It’s been a big year for Disney’s live-action remakes of their animated classics, with Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King (not strictly live-action) all arriving in cinemas, the latter two hitting $1 billion at the box office.
But they’re not the first – or even the last – remakes that Disney has worked on, so we thought it was a good time to rank the 10 released to date, leading to some *coughs apologetically* animated debate in the Digital Spy office.
Apologies too to any fans of the 1994 version of The Jungle Book, starring the likes of Lena Headey and Jason Scott Lee. We’ve left it off this list because, let’s be honest, it’s The Jungle Book in name only.
Now that’s out of the way, what remake comes out on top so far, setting the bar that all of the upcoming remakes need to match?
(Note: We’ve focused solely on the remakes, not their sequels.)
10. Alice in Wonderland
Tim Burton’s take on Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice in Wonderland may have hit $1 billion at the box office, but it couldn’t come close to matching the charm of the novel or the Disney animation.
Despite Mia Wasikowska’s best efforts as Alice, Burton seemed to focus more on the imagery than the story, leading to a spectacular (if CGI-tastic) treat for the eyes that left you feeling cold.
The sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, wasn’t much cop either and missed Burton’s visual flair.
Yes, you could argue that Maleficent shouldn’t really be on this list as it’s more of a reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty than a remake. However, the elements of Sleeping Beauty are all there, so we’re keeping it.
Out of all the Disney remakes, Maleficent does at least do something different with the source material, but it takes one of Disney’s most iconic villains and turns her good. We just can’t accept that.
Mainly because we were robbed of Angelina Jolie going full Glenn Close on us.
The original Dumbo is one of the shortest Disney movies at only 64 minutes long, so it’s no surprise that Tim Burton (him again) had to do something different with the remake. It’s just a shame he couldn’t think of something exciting.
To extend the movie to nearly two hours, Burton introduces a plot involving an entrepreneur (Michael Keaton) who wants to make Dumbo a star, but it plays out in predictable fashion as well as being a bit too dark in places for the little ones.
The scenes involving Dumbo flying still have a sense of wonder and, like Alice in Wonderland, it looks glorious. That’s no substitute for actual heart, though, and you’re left with a feeling of pointlessness.
7. Pete’s Dragon
Pete’s Dragon didn’t initially look like a Disney movie ripe for a remake – and the below-par box office suggested that not many people were waiting for it either.
It’s a shame, because director David Lowery does a great job of updating the heartwarming tale of an orphan and his dragon. Add in Robert Redford as a narrator and you have a lovely, cosy and warm family offering.
Ultimately though, Pete’s Dragon didn’t have enough fire to make an impact on audiences, proving too gentle and worthy for its own good.
6. The Lion King
Of the three remakes released in 2019, The Lion King was the one that followed its original movie the closest.
Largely a beat-for-beat (if not completely shot-for-shot) remake, Jon Favreau’s adaptation is a technical marvel and genuinely stunning to look at, but there’s just nothing else new there for fans. Any comparisons to the original – such as with Scar or the stampede – make the remake suffer as it just feels flatter.
The one bright spot is Timon and Pumbaa with Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen allowed to bring their own spin to the duo. Their scenes are the ones that feel freshest, highlighting the fact that for the rest of it, The Lion King is little more than a technical showcase.
Perhaps more so than any other remake to date, it felt like Aladdin was under a lot of scrutiny with numerous backlashes and fans prepared to dislike it.
However, after all the build-up, Guy Ritchie’s remake is totally fine, enjoyable even for the most part. Naomi Scott is the standout and makes the most of an expanded role for Princess Jasmine, while Mena Massoud is engaging and Will Smith brings his own take to the Genie, although the CGI lets him down.
Not all the new elements work though, especially in an overdrawn and drab finale, and it doesn’t help that Marwan Kenzari lacks menace as Jafar. Ultimately, Aladdin doesn’t escape feeling a bit pointless, but it’s entertaining enough to bring the tale of the “street rat” to a whole new generation.
Kenneth Branagh’s take on Cinderella works because it doesn’t try to update the original story for the modern era but tells the classic story in the best way.
Having followed the progressive Frozen, Cinderella might be too traditional for some tastes, yet even those naysayers would have to appreciate how gorgeously crafted it is, not to mention the added joy of Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother.
It’s very much old-school Disney but that’s fine. Why fix something that wasn’t broken?
3. 101 Dalmatians
Time to get controversial. Yes, we know that from an objective point of view, 101 Dalmatians really isn’t that well made.
However, what it lacks in sophistication it makes up for in 101 adorable dogs, broad but hilarious slapstick comedy and one of the all-time great villain performances in Glenn Close’s Cruella de Vil.
Unlike Maleficent, Cruella is just as evil in live action as she is in cartoon form and Close relishes every minute of it, even securing a Golden Globe nomination for the performance. Good luck following that, Emma Stone.
2. The Jungle Book
Some might question just how much live action is involved in Jon Favreau’s 2016 CGI-heavy version of The Jungle Book, but who cares when it looks this gorgeous?
The remake boasts some perfect casting – Bill Murray as Baloo, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa and Christopher Walken as King Louie – as well as incorporating more of Rudyard Kipling’s work into its story and delivering genuinely thrilling set pieces.
We wouldn’t be bold enough to say it’s better than the original, especially as it’s just a bit too dark in places, yet it runs it pretty damn close.
1. Beauty and the Beast
Not everyone in the Digital Spy office agreed with this ranking (Lumière is too sexy, apparently), but there’s no denying the huge impact that Beauty and the Beast had in 2017.
Following its positive reviews, the remake grossed a huge $1.26 billion at the box office, currently making it the 14th highest-grossing movie of all time. It’s a big-hearted and romantic musical that remains faithful to the original movie while adding extra flourishes of its own.
That doesn’t mean we forgive it for fumbling its much-publicised gay subplot, mind.