With all of the updates on Disney’s live-action adaptations of classics like Aladdin revealed at the D23 Expo on Saturday, it’s clear that the live-action train isn’t stopping anytime soon. It’s easy to see why Disney continues to put out remake after remake, considering that the most recent five releases were hugely successful, with this year’s Beauty and the Beast making over $1 billion worldwide. As well as being major financial successes for the infamous House of Mouse, these films (some more than others) have managed to do well with the critics.
The question of which remake is the best in terms of quality remains a subject of debate among fans. See if you agree with my ranking of the five live-action adaptations that are already out.
5. Alice In Wonderland
Tim Burton’s take on Alice’s rambunctious adventures in Wonderland is ambitious, but it feels like it’s almost too ambitious. The massive, overly colorful landscapes presented throughout the movie never fail to put me on sensory overload, and there’s so much going on around Alice that sometimes it is difficult to fully understand where the story is going.
Johnny Depp’s performance as the Mad Hatter is entertaining, but like the scenery around him, it’s too over-the-top and silly to fully get behind. Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of the Red Queen, however, is outstanding, managing to be both hilarious and menacing all at the same time, but that simply is not enough for the movie to rank above the other four.
Angelina Jolie’s performance as the titular character is quite magnificent in this Wicked-esque retelling of Sleeping Beauty. She’s regal, bitter and malicious, but also shows tenderness and heartbreak as Maleficent.
Aurora, portrayed by Elle Fanning, is also a highlight of the film, effortlessly playing the princess with grace, kindness and innocence. I absolutely love the mother and daughter relationship that develops between her and Jolie’s Maleficent over the course of the film.
What keeps this movie from being ranked higher on my list is its ridiculously overdone ending. In the final fight, we see a winged Maleficent running around the castle, trading blows with King Stefan and a horde of soldiers while a dragon makes fiery explosions all over the place.
Maleficent also loses points for not doing what its animated counterpart did, which was incorporating the magnificent music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet "The Sleeping Beauty," though I did like Lana Del Rey’s haunting cover of "Once Upon a Dream" during the end credits.
3. Beauty And The Beast
Even though the animated version of Beauty and the Beast remains my favorite Disney film of all time, the live-action adaptation disappointed me. I was not a fan of the completely unnecessary storyline concerning what happened to Belle’s mother, and I certainly did not like the new songs that were basically added just for the sake of being different from its animated counterpart.
Emma Watson’s Belle, while intended to be more strong and independent than she was in the animated movie, comes off as a pretty passive character to me, especially in her exchanges with Gaston. While Belle makes snarky remarks to Gaston and quite literally throws him out of the house when he asks her to marry him in the animated feature, the live-action showcases Belle just telling Gasto that she won’t marry him.
While I did enjoy seeing my favorite Disney movie being brought to life, there were simply too many changes made to the film for the sake of making changes that made for an ultimately disappointing remake.
2. The Jungle Book
An adaptation of the 1967 classic, The Jungle Book is a pretty fantastic film. The spectacular visual effects alone, which make every animal in the movie look unbelievably real, are reason enough to see it.
Character-wise, Bill Murray perfectly captures the spirit of Baloo, the jungle’s resident optimist, with a sense of carefree, fun-loving and laid-back demeanor. Bill Kingsley and Idris Elba also do an excellent job of portraying their respective characters, Bagheera and Shere Khan. The film also improves on the plot, giving more importance to the wolf pack that raised Mowgli, and using Kaa, the python, as a way to give some exposition that explains why Shere Khan wants to kill the orphan boy.
I personally would have loved to see a recreation of the ending of the animated version, where Mowgli sees a girl, becomes infatuated with her and ends up joining her in the human village. However, I still did enjoy the way the they decided to end the film in the 2016 remake.
While this film doesn’t have as complex of a story as the other live-action remakes, that’s what makes Cinderella work so well. By not getting lost in plot details, the picture is able to stay true to the optimistic spirit and childlike wonder of its animated counterpart.
With fabulous performances by Lily James, Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter as Cinderella, the Stepmother a.k.a. Lady Tremaine and the Fairy Godmother respectively, watching this film brought me back to the days of my youth when I would watch the 1950 classic over and over.
Because the animated original has such a straightforward plot, the live-action revamp has the ability to make changes and additions that actually improve the story. For example, Cinderella’s father becomes more of a character rather than a simple plot device, and we finally find out why Cinderella doesn’t leave her abusive situation with her stepmother in the first place.
What truly won me over in this film was the set and costume designs, which are detailed and exquisite, but manage to avoid being too lavish and overwhelming. This, topped off with a simple theme of having courage and being kind, make for a truly magical experience.