disney live action remakes
Thrillist/Maitane Romagosa

All the Live-Action Disney Reboots, Ranked

'Cruella' isn't the first and it won't be the last.

In the last decade, Disney doubled-down on the nostalgia business. Between the steady churn of Marvel adventures, Star Wars sequels, Pixar projects, and the occasional original animated feature, the studio began raiding its own vault for potential titles to reboot, reimagine, and revamp for modern audiences. Tim Burton's 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland, which turned Lewis Carrol's work into a special-effects bonanza and grossed over a billion dollars at the global box office, kicked off a seemingly endless cycle of movies that shamelessly grab from the past to make something new. Sometimes, the system works; other times, you get Will Smith as a big blue genie.

With the arrival of the fashion-obsessed Cruella starring Emma Stone in theaters and on Disney+, there's never been a better time to take stock of Disney's live-action remakes. With apologies to Glenn Close and all those cute dogs from 1996's 101 Dalmatians and its sequel 102 Dalmatians, we're sticking with only the more recent wave of reboots and sequels. (That means we're skipping 1994's live-action Jungle Book.) We tried to cover the simple bare necessities, but, inevitably when you start arguing about Disney movies, there's going to be some worry and strife.

alice through the looking glass
Walt Disney Pictures

16. Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

Alice Through the Looking Glass, a textbook example of an unnecessary sequel, was the first sign that the Disney live-action remake factory might be operating under less than ideal conditions. How else do you explain the existence of this utterly charmless, gratingly noisy would-be blockbuster, which seizes on a convoluted time-travel conceit out of a Christopher Nolan script to provide paper-thin backstories for characters who never needed them? Mia Wasikowska's swashbuckling Alice, Helena Bonham Carter's conniving Red Queen, Anne Hathaway's smiling White Queen, and Johnny Depp's deeply puzzling Mad Hatter all reappear, doing their schtick to diminishing returns, but Tim Burton vacates the director's chair for Muppets Most Wanted filmmaker James Bobin, who fails to marshal all technical wizardry on display in a pleasing manner. Audiences largely stayed away—the movie grossed less than $300 million compared to the $1 billion success of the original—and, having sat through all 114 goopy minutes, it's not hard to see why. —Dan Jackson

beauty and the beast
Walt Disney Pictures

15. Beauty and the Beast (2017)

The most memorable aspect of this unsettling remake is the way the special effects team transformed the charming household objects from the original animated movie—neurotic clock Cogsworth, watchful teapot Mrs. Potts, rambunctious cup Chip, skeezy candelabra Lumière, and the rest—into garish-looking "real" magic-infused items. (They even added a harpsichord voiced by Stanley Tucci named Maestro Cadenza.) These nightmare fuel creations add a slightly surreal jolt to this mostly sleepy, painfully faithful adaptation, which makes some minor adjustments (including a couple forgettable new songs) to the template of the 1991 classic. Unfortunately, the human leads, including Emma Watson and Dan Stevens as the title characters, are only blandly adequate, and Luke Evans, playing the self-obsessed scoundrel Gaston, is the only flesh-and-blood performer who seems to be having any real fun. —DJ

aladdin
Walt Disney Pictures

14. Aladdin (2019)

From the outset, Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchie seemed like the wrong man to tackle one of Disney's most beloved yet controversial animated properties, and it turns out, he was an odd fit. Ritchie's take on Aladdin is mostly a familiar retread of the source material, amplified with garishly ugly production design and CGI. Will Smith gives it his all as the genie, trying to do something different than Robin Williams. It's admirable, but not exactly good. Meanwhile the attempts to give Jasmine a more fully formed arc result in an overwrought number by Dear Evan Hansen songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul about how she will not stay "speechless." —Esther Zuckerman

the lion king
Walt Disney Pictures

13. The Lion King (2019)

Watching Iron Man director Jon Favreau's "live-action" version of The Lion King is an alienating experience. The Elton John and Tim Rice songs, along with Hans Zimmer's score, still have a nostalgic potency, and the cast, including Donald Glover, Beyoncé, and Seth Rogen, is filled with familiar voices that make your ears perk up. But the overall aesthetic, which attempts to fuse the intimacy of a Planet Earth documentary with the visual acrobatics of an action blockbuster, is punishingly literal, turning the bright, colorful vistas of the 1994 original into a drab, gray landscape of photorealistic wildlife. Even if you close your eyes and let the songs work their magic, the off-putting imagery will eventually pull you back into the uncanny valley of uninspired technological innovation. Like many of the movies on this list, The Lion King never manages to make a compelling argument for its existence as anything other than a money-making machine. —DJ

