Disney’s ‘live-action’ adaptations, ranked — and where to watch them
Comparing Disney’s so-called “live-action remakes” is tricky business.
For starters, the traditional metrics of entertainment success — be it box office draws or critical reviews — don’t apply the same way here. Built on decades of nostalgia, these big-budget affairs are almost always widely attended, meaning Disney more than makes its money back in ticket sales and Disney+ subscriptions. But playing with beloved IP can backfire, resulting in harsh reviews from critics and anger from fans. As a result, a Disney reimagining can perform well without being good.
As with so many things Disney, we must follow our hearts to find the true answer. Charting every live-action remake, prequel, and sequel to touch a Disney classic since 1996, here’s an updated look at all the new Disney fantasies to come across our screens of late — ranked.
22. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
We did not need this.
At first glance, filmmaker Tim Burton and author Lewis Carroll seem like a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, as both of Burton’s Alice films illustrate, that really isn’t the case.
Interminably cynical, Burton’s Alice in Wonderland transforms a beloved adventure down a rabbit hole into a Joan of Arc-esque tale that sucks all the fun out of a world with talking cats. Stars Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Johnny Depp offer performances that are by and large fine, but fall short of cartoonish amazement by adhering to the film’s bitter tone.
While the Academy Award-winning costuming and art direction are enjoyable enough, Alice in Wonderland remains a prime example of why some classics are better off left alone. — Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: Alice in Wonderland (opens in a new tab)is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
21. 102 Dalmatians (2000)
This was so good…the first time, though.
Directed by Kevin Lima, 102 Dalmatians is a disappointing follow-up to the 1996 live-action 101 Dalmatians remake, which ranks way higher on this list. The sequel picks up as Cruella De Vil, played once again by Glenn Close, is released from prison following her crimes in the first movie.
Now, Cruella has supposedly been cured of her need for puppy-made outerwear. But of course, that doesn’t last, and soon she’s back at her dognapping antics as pet lovers Kevin and Chloe — essentially the new Roger and Anita, played by Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Evans — try to stop her.
Although the film’s costuming was nominated for an Oscar, 102 Dalmatians mainly rehashes concepts that were done better just a few years before. It’s serviceable, but not “good.” — A.F.
How to watch: 102 Dalmatians(opens in a new tab) is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
20. Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)
Ah, yes. This again.
The sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which once again pulls liberally from the original animated film, ranks higher on our list if only because it doubles down on its most annoying qualities with remarkable bravery.
With a vibrant color palette, Alice Through the Looking Glass tries to be more fun than its predecessor — but when time travel and a bizarre nod to the sexist medical practices of Victorian England are introduced, everything goes back to being a big ol’ bummer.
Whether the film’s underwhelming box office was due to scandal surrounding its star Johnny Depp or its generally insufferable nature is tough to say. Either way, Alice Through the Looking Glass was a misfire for both Disney and its audiences. — A.F.
How to watch: Alice Through The Looking Glass (opens in a new tab)is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
19. Pinocchio (2022)
In the actual words of Tom Hanks’ Geppetto, “Pinocchio! Pinocchio! Holy smokey-o!”
While you’re recovering from that, let’s delve into one of the least beloved live-action remakes of a Disney film yet. With Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning and more mature approach to the puppet who comes to life released in the same year, Disney had little chance of making an impact with this one, despite how visually stunning some of the sequences are.
Director Robert Zemeckis pushes this Pinocchio even further toward levity than the 1940 Disney film, based on Carlo Collodi’s gruesome 1883 novel. Hanks’ Geppetto gets the backstory we never knew we never needed, while the film hammers home Pinocchio’s core moral dilemma: What exactly is a “real boy”?
The live-action remake leaves out some of the more risqué (and some of the more racist) elements of the original, including Pinocchio smoking and drinking at a no-rules theme park called Pleasure Island. Still, it’s an unnervingly threatening story behind all that singing. And there’s at least one song lyric that should have gone through a few more approval rounds.
Beyond Hanks’ earnest Geppetto, Keegan Michael Key steals the show as thespian and con man Honest John; Jiminy Cricket is voiced by an almost unrecognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt; and Cynthia Orivio makes the most of her limited screen time as the Blue Fairy. — Shannon Connellan, UK Editor
How to watch: (opens in a new tab)Pinocchio is streaming on Disney+.
18. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)
Well, it makes sense why you’d want more Maleficent.
