Everything old is new again with Disney movies.
With a new version of Aladdin arriving in cineplexes on May 24, Disney continues to turn to its archive of animated features to churn out splashy new live-action movies. And Disney is unlikely to stop until they either run out of movies or people who want to watch them.
Disney has already produced enough live-action adaptations to make for a very pleasant movie weekend, but not every adaptation has been entirely successful. Here are some of Disney's most and least watchable live-action adaptations, along with a few movies that felt like they belonged on the list, ranked for your convenience from worst to best.
Alice in Wonderland
While not technically a remake of the 1951 cartoon, this 2010 live-action version of Alice in Wonderland tried to simulate hallucinatory surrealism by inflating Helena Bonham Carter's head and making Johnny Depp wear ludicrous clothes. Or maybe Johnny just wore whatever he showed up on set with. To the extent that Lewis Carroll's book had a plot, this movie dispenses with it in favor of some sort of revenge quest, and then it ends with Depp doing an infuriating dance. On the other hand, this made a ton of money and had a sequel, which is better than a lot of movies do.
The most recent cartoon-to-live movie is also the most unsettling to watch. Director Tim Burton's visual style does not entirely mesh with the 1941 cartoon, and you’re left with the impression that he'd rather just make a movie about a weird circus and leave the flying elephants out of it. Reviewers used words like "garish" and "bonkers" to describe the CGI, but the real problem may have been the decision not to have the animals speak. The humans were never the most interesting part of Dumbo, and in this live-action version, they're all that's left.
The Black Hole
Disney's first PG-rated movie was this attempt to get in on the space adventure market right after Star Wars hit it big. Full of spaceships, explosions and robots that shoot lasers, The Black Hole was intended to be a special effects spectacular but ended up feeling like a 1950s sci-fi serial with the cardboard sets swapped out for much more expensive versions. The characters stand around in spacesuits and have arguments about the nature of morality, which is something space movies normally reserve for subtext. Happily, I have no complaints about the laser-shooting robots.
The Apple Dumpling Gang
Anyone who thinks Disney can do no wrong didn't hang out at a lot of cinemas in the 1970s. If you know The Apple Dumpling Gang at all, you probably remember it as the movie in which Don Knotts and Tim Conway are bumbling crooks in the Old West. But that's not what the movie's actually about — instead, most of the focus is on orphans who are clustered around a pre-Incredible Hulk Bill Bixby. At least when Disney made a sequel — yes, there's a sequel — the studio was wise enough to ditch the orphans in favor of more Knotts/Conway buffoonery.
Beauty and the Beast
The live-action version of Beauty and the Beastthat came out in 2017 was a perfectly adequate adaptation of the animated classic that came out in 1991. If the cartoon didn't exist, the live-action movie would probably be regarded more highly. Unfortunately, it's such a precise adaptation that the viewer can't help but be distracted by how often the new movie fails to improve on the original. There is certainly something to be said for Emma Watson twirling around in a fancy gown, but it's not enough to make this movie great.
The Jungle Book
It's probably stretching a point to call the 2016 edition of The Jungle Booka live-action film, since there's only one flesh-and-blood actor on screen. Everything else around Neel Sethi's Mowgli is a CGI creation, which means it's as computer-generated as a Toy Story movie. Still, the various tigers and snakes and implausibly large orangutans feel like they have weight and physical presence. This stays very close to the original 1967 movie's plot, while getting rid of some of the side characters that no one liked in the first place. It's an enjoyable movie with some talking animals and the occasional up-tempo song.
Credit: Laurie Sparham
Christopher Robin isn't a remake per se — just a live-action sequel to an animated movie, which has to be pretty rare. (Jim Cummings returns as the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, both of which he's been voicing since 1990.) This movie concerns an adult Christopher Robin who has become a banker and needs to reconnect with the simple things of youth, which is great. There's also a subplot about advertising for luggage that is exactly as interesting as it sounds. The real problem here is that Christopher Robin is objectively the least interesting character in Winnie the Pooh movies.
Mary Poppins Returns
Credit: Jay Maidment
Let me explain: The original Mary Poppins from 1964 has those cartoon penguins in it, right? For our purposes, that makes it an animated film. And 2018's Mary Poppins Returns, while more sequel than remake, hits all the beats of the original, replacing kites with balloons and dancing chimney sweeps with bicycle stunts where appropriate. It's even got its own animated interlude. So it's basically a modern remake of a classic Disney movie. Overall, it's a fine movie, but it probably doesn't need that subplot about the missing deed to the house, which doesn't feel terribly escapist.
Credit: Giles Keyte
Cinderella came out in 2015, at the beginning of the current wave of remakes. If it hadn't been so good, there probably would not be so many more Disney reboots scheduled to arrive at your local theater in the next few years and for the rest of your life. But Cinderella did a great job of bringing to life the classic animated version of the classic fairy tale, so you can't be too grumpy about it.
Although Disney's loading up on live-action remakes these days, the studio was dipping into its reserves of animated features as far back as 1996 with this retelling of 101 Dalmatians. Since CGI wasn't up to scratch yet, the studio had to sideline the dogs to instead focus on Glenn Close's extravagant version of Cruella de Vil. Luckily, that was the perfect choice, as Close turned in an iconic performance of an already iconic villain. Best of all, this isn't one of those reimaginings that give a villain a tragic backstory for audience sympathy. (That would be the upcoming Cruella, due out next year and currently set to star Emma Stone). 101 Dalmatiansjust lets a villain be villainous all over the place.
The original Sleeping Beauty is boring, and everyone knows it. You can't center your movie on someone who sleeps through all the exciting parts, no matter how nice her dress is. But Aurora is one of the main Disney Princesses, so something needed to be done. The fun part of the 1959 movie is obviously Maleficent, an evil fairy who turns into a giant dragon and has a crow friend. In the live-action Maleficent movie, Angelina Jolie seems to be having a lot of fun being nearly-evil in this prequel, and the audience has a lot of fun watching her do it.
Credit: Barry Wetcher
Although it's not a remake of a specific Disney animated movie, Enchanted takes all of the animated Disney Princess tropes and puts them into a live-action world. Amy Adams is perfectly cast as Giselle, and as she comes in conflict with the "real world," the movie demonstrates which things make more sense in animation, and which things work better in live action. It's effectively an analysis of the whole concept of converting things from animation to live action, while also being an excellent Disney princess movie on its own terms.