6 Disney Animated Films that Would Work as Live-Action Movies

Published 11 months ago by , Updated June 4th, 2014 at 10:10 am,

Angelina Jolie in Maleficent1 6 Disney Animated Films that Would Work as Live Action Movies

Over the course of nearly a century, the animated films created by Disney Studios have become instantly recognizable components of our cultural backbone. Many of these movies have become more than just iconic – indeed, they have often become the definitive, modern versions of the stories and folktales they set out to adapt.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that Disney has given 1959′s Sleeping Beauty a new adaptation of its own, re-imagining the story as the live-action Maleficent. Whether one reads the film as a passion project for Angelina Jolie or as Disney’s attempt to cash in on the current interest in fantasy/costume epics, it’s an undeniably fascinating attempt to reshape a familiar IP for a 21st-century box office.

If Maleficent is successful, it could open the door to yet more new versions of older Disney stories. As such, Screen Rant has compiled a list of 6 more Disney animated feature films that could work well as live-action adaptations or reboots.

1. The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Disney The Sword in the Stone Merlin and Wart 570x298 6 Disney Animated Films that Would Work as Live Action Movies

Viewed without the rosy spectacles of childhood, The Sword in the Stone is a notably odd entry in Disney’s canon. One part earnest historical drama and another part goofy episodic comedy, The Sword in the Stone has a rambling narrative that belies its mythic underpinnings.

Nonetheless, The Sword in the Stone remains a fairly iconic piece of Disneyana. Its preponderance of quirky characters, interesting set-pieces, and wall-to-wall magic could make it a prime candidate for a modern, effects-heavy reimagining.

Given that the story of King Arthur has already been adapted into almost countless action/adventure and drama films, retaining the comedic edge of The Sword in the Stone is probably imperative. A smart adaptation could update the original’s focus and comedic cadence for a contemporary audience. It doesn’t need to be a shock-humor flick that rolls its eyes at its source material (see: Your Highness); recent family flicks such as The LEGO Movie prove that one can create a multi-generational comedy that truly caters to the entirety of its audience.

Then again, we may simply be channeling our deep, nerd-intrinsic love of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

2. The Black Cauldron (1985)

Disney The Black Cauldron Gathered Heroes 6 Disney Animated Films that Would Work as Live Action Movies

The Black Cauldron had a famously expensive and troubled production, and its abject failure at the box office led to extensive restructuring of Disney’s feature animation department. It’s actually not a terrible movie; though noticeably truncated, The Black Cauldron provides a thrilling fantasy adventure quite different from anything Disney had released up to that point.

Much like The Sword in the Stone, The Black Cauldron is a strong candidate for another adaptive pass. As in the previous case, there is plenty to already pull a script from – specifically, the “Chronicles of Prydain” novels written by Lloyd Alexander.

Surely Disney still holds the film rights to The Black Cauldron‘s source material. With five novels and several short stories’ worth of narrative to draw upon, an updated movie (or movies, given the current predilection for franchises) could be both richer and more faithful to its origins. Disney executives (and Lloyd Alexander himself) were said to be disappointed with how The Black Cauldron handled the “Prydain” books. Perhaps the company can get it right outside of its animated comfort zone.

3. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Disney Atlantis The Lost Empire Overlook 6 Disney Animated Films that Would Work as Live Action Movies

On paper, Atlantis: The Lost Empire sounds like one of the most ambitious productions in modern animation – much less something from the Disney stable. It’s a quasi-steampunk, two-fisted adventure with more in common with Indiana Jones than the typical Disney flick. It even sports character and environment designs by Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy and veritable impresario of latter-day pulp illustration.

And yet, the movie itself doesn’t quite work. Atlantis is a movie filled top to bottom with barely missed opportunities.

