In between releasing new Marvel and Star Wars movies, Disney have spent the last decade turning out live-action remakes of their classic animated movies at a steady rate. Some of them are pretty good, some are pretty okay and some we probably don’t need to talk about (we’re looking at you, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland).
With live-action remakes of The Little Mermaid, Bambi and Snow White currently in various stages of production, it doesn’t look like Disney will be stopping with these anytime soon.
These are our picks for the best live-action Disney remakes – all of which are currently streaming over at Disney+.
Director Kenneth Branagh leans into the more schmaltzy side of this classic fairy tale, but he manages to make it work. There’s a classic feel to this entire movie that manages to never dip into a too campy territory. It manages to feel like a fresh take on a story we’ve heard a hundred times before. Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother is some inspired casting.
Cinderella managed to nab an Academy Awards nomination for Best Costume Design, which isn’t surprising. If you don’t like these live-action remakes, fair enough, but you can’t fault the attention to detail in these costumes.
The Lion King
To be fair, calling this version of The Lion King a live-action remake is a bit of a stretch because the entire thing is computer-animated. The original Lion King is an all-time classic movie, so this version had some incredibly big expectations to live up to. While it doesn’t come close to topping the original it’s still an all-around solid adaptation.
You’ve got a fantastic voice cast (like everything he does, Donald Glover is excellent as adult Simba), along with a great soundtrack featuring Beyoncé – who also curated a decent companion album The Gift.
The latest live-action remake released by Disney, Mulan is a more in-line with the traditional folklore story than the 1998 animate movie. Gone are the musical numbers and wise-cracking Mushu. But what it lacks in songs from the original, it makes up for with some fantastic action sequences, elaborate set pieces and great performances from the cast.
Most importantly, it has the same level of heart and soul as the original. Mulan’s struggle to find her place in the world and to be accepted for who she is, is no less moving.
The Jungle Book
Of all of the live-action Disney remakes, The Jungle Book might be the best. This movie set a new standard for photorealistic computer-animation when it was released in 2016, and I don’t know if any movie since has come close to topping it.
Directed by Jon Favreau, The Jungle Book follows Mowgli, a human who was abandoned to the wilderness as a child and raised by wolves, as he journeys to rejoin with his people. It hits a nice balance between the more adventurous side of the original novel, and the heart of the 1967 animated movie. Bill Murray as Baloo is perfect casting, not to mention Christopher Walken devouring his dialogue as the primate crimelord, King Louie.
Beauty & The Beast
A tale as old as time, with a new cast and updated visuals. It feels like everyone who worked on live-action remake Beauty & The Beast was aware of the huge standard they needed to live up to, so they gave it everything they had. The end result is a movie that loving homages previous version of this story, while managing to stand on its own two feet.
There’s a little bit of uncomfortable uncanny valley when you’re first introduced to the castle’s servants, but, like everything in this movie, they grow on you. It looks beautiful and everyone involved turns out a great performance – particularly Dan Stevens, who does a good job of balancing the Beast’s aggressive outer-shell with the tenderness that’s hidden within. If anything, it’s worth a watch solely for Ewan McGregor’s cheesy rendition of “Be Our Guest”, which stands toe-to-toe with the original.