As both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars continue to create multi-release, multi-property meta-franchises for The Walt Disney Company to annually mine for box office dominance, the studio has decided that it needs a third cinematic pillar to set its entire filmmaking apparatus on: live-action adaptations of its many beloved animated classics.
On the one hand, the move makes a great deal of sense; 2010’s Alice in Wonderland served as a lucrative proof of concept, and Maleficent (2014) and Cinderella (2015) have only sealed the sub-genre deal. Now, everything from The Little Mermaid to Mulan to this weekend’s (excellent) Jungle Book are on the development table, being prepped for release from now until the end of the decade.
On the other hand, however, Disney may just have opened Pandora’s Box in this regard, reaching into its legendary vault and dredging up some particularly esoteric – or, perhaps, outright questionable – properties. As we started to take stock of it all, even we here at Screen Rant couldn’t believe what’s being prepped, which led us to compiling this list of 10 Live-Action Disney Adaptations You Didn’t Know Were Coming.
Yes, these are all real – for better or worse.
One of Disney’s biggest no-brainer adaptations is also, interestingly, one of the biggest unknowns at the moment.
Here’s what we do know. After being introduced to movie audiences all over the world in the 1953 animated classic Peter Pan, Tinker Bell has essentially gone on to become Disney’s unofficial mascot, taking a prominent position in its multimedia advertising and in its bevy of theme parks around the world. Oh, yeah – there’s also her slew of highly successful direct-to-video animated films, which started in 2008 and continue on to this day, and, now, the live-action big-screen adaptation, which will star (and be produced by) Reese Witherspoon.
But unlike most of the other entries in Disney’s burgeoning adaptation pile, Tink will also serve as part prequel as well as remake, presumably telling the story of how Tinker Bell would eventually meet up with Peter Pan, Wendy, and the rest of the Lost Boys. (The film could also draw upon the original source material, J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play and 1911 novel versions of Peter Pan, though something tells us Disney will skew more closely to its Disney Fairies franchising initiative.)
9. Prince Charming
After having successfully mined the various Disney Princesses into a multi-million dollar empire all of its own, the company is apparently now ready to do the same for the boys.
Prince Charming was a spec script (that is to say, a screenplay written on the speculation that someone, somewhere will eventually buy it once it’s done) written by Matt Fogel (Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son) that looks to the titular prince’s brother, a man who has been unable to live up to the family name, thanks to a distinct lack of manners and, well, charm. Disney purchased it last year and is in the process of turning it into a full-blown production to complement the rest of its ever-expanding live-action wares.
Much like Tink, nothing is known in the way of director or stars, but given the recent success that was last spring’s Cinderella, we fully expect this project to be given a great deal of resources and a giant publicity blitz; this could very well be the birth of the next great Disney franchise, extending for countless sequels and meet-‘n-greet opportunities in the theme parks.
Disney has, in its 1992 animated film Aladdin, one of its most critically acclaimed characters: Robin Williams’s Genie. The company also suddenly has an insatiable appetite for revisiting its older animated properties, and when these two facts collide, Genies is the result.
Much like Tink, this new film will serve as a prequel to the original cartoon, showing how the various Genies ended up being imprisoned in various magic lamps. Yes, that’s right – the company has yet to announce whether the protagonist in this spinoff will be the same as the late Williams’s legendary character, but the odds are better than good (after all, there’s always James Iglehart, the Broadway adaptation’s award-winning performer, to fill Williams’s shoes). This is especially true when considering the fact that Disney is already angling this to be a lead-in to the new live-action adaptation of Aladdin, which is expected to drop within the next few years.
Because Maleficent was so successful for The Walt Disney Company – and because the studio already has so many other similar projects in its production pipeline – the next villain to get the spinoff/prequel treatment is none other than Cruella de Vil, the antagonist from 1961’s 101 Dalmatians (who was originally introduced in the 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, just for completionism’s sake).
Emma Stone is currently in talks to portray the younger, perhaps-less-evil Cruella, and she already has some big-screen competition: Glenn Close played the character in the live-action renditions of the cartoon, 101 Dalmatians and 102 Dalmatians, which were released in 1996 and 2000, respectively (and whose existence could possibly explain why the Mouse House has no interest in adding a new live-action version of the original movie to its current docket – though, if all these other films are successful, one better believe it’ll only be a matter of time before a remake of the remakes gets added to the list). Kelly Marcel, the screenwriter behind the Fifty Shades of Grey film, is handling writing duties.
This is where we take a turn from live-action spinoffs, whether prequels or not, and start to enter the traditional territory of remakes.
Pinocchio, released in 1940 and inspired by the 1883 children’s book The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, was only Walt Disney’s second feature, and while it wasn’t considered a financial success at the time, it has since gone on to become one of the touchstones of not only the multi-national conglomerate, but also of the American cultural consciousness. The updated adaptation – which, no, also doesn’t yet boast a release date – will be scripted by Peter Hedges, who wrote What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and About a Boy, and is said to be loosely based on the classic animated film. (We’re going to go out on a limb here and predict that the sequence where Pinocchio gets drunk and smokes cigars with all the other little boys will be on the chopping block.)