Bluntly put, the script ideas, design, and overall aesthetic of Atlantis would probably play better as a live-action blockbuster than a traditional Disney animated feature. While a stone-faced, self-serious adaptation of the film would probably work out poorly, the elimination of some of Disney animated films’ trademarks (wacky humor, one-joke characters) could help alleviate the original movie’s tonal issues. Of course, the slapdash plotting and characterization would have to be ironed out beforehand as well – even the transfer to live action wouldn’t be able to clean those up automatically.

4. Mulan (1998)

Disney Mulan Soldiers 6 Disney Animated Films that Would Work as Live Action Movies

Much of the charm of Disney’s animated oeuvre is its ability to take archetypal old tales and translate them skillfully for contemporary viewers. For instance, the story of a woman who disguises herself as a man to fight for her family is as old as war – and in the case of Mulan, is also one of China’s most beloved folktales.

Other than some jokes that fall flat, there’s not much wrong with Disney’s Mulan. That said, imagine a version of the story in the grand tradition of Chinese martial arts cinema – whether as a kung fu flick or with wuxia (wire-fu) swordplay.

Additionally, an updated version of Mulan could tackle aspects of the legend untouched by the animated film. For instance, in the original telling, Hua Mulan stayed in the Imperial Army for many years and eventually became an esteemed general.

NOTE: Admittedly, a live-action version of the legend of Mulan has already been made. The Chinese production, titled Mulan: Rise of a Warrior in the West, starred Wei Zhao (Kung Fu Soccer) and was released in 2009. Fortunately for our speculative purposes, the film was not terribly well received. If Disney sees a future in re-adapting its own material, it would be fascinating to see how they might take a crack at it.

5. The Reluctant Dragon (1941)

Disney The Reluctant Dragon Tea With A Knight 6 Disney Animated Films that Would Work as Live Action Movies

If we can reasonably classify The Sword in the Stone as “odd,” The Reluctant Dragon is straight-up bizarre. Initially framed as a “filmed tour” of the Disney animation offices, the movie features live footage of comedian Robert Benchley (playing himself) as he pratfalls through the company. The movie centers on the titular cartoon segment, a 40-minute-long short that follows a dragon more interested in reciting poetry than he is in fighting knights-errant.

Though the kind of compilation film The Reluctant Dragon epitomizes is as alien to modern viewers as Vaudeville, the actual animated segment shows much promise as the centerpiece of a larger, comedic feature. The short film-within-a-film is light and sleepily paced, but is also weirdly charming.

Changing the tone of The Reluctant Dragon would probably be poisonous to that aforementioned charm. Just as with The Sword in the Stone, it might have the makings of a “big-budget comedy” that combines both quirky humor and CGI-aided visual gags.

6. Aladdin (1992)

Disney Aladdin Genie Does Jack Nicholson 6 Disney Animated Films that Would Work as Live Action Movies

For many Millenials, Aladdin represented the apex of Disney’s animation empire; perhaps only The Lion King is as unabashedly adored by those that came of age in the 1990s. Aladdin remains a slick, exciting adventure-comedy whose visuals are undeniably some of the best to come out of the House of Mouse.

That said, Aladdin is also starting to show its age. Though the film is barely old enough to buy a drink, its gags (especially those thrown out by Robin Williams’ manic Genie) are fairly dusty at this point. Additionally, the movie contains elements that edge uncomfortably close to racist caricature (a charge Aladdin had to deal with upon its release).

At the same time, Aladdin is a rather broad – and one might say “homogenized” – adaptation. The original tale (from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights) is set in China, and involves multiple genies, multiple sorcerers, and a magic ring to complement the magic lamp.

This rich source material could be mined for a more faithful – or at the very least, differently imagined – live-action adventure. Heck, one could throw in further elements from the stories surrounding “The Wondrous Lamp” for a full-on epic based on one of the planet’s greatest repositories of folklore. In an increasingly multicultural world where movie profits pull heavily from an international box office, this kind of adaptation could be the future of Disney filmmaking.


