Congratulations! Your favorite Disney animated film from when you were a kid is probably getting remade, already has been or is being written on a developmental whiteboard somewhere deep in the House of Mouse.
Tim Burton’s 2010 revamp of “Alice in Wonderland” kicked off a spate of successful live-action reimaginings – or ones with realistic computer-generated critters – for many old-school Disney films. The latest is an updated “The Little Mermaid” with Halle Bailey as Ariel and new songs by Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and more are on the way: “Snow White” (March 22, 2024), starring Rachel Zegler; director Barry Jenkins’ “Mufasa: The Lion King” sequel (July 5, 2024); plus updated redos including “Moana,” “Lilo & Stitch” and “Hercules.”
In honor of “Mermaid,” here are all the Disney live-action remakes, prequels and sequels, definitively ranked from worst to best.
21. ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ (2016)
Without Tim Burton around for the mediocre fantasy follow-up, this is not a movie as much as it is a contest for Johnny Depp (as the Mad Hatter), Helena Bonham Carter (the unhinged Red Queen) and Sacha Baron Cohen (new antagonist Time) to see who gets the title for Most Eccentric Wonderlander. Spoiler alert: The audience is the one who loses.
20. ‘102 Dalmatians’ (2000)
Cruella de Vil (Glenn Close) cured of her fur-craziness? Riiiiight. This forgettable sequel has Close’s nutty villainess and not much else, with a story centering on ex-convict Cruella on the straight and narrow until the sounds of Big Ben send her and a French furrier (Gerard Depardieu) on a dog-napping spree to capture 102 Dalmatians for the greatest coat of them all.
19. ‘Christopher Robin’ (2018)
“Winnie the Pooh” regulars like Pooh, Eeyore and Tigger come alive in post-World War II England to help their old pal – and now a family man – Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) get his hopeful groove back. Chaos follows these stuffed animals when they hit civilization, and the movie rights itself into a fluffy, endearing affair after starting as a real downer.
18. ‘The Jungle Book’ (1994)
Back in the day, the family-friendly adventure hewed closer to the Rudyard Kipling source material than the 1967 cartoon, and that man cub Mowgli (Jason Scott Lee) grows up to be a Tarzan-like dude who runs into the recognizable characters (King Louie, Kaa, Baloo) but also gets into a love triangle with his childhood friend (Lena Headey) and her soldier fiancé (Cary Elwes).
17. ‘Pinocchio’ (2022)
Director Robert Zemeckis finds mixed results marrying broad comedy and pop-culture references with the title wooden boy’s adventurous quest to become a real kid. At least Tom Hanks embraces his signature “America’s Dad” vibe as kindly Italian woodcarver Geppetto and Cynthia Erivo sings a stellar “When You Wish Upon a Star” that dares you to stop the waterworks.
16. ‘101 Dalmatians’ (1996)
Cast as the classic Disney madwoman, Glenn Close shredding scenery like a cheap dog toy is again the obvious appeal here as fashion maven Cruella schemes to steal the Dalmatian pups of her employee (Joely Richardson) and her new video-game designing husband (Jeff Daniels). Come for all the doggie high jinks – thanks to a ton of animatronic animals and a John Hughes screenplay – and stay for Close getting dunked in a vat of molasses.
15. ‘Lady and the Tramp’ (2019)
Feeling like she doesn’t belong after her owners have a baby, purebred cocker spaniel Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson) goes on a sugary-sweet 1910s-set romantic adventure with street-smart mutt Tramp (Justin Theroux). The real dogs are ridiculously adorable, there’s of course a scene with a meatball and spaghetti noodle, and the results could be a lot worse for the Mickey Mouse equivalent of a Hallmark Christmas movie.
14. ‘The Jungle Book’ (2016)
A darker turn from the more humorous ’67 animated musical, Jon Favreau creates an immersive world of extraordinarily realistic animals and a wolf-raised human boy Mowgli (Neel Sethi). The cast is absurdly good – Bill Murray as the lazy bear Baloo, Lupita Nyong’o as Mowgli’s adopted canine mom Raksha – but the film lacks the emotional connection to match its dazzling effects.
13. ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ (2023)
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: London youngster Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) and her brothers are taken on a great Neverland adventure by Peter (Alexander Molony) and run afoul of Captain Hook (Jude Law). The family flick just doesn’t do anything that interesting or innovative with the familiar “Pan” narrative, though writer and director David Lowery’s penchant for cool fantasy landscapes lessens the disappointment.
12. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (2010)
Young Alice (Mia Wasikowska) runs away from stifling English society to an insane place that Tim Burton was born to realize, with playing-card soldiers and familiar faces (or eyes, as the case may be) of characters like the Cheshire Cat. Sure, the plot’s kind of a mess, but warrior Alice is an empowering turn while Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter’s big-headed Red Queen are splendidly strange.