Look, we get it: Anyone with the opportunity to cast Angelina Jolie as Maleficent a second time is going to take it. But Maleficent: Mistress of Evil really wasn’t worth anyone’s time or effort.
Directed by Joachim Rønning, this convoluted sequel returns Sleeping Beauty fans back to the complicated world laid out in the prequel Maleficent (2014), which saw the iconic tale of a princess cursed by an evil fairy turn on its head. Unfortunately, Mistress of Evil fails to capitalize on that foundation — instead incorporating more characters and more ideas than it knows what to do with.
Jolie and Elle Fanning, who plays Aurora, return with enough vigor, and franchise newcomer Michelle Pfeiffer as Queen Ingrith is entertaining. Still, it’s a pass. Pity. — A.F.
How to watch: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (opens in a new tab)is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
17. Dumbo (2019)
Despite Dumbo’s efforts, we would not be blinded by his cuteness.
Tim Burton’s take on Dumbo wasn’t quite as exhausting as his two Alice in Wonderland projects, but it was similarly self-indulgent.
Jam-packed with lingering shots of the adorable baby Dumbo whimpering for his mother and welling up with big elephant-sized tears, Dumbo (2019) plays more like a vaudeville-era ASPCA campaign than a children’s movie. As Mashable’s Angie Han pointed out, it’s not that Dumbo’s cuteness is a problem on its own, but it often feels like unearned pandering in a film with little else going for it.
Yes, parts of this uneven remake — namely Michael Keaton’s whole schtick and the Colin Farrell-ness of it all — are enjoyable enough. Unfortunately, the project overall fails to prove that resurfacing a 77-year-old classic was worth the effort. — A.F.
How to watch: Dumbo(opens in a new tab) is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
16. Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
If you want to get technical, this one isn’t a remake; it’s a sequel to the five-time Academy Award-winning live-action musical Mary Poppins, which features some sequences punctuated by animated animals and other cartoony wonders.
As the title suggests, the eponymous nanny returns to the Banks family for more misadventures and many, many (too many) more songs. Emily Blunt was “practically perfect in every way,” film critic Angie Han wrote in our review, also cheering the animated sequences that celebrated 2D animation as Disney did for decades.
However, director Rob Marshall, who would go on to helm the live-action Little Mermaid remake, delivers an overall wonky retread of the original film, plugging in new Banks children, new-ish fantastical jaunts, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as a besotted lamplighter who is basically Burt 2.0, but with an arguably even worse cockney accent. More troubling, however, is how much grief this movie offers, to the point where the whimsy Mary pushes for feels a bit toxic.
As Han put it, “Mary is just some lady distracting a family with warmed-over fantasies, while their lives fall down around them. All throughout the film, Mary tries to spread wonder where she goes. But ultimately, it seems, no one needs an extra jolt of magic more than Mary Poppins Returns itself.” — Kristy Puchko, Film Editor
How to watch: Mary Poppins Returns is streaming on Disney+. (opens in a new tab)
15. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Tale as old as tiiiime, now in two thousand and seventeeeen.
Beauty and the Beast tries just a little too hard.
Starring the exceptionally cast Emma Watson, this 2017 remake attempts to retell that “tale as old as time” with tons of added backstory, new characters, an all-star cast, a sorta-kinda (not really at all) LGBTQ-inclusive subplot(opens in a new tab), and a uniquely rich visual style unlike that of any Disney princess film.
Unfortunately, these many efforts tend to muddle the story of Belle and the Beast rather than elevate it. There are moments where the updated fantasy is worth the price of admission — namely, the staircase appearance of Watson in what is essentially a yellow version of the dress Hermione Granger wore to the Yule Ball. But as a whole, it isn’t particularly memorable.
With a running time in excess of two hours, Beauty and the Beast (2017) is without question more of the story you’ve come to know and love. Still, that doesn’t make it any more magical. — A.F.
How to watch: Beauty and the Beast(opens in a new tab) is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
14. Peter Pan and Wendy (2023)
Arguably the remake most in need of the making, Peter Pan and Wendy had to retell the story of the eternal boy without the problematic vestiges of the 1953 animated film. Smartly, the offensive portrayal of Indigenous people were dropped. Instead, Tiger Lily is a noble warrior princess, who watches over the Lost Boys while Peter is away. Speaking of, the Lost Boys aren’t all boys, and the rest of the island — including the pirates — is more inclusive in the version. Wendy even steps up from damsel in distress to self-rescuing heroine.
