Every Disney Live-Action Remake Ranked Worst To Best

Disney live-action remakes have become a staple for the entertainment juggernaut. For years, the studio has made a habit of revisiting some of its most beloved animated stories, repackaging them into live-action blockbusters, and releasing them out into the world. According to The Washington Post, it's done because studios believe audiences will seek out familiarity when confronted with "content overload."

This may or may not actually be true (one study has suggested otherwise), but it certainly isn't going to deter Disney from its remake-happy production model. As of August 2019, the studio had at least 15 more live-action reboots in development, which is in addition to the films it has already released. If anything, it seems as though Disney's sole focus for the foreseeable future is going to be on reworking its vault of animated classics in this way. But this isn't all bad — while some of these live-action remakes haven't exactly hit the mark, others have not only lived up to the quality of their predecessors, but have actually surpassed them. This is how every Disney live-action remake (so far) ranks, from worst to best

102 Dalmatians had too much going on for a Disney live-action remake

After the release of 101 Dalmatians, Disney decided to revisit Glenn Close's Cruella de Vil with its 2000 sequel, 102 Dalmatians. The studio has a long history of making sequels to its biggest hits, but 102 Dalmatians stands out, not only because of its actual wide release into theaters, but also because Close decided to reprise her role, in spite of a script that managed to go both everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

The Disney live-action remake picks up immediately after Cruella's release from prison, where, although she's promised to be better about that whole using dogs for a coat thing, she hasn't changed at all. In fact, this time around, she needs an extra Dalmatian, because she's looking to add a hood. Even 102 Dalmatians' director Kevin Lima knew the film wasn't going to live up to expectations. He told Entertainment Weekly, "I realized very late that I was telling many stories ... Too many stories. And there was no way to go back and focus on one of the stories as the through line." The result is an unfocused mess.

Disney live-action remake Alice Through the Looking Glass focused too much on style

Sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass sees actors Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp reprise their roles as Alice and the Mad Hatter, respectively, in film about time travel, friendship, and the Mad Hatter's strange, sad childhood. Or, at least, that's what it's supposed to be about. Instead, Alice Through the Looking Glass comes off as little more than an over-stylized cash grab.

The 2016 film holds one of the lowest Rotten Tomatoes ratings of any Disney live-action remake, with the critics' consensus stating, "Alice Through the Looking Glass is just as visually impressive as its predecessor, but that isn't enough to cover for an underwhelming story that fails to live up to its classic characters." For the most part, it's as though every bit of Lewis Carroll's original story was used up for 2010's Alice in Wonderland, leaving its sequel with little more than a couple of characters to pull inspiration from. Add to that Depp's knack for overdoing a role, and the film just becomes difficult to sit through.

Dumbo's only saving grace was the Disney live-action remake's cast

Tim Burton's signature style is clear in 2019's Dumbo, a Disney live-action remake that takes the premise of its original — a circus elephant with oversized ears and the ability to fly — and then goes in a completely different direction. Dumbo's focus is less on the baby elephant and more on a war vet (Colin Farrell) and his family, who take over a struggling circus and fight to free Dumbo and his mother from an unscrupulous amusement park owner (Michael Keaton).

Burton admitted that he has never been a fan of the circus, and it shows. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, star Eva Green said, "He was like, 'Yeah, this is Dumbo, but it can't be too sweet,'" explaining that Burton "still wanted an edge and something real, not rainbows and unicorns and all that."

The result is an adaptation that lacks the original's heart and relies too heavily on style to carry its nearly two-hour runtime. The Chicago Reader described it as "both numbing in its predictability and painstakingly woke." The one thing saving Dumbo from complete failure were the performances by its talented cast.

Disney live-action remake The Lion King was too similar to the original

The 2019 Disney live-action remake The Lion King has everything going for it — an original movie with a high Rotten Tomatoes rating, incredible special effects, and an ensemble of obscenely talented voice actors (including Beyoncé Knowles and James Earl Jones, who reprised his role as Simba's father, Mufasa). It's directed by Jon Favreau, who helmed Disney's 2016 success The Jungle Book. So what went wrong?

The Lion King has the opposite problem of Dumbo. Where Dumbo strayed too far from its source material, The Lion King kept too close. It's essentially a shot-for-shot remake, which means that every aspect of the film is going to be viewed under tighter scrutiny than with just an inspired reboot. And it relies so heavily on its effects that it seems to be the film's only focus.

