice in Wonderland but offer up a sequel to the original story that … follows the same beats as its predecessor. Got it? Neither do I. Familiar characters and locales are blended into an updated plot that aspires to The Lord of the Rings-level spectacle but ends up being most noteworthy for Depp’s extremely bizarre take on the Mad Hatter. Somehow this got a sequel.
13. Lady and the Tramp (2019)
I’m not sure which is more critically damning: forgetting a film that I saw 30 years ago exists, or completely spacing on one I watched in 2019. Lady and the Tramp was one of Disney+’s early efforts to lure viewers to its platform back when things looked extremely promising for the streaming service. I recall watching the updated take on the 1955 cartoon of the same name, but I couldn’t tell you a thing that happens during its brief runtime. I do remember thinking, “This is a movie that tries to please everyone and offend no one. Sugarless ice cream. Even my kids were bored.” So, let’s just go with that.
12. Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1994)
Not that much sticks out about this bland early 90s Disney offering starring Jason Scott Lee, Sam Neil, Cary Elwes, and a pre-Game of Thrones Lena Headey beyond a few scattered scenes. It takes a lot of character out of the story by removing speech from the animals, which results in a far less captivating viewing experience. The fact I’ve never had a desire to watch the Stephen Sommers adventure since viewing it on opening weekend in 1994 speaks volumes and thankfully, we received another live-action remake of The Jungle Book that captures the charm of the Disney hit.
11. Mulan (2020)
Man, I was hyped for Mulan. As a huge fan of the 1998 animated classic, I couldn’t wait to see a live-action story told via modern-day effects. Surely, we were in for an action-packed treat that would deliver thrilling battle sequences, and … oh, boy, was this a huge letdown.
Lacking the plucky energy of the original and the budget needed to pull off some of its more lavish set pieces, Mulan mostly tumbles along without much purpose. The update has transformed our rugged heroine from a relatable, flawed, but ultimately lovable character into a God-like being with the ability to do everything but defy gravity … no, wait, she does that too. Where 1998’s Mulan pushed the importance of training, teamwork, and bravery, here the message is simple: superpowers rock.
10. Pinocchio (2022)
Even the might of Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks can’t salvage this beat-for-beat retelling of Walt Disney’s 1940 classic about a wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. Unlike, say, The Lion King. Pinocchio at least has the good sense to use its animated counterpart’s memorable designs (save for Monstro, who was probably changed to a mutant sea monster in order to avoid offending animal rights activists). Otherwise, this tepid tale hits all the familiar beats, but never justifies its own existence. What’s worse, the point of the movie seems to suggest Pinocchio should be happy with his wooden state … ? Or did I read that wrong?
Anyways, we’re left pining for Walt Disney’s original classic, whilst wondering what convinced Zemeckis and Hanks that this was a good way to utilize their immense talent. Kudos to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, however, for his terrific portrayal of Jiminy Cricket.
Pinocchio isn’t bad — it’s simply mediocre, which is probably worse. Someone needs to toss this pile of wood into the fire.
9. Dumbo (2019)
Tim Burton used to craft dazzling motion pictures that were deep enough to hit you on an emotional level. Then he teamed with Disney and produced two terrible Alice in Wonderland movies and … Dumbo? Burton’s kooky style occasionally seeps through and provides a quick burst of energy, but otherwise, this stale production glides when it should soar.
8. The Lion King (2019)
The Lion King, Jon Favreau’s “live-action remake” of the incredibly popular 1994 animated film, which looks and sounds like the real thing, but suffers from a notable lack of imagination and creativity. Even Hans Zimmer’s magnificent, Oscar-winning score plays all the same beats, except when curiously replaced by a Beyonce song or two.
Why not explore The Lion King story in greater detail? With its odes to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there’s plenty of meat for modern-day writers to chew on. As it stands, The Lion King is certainly worth watching if only to bask in its wondrous visuals, but the lazy script and surprisingly bland vocal performances ultimately keep Favreau’s film from earning its place amongst Disney royalty.
7. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
While Jon Favreau may have kicked off the recent remake trend with The Jungle Book, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast was the movie that really got people excited about the prospects of seeing their favorite animated films remade for the modern era. And boy, the hype was big for this one. I mean, Emma Watson, fresh off of Harry Potter? Dan Stevens, fresh off Downton Abbey? A delectable cast of talented actors headed by Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson? Directed by the talented Bill Condon? Bonafide smash hit incoming, right?