5. Winnie the Pooh
Winnie the Pooh has been one of Disney’s most celebrated properties since it was first licensed in 1961 (leading to four theatrical films and countless television segments), and the studio is clearly hoping that that magic will jump the divide from animation to live action.
Alex Ross Perry, the writer and director behind the dark comedy Listen Up, Philip, has been hired to script the big-screen reboot, and Perry has said that his take on the story will – very much in the vein of Hook – focus on an adult Christopher Robin having to return to the Hundred Acre Wood and reconnect with all his stuffed-animal pals. And while there’s certainly the possibility of the writer turning to A.A. Milne’s original novels (Winnie-the-Pooh  and The House at Pooh Corner ) for more inspiration, he’s already stated that he’s been greatly inspired by more recent fare, such as the relationship between the protagonist and his android teddy bear in Steven Speilberg’s A.I..
This is easily one of the more surreal entries on this list.
First, there’s the involvement of ethereal director Tim Burton, who has already helped to make an earlier Disney live-action adaptation a huge success – Alice in Wonderland, which grossed $1 billion six years ago – but whose strongly idiosyncratic style tends to dominate whatever property he’s attached to, including, even, Batman.
Then there’s the writer side of the filmmaking talent: Ehren Kruger, who is best known for being Transformers’s “franchise writer” – a not-entirely comforting credit on his resume (even though both properties will have a heaping helping of CG in order to realize their non-human characters).
Lastly, there’s the little fact that the original Dumbo from 1941 is only 64 minutes long, so brand-new material needs to be inserted to bump it up to a now-standard 90-minute run time. We’re already hearing that it’ll include a “unique family story” that will parallel Dumbo’s own journey from orphaned circus elephant to flying wonder.
3. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers
Chip ‘n Dale, who – like many of Disney’s other hallowed cartoon creations – were first introduced in the 1940s, went on to star in countless theatrical shorts before being given their very own television series, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, in 1989. The show pitted the two mischievous chipmunks as the founders of a detective agency that, together with some brand-new friends, would solve crimes perpetrated upon their animal brethren.
This quintessential bit of 1980s children’s programming – which was actually created to help round out a full complement of TV series once DuckTales proved to be so successful just the year before – is now the fodder for a theatrical do-over. The project results from a pitch by Robert Rugan, a director of television commercials, which Disney liked enough to assign to the producers of its Muppets franchise – no small vote of confidence.
The new Rescue Rangers has been compared to a slate of other CG-recreations-of-classic-cartoons projects at rival studios: Smurfs at Sony and Garfield and Alvin and the Chipmunks at Fox. Make of that what you will.
2. The Sword in the Stone
Bryan Cogman, a television writer and producer who got his start on Game of Thrones (he’s actually only one of two members of the writing staff beyond showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss), is currently in the midst of adapting the 1963 animated film The Sword in the Stone for another as-yet-unspecified release.
Stone, like nearly every other cartoon classic from Disney’s history, possesses several distinctions that make it historically noteworthy. The source material is T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, a novel which ultimately evolved to become part of the bigger, meta-book The Once and Future King. It was the last Disney movie to be completed before Walt’s death, which occurred just two weeks before its release. And it’s one of the precious few classics contained in the Disney vault that have never seen any type of continuation, whether it be a direct-to-video or theatrical release.
The upcoming update will be produced by Brigham Taylor, who served as a production executive on all five Pirates of the Caribbean installments and who also produced this weekend’s Jungle Book.
1. Night on Bald Mountain (Fantasia)
The 1940 classic Fantasia introduced eight different classic musical compositions to a whole new, and much wider, audience; now, Disney wants to take one of those more visually striking segments and make an entire film out of it alone.
Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, the writing duo behind Dracula Untold, The Last Witch Hunter, and Gods of Egypt, will handle both writing and producing duties. The story is said to take the Maleficent approach to Chernobog, the Satan-esque deity that ravages a country village in Fantasia (he actually summons various supernatural minions to do his dirty work on Walpurgis Night, better known as the Witches’ Sabbath), presumably showing just how misunderstood the terrifying god of darkness really is.
Night on Bald Mountain is actually – and easily – the biggest risk on Disney’s never-ending list of live-action updates, given its subject matter and potentially unique voice. Then again, this is modern Disney, a studio which has perfected the formulaic requirements of mass-market meta-franchises, and should Maleficent truly prove to be the working model here, audiences might end up with nothing short of a carbon copy.
Do you think Disney is going too far with all of these live-action adaptations? Is there an even more obscure property you think would be a better fit for the company’s modern-day requirements? Let us know in the comments.