Disney’s 100-year legacy of creative storytelling is an indisputable triumph. Beginning with ground-breaking animation, it wasn’t long before Disney was in the driver’s seat of feature filmmaking. Even though their start was rooted in the hand drawings of Walt Disney himself, the company later went on to produce many feature films, including a number of live-action remakes of their original stories.
Over the years, the live-action genre has earned itself a bad rap. Between controversial changes to character portrayal to a perceived lack of creativity in the choice to remake rather than create, Disney has found its audience more and more challenging to please. Admittedly, Disney might have leaned a little too hard into their live-action trend, especially in recent years, at the expense of new and innovative storytelling. However, I can’t help but feel saddened that some of the most impressive work from the studio will be lumped into the same box and forgotten for the incredible works of art that they are.
Today, I wanted to spotlight five of the best live-action remakes Disney has created. Of course, we would love to hear your top five list, but here are a few to give you a starting point.
5: The Little Mermaid
Even though this 2023 release was met with many cynical views, I can’t help but hold it in high regard. Having seen this film at the movies, there was a beauty to it that will never leave me. With all the whimsy you would have hoped, the lively undersea world came to life as true to the animated version as possible. The heartwarming connection between the animated version, where Ariel was voiced by the talented Jodi Benson and the 2023 remake with Halle Bailey made this film a seamless continuation of The Little Mermaid legacy for the next generation.
One of the first ultra-impressive live-action remakes was the 2015 version of Cinderella, with Lily James and Helena Bonham Carter. None of the magic of this fairytale was lost when this animated triumph was brought to the living screen. It was a seamless take on a story of love and enchantment that beautifully transferred to a live-action setting in a way only Disney can achieve.
3: The Jungle Book
The ultimate Disney tale of adventure and friendship, The Jungle Book was expected to be quite difficult to convert from its animated form to a live-action remake. However, the result of the final product was undeniably impressive. A star-studded cast blended with photorealistic CGI animals allowed the movie to portray the charming friendship between Mogali & Baloo without skipping a beat.
2: Beauty and the Beast
It’s a tale as old as time and a movie that turned out much better than I had ever expected. The 2017 live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast starred Harry Potter‘s Emma Watson, where the English actress put her stamp on the complexity of Belle. Intelligent, inquisitive, and uninterested in the average man, Belle discovers an enchanting world of magic where nothing is quite as it seems. All of the classic characters and music are included in this triumphant live-action, with a final scene so extraordinary that it puts most others to shame.
The 2019 blockbuster with Will Smith took remake entertainment to a whole new world. The extravagance of some of the musical scenes in the Aladdin movie needs to be watched over and over in order to appreciate them fully. While some might never be content with any other representation of Genie than Robin Williams (and I understand why — AMAZING!), I have to admit, this movie was spectacular and is definitely worthy of the top spot on my live-action remake list!
I do understand and agree with the opinion that Disney is pressing too hard on their live-action remake trend. Still, I can’t help but worry that in all the negativity, some of the better films are being lost in the mix and underappreciated. Let’s show this genre of Disney some love.
Let me know your top live-action remake from Disney!
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.