The technology behind The Lion King was a huge focus for Favreau, who told Screen Rant that he used virtual production to make the set "feel as though we were filming a documentary." The attempt to turn a children's classic into a realistic documentary doesn't work, though, which is a shame for such a beautiful film.

Disney live-action remake Alice in Wonderland lacked heart

Ranking just slightly higher than its sequel, Alice in Wonderland is another Tim Burton-directed remake that's more about its visuals than its actual story. The 2010 film is centered on Alice (Mia Wasikowska), a teenager who's sent on a magical quest through the rabbit hole in order to bring an end to the evil Red Queen's reign.

Burton told Collider that the decision to go 3D was what best-suited the source material. "It just seemed like the world that Lewis Carroll created, just the kind of trippiness, and the size/spatial element," he said, adding that he was more inspired by other artists who were inspired by Carroll's work than by the work itself. So perhaps it's that disconnect that keeps Alice in Wonderland from truly succeeding. On Rotten Tomatoes, the critics' consensus is that the film sacrifices much of the book's heart, but is a "visual treat" nonetheless. 

It definitely isn't the worst of the Disney live-action remakes, but, aside from its 3D landscape and vibrant color palette, there isn't much else to rave about.

Disney live-action remake Aladdin couldn't compare to the 1992 movie

If you were to hire a dream director for a Disney live-action remake about a street rat-turned-prince and a magic genie, chances are the guy known for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels wouldn't make the top of the list. But here we are, with 2019's Aladdin co-written and directed by Guy Ritchie.

Aladdin isn't terrible, and it does a lot of things right, including having a diverse cast with the vocal talent to do justice to the original's soundtrack. But it lacks the magic that made the 1992 animated feature so special. It's kind of a throwaway, not one that you'd ever regret watching, but not one you'll be playing on repeat for years to come.

As far as Genie goes, it's hard to compare Will Smith to Robin Williams, especially because it really was Williams who made the original as memorable as it is. But Smith is good, and he's arguably the best choice for the role. Ritchie told Screen Rant, "Will had the caliber, wit, charisma, breadth and depth that you needed from the Genie without getting tangled up in the legacy of Robin," which is true, but not enough.

Beauty and the Beast was one Disney live-action remake that impressed audiences

Beauty and the Beast is one of those Disney live-action remakes that stays on the side of being true to the original. Starring Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as Beast, and Luke Evans as Gaston, along with a slew of other big-name actors to round out the cast, the updated 2017 version keeps most everything that was enjoyable about the original animated film. Its additions, however, are a little hit or miss.

Bill Condon, who directed the movie, told Collider that the biggest challenge was bringing the exaggeration of the animated version down into reality. He explained that "you realize that there are questions that maybe you never asked before, that you want to know about," adding that those questions are what led to the film's new material and, more specifically, its new music. 

Unfortunately, the more social aspects of the film struggle to be anything worth noting. Belle is presented as more of a feminist lead and LeFou (Josh Gad) is a little more obviously homosexual, but there isn't a lot of development with either character. It's a beautiful film that tries, though, so points for that.

Disney live-action remake 101 Dalmatians was campy but fun

101 Dalmatians may not be the most well-received Disney live-action remake — it's considered "rotten" — but it is one of the most fun films on this list, and that's due in large part to Glenn Close's performance as the fur-loving antagonist, Cruella de Vil. One reviewer called her character "iconic" and "comically menacing," which is everything a Disney villain should be.

It's the 1996 film's camp that makes 101 Dalmatians really successful, though. Where other live-action remakes attempt to turn a cartoon into serious business, this film does anything but. It's — dare we say it — cartoonish, and it manages to capture the essence of the original without feeling like it's trying to recreate it. 

That's likely due to its writer, John Hughes, who's best known for creating every '80s movie that brings up feelings of nostalgia (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles). His style is a welcome addition to the Disney universe, and, given that 101 Dalmatians was only the second live-action remake from the studio, it does a decent job of balancing old and new.

Christopher Robin had a good message for a Disney live-action remake

It's hard to count Christopher Robin as a Disney live-action remake, considering it's more of an inspired tale based on prior work. The 2018 film centers on an adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), who, like many adults, has forgotten his childhood friends from the Hundred Acre Wood and is currently living a life focused on work, all the while neglecting his own family. When Winnie the Pooh seeks Christopher's help in finding his lost friends, the two set out on an adventure that reunites Christopher with his childhood.