Writer/director David Lowery, who’d previously helmed the Pete’s Dragon remake, brings an earthy sincerity to the Pan story, which works best in the tense relationship between Wendy (Ever Anderson) and Captain Hook (Jude Law). However, not all of the child actors can keep pace with these two, which makes the film a bit too precious. Jarring, considering its color palette is a dingy grey that makes the whole film a bit hard to watch on a TV, which is especially rough because it debuted on Disney+
While Lowery explored some intriguing new terrain for this Disney hero and his villain, Peter Pan and Wendy‘s changes feel strategic over organic. And overall, the slow pacing and dull colors can make this one a bit of a slog, especially for youngsters. — K.P.
How to watch: Peter Pan and Wendy is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
13. Lady and the Tramp (2019)
Cute dogs? Check.
Disney’s 2019 take on Lady and the Tramp is about as middling as a remake can get.
A familiar but not quite stale retread, Disney+’s retelling of these two iconic dogs’ love story is good enough. It’s not fantastic, but it’s also not bad. It’s just kind of there, with its cute stars, steady pacing, and tremendously predictable plot line. That said, in fairness, those seemingly humdrum staples can be an asset depending on the type of viewing experience you’re seeking.
“Sometimes, you don’t want to be surprised or challenged,” explains Angie Han in Mashable’s official review, noting how streaming-only access made this release feel particularly easy in 2019. “Sometimes, you want something easy and comfortable that you know will be good enough, even if it’s not great. Sometimes, you want something exactly like Lady and the Tramp.” — A.F.
How to watch: Lady and the Tramp (opens in a new tab)is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
12. Christopher Robin (2018)
It’s not perfect. But that’s one cute bear.
Christopher Robin is a follow-up to Disney’s original Winnie the Pooh films — not a remake of them. But this is the first time the animated residents of the Hundred Acre Wood have received the live-action treatment, and as such it merits a spot in our rankings.
A less magical Hook rip-off, Christopher Robin follows the return of an adult Christopher to his childhood fantasies. Star Ewan McGregor does his best to keep the rickety story on its tracks, but it’s the incomparable Pooh, voiced by Jim Cummings, who steals the show.
Delivering dazzlingly funny dialogue with nostalgic perfection, Pooh is exactly as you remembered him. It’s the saving grace in a film that often feels forced — so much so, in fact, that we would watch Christopher Robin again, if only to play another round of “Say What You See.” — A.F.
How to watch: Christopher Robin(opens in a new tab) is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
11. Aladdin (2019)
Thank goodness these two showed up to save 2019 Agrabah.
When images of a nauseatingly blue Will Smith first hit the web in February 2019, we feared the worst. But, as it turns out, live-action Aladdin isn’t all bad.
While the Genie remained a low point in the film’s final form, stars Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott — both found through an international casting search — are breathtakingly excellent as Disney’s favorite unlikely couple. Nailing each and every character nuance, with some much-needed improvements(opens in a new tab) written in for Scott’s Jasmine, these two carry the film through as many of its pitfalls as they can.
Unfortunately, the film’s under-researched musical numbers hold the pair back from achieving true greatness. Reflecting on Aladdin‘s lack of Bollywood-worthy dance numbers, Mashable’s Proma Khosla writes, “It’s disappointing to see that in attempting to pay homage to Eastern dance traditions, Aladdin opted to go the So You Think You Can Dance route and whittle these art forms down to what the West already recognizes of them.”
Better than expected, but still not as good as the original, Aladdin is fine — but not Disney royalty. — A.F.
How to watch: Aladdin (opens in a new tab)is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
10. The Little Mermaid (2023)
Director Rob Marshall has brought Broadway musicals to the big screen for better (Chicago) and for worse (Into the Woods). Sadly, his live-action remake of the classic 1989 Disney princess musical The Little Mermaid leaned more toward his misses than his hit. (He also made the underwhelming Mary Poppins Returns!)
While Halle Bailey thrilled audiences as a Black Disney princess who exuded joy and has a beautiful song in her heart, Marshall’s movie dulled the wonder of this sea-set tale through a muted color palette, jarring re-imaginings of Ariel’s animal sidekicks, and new songs that sunk more often than they swam. Also, for some reason, the filmmaker decided we all wanted more Eric, wedging in a solo number and a trauma-rich backstory to the Disney prince.