Disney Alice in Wonderland Tea Party 6 Disney Animated Films that Would Work as Live Action Movies

Of course, Maleficent is far from the first live-action adaptation of a cartoon from Disney’s vaults. So far, these have been little-loved by critics or audiences. The Jungle Book saw a somewhat head-scratching live version in 1994; similarly, 2010′s Alice in Wonderland was greeted by boredom and general fatigue with Johnny Depp’s “quirky accents and weird costumes” period (though this didn’t stop it from bringing home a tidy profit).

Maleficent will also not be the last of Disney’s planned live-action adaptations of its own material. Cinderella will soon get a similar treatment via director Kenneth Branagh (Thor) – though it’s up in the air whether it will receive a similarly “fractured” retelling as Maleficent. The Jungle Book will once again get a live version soon, directed by John Favreau (Iron Man).

After all this speculation, we do have to ask: Is Disney raiding its own vaults like this actually a good thing? With Maleficent currently drawing mixed – though rarely vitriolic – reviews, one wonders if any of these animation-to-live-action adaptations will ever match the quality of their source material. So far, it’s been a bust.

That said, it’s clear that Disney has an immense amount of IP to work with within their animated archives. Who’s to say what could be spun from all the ink, paper, and animation cells that make up the company’s illustrious history?


Maleficent casts its spell on theaters today, May 30th, 2014.

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  1. I loved Atlantis as a kid. Would love to see that done.

    Also love Mulan, so would like that one to.

    • I recently watched Atlantis again, and even if it barely missed some opportunities to be better, it is still easily one of the most beautifully conceived, fantastic-looking and–for me–enjoyable things that Disney has ever done. Insanely underrated, IMHO.

    • I was just discussing with a few people about Disney making more animated live action films. I know they have announced a live action film of cinderella, beauty and the beast, jungle book and puff the magic dragon. I would really like to see a live action Black Cauldron movie considering the original was a box office failure and one of the first PG rated Disney films. A Sword in the stone movie would be interesting as well if they changed a few elements to make it more appealing to an older audience like Maleficent. I would like to see the Black Cauldron redeem it’s past mistakes and i feel that the storyline is a strong script if they revamp a few things. I’m actually really excited for the Disney movie, Into the woods. I know they had some minor setbacks because of the script being to mature but I’m really glad Disney is still keeping up musicals and live actions up to date. The last good movie I’ve seen live action from Disney that was a musical would probably be Marry Poppins and that did financially well earning and being nominated for multiple academy awards.

  2. I haven’t seen #5 but the rest would definitely be cool. Aladdin & Mulan are definites for me. Too bad we don’t really have a Robin Williams type for this generation, and I doubt he’s recast (although I would love that).

  3. These live-action-renditions are fun but how about an original live-action story from Disney? I know business is business but Disney is making big $ off of these stories that have already been told. Come on Disney I know you can tell an original story!

    • When has Disney ever told an original story?

      • Enchanted was an original story

      • Disney make movies of the storys we all know and grow up with. Dah

  4. Well, they’ve already been happily plundering and fracturing their past movies with Once Upon A Time.

  5. My favorite realization of the animation-to-live action idea is Enchanted, which I consider to be very nearly drop-dead perfect. I do think that The Sword In The Stone could be good, although there are plenty of Arthurian films, including some on the horizon. As I mentioned above, I straight-up love Atlantis, with its Indiana Jones/Jules Verne style and gorgeous design work.

    I seem to recall reading something about Aladdin being held on somewhat shaky ground from a racial standpoint, which I assume is why for all of the cultural saturation and adoration that it received at the time, its reputation at this point is surprisingly low-key. You rarely hear Aladdin name-dropped alongside The Lion King, Beauty & The Beast and The Little Mermaid, even though it was in that class.

    The one Disney animated film that I would really like to see given a do-over, perhaps in live action, is Treasure Planet. I like it a lot, but it really has some shortcomings. The potential is there, though, for something utterly fantastic if done right.

    • Treasure Planet, Atlantis and even Mulan would make for some fantastic looking movies.

