Disney has been on a live-action remake kick lately. The surge has included nostalgia-driven favorites like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and, most recently, Cruella.
Sometimes they turn out amazing, and sometimes they leave you wondering why they even bothered to do a remake.
Here are five of those live-action remakes that did it right (though nothing tops the originals!) and five that we probably could have done without.
Best: Maleficent (2014)
I could be a little biased, because I love Maleficent (and several other Disney villains, for that matter), but 2014’s Maleficent gets it right. 1959’s Sleeping Beauty was one of the most elegantly and intricately drawn animated classics, but even if you love it, you have to admit it’s a little thin on plot.
Maleficent finally gives the self-proclaimed “Mistress of All Evil” her time to shine and finally gives us a backstory that expands upon Sleeping Beauty‘s plot. The special effects are fairly impressive, and Angelina Jolie is the perfect choice for this role.
Best: Pete’s Dragon (2016)
The live-action remake of Pete’s Dragon manages to pay homage to the original by not losing the story’s emotional core. That’s worth noting since most remakes tend to get wrapped up in visual effects and lose that emotional link that audiences connect with.
The movie is CGI-infused, and the creature design is brilliant. It somehow manages to stay subtle and relatively realistic. Plus, the dragon is essentially a giant puppy with wings, so prepare to have your heartstrings pulled.
Best: Cruella (2021)
Again, I have a soft spot for villains, so perhaps I am biased. Even still, Cruella manages to do the remake just right. It’s deliciously edgy and violent while also staying mostly safe for families — hey, it’s Disney, after all. The photography is great, it has a fantastic retro soundtrack, and it gives us a backstory for a good villain.
Best: Cinderella (2015)
At this point, the story of Cinderella has been told and retold over and over again, so this live-action remake wasn’t a small undertaking. Honestly, I expected another bland retelling that would fade over the years. (Spoiler alert: I was wrong.)
Instead, 2015’s Cinderella managed to breathe new life into the old classic. Cate Blanchett is the perfect wicked stepmother, and Lilly James is a wonderful Cinderella. It’s vibrant, visually stunning, and the Oscar-nominated costumes are breathtaking.
Best: The Jungle Book (2016)
Director Jon Favreau (The Mandalorian) did us all a favor with the live-action remake of The Jungle Book. The movie is electrifying — despite the fact that it’s a single human boy surrounded by CGI. Though special effects can hinder storytelling, that definitely doesn’t happen here. This is one of those rare cases where the remake actually improves on its predecessor.
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Worst: Beauty and the Beast (2017)
It almost hurts me to include 2017’s Beauty and the Beast as a live-action remake that didn’t get it right. I saw it in theaters when it came out, and I enjoyed it. Emma Watson is perfect for the role of Belle, and Josh Gad as LeFou is great.
Unfortunately, it feels like the film didn’t need to be made. There’s nothing fresh here, as it barely deviates from the original besides adding 45 minutes to the runtime. It feels like Disney capitalizing on nostalgia for an easy cash grab.
Worst: Dumbo (2019)
With Tim Burton at the helm and stars like Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, and Eva Green on board, 2019’s live-action remake Dumbo feels like a lot of wasted potential. It fails to take off.
Sure, Burton’s trademark camerawork and flair is there, but the storyline is stretched and the characters are underwritten. There’s an emotional missing link that the original managed to capture audiences with.
Worst: The Lion King (2019)
Technically, this isn’t a live-action movie — all but one shot was rendered digitally. Even still, Disney dubs it a live-action remake, so here it is. And it’s on the bad list.
The cast for The Lion King is stellar — James Earl Jones, Donald Glover, and Beyoncé on the same movie?! — but much like Dumbo, there’s an emotional missing link. This retelling lacks the heart, and Disney’s signature anthropomorphic touches that help us connect with the classic cartoons.
Worst: The Lady and the Tramp (2019)
2019’s remake of The Lady and the Tramp falls victim to the same problems as The Lion King. Without those signature “Disney eyes,” all we’ve got are some cute puppies with moving mouths. They don’t have the same anthropomorphic emotions that helped us connect with the original characters in the animated classic.
Even still, the dogs are incredibly cute. It’s just… did this movie need a remake? Or is this just Disney cashing in on nostalgia again?