Except, Beauty and the Beast was ultimately our first glimpse of a classic tale filtered through an incredibly sterile lens. The result was something akin to the uncanny valley — the film looks like its animated counterpart — right down to the costumes and magnificent sets — and characters are indeed uttering familiar lines … but the whole production feels … slightly askew. As though someone tried to recreate the 1991 Best Picture nominee from memory and forgot the magical elements that made it so special.
6. Pete’s Dragon (2016)
I’m not sure anyone was clamoring for a dark and gloomy remake of Pete’s Dragon, an obscure 1977 musical featuring Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, and Shelley Winters; remembered mostly for its memorable songs and clever blend of live-action and animation. But, hey, at least director David Lowery tries something different with the material rather than a shot-for-shot remake.
In the updated version, Pete’s parents die in a car crash — in the opening scene! — leading the young boy to venture into the woods where he meets a big green dragon he affectionally dubs Elliot. Years later, Pete is discovered by Bryce Dallas Howard who, together with Robert Redford, Karl Urban, and Wes Bentley — no, really — attempt to domesticate the feral child whilst thwarting his overprotective dragon pal.
Hey, it ain’t high art, but the ambition is apparent.
5. Aladdin (2019)
One would think an Aladdin film directed by Guy Ritchie would result in a wild adventure through the streets of Agrabah — imagine the wild carpet rides and that action-packed snake finale reimagined through the eyes of the guy who made Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels!
Alas, Disney’s suffocating hand all but extinguishes Ritchie’s trademark style in favor of a hollow remake that mostly coasts on Will Smith’s magnetic charm. Mena Massoud and Namoi Scott take over duties as Aladdin and Jasmine, but sparks are sparse between the pair of leaden actors, save for an admittedly glorious retread of A Whole New World.
Oh, and that aforementioned snake bit? Yeah, it never happens. I’m not partial to the scene-by-scene remake gimmick, but why the hell would you shamelessly rip off the original story and then cut that scene?
4. The Jungle Book (2016)
Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book meanders more than it thrills, but thanks to a wicked blend of live-action and stunning computer animation, there’s always something to gawk at. Justin Marks’ screenplay attempts to inject a few new character flourishes as well, crafting a story that hews closer to Rudyard Kipling’s works without straying too far from Disney’s 1967 animated musical. High points include Bill Murray’s playful take on Baloo and the reimagined King Louie sequence. Jungle Book is fun and just frightening enough to give the otherwise family-friendly pic a darker edge.
3. 101 Dalmatians (1996)
Disney dipped deep into their well of popular animated fair way back in the mid-90s to deliver this goofy but fun John Hughes production that owes more to Home Alone than its 1961 animated namesake. That’s a polite way of saying “bad guys go splat a lot,” but the silly pratfalls, typically enacted by a pre-House Hugh Laurie and pre-Harry Potter Mark Williams, are well executed and often — in the case of the electric fence bit — quite hilarious.
Still, this is Glenn Close’s show, and while her performance leans hard on camp, the legendary actress shamelessly chews through the colorful scenery with zeal. Her Cruella de Vil is a villain for the ages.
2. Maleficent (2014)
Angelina Jolie headlines this entertaining and often rousing epic, itself a retread of the Sleeping Beauty story as seen through the eyes of the evil sorceress Maleficent. While the actress’ take on the popular villain doesn’t hold a candle to the iconic animated iteration that frightened children way back in 1959, she infuses enough pathos and humanity into the character to make her more than a one-note villain.
Indeed, this isn’t really the tale of the evil Maleficent, but rather a fantasy about a spurned fairy seeking revenge on the man who ruined her life — and it’s all the better for it. Indeed, while Prince Phillip does arrive to awaken Sleeping Beauty (played by an enchanting Elle Fanning) from her slumber, its Maleficent who ultimately saves the child’s life and rediscovers her own soul in the process.
Director Robert Stromberg crafts a visually stunning picture brimming with life and wondrous creatures replete with a fantastic score by James Newton Howard. Just skip the sequel and you’ll be fine.
1. Cinderella (2015)
How do you put a fresh spin on a beloved tale that’s been adapted at least a thousand times before? Why, you cast Cate Blanchett and Lily James, and bring in Helena Bonham Carter to do her Helena Bonham Carter thing. The results aren’t substantial, but director Kenneth Branagh tweaks the oft-told fantasy just enough to keep it interesting. It’s not great, by any means, but it is undeniably charming, which is more than you can say for most of the Disney live-action remakes.