Aside from Bailey’s sensational singing voice, the best thing this remake had going for it was Melissa McCarthy as the manipulative sea witch Ursula. In live-action, Disney villains seem to thrive more often than their noble foes. And McCarthy came alive as a bombastic and bioluminescent bad bitch, who could sling an aside, a song, and a spell with a dizzying attitude. — K.P.
How to watch: The Little Mermaid is now in theaters.
9. The Lion King (2019)
So uh… why are we doing this?
The Lion King is by no means bad, but it does struggle to outrun its fear of failure.
An unceasingly loyal shot-by-shot recreation of the 1994 masterpiece, Jon Favreau’s take on the Saharan-set Hamlet clings to its source material — offering only the stunning photorealistic animation style as justification for its creation.
Yes, the digitally rendered world of the Pride Lands is a technical triumph, and the voice acting by its star-studded cast is largely enjoyable. But as Mashable’s Angie Han writes, “None of this amounts to anything fresh or new or vital. The remake doesn’t deepen our understanding of these characters, or this story, or this world, in any significant way.”
Arguably the most fastidious of the films on this list, The Lion King cherishes the kings that came before it like no other but fails to earn a throne of its own making. — A.F.
How to watch: The Lion King (opens in a new tab)is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
8. Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers
Many of Disney’s live-action remakes have been decried for being too close to their source material, calling into question the very point of remaking them. Props to this remake, it shook up that frustrating formula.
Inspired by the ’80s cartoon series of the same name, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers took a Who Framed Roger Rabbit approach, going meta and film noir with a live-action setting. Chip (voiced by comedian John Mulaney) and Dale (voiced by Saturday Night Live alumni Andy Samberg) were two chipmunks who grew up together with big dreams of TV stardom — which they achieved with their own Saturday morning cartoon! But years later, their fame has dwindled along with their bond. Could a missing persons case pitch them back together — and back into the spotlight?
With a delightfully wild sense of humor, this movie was fun and pretty edgy for Disney — especially when it gets to a controversial inclusion of Peter Pan! But Disney daring falls far short of that Who Framed Roger Rabbit inspiration. So manage your expectations, but expect plenty of giggles. — K.P.
How to watch: Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
7. 101 Dalmatians (1996)
Cruella only deserves the best.
Published in 1956, Dodie Smith’s timeless tale of puppies on the run has always been endearing — but Disney’s campy live-action remake made it a full-on event.
Starring the unapologetically fabulous Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil, this 101 Dalmatians transplants the characters of the original animated feature into a stylish world of London-based lunacy. De Vil, now a globally recognized fashionista, enters each scene as a sinister force, her stunning black-and-white costuming(opens in a new tab) almost as iconic as she.
More attuned to the comedic stylings of the late ’90s, this remake struggles to hold up today as the latter half devolves into a slapstick-laden mess. But Close, whose stint as De Vil earned her a Golden Globe nomination, more than makes up for it with her spectacular line deliveries.
Worth a revisit, 101 Dalmatians (1996) is proof of concept that Disney live-action remakes can work. — A.F.
How to watch: 101 Dalmatians (opens in a new tab)is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
6. Mulan (2020)
Mulan (1998) and Mulan (2020) are very different experiences. For one thing, in the new film, iconic Disney songs like “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” and “Reflection” are reduced to brief flourishes in a mostly orchestral score. Then, you have the massive story changes, with beloved characters like Mushu, Cri-Kee, and Li Shang nowhere to be seen in a plot that only vaguely resembles the original.
And yet, despite these massive shifts, Mulan (2020) is a largely gratifying watch.
Liu Yifei stars as all-time-great warrior Mulan, in a nearly two-hour action adventure that swaps humor for fighting and hand-drawn animation for special effects. You aren’t likely to enjoy this Mulan “better” than the old one, but it will give you a new appreciation for this hero and her journey. — A.F.
How to watch: Mulan (opens in a new tab)is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
5. Maleficent (2014)
Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent manicure raised this film a full rank. True story.
When it came time for Disney to retell the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty, they didn’t stop at making everything live-action. Instead, they retold the story from the viewpoint of its iconic villain — a decision that has made this reimagining one of Disney’s best to date.
Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning star as Maleficent and Aurora, characters still pitted against each other but for reasons far more complicated than first seemed. Oozing with style, Maleficent creates a dark world that is similar to the kingdom seen in the original Sleeping Beauty, but with a dark texture and slippery personality all its own.