  6. You will NEVER see Disney go back to Black Cauldron. It is the bane of their existence, and will never been seen in a positive light by anyone at the company. I mean, it crippled their animation department and nearly made them go under. So…no, Black Cauldron will not happen, at least not on Disney’s watch.

    • I agree that Black Cauldron probably would never be made into live action. What do you mean “at least not on Disney’s watch”? There is no Disney at Disney anymore. They’re even taking the Walt out of Walt Disney.

  7. I want “The Sword in the Stone” to be made :) Huge Arthos fan and piece is a classic.

  8. Maleficent, is a sub-par film at best. Any of these films would be retconned just as the Disney knobs did with Sleeping Beauty,101, Alice, and Oz.

    Also, The Reluctant Dragon Robert Benchley, released in June 27, 1941 was a ploy to regain some credibility after the studio’s labor relations fall out over the course of 40-41. Thus the lack of animation. So that would be a gem of a retcon.

    Anyway, the live action films are uniformly anhedonic pablum. There I said it, and I’m a superfan of all things WDC. Leave the past in the past and create new content.

  9. Aladdin should have been the first choice

    • I don’t think they were supposed to be in any particular order.

  10. Hunchback of Notre Dame

    disney produced a fairly successful stage adaptation in Berlin. They have been reluctant (supposedly) due to the changed ending. Quasimodo is too late and Esmeralda dies at the end, as she dies in the book. In Europe this is seen as the more romantic and emotional ending, American audiences might object. Either way, they have the makings of a great live action musical.

    Think in the style of “Les Miserables” (also originally by Victor Hugo) a large dramatic period musical. With just enough whimsy to keep any age entertained. It has new music and character development. I’d prefer the European ending, but change it if they want. I wanna see this live action movie out of Disney

  11. The Black Cauldron does need a redo, but it needs to keep as true as possible to the source material. Don’t give us one movie that tries to cram in parts of all 5 books. Give us 5 movies, one for each book. The story is a good one and can do well on screen if they don’t screw it up again.

    • This x a million! I love the Chronicles of Prydain! They are my favorite fantasy series!

  12. How is Gargoyles not on the list? That is the number one movie Disney should bring out. Get Guillermo del Toro to do this film series. It could be Disney’s Lord of the Rings like film series.

    • Agreed. get Keith David back to do Goliath.

  13. Atlantis, Mulan, and Aladdin would be amazing as real-life movies if done right. It also helps that they are among my favourite Disney animated movies. But where is Treasure Planet! That film is amazing and a real-life adaption could be awesome!

  14. Would definitely be up for live-action Sword and The Stone, and The Black Cauldron.
    Atlantis maybe, but both now and as a kid there was always something that just didn’t “grab” me about Atlantis.

  15. Considering that it would require CGI animation to make these “live action” films work at all clearly shows how superior animation is. No need to “liven” these entries.

  16. I was expecting a modernized Pete’s Dragon on this list… I think it could work too.

  17. I would love to see a Black Cauldron movie. It’s such an under rated movie!

  18. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast would be wonderful as a live action film. Especially if they handle the curse the same way they did in the Broadway show. In that, they treated the curse as if it were a cancer- spreading through their body, and if the spell isn’t broken before the last petal fell on the rose, it would take over their body and they would die. It easily explains why the enchanted objects are the same size as humans.

    • I saw the Beauty and the Beast Broadway show and don’t remember the curse being a cancer like condition nor do I recall them explaining why the enchanted objects were as big as humans. Where did you get that from?

  19. I would to see Disney turn all of their old and dumb animated movies into live-action blockbusters, but Screen Rant should’ve listed THE ARISTOCATS and HERCULES on here! They would make great live-action remakes even though we already have two live-action movies about Hercules this year, yet the Disney version of the son of Zeus is the only 2-D animated Disney movie for me to care about!!!!

