Matthew R. Davies
Welsh Bookworm, Horror-Nerd, Musician, Freelancer and Aspiring Writer of the Macabre
The Lion King Live-Action Adaptation
After much speculation and feverous anticipation, the long-awaited and star-studded live action remake of Disney’s 1994 fan favourite The Lion King hits theatres on July 19th. Starring Mr Redbone himself Donald Glover in the role of Simba, Beyoncé
Knowles as Nala, the returning James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Billy Eichner as Timon, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, John Oliver as Zazu and the academy-award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor as the diabolical Scar.
Disney’s live action repertoire continues to gather momentum in 2019, having already released vibrant new versions of both Dumbo and Aladdin to somewhat mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes, being the increasingly favoured critical hub for ravenous cinema goers that it is, has revealed stark dissimilarities between audience scores and critical scores for a number of beloved Disney reboots.
Now, it is safe to say that the critics are not always right, indeed the box office figures will ultimately dictate the overall success of a film. Saying that, the general cinema-going public does not particularly care for the numbers because let’s face it, who is going to turn down the opportunity to view a prestigious remake of a nostalgia-laden gem from our childhoods? (Not this writer, that’s a dead cert).
Upcoming Disney Live-Action Remakes
Disney’s multi-billion-dollar remake enterprise is set to encompass a wide variety of older properties that have spanned its illustrious ninety-five-year history. These include: a sequel to Maleficent, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, a retelling of the 1998 Mulan, another sequel to 101 Dalmatians, Cruella, another live action Peter Pan, as well as a spin off known as Tink, the Arthurian-based The Sword in the Stone, Pinocchio, a revisionist version of Snow White, Rose Red and a Cinderella spinoff, Prince Charming. Phew!
With all these interesting films in the works, it would appear that The Lion King is merely the intermission. Luckily for us, trailers for The Lion King have dazzled, portraying a beautifully shot African wilderness tale that looks and feels remarkably like the original animation.
Being perhaps the most popular of all Disney films, it is likely that the 2019 film will break box office records, perhaps even surpassing the economic behemoth that was Beauty and the Beast. Anybody care for a wager?
Music, Rumours and Speculations
Clocking a massive thirty-five million views (as of 25/06), the official trailer indicates that The Lion King is set to be a sure-fire win commercially and the talented cast of voice actors add a certain artistic calibre to the upcoming picture.
The original animated film is well and truly ingrained into popular culture, the music holding particular reverence within the hearts of its legions of devoted fans. Well good news people, Hans Zimmer will be returning to score the remake and it would appear that all of the original songs will be featured. Elton John’s Can You Feel the Love Tonight? and the always iconic The Circle of Life have been tantalisingly teased in the tv spots and trailers. To celebrate the arrival of The Lion King, we’re taking a rather fond stroll down memory lane to the other Disney live action remakes that have graced our screens over the years.
Utilising out wits and rather bias opinions, we shall attempt a feat that is bound to cause controversy, but we will endeavour anyway and attempt to rank our top ten of these most-beloved of movies.
#10: 102 Dalmatians (2000)
We know, we know…Dalmatians are undeniably cute, but this rather dull 2000 sequel to 101 Dalmatians lacked the warmth of the original animated classic and bizarrely, employs a more human-driven narrative that (to a degree) removes the dotted hounds from the spotlight. Returning as the infamous fur aficionado Cruella De Vil, Glenn Close is apparently a reformed character in this picture. Released on parole and working within a shelter for homeless animals, she would appear to have turned over a new leaf. But before you know it, Cruella returns to her wicked ways and joins forces with Gerard Depardieu’s aptly-named Monsieur Le Pelt to enact her vengeance.
Critical reception was generally poor for this film with most claiming, that despite its U rating, the film was a little too violent for younger viewers yet, its pratfalls and hi-jinks remained targeted towards a younger audience.
#9: 101 Dalmatians (1996)
The original (and in this writer’s opinion, superior) 1996 101 Dalmatians mainly works due to a rather wonderful performance by Glenn Close as the dastardly fur fashionista Cruella De Vil. Working with animals is notoriously difficult, but director Stephen Herek completes an admirable job wrangling the adorable puppies around the romantic intertwining of Jeff Daniels (Speed, Arachnophobia, Dumb and Dumber) and Joely Richardson (Event Horizon, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Red Sparrow).
The couple must save their legions of Dalmatian puppies from the dognapping undertook by the maliciously-minded Cruella, who wishes to create a garish coat from the skins of the puppies (a ghastly thought, no?). The film received a lukewarm reception from critics, who despite revering Close’s performance were underwhelmed by the lack of sophistication that the film employs. However, the picture has remained popular and we think we know why, the doggy cast are irrefutably, a joy to watch.
#8: Dumbo (2019)
Whatever you may think of Tim Burton, there’s no denying that the Edward Scissorhands director has an eye for aesthetics. This recent 2019 remake of the 1941 classic Dumbo is certainly eye-catching and boasts incredible CGI effects as well as a talented cast of actors that include: Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito and Eva Green.
Little Dumbo the elephant is born with extraordinarily large ears and becomes (heartbreakingly) a laughing stock. However, when it turns out that Dumbo can use his ears to fly, the economic fate of the circus appears to be sealed. Unfortunately, Burton’s signature style could not save the film from the razor-sharped tongues of the critics, who claimed that the picture was cold, bloated and predictable. Dumbo appears to take a backseat while Burton flexes his visionary muscles and the warmth of the original appears to have been lost somewhere along the way.
