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Ranking Disney’s live-action lineup

October 5, 2018


Photo by: Laurie Sparham

Since the release of Maleficent in 2014, Disney has begun a live-action remake machine that doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. With Mary Poppins Returns set to premier in December and Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King slated for 2019 releases, Disney’s live-action lineup is growing rapidly. With that in mind, here is a ranking of the studio’s live-action reboots so far:

  1. Maleficent (2014)

A standalone film about Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie as the titular villain seemed like a brilliant concept in theory. After all, Maleficent remains arguably one of Disney’s greatest villains of all time, and Jolie’s characteristic mysteriousness made her a shoe-in for the role. From her pale-faced, green-eyed appearance to the terrifying elegance with which she portrays the character, Jolie depicts Maleficent to perfection.

Her portrayal proves to be the only enjoyable part of an all-around bland movie, though. In its 90-minute runtime, Maleficent never really seems to find its stride. Along the way, the film loses the darkness that made Sleeping Beauty so lovable, particularly at the hand of a plot points that practically erase Maleficent’s defining characteristics. Topped off with underwhelming performances by Elle Fanning as Aurora and Brenton Thwaites as Prince Phillip, Maleficent ultimately doesn’t do justice to Disney’s beloved classic or its characters.

Nonetheless, a sequel slated for a 2020 release is currently in the works.

  1. Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Pete’s Dragon was a decent attempt by Disney to reimagine its 1977 predecessor, but this time with Bryce Dallas Howard (Grace) and Robert Redford (Lampie) in its leading roles. It’s visually stunning, and it maintains a great deal of the original’s charm. That’s about all this forgettable movie has going for it, though.

Led by its talented cast, Pete’s Dragon manages to tell a more mature, human story that’s a refreshing change of pace from the silliness of the original. It offers a story fitting for both young children and adults. As Elliot was a cartoon dragon among live-action characters in the original film, it’s also enjoyable to see him turned into an adorable CGI creation.

Regardless, though, Pete’s Dragon is not the kind of film that is going to have a lasting impact.

  1. Christopher Robin (2018)

When looking at technicalities, Christopher Robin is not a great movie. It has a plot and dialogue that are shaky at times. What Christopher Robin does right, though, is maintain the joyful spirit of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh to make for a nostalgic film that warms the hearts of those who grew up watching Pooh’s adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood.

For a start, Jim Cummings reprises his role as the voice of Winnie the Pooh alongside a cynical, adult Christopher Robin played by Ewan McGregor. Viewers see Christopher Robin wind up back in the Hundred Acre Wood in the midst of a struggle with the trials of adulthood. The pairing of Pooh with his much-changed friend makes for an adventure that can’t help but evoke a warm feeling of nostalgia in viewers who grew up on the original and are now navigating adulthood themselves.

At the end of the day, Christopher Robin is simple, but it’s the kind of light-hearted movie viewers will catch themselves wanting to watch over and over again.

  1. The Jungle Book (2016)

Disney’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book is hardly “live-action” at all; rather, it’s a CGI-fest directed by Jon Favreau that boasts a star-studded lineup of voice roles, including Christopher Walken as King Louie, Bill Murray as Baloo, Idris Elba as Shere Khan and Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha. The film’s lone live-action role belongs to newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli. 

Nonetheless, The Jungle Book is a wonderful reimagining of Disney’s 1967 classic. The film gives new life to the story of the original in the form of breathtaking CGI landscapes and spectacular reimaginings of its iconic characters. It’s unsurprising that the move went on to win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects at the 2017 Academy Awards.      

Sethi gives an impressive breakout performance as Mowgli, especially given that he is the only actor among phenomenal CGI voice performances. Of course, Favreau throws in a few of The Jungle Book’s iconic songs for good measure.

Given The Jungle Book’s record, Favreau’s upcoming live-action reimagining of The Lion King is sure to be a hit.

  1. Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Bill Condon’s remake of Beauty and the Beast certainly has its flaws, with CGI that isn’t always perfect and occasionally noticeable auto tune used on Emma Watson’s (Belle) singing voice. Regardless, it is a film that manages to capture the magic of the original while creating a more grown-up feel.

Beauty and the Beast is driven by a star cast that brings its characters to life in a refreshing new way. Watson makes for a lovely Belle, but the real power comes from performances by Luke Evans (Gaston), Josh Gad (LeFou) and Dan Stevens (Beast). Evans and Gad add necessary humor to the movie and deliver its best musical sequence in “Gaston,” while Stevens gives a more heart-wrenching performance as Beast topped off with a beautiful new ballad titled “Evermore.” Of course, the beloved enchanted objects add a much-needed charm that is led by Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Ian McKellen as Cogsworth.

The film’s visuals are another high point, particularly those of the stunning “Be Our Guest” and ballroom scenes.

Beauty and the Beast will never have the kind of impact its predecessor had. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful film that brings the heart of the story to life and is sure to have viewers singing along.

  1. Cinderella (2015)

Cinderella is Disney’s best live-action remake for countless reasons. It’s magical in every sense of the word. Its visuals are breathtaking. Its casting is flawless, with Lily James as Ella (Cinderella), Richard Madden as Kit (Prince Charming), Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine and Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother.  But, the most significant reason is this: it’s the only remake so far that not only reimagines its predecessor but makes it better.

For starters, Cinderella expands on aspects of the beloved story in ways the classic never could. It gives necessary personality and life to characters who largely lacked them before, the most notable being Prince Charming, who is not only given an actual name but an entire character arc. Additionally, the film adds necessary new plot points that erase the underlying superficiality the original film possesses. For example, Kit and Ella meet before the ball, and he is drawn to her goodness as opposed to her appearance.

What Cinderella ultimately does is turn a story of love at first sight into one of acceptance of both oneself and of others as well as of love on countless levelsーbetween two people, between a father and his son and among a family. It retains the magic that made the original film so brilliant while giving it a refreshing sense of maturity.

James gives a stunning performance as Cinderella, supported by equally remarkable performances by Madden and Blanchett, who proves she was born to play Cinderella’s stepmother. Topped off with breathtaking Oscar-nominated costumes, stunning visuals (most notably the grand ballroom) and an elegant score, Cinderella sets the bar high for Disney’s upcoming reimaginings of its classic princess films.

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