  20. Why there is no mention of POCAHONTAS that was a wonderfully made animation from Disney, I love to see a live version of it in full blown splendor…

  21. Maleficient was a disgust and absolute disgrace to the 1959 classic haled as one of the best animated films of all time. It would seem that under the current management has dried up all the creative blood.
    I loved those ‘old and dumb animated films’ as one user so crudely put in and who does not give these iconic, wonderful classics the huge credit they deserve and are given rightly so by many millions. They contained an indefinable magic and were so heartwarming and endearing. Their characters were an inspiration and taught me, among the many others to never give up on our dreams and look for that silver lining, to never admit defeat.
    These charming and magical animated films have withstood the test of time and are remembered dearly by all starry eyed kids old and young.
    Why must we mock and tarnish the memory of such classics by basing life-action blockbusters for them? Maleficient ruined my Sleeping Beauty Experience. Beauty & The Beast is another classic of a different golden era of animation and its life-action sequel will never reach its standards. Which by the way will be directed by the guy who directed the two Breaking Dawns. Cinderella is coming up in 2015 and the Jungle Book has just been green-lighted despite one already having been made in 1994
    Please leave these iconic, immortalized classics alone. These projects which were one of Walt’s great loves and which he and his staff poured heart, soul and unbelievable artistry deserve to have their achievements respected and left alone. If anything, Disney should be focusing on its animation, something the studio was a pioneer in and practically a monopolizer of with an unprecedented reputation and which were held very dearly in the hearts of generations of children.

    • I love most of the Disney animated features. If they want to make a live action version of them, that doesn’t ruin anything. It doesn’t take anything away from the animated features. I already know that they won’t be better than the originals. The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast Broadway shows weren’t better. Although The Lion King was innovative. Alice in Wonderland wasn’t better. I haven’t seen Maleficent yet, but I know it won’t be better than Sleeping Beauty. The latest Disney animated feature won Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards, so I think they’re focusing on animation.

    • I would like to see Disney turn all of their animated features into CGI versions like Tangled and Frozen starting with Snow White. They wouldn’t change anything about them. Just make them 3 dimensional. I think they would all be a hit. They have a long list too.

  22. Mulan already has a Chinese-made live action movie: “Hua Mulan” from 2009, starring Wei Zhao of Red Cliff, Shaolin Soccer & 14 Blades fame. It’s pretty damn good, with great production value and is well acted. Don’t think we need ANOTHER one.

    And anyway, Disney’s Mulan is already stepping on some cultural shoes and is less than respectful when you really look at the story and what it means to the Chinese. At least in animation, it can be taken as not-such-a-serious-thing. Besides, there’s a warmth in Disney animation (especially in that) which probably wouldn’t translate well on screen.

  23. There is a Live action Version Of Sword in the Stone…Excaliber!!!

  24. The Black Cauldron is the only one I’d like to see redone.

  25. I think Disney could have a great success with the idea of recreating live action films. Although I also think that they could pick better movies to recreate that would generate better sales.

  26. Not on the list… Live-action adaptation of Beauty & The Beast would look very good, and is said to be in the works. The Little Mermaid, and I’m hearing that a live-action adaptation of this 1989 classic is in the works. I’m also hearing that a live-action Dumbo is also in the works. Not sure if The Rescuers, Oliver & Company, Treasure Planet, The Incredibles, and Lady & The Tramp would make for good live-action movies. Tangled and Frozen would be good, but probably too soon to receive live-action treatment. Pocahontas and The Aristocats would be good too.

    On the list… Like the idea of Mulan getting live-action adaptation. I’m undecided on Atlantis: The Lost Empire, The Sword & The Stone, and the Aladdin. Cinderella may be okay.

    Movies that have seen live-action adaptations… Pinocchio (a couple different versions), Peter Pan (although not by Disney), 101 Dalmatians (and sequel 102 Dalmatians), Alice In Wonderland, Snow White, and The Jungle Book. Another Jungle Book adaptation, and Sleeping Beauty adaptation are already in the works.