#7: Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Tim Burton’s signature blend of darkly Gothic and psychotropic visuals were undoubtedly the right choice for the 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland. Based on Lewis Carroll’s classic novel, this film recounts Alice’s return to Wonderland when she is nineteen to reunite with a vibrantly colourful host of familiar characters. The Mad Hatter, The Red Queen, Tweedle-Dum and Tweddle-Dee, the Cheshire Cat, the Blue Caterpillar and the March Hare are all featured in Burton’s surrealist vision. To look at, Alice is remarkable, it is a kaleidoscopic barrage of myriad colours and landscapes.
However, the critics were a little off put by Burton’s cold rendition of the once charming tale, while the plot was deemed uninteresting and joyless (it would appear that there is no pleasing some people). Despite this, the film proved financially successful and was granted a sequel, 2016’s Alice Through the Looking Glass.
#6: Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Based on a lesser-known Disney property, 1977’s Pete’s Dragon was actually a live-action film that blended real actors with a loveable animated Dragon named Elliot (ala Bedknobs and Broomsticks). Altering the plot slightly, the new film follows the mysterious homeless orphan Pete, who claims to live in the nearby forest with Elliot. The boy incites interest from a local girl, who endeavours to find out where Pete comes from and to discover the truth about the fuzzy green dragon. Finally, we reach a film on our list that received positive reception upon release.
Pete’s Dragon was commended for its heart-warming and soulful charm, with some suggesting that it overwhelmingly surpasses the quality of the original film. This one is a family-affair, with something for everyone within its fantastical scenes.
#5: Cinderella (2015)
The ever-enduring tale of dreams, wicked stepsisters, glass slippers, musical mice and the always popular fairy godmother, Cinderella is perhaps, the most recognisable of Disney’s properties. One of the most traditional stories on this list, poor Cinderelly is doomed to toil under the terribly oppressive regime of domestic duty that is inflicted onto her by her wicked stepmother. That is until one day, her fairy godmother arrives to grant Cinderella an evening of splendour in the royal palace with the handsome prince. The clock strikes midnight and Cinderella flees (to save her from transforming back into her original self), leaving a glass slipper behind…and the rest is history.
This Kenneth Branagh directed version is a faithful adaptation that was commended for its tone, visuals and cast. The romantic sentiments of the plot are fully realised and engaging, making this a worthy addition to the universe that surrounds this classic tale of redemption.
#4: Maleficent (2014)
A bit of an oddball as far as Disney remakes are concerned, 2014’s Maleficent follows the previously untold story of the villainous Maleficent, who if you remember in Sleeping Beauty, cursed the infant Princess Aurora to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. She does so, but three good fairies: Flora, Fauna and Merryweather revert the curse (to an extent) and allow Aurora to fall into a deep sleep rather than perishing.
In Maleficent, Angelina Jolie proves curiously engaging in the role, proving both her acting chops and elegance. The film is a dark visual spectacle, with an inventive spin on the well-trod tale. It has received critical praise, especially for Jolie and it has proven to be a wonderfully worthy addition to the Disney canon.
#3: The Jungle Book (2016)
John Favreau’s stunningly rendered retelling of the classic 1967 The Jungle Book delights with its dramatic storytelling, memorable musical numbers and unforgettable characters. Following the exploits of the wolf-raised Mowgli, The Jungle Book is a story of home, of identity and of course, the harrowing journey. With a plethora of animals at his side, Mowgli faces his humanity with a healthy amount of scepticism but with Baloo accompanying him, the boy seems destined for greatness in his new home.
The film has been critically acclaimed, with praise being targeted at the film’s incredible CGI animals and landscapes, as well as for the talented voice actors that drive the heart of this impressive remake.
#2: Aladdin (2019)
When the first images of Will Smith as the blue genie in Aladdin emerged on the internet, the reception was lukewarm at its very best. People were shocked and interestingly, amused at the rather different interpretation of Robin William’s legendary character. Now, it is important to give films a chance, especially when they’ve received online backlash before they’ve even reached theatres.
The 2019 Aladdin seemed doomed to failure before it had even started. However, critics and audiences were pleasantly surprised by the scope and ambition of the picture (despite the R.T. scores being once again, polarised). Guy Ritchie seemed a strange choice for the film, being that he’s mostly known for his edgy British gangster thrillers (Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) but he proved to be a worthy candidate for the position. Aladdin boasts some of the most memorable songs in the entire Disney oeuvre and were thankfully, treated with grace in this enjoyable romp.
#1: Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Our choice for the top spot (although this writer is wondering whether The Jungle Book should claim it and Aladdin should be dropped a position or two. We will let you decide) is none other than 2017s Beauty and the Beast. Starring Harry Potter actress and renowned feminist/activist Emma Watson as Belle, the story details how the imprisoned beauty develops a friendship with the reviled beast within his foreboding castle.
This visually beautiful film is another one of the more faithful Disney remakes, told with a delicate charm and real passion for the source material. Magical in tone, the film did not fail to wow critics upon release and it has proved astoundingly successful commercially (grossing over a billion dollars worldwide). With this adaptation, Disney managed to honour a near-perfect movie with a rich painter’s aesthetic and solid performances, in what will certainly be a classic in years to come. For as we know, it’s a tale as old as time...
That's a Wrap!
There you have it, this writer’s top ten picks for Disney live action remakes. Of course, this ranking is only based on my own humble opinion, but with a little luck I’ve struck a few right chords with this rather difficult task. Are there any candidates that have been unfairly overlooked? Do you agree or disagree with this order? If so, then why not leave us a comment below and share your Disney themed insights with us.
Let the battle commence!