lady and the tramp
Walt Disney Pictures

12. Lady and the Tramp (2019)

There's really not that much to say about Disney's direct-to-streaming remake of Lady and the Tramp. Minus some of the original's outdated elements—goodbye racist caricatures in the form of cats—it's basically the same movie, just with humans, real dogs, and the voices of Justin Theroux and Tessa Thompson. Actual canines with their mouths CGI'd to look like they are speaking will invariably seem hokey, and despite some nice bits of casting, this is largely a pointless exercise. —EZ

mulan
Walt Disney Pictures

11. Mulan (2020)

Mulan had so much going for it. The animated musical that hit at the tail end of Disney's renaissance period seemed like the perfect source material to reinvent. The idea was to get rid of the songs and Eddie Murphy's dragon sidekick and turn Mulan into a wuxia-inspired action adventure, but somewhere in that process, the story turned deadly dull. Niki Caro's film flattens its heroine with a muddled message about honor couched in a girl power shell, and wastes its most interesting addition, a villain portrayed by the legendary Gong Li. —EZ

alice in wonderland
Walt Disney Pictures

10. Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Stoking the fires of a rabid fandom that probably kept Hot Topic in business throughout the 2010s, the live-action Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton and inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass as well as Disney's animated adaptation from 1951, remixes the Alice tale into a feminist blockbuster driven by over-the-top performances and nightmare-inducing special effects. In this version, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is 19, escaping claustrophobic turn-of-the-century high society by following a white rabbit to "Underland," where a bunch of bizarre creatures keep telling her that she's been there before and that she's the only one that can slay the Jabberwocky and free Underland from the iron grip of the despotic Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter with an enormous head). In her fight, she's aided by the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp in colored contacts and a rictus grin), the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway doing a lot of hand acting). —Emma Stefansky

mary poppins returns
Walt Disney Pictures

9. Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

There's an argument to be made that Mary Poppins Returns, which features Emily Blunt stepping into the role made famous by Julie Andrews in 1964, shouldn't even be on this list. Unlike the more straightforward remakes—ie., The Lion King, Aladdin, or Beauty and the BeastMary Poppins Returns is a direct sequel to the live-action/animation hybrid original, picking up about 20 years after the narrative left off and following the now-grown-up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) as he attempts to raise his three children after the death of his wife. His former nanny, famous for her spoonful of sugar and her chatty umbrella, arrives to help Michael and his family rediscover what truly matters. In its occasionally distracting kineticism and its sticky sweet nostalgia, Mary Poppins Returns feels of a piece with the other live-action Disney movies of this period, and, despite feeling less openly cynical than the others, it shares many of the same flaws as those films. (The worst sin: The original songs aren't particularly memorable.) Still, Blunt is more than game and Chicago director Rob Marshall at least gives the many famous faces in the cast—including Meryl Streep, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Colin Firth, and the original's Dick Van Dyke—room to chew the scenery instead of smothering every frame in digital effects. —DJ

dumbo
Walt Disney Pictures

8. Dumbo (2019)

As good a caveat as any against training animals to perform for human amusement, the live-action Dumbo, again directed by Tim Burton, is a high-wire phantasmagoria whose visual effects teeter precariously over the uncanny valley. When his traveling circus finds itself in dire straits following the birth of baby elephant Dumbo with enormous winglike ears who is too shy to perform on command, Maximilian Medici (Danny DeVito) strikes a deal with V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) to house his circus in Vandevere's bohemian amusement park in New York City. The performers quickly realize the sinister nature of their deal, and band together to rescue Dumbo's mother from euthanization at the hands of the greedy park owner, helped along by a World War I amputee and former horse trainer (Colin Farrell), and the park's sassy French trapeze artist (Eva Green). You won't mistake it for top-tier Burton, but it shows more spark than his Alice adaptation. —ES

maleficent mistress of evil
Walt Disney Pictures

7. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

To call the Maleficent movies "adaptations" in any way of Disney's 1959 animated Sleeping Beauty film is a stretch by any means—the only scene faithful to the animated version is in Maleficent, when she appears at the baby's birthday party—but Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a near complete departure from the story at hand, focusing instead on Maleficent's tragic backstory, creating a society of winged Dark Fey of which Maleficent is one of the last, determined to reach the full potential of her powers so she can save the land and her daughter Aurora from violent humans who want to cleanse their kingdoms of all fairies. It's honestly not bad, and includes an unusually hilarious awkward dinner party scene with Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer having a vamp-off. —ES