Director Marc Forster, who's known for more adult fare like Monster's Ball and World War Z, told Screen Rant that he wanted to make a movie for his daughter, who told him that all of his films were "too dark" for her to watch. But Christopher Robin winds up being a movie for both adults and their kids. It's funny, nostalgic, and earnest. Fans of 1991's Hook will find parallels here, as it serves as a reminder to hold on to that sense of childlike wonder, even when childhood is far behind you.

Cinderella's director had the right idea for the Disney live-action remake

Disney's original Cinderella isn't just one of the studio's most beloved fairy tales — it's one of its earliest. Since 1950, children have dreamed of being visited by a fairy godmother, taken to a fancy ball, and swept off their feet by a charming prince. The 2015 Disney live-action remake Cinderella manages to capture that fantasy and present it in one of the most beautiful packages the studio has ever released.

Starring Lily James as Cinderella, Richard Madden as Kit (Prince Charming), and Cate Blanchett as The Wicked Stepmother, this Cinderella gets a lot right. It pays homage to the original while offering an updated story for a newer generation. Director Kenneth Branagh told Collider that finding the right balance between the two was tricky, especially considering the story's roots in numerous cultures. He was also sure he didn't want to make it a "dark" update. "For all the cynicism that the world contains, people are a little more open to those things that maybe are to do with returning you to some kind of simpler, happier state," he said. He was right to go the route he did — Cinderella is light, and it works.

Disney live-action remake Maleficent made an impact

Sometimes, going "dark" with a film doesn't mean it has to be sad and depressing. The 2014 Disney live-action remake Maleficent doesn't concern itself with making an existing fairy tale grittier. Instead, it asks the question, "What if the villain you thought you knew wasn't that way at all?" Angelina Jolie stars as Maleficent, the iconic villain from Disney's 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty. Instead of the one-dimensional character seen in the original film, she's portrayed in the remake as something of a loving (albeit emotionally wounded) maternal figure.

The film isn't perfect, and neither is Jolie — her attempt at an accent takes some getting used to — but the movie's pros outweigh its cons. According to Salon's review, "A magnificent, witty star performance — and a subversive feminist message — saves this candy-colored fairy tale." In spite of its shortcomings, Maleficent is an enjoyable Disney film, one that makes a valiant attempt at trying something new and telling a story we haven't already seen.

Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book was an early Disney live-action remake done right

Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book was the beginning of Disney's live-action remakes, and it remains one of the best of the bunch. Jason Scott Lee plays Mowgli, an orphaned boy who winds up raised by wild animals in the jungles of India. It takes on a more serious tone than its animated predecessor, forgoing elaborate musical numbers in favor of a focus on the jungle environment and green screen work that still holds up fairly well. 

But what of the talking animals? In this version of The Jungle Book, there are none. Computer animation wasn't what it is now back in 1994, so the film opts for a more realistic approach to its source material, relying on its human characters to relay the general sense of a conversation with wild animals instead. 

The Los Angeles Times said it "entertains in a way both contemporary and traditional," which it does. And while it may not be best suited for a young audience, this Jungle Book has plenty to offer for adults.

Disney live-action remake Pete's Dragon was simply brilliant

When Pete's Dragon hit theaters in 2016, it did so to little fanfare. Its opening weekend pulled in a mere $21 million, placing it just barely above 102 Dalmatians and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book for the lowest-grossing Disney live-action remakes ever. But it didn't go unnoticed by critics. With a certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Pete's Dragon stands out as one of the highest-rated reimaginings to date.

Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, and Oakes Fegley as Pete, the film tells the story of an orphaned boy whose best friend Elliott is a dragon. To say it's a loose adaptation of the 1977 animated musical would be an understatement — Pete's Dragon has little in common with the film outside of its general premise. According to /Film, co-writers David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks (the former also served as director) wound up making a movie "that stands on its own and doesn't rely at all on nostalgia." The result is a film that's heartfelt and tangible, even if it flew completely under the radar.

Disney live-action remake The Jungle Book hit all the right notes

Jon Favreau's 2016 CGI-heavy take on The Jungle Book isn't just one of the most beautiful films ever made, it's one of those rare Disney live-action remakes that does just about everything a reimagining ought to. The director took notes from both the 1967 animated classic and its 1994 live-action reimagining, telling the Los Angeles Times that his goal with this film was to strike a balance between the spirit of the original and the realism of its first remake. 

That's exactly what he did, making The Jungle Book the perfect sort of update that appeals both to those who carry a nostalgic torch for the Jungle Book of old, as well as to those who yearn for a modern story told in a modern way. It also helps to have an incredible cast that includes Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, and Christopher Walken (whose singing talent may not be on par with his acting but was completely worth the price of admission).