BY BECCA JOHNSON MAY 25, 2023
By 2023, Disney live-action remakes are pretty much expected when looking at an upcoming slate of releases. We now have over 20, with 5 releasing in 2019 alone. They are normally announced to a lukewarm reception, sighs, shaking of heads and the want for something a little more original. However, due to their family appeal, familiar stories and promise of a fun time at the movies, theatres are normally packed out on release weekend and the weeks that follow. Although they don't always impress audiences as much as they hope to, they undeniably make a pretty penny, and there's plenty more to come. The Little Mermaid is the latest Disney flick to get the live action treatment. Releasing this Friday, 26th May, starring Halle Bailey in the titular role and directed by Rob Marshall, audiences will be transported under the sea once more to hang out with Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian and Flounder.
Despite this trend becoming popular in the 2010's, the first Disney live-action remake was actually released in 1994. The Jungle Book, starring Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli, didn't go down too well with fans, and is definitely forgotten by today's standard. The next, 101 Dalmatians, followed just two years after in 1996, featuring Glenn Close's iconic turn as Cruella De Vil. It's far from perfect, but is definitely fun for all the family and still enjoyed today, especially from a nostalgic perspective. The 90's and early 2000's also gave us two further remakes; The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story in 1998, and 102 Dalmatians in 2000. It would then be another decade before we received another, and it was then that the trend began to kick off.
Everybody remembers where they were when Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland was released in March 2010. Despite dividing audiences, many enjoy it for it's darker aesthetic and charming performances in Wasikowska, Depp and Bonham-Carter. Releasing the same year was The Sorcerer's Apprentice, adapted from 1940's Fantasia... this one did not go down so well, and was shunned by audiences and critics alike. Four years later in 2014, we received our first villain origin story in Maleficent. Audiences thoroughly enjoyed Angelina Jolie's performance, learning one of their favourite villains back story and just having a bit of fun. Kenneth Branagh's aesthetically stunning Cinderella released just a year after in 2015, followed by Pete's Dragon and Favreau's The Jungle Book the year after. Cinderella, The Jungle Book and Pete's Dragon are three favourite remakes amongst Disney fans, all daring to do something a little different. After the first instalment's roaring success in 2010, Alice Through the Looking Glass also dropped in 2016, but this would be the last we would see from this story. It was simply not as good as it's predecessor, and losing Burton as a director was a detriment to the sequel.
Emma Watson being announced as Belle in Beauty and the Beast was almost a cultural reset in 2017. She hadn't done too much acting since the Harry Potter franchise ended in 2011, so movie goers were intrigued to see what she had to offer. Many were impressed with her performance and the movie as a whole, and both it's critic and audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes remain high. The next release, a year later in 2018, was also a success. Christopher Robin, starring Ewan McGregor in the titular role, shocked audiences with how unique and different it was. McGregor is great, the story is intriguing and the movie is charming from start to finish. 2019 was Disney's busiest year, granting us with Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil AND Lady and the Tramp. None shone very bright, except perhaps Aladdin due to Will Smith's fantastic performance as the Genie. He's no Robin Williams, but he gave it his best shot. Viewers expected more from Dumbo, as Burton was back and his darker tone was expected to work well with this story, but it ended up a forgettable flick.
The 2020's have had a fairly busy start. Mulan came first, and despite it's focus on combat and being nice to look at, many ended up disappointed. In 2021, when life was trying to get back to normal here in the UK after the pandemic, Cruella was the breath of fresh air that Disney and cinema attendee's needed. Its punky, rock chick nature is heaps of fun, and Emma Stone delivers a wonderful performance as Cruella De Vil. Their winning streak didn't last long, however. Pinocchio dropped last year, and was quickly regarded as one of the worst of the bunch. Uninspired and bland, viewers couldn't maintain their concentration, despite being able to watch from the comfort of their own home on Disney+. Lastly, we have Peter Pan & Wendy, another that released on Disney+ only last month. It did pretty well, although fans were disappointed with some of the performances and the story feeling a little bland.