Part prequel, part remake, this Disney revisit is enjoyable both as a standalone film and as an extension of the animated original. — A.F.
How to watch: Maleficent (opens in a new tab)is available for rent or purchase through Prime Video(opens in a new tab), Google Play(opens in a new tab), iTunes(opens in a new tab), and the Microsoft Store.(opens in a new tab)
4. Cruella (2021)
The Future? Yes. You. Are.
Director Craig Gillespie’s Cruella can’t entirely justify giving a sympathetic origin story to a literal puppy killer. Nevertheless, it’s fun and fabulous enough to make handwaving its antihero’s horrific reputation perfectly palatable — if not entirely acceptable.
In this 101 Dalmatians prequel, Emma Stone stars as Estella, an orphaned fashionista coming up through London’s ’70s punk scene — alongside recognizable cohorts Jasper and Horace, played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. Estella, we learn, will someday be the notorious Cruella De Vil, but a lot has to happen before then. Namely, she has to take down her evil fashion mogul boss, Baroness von Hellman played by Emma Thompson.
Full of clever turns and outrageous visual displays, Cruella is what reimagining old stories should be. It’s a blend of plenty that’s new but with a love for the classic that shines through the screen. — A.F.
How to watch: Cruella(opens in a new tab) is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
3. Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Credit: Moviestore / Shutterstock
Before writer/director David Lowery was gritting and greying up Peter Pan and Wendy, he delivered a truly magical reimagining of Pete’s Dragon. The 1977 version was live-action with a cartoon dragon, who kookily cavorted with an orphan boy as he crosses paths with a collection of wacky, singing townsfolk. Lowery chucked much of this zaniness for his version, but it worked beautifully.
In his more mature version, Pete takes a Mowgli route, but instead of being raised by wolves, this orphan boy in the wilderness is raised by a big, furry, dragon he calls Elliott. A cool green color pallet plays into an earnest love of nature, reflecting Pete and Elliott’s bond, but also the film’s themes of environmentalism and preservation. Gravitas is brought by the supporting human cast, which includes Bryce Dallas Howard, Isaiah Whitlock, Jr., Karl Urban, and Robert Redford. But the best bits are how Lowery brings Elliott to life through terrific use of computer animation, a familiar sound design of snuffles and purrs, and action sequences of flights and falling that carry our hearts with this winged wonder.
Bonus: While the song numbers are gone, Lowery’s version boasts a folksy soundtrack(opens in a new tab) that includes The Lumineers, Leonard Cohen, and St. Vincent. — K.P.
How to watch: Pete’s Dragon is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
2. The Jungle Book (2016)
Mowgli’s return to the big screen was well worth the wait.
Many Disney live-action remake advocates have argued that recreating classic films can help introduce older stories to newer audiences. Jungle Book is the one that actually does that.
Escalating Mowgli’s jungle adventure to its most cinematic, director Jon Favreau managed to make one of Disney’s lesser-known staples into a top-tier selection for 2016 kids. Bringing the story of a child befriending animals into the real world made it feel at once more thoughtful, more terrifying, and more adventurous.
Neel Sethi shines as the young hero, while Idris Elba and Bill Murray dazzle as Shere Khan and Baloo. Worth every second it took to animate all that animal fur, The Jungle Book is a new kind of classic. — A.F.
How to watch: The Jungle Book (opens in a new tab)is streaming on Disney+.(opens in a new tab)
1. Cinderella (2015)
The most classic of Disney films is also its best remake.
Told and retold by countless studios and creators — heck, another version came out in 2021 — the tale of Cinderella meeting Prince Charming at the ball is as classic as it gets. So, it’s no wonder that this is the only live-action remake Disney has managed to completely nail.
Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, and Richard Madden, Cinderella (2015) honors the masterfully created images of the original film — including an exquisite rendering of that sky-blue ballgown — while expanding the central storyline and characters to make the fantasy far more heartfelt.
Populating a fairytale with actual people, Cinderella is everything one could want from a reimagined childhood dream. If only it came with glass slippers. — A.F.
How to watch: Cinderella (opens in a new tab)is available for rent or purchase through Prime Video(opens in a new tab), Google Play(opens in a new tab), iTunes(opens in a new tab), and the Microsoft Store(opens in a new tab).
UPDATE: May. 23, 2023, 7:00 p.m. EDT This post has been updated to include the most recent Disney live-action remakes.