11. ‘Aladdin’ (2019)
The high-profile redo isn’t exactly a whole new world, and Robin Williams’ genius Genie is still the best. That said, Will Smith channels his charismatic Big Willie Style days for a blue-skinned magic man who pops onscreen, but the true highlights are the youngsters: Mena Massoud is solid as the movie’s title street rat, while Naomi Scott really sings as an improved, more impassioned Princess Jasmine.
10. ‘The Little Mermaid’ (2023)
Played by the talented Bailey, young mermaid Ariel yearns to be on land, has the hots for Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) – who at least gets a character arc this time – and agrees to a bad deal with witchy Ursula (Melissa McCarthy). Even with Bailey singing her lovestruck heart out, Rob Marshall’s redo doesn’t make the same refreshing splash as the 1989 animated classic but gets points for trying with a more logical narrative.
9. ‘Dumbo’ (2019)
On paper, it’s a weird combo: director Tim Burton’s oddball dark quirkiness and an adorable flying elephant. The filmmaker takes the simplistic story of the 1941 cartoon, adds in a lot more human elements (including Colin Farrell as a World War I vet trying to reconnect with his children) and Burton’s signature aesthetic while keeping a childlike sense of wonder.
8. ‘The Lion King’ (2019)
While Jon Favreau’s update plays it too safe in terms of storytelling – if you’ve seen the 1994 “Lion King,” you’ve seen this one – it’s hard to argue with how awesome the thing looks. Cutting-edge visual effects create a world of talking photorealistic animals that might as well be a nature documentary, and attention is paid to livening up the humor, with Billy Eichner’s funny, overdramatic meerkat Timon showing up everybody, including Beyoncé.
7. ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’ (2009)
Guess who’s coming to dinner? When adopted daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) gets engaged, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is invited to meet the royal parents (and future in-laws), and a mom fight breaks out between the reformed villain in horns and one seriously evil queen (Michelle Pfeiffer). It’s a dark and dazzling sequel that digs into Maleficent’s magical origins and lets Jolie and Pfeiffer strut their A-list stuff.
6. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (2017)
Bill Condon’s big-budget musical take manages to improve on the 1991 original, the only non-Pixar animated film to nab an Oscar nomination for best picture. Centering on the unlikely romance between provincial girl Belle (Emma Watson) and her monstrous love interest (Dan Stevens), this “Beauty” casts a spell with new show tunes, fleshed-out side players and a visually impressive, surprisingly witty man-beast.
5. ‘Mulan’ (2020)
No cute dragons, no singing, no problem. Director Niki Caro’s version is a more serious affair than its predecessor but also more meaningful, with a talented all-Asian cast fueling an empowering, female-driven martial-arts extravaganza. Yifei Liu’s Mulan weighs dishonoring her family vs. saving her father (Tzi Ma) and defending the country from invaders, and the tale is an eye-popping fantasy adventure about embracing one’s self.
4. ‘Pete’s Dragon’ (2016)
Director David Lowery nixes the tunes of its trippy 1977 predecessor and leans hard into the kid-friendly story of a feral boy (Oakes Fegley) and his whimsical and furry dragon BFF who’s at risk of being found out in a Pacific Northwest small town. Robert Redford is the cool grandpa of the project but even he can’t outshine the fuzzy green CGI dragon when he takes flight.
3. ‘Maleficent’ (2014)
Played with venom and vigor by Angelina Jolie, the classic supervillainess gets the “Wicked” treatment in the “Sleeping Beauty” revisit. That infamous snoozing curse she puts on Aurora (Elle Fanning) is born from the bad romance and betrayal that befall the once-heroic, formerly winged title fairy, and “Maleficent” has some interesting things to say about true love and the unreliable nature of storytelling.
2. ‘Cinderella’ (2015)
Kenneth Branagh’s glass-slippered redo scales the pinnacle of what Disney can do with its remakes, mainly by pulling back from the over-the-top magic – though there is still plenty – and instead focuses like a laser on the dramatic trials and rousing triumphs of its central character. Top-notch casting is the cherry on top, with Lily James as the supremely likable Cinderella, Richard Madden as her down-to-earth prince, Cate Blanchett as the detestable stepmother with her own imperfect backstory, and Helena Bonham Carter as one lovably flighty fairy godmother.
1. ‘Cruella’ (2021)
Disney’s queen of mean rockets to the top of the charts – and not just because we’re worried about our pups. Stone is a sinful delight as orphaned Estella, who represses her darker side until troubling truths are revealed about her deliciously evil boss (Emma Thompson), and Cruella is born as Estella’s highly fashionable, vengeful true self who takes London culture and several posh galas by storm. Loud, brash and even a bit touching, “Cruella” chews up the rulebook for a reinvention that’s reverential as well as refreshing.
More on Disney’s new ‘Little Mermaid’:
Review:Halle Bailey keeps Disney’s live-action ‘Little Mermaid’ remake from being all wet
Halle Bailey:New ‘Little Mermaid’ star had to push herself ‘past what I thought I could ever do’
‘We almost lost it’:‘Little Mermaid’ composer remembers fight for ‘Part of Your World’
‘Traumatic’:Melissa McCarthy played ‘Little Mermaid’ villain Ursula without her wig