So, what do we have in store after The Little Mermaid? If you're a Disney live action fan, you're in luck, as there's plenty on the way. Snow White and Mufasa: The Lion King are set to release in 2024. Lilo & Stitch, Hercules, Hunchback, The Sword in the Stone, an untitled Cruella sequel, Bambi, Robin Hood and many, many more are in the pipeline, though most information including release date and cast are currently unknown.
Which live action are you most looking forward to seeing?
Everybody knows that no Disney live action remake is perfect, and there are plenty that aren't good at all. However, there are many that are worth the watch and provide plenty of fun for all the family. Below are our Top 5:
Fans were right to be excited about the casting; Emma Stone was phenomenal as the titular villain. She plays both sides of the character perfectly, as 2021's Cruella is both sugar-sweet and delightfully evil. Emma Thompson stars opposite her and is fantastic as ever, mesmerising as she stops at nothing to become the best in the fashion business, even if it means doing the unthinkable. The movie also boasts terrific costume design, with it's fashion sub-plot being a great vessel for some cool, 70's punk-inspired outfits. The set design is also gorgeous, with mansions and outdoor fashion shows galore. The plot is fairly engaging, as we follow our main character from childhood to adulthood. The script gives us a few plot twists here and there to keep things fresh and exciting, but Cruella doesn't quite reach her puppy-skinning heights that she attempts in the original; this story still has more to say.
Lily James is the embodiment of princess Cinderella, and she absolutely shines in this role. Her performance is perfect, embodying bravery and kindness, and she looks the part whilst doing it. The movie has an overall theme of courage which is bound to resonate with viewers of all ages, and it does what all the original princess stories do – shows us to have courage, and be kind. It also freshens things up a bit, adding more depth to both it's titular character and the story as whole. Cate Blanchett is despicable yet mesmerising as the Evil Stepmother Lady Tremaine, and Richard Madden is particularly swoon-worthy as our Prince. Kenneth Branagh was clearly the man for the job, as Cinderella (2015) is a thing of beauty. The costuming and set design are pretty, it's full to the brim with magic, and our lead character is as empowering as ever.
Whether you admit it or not, we all love a villain origin story, especially when Angelina Jolie is involved. Maleficent does a good job at making us sympathise with someone we know as evil, teaching us why she came to be this way. Jolie is stunning and gives a more emotional performance than anyone was expecting, and Elle Fanning appears as the perfect Aurora with her delicacy and shy nature. The aesthetics of the forest are truly beautiful, and similarly to most movies already mentioned, the costuming is up to scratch. The effects are intriguing, especially during it's battle scenes which are a treat for older audience members. It is a simple tale of revenge told in a fun, accessible and occasionally heartbreaking way, with strong females at the forefront. It is full of magic, but what makes it stand out is how human it feels
The Jungle Book (2016)
This is not the only Jungle Book live action we've seen, but is most definitely the best. Jon Favreau has a couple of misses but is mostly a competent director, and his attempt at bringing this story to life must be commended. It is very dark in tone, but due to the charisma from it's voice cast including Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba and Scarlett Johansson, it's also a lot of fun. The animation and effects are up to scratch, looking realistic and fantastical all at once. Neel Sethi's turn as Mowgli is great, despite his young age, and he does a good job at carrying the movie and it's intense plot. It lacks a little of the charm that the animated original has, but it dares to give us something fresh and gritty, worth sinking your teeth into. The characters are well-written, the pacing is good, and the script has more to offer than your average Disney flick.
Pete's Dragon (2016)
Despite having a basic storyline that we've seen before, Pete's Dragon oozes with charm and emotion. It's a simple story of a boy being taken away from the forest and his beloved dragon, but it's heart makes it larger than life. The CGI is pretty good, our animated dragon Elliott looking fantastic and utterly cute. His bond with main character Pete is so endearing to watch, and it's hard not to root for them to find each other again. A young Oakes Fegley plays Pete particularly well, going for the butter-wouldn't-melt approach but being believable at all times – he's a little charmer. It doesn't matter that the plot is formulaic, because it's so easily digestible and impossible not to get behind. David Lowery is one of the greats when it comes to direction, and he was the perfect person to bring this story to life. The movie looks gorgeous, especially in it's forest setting, and easily manages to capture some magic.