The Jungle Book hit theaters this month, the latest addition to Disney studios’ current love of live-action remakes. Since Maleficent in 2014 and Cinderella in 2015, Disney has announced a slew of new versions of all their animated classics. Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, The Sword in the Stone and many more will be coming to our screens in the next few years, delighting fans who fell in love with the originals as children, and who want a new kind of Disney magic as adults.
However, this love affair with live action is nothing new. While the trend toward remaking animated classics is a little more recent, Disney studios have been filming live-action adventures since the ’50s (the ‘40s if you include hybrid animation/live-action combos). In that time, Disney has taken us on musical adventures, flights of imagination, under the sea, into the jungle and throughout time. Now, at the brink of a new Disney live-action age, we take a look back at their best past offerings – a watch list for anyone wanting to recapture some of that childhood magic!
Here are the 13 Best Live-Action Disney Movies Of All Time.
The Rules: Films that include animation but are primarily live-action are included in this list. All films here were produced under the Disney banner – movies owned by Disney but released under a different studio banner (Marvel, Lucasfilm, Miramax, etc) are excluded. This is all Disney, all the way!
13. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Another re-make of an animated classic, Tim Burton took the helm for this trip down the rabbit hole in 2010. Who better to re-create a world where everything is brightly-colored but just a little bit… strange? Alice in Wonderland boasts a star-studded cast, including Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen), Anne Hathaway (White Queen) and Alan Rickman (Blue Caterpillar) among others, and creates a whole new Wonderland (sorry, Underland) to explore.
Visually stunning (what else can you expect from Burton?), the sets and costumes inspired audiences to add a little whimsy to their lives, while the storyline changed things up just enough to keep things interesting. A sequel, Alice Through The Looking Glass, comes to theaters next month.
12. Cinderella (2015)
Some live-action movies are completely new stories, others are new twists on old ones, but Cinderella kept it simple. This version of the oft-told tale stuck closely to the original animation, fleshing it out here and there, paring back on the talking mice, but essentially focusing on bringing the classic to life just as it was.
Instead of changing up the narrative, Disney simply made it the most beautiful version of Cinderella that they could. Worth watching for the costuming alone, this brightly-colored world brought that fairy tale feeling to the big screen beautifully. It doesn’t matter if we all know what will happen, if the audience is breathless with the sheer beauty and spectacle unfolding, and Lily James brings the ever-hopeful Cinders to life like no one else could.
11. Herbie The Love Bug (1968 – 2005)
Proving that Disney can anthropomorphize just about anything, Herbie the Love Bug is a series of films about a sentient Volkswagen beetle. A racecar that gets into all kinds of adventures, some are better than others – his initial outings as a zany car with kind and upstanding driver Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) are charming and lighthearted.
However, later films, which include Herbie’s origin story and an evil twin (“Herbie the Hate Bug”), or the most recent addition to the franchise (Herbie: Fully Loaded) where Lindsay Lohan buys the beloved car for the demolition derby leave a little to be desired. Still, the majority of the Herbie movies are racing fun for all the family.
10. Honey I Shrunk The Kids (1989)
For every kid who ever wondered what life would be like if you were really, really small, Disney came up with the answer in the form of the slapstick comedy Honey I Shrunk The Kids. When a crackpot inventor of a dad finally makes a shrink-ray that works (who wouldn’t want that?), he accidentally miniaturizes his kids! What follows is a zany adventure through the house and into the yard, desperately trying to avoid the pitfalls of life when you are under an inch tall.
The heart of Honey I Shrunk the Kids is in family – what Disney does best. The kids squabble, but they eventually do realize how much they love each other and have to work together to get back to their normal size. Bonus points for making audiences think an ant was adorable, and making kids everywhere dream of giant oatmeal cream pies…
9. Homeward Bound (1993)
Disney loves adorable animals, inspirational tales, and gorgeous American scenery, and Homeward Bound brings you all three in one. A remake of the 1963 film The Incredible Journey, it follows three wayward pets (a cat and two dogs) as they journey from a California ranch to San Francisco to find their family. As they trek through the Sierra Nevadas, they meet bears, porcupines, mountain lions and more.
As well as being an hour and a half of cute pets, daring adventure and stunning vistas, Homeward Bound taps into every kid’s fantasy: that our pets are essentially human, and that they love us more than anything. It’s a wholesome adventure that will have everyone cheering for Chance (Michael J Fox), Shadow (Don Ameche) and Sassy (Sally Field) from start to finish.
8. Enchanted (2007)
For anyone who believes that Disney doesn’t know how to poke fun at itself, we present: Enchanted. An animation/live-action hybrid, Enchanted begins like all the classic Disney Princess movies – with a stunning young girl, a handsome prince, and a wicked witch. This time, however, the witch’s curse ends up sending the delicate young girl to New York City, where she has to survive until her prince can rescue her.