cinderella
Walt Disney Pictures

6. Cinderella (2015)

Adhering the closest to both the original fairy tale and the animated Disney movie, Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella adaptation is light on plot (the story is simple enough as it is) but heavy on sumptuous set design and enviable costumes. Lily James plays the title character with a sense of joyful abandon, but Cate Blanchett is far and away the best part of the entire movie, imbuing the evil stepmother Lady Tremaine with a sinister edge and the suggestion that danger is boiling just under the surface. —ES

christopher robbin
Walt Disney Pictures

5. Christopher Robin (2018)

What if Christopher Robin grew up, turned into Ewan McGregor, and forgot all about his pals in the Hundred Acre Woods? That's the question guiding this often elegant, winningly clever reboot of A. A. Milne's beloved characters, including Winnie the Pooh, Eyeore, Piglet, Rabbit, Kanga, and Roo. In a twist on the familiar Hook formula, Robin (McGregor) has grown into an easily distracted workaholic who has little time for his daughter or the furry friends he used to join on rambunctious adventures. When reunited, Robin begins to rediscover his sense of self. Though the movie gets bogged down in frantic plot mechanics in its second half, the first hour is an often sharp, poignant examination of the benefits of relaxation, engaging your imagination, and enjoying some honey. Laced with moments of joy and melancholy, Christopher Robin is one of the few modern Disney films that recognizes the benefits of slowing down for a second. —DJ

maleficent movie
Walt Disney Pictures

4. Maleficent (2014)

Though technically Tim Burton's Alice and Wonderland kicked off the recent remake trend, Maleficent marked the moment Disney ramped up its production on these IP-mining films. More than anything, Maleficent was a coup of casting. Getting Angelina Jolie, who had largely eschewed stardom for her directorial efforts, to hiss as the Sleeping Beauty villain was a win that paid off. Jolie's star presences makes the movie, which reframes Maleficent as a misunderstood creature through a rape allegory. It's most alive when she's on screen, and snooze-worthy when it's focusing on Elle Fanning's Aurora and her boring love story. —EZ

cruella
Walt Disney Pictures

3. Cruella (2021)

Cruella is best when you pretend it actually has nothing to do with 101 Dalmatians, and for a good chunk of the overly long run time, you can do just that. The Disney shell is a way for the Emmas Stone and Thompson to reenact All About Eve/The Devil Wears Prada in 1970s London with fabulous costumes by Jenny Beavan. When director Craig Gillespie is focusing on these two excellent actresses sniping at one another, the movie soars. Unfortunately, it's far more labored when it's trying to humanize a villain who is best known for wanting to kill little puppies, giving her a convoluted backstory that may possibly explain why she's not a fan of Dalmatians. This is one where removing the Disney context would have actually helped, but straying from its predecessor makes it far superior to much on this list. —EZ

jungle book
Walt Disney Pictures

2. The Jungle Book (2016)

Oddly, one of the best movies on this list barely features any human performers at all, instead bringing to life a wilderness full of animals and complex mythology through motion-capture and voiceover performances from a cast whose well of talent is almost overwhelming. Jon Favreau proves that he's still got it with this one, directing the hell out of an almost entirely computer-animated update on Rudyard Kipling's troublesome original text. Bill Murray in particular is absolutely perfect as Mowgli's affable bear buddy Baloo, and Christopher Walken's ape King Louie, in this version an insane and frighteningly enormous gigantopithecus, is the perfect mix of terrifying and mesmerizing, like a predator you don't want to look away from for a second. —ES

pete's dragon
Walt Disney Pictures

1. Pete's Dragon (2016)

It's telling that the best movie on this list is the one with the least iconic source material, the loosest obligation to the past, and the most original spin on the concept of what a Disney movie can even be. Filmmaker David Lowery, who went on to make the offbeat fantasy drama A Ghost Story and the crime yarn The Old Man and the Gun, co-wrote and directed this leisurely paced adventure, which turns the mostly forgettable 1977 live-action/animated hybrid into an endearingly wistful, winningly Spielbergian kids movie. Set in the '80s, the story follows tragically orphaned Pete (Oakes Fegley) and his majestic dragon friend Elliot after they're discovered by a lumberjack crew and forced to stay with a kind-hearted forest ranger played by Bryce Dallas Howard. But the plot is secondary to the movie's serene visuals and contemplative tone. There's an idiosyncratic personal touch here that's too often lacking in products that role off Disney's assembly line. —DJ

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