Do Disney's Live-Action Remakes Live up to the Animated Classics?

Disney movies have been around for what seems like forever. Your parents grew up watching them and probably your grandparents too! If you’re as old as I am, you might even remember only watching them on VHS tapes! Disney movies are full of love, laughter, magic, and wonder that people can enjoy no matter their age. Classic Disney movies like: Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Dumbo, The Lion King, etc., were all released as animated. In recent years, Disney has begun to remake these films into live-action/CGI (computer generated imagery), refreshing the stories for the younger generations to enjoy or ruining the memory of the originals.

The first live-action remake was for The Jungle Book. The original animated film was released in 1967 and was a huge success for Disney, grossing $655 million (present day estimation due to inflation) in the United States and Canada. Several years later in 1994, a live action version of the same title was released. The plot was adapted from the original story and largely focuses on Mowgli as an adult. This remake only grossed $43 million at the box office, but had a positive response and was given a 79% rating by Rotten Tomatoes. The remaking of The Jungle Book doesn’t stop there! It was remade once again in 2016 by director Jon Favreau, reaching even higher success than its predecessors. Favreau’s adaptation grossed over $966 million worldwide and received a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes! Favreau also adapted the original story, changing many of the classic elements, but kept the integral characters the same.

The next animated movies remade into live action were 101 Dalmatians and 102 Dalmatians, released in 1996 and 2000. Both films performed well at the box office, grossing over $500 million combined, but failed to impress critics and most movie-watchers. 101 Dalmatians received a 39% on Rotten Tomatoes for forgetting to keep the essence and charm of the original. 102 Dalmatians received a 31% Rotten Tomatoes rating, proving that sequels can’t always save a bad movie. It is rumored that there will be an upcoming spinoff to these movies titled, Cruella, starring Emma Stone. However, there have been no updates since December 2018.  

Disney then took a 10-year hiatus from live action movies after the unimpressive 102 Dalmatians, only to come back stronger with an Alice in Wonderland remake. Tim Burton directed this adaptation from the classic 1951 animated film, leaving his usual dark tone on films. Despite this darker tone, Alice in Wonderland proved to be a success for Disney with a box office grossing over a billion dollars. Money doesn’t always equal positive ratings and it showed here with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 51%. Disney is all about investing money where there is a guaranteed return on said investment, so what did we get? A sequel to Alice in Wonderland titled Alice Through the Looking Glass. This sequel was released in 2016, directed by James Bobin. Alice Through the Looking Glass was a box office bomb, grossing nearly $300 million worldwide against a $170 million budget. I can sum this movie up in one word: underwhelming.

Next on Disney’s list was a spinoff of Sleeping Beauty giving the villain, Maleficent, a proper backstory. The film was even titled Maleficent and starred Angelina Jolie in the titular role. Maleficent was released in 2014 between the Alice in Wonderland movies. It did very well in the box office with a grossing of $758 million worldwide. However, Maleficent received mixed reviews for being branded as too dark, sinister, and grown-up for children. Guess what? Maleficent is getting a sequel (I’d insert a laughing and crying emoji if I could)! It’s going to be titled, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and is slated for release on October 18, 2019. Based off of Maleficent, I’m going to assume this one is not going to be kid friendly at all. Let's hope Maleficent: Mistress of Evil breaks the Disney sequel curse.

Now, let’s move onto the happier live action remakes! In 2015, Disney released its live action Cinderella starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, and more big names! Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, redeemed the low ratings from Maleficent by generating an 84% rating from Rotten Tomatoes. It grossed almost $550 million in the box office, mostly through foreign revenue. The cast, musical score, special effects, and costumes were praised by critics around the world for staying in line with the original. Branagh kept the magic of this beloved fairy tale alive by emphasizing dreams, empathy, romance, and empowerment.

Disney also achieved massive success with its 2017 reimagining of Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor, Luke Evans, and Josh Gad among others in this tale as old as time. This film became the second Disney movie to cross the billion-dollar mark at the box office, earning over $1.2 billion worldwide. It is currently the highest grossing Disney film and the 14th highest grossing film in the world.  Even as a box office hit, it still received mixed reviews from critics. Many praised the amazing performance by the cast, the music, loyalty to the original story, and its enchanting beauty. On the other hand, some found it to be a watered-down version of the original with karaoke-like music and subpar character development. Rotten Tomatoes rated Beauty and the Beast as a 71%, compared to the original at 94%.

Last, but not least, is Tim Burton’s live action adaptation of Dumbo. This remake was a flop for Disney, receiving average reviews and a 47% Rotten Tomatoes rating. The core story is subpar and bland. Dumbo cripples under the pressure to expand the original story and loses the heart and imagination of the classic. To make the film worse, Dumbo isn’t even the main character of his own film, it’s centered around Collin Farrell’s character, Holt Farrier. There are some touching moments and nods to the original but fails to soar to the height of the animated classic.

The next Disney live action adaptations releasing this year are Aladdin and The Lion King. Aladdin will be released in theaters on May 24 and The Lion King on July 19. Here’s to hoping both live up to the hype and expectations surrounding them!


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