Filled with catchy songs (and people who question the sanity of singing in public!), it’s a hilarious spoof of the traditional stories, with Patrick Dempsey’s Robert as the perfect cynic won over by love. The ultimate Disney Princess movie for grown ups who understand things like dating and divorce, but still want to believe in happily ever after.
7. The Princess Diaries (2001)
For many people, Disney is synonymous with the Cinderella story, so it’s not surprising that they’ve made a few different versions of it over the years! This one changes it up and brings Cinders into the modern world, as Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) becomes an unwilling heir to the throne of Genovia. Yes, it’s rags to riches, yes, she gets a makeover, and yes, there’s a ball, but this has a heart that goes past the simple princess clichés.
Mia is awkward, relatable, and struggles to deal with the news that she is a real-life princess. It’s fun, bright, and an enjoyable watch – even if it’s a bit of a predictable feel-good flick. It was so popular that it spawned a sequel in 2004, and there are now rumors of a third installment to come (with or without Anne Hathaway).
6. Old Yeller (1957)
One of Disney’s earlier live-action offerings, Old Yeller has been breaking families’ hearts for nearly sixty years. Set in the 1860s, a young boy becomes the man of the house while his father is away, and ends up adopting a big yellow dog who wanders in. The dog, the boy, and his family get into all kinds of back country adventures that teach Travis (Tommy Kirk) about growing up, but the story has a bittersweet ending.
A reminder to take the good with the bad, Old Yeller is as wholesome as any movie gets, and taught generations of kids about the joys and sorrows of pet ownership. Old Yeller’s final scenes remain remembered as one of the saddest in cinema, and it’s become a cinematic classic over the years.
5. Cool Runnings (1993)
If you are ever looking for a big dollop of inspiration, you need look no further than Cool Runnings. Based on the true story of the Jamaican Bobsled team during the 1988 Calgary Olympics, it is the ultimate underdog story. When an accident knocks three sprinters out of the running (pun intended) to represent Jamaica in the summer Olympics, they devise a plan to get into the winter games instead.
Their journey is full of setbacks, triumphs and humor, and they learn about never giving up – and never losing sight of who you really are. It’s a story that could have come across as schmaltzy or heavy in other hands, but Disney created real magic with a balance of emotion and hilarity. This wasn’t the only inspirational story to be culled from that year’s winter Olympics, either – more recently (2016), Matthew Vaughn told the other story that won hearts in 1988 with Eddie The Eagle.
4. Maleficent (2014)
The film that kicked off the live-action remake trend, Maleficent blew audiences away – in part because of just how stunning Angelina Jolie is as the evil fairy from Sleeping Beauty. Her version of Maleficent surpassed the original, and the costuming extended to the rest of the cast, and through to the stunning sets. Maleficent built a world of wonder, and we all drank it up.
Above and beyond the stunning visuals, though, audiences appreciated this new, villain-sympathetic, look at the tale. It turns the classic formula of good vs evil on its head, looking at the heartbreak and the motivation behind Maleficent’s seemingly unforgivable actions. It moved away from the Disney formula in another way, too. Rather than the boy-meets-girl stories of the past, this time, Disney looked at love from another angle – exploring a maternal love rather than a romantic one. We were spellbound.
3. Hocus Pocus (1993)
This Halloween classic was the Disney take on the ‘90s fascination with all things witch, with an extra lesson about feeling like the odd one out, and being yourself. When Max (Omri Katz) and his little sister move from California to Salem, they don’t quite appreciate the local town legends of the Sanderson sisters… until Max accidentally brings them back to life to suck the lives out of little children.
Not quite a musical, it’s still got a great soundtrack, and Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker steal the show as the witchy sisters themselves. This is the perfect movie for trick’or’treaters to watch before bed as it’s far more funny than scary. However, it’s become a cult classic for all ages thanks to its offbeat charm.
2. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003 – )
Johnny Depp first burst onto our screens as Captain Jack Sparrow in 2003, and now thirteen years later, fans still can’t get enough of him as the swashbuckling drunk. Originally based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, the films started out as a trilogy also starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann and Orlando Bloom as Will Turner.
Filled with swordfights, love stories, rum, parrots, pirate gold and nautical legends, the movies are an epic adventure with just enough humor to keep things light. After the original trilogy, the franchise moved on with Depp but without his co-stars for 2011’s On Stranger Tides, and a fifth installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales is due for release next year.
1. Mary Poppins (1964)
The world’s best nanny (and potential time lord, if you listen to the Whovians!) has been winning hearts with her magical child care since the ’60s. Her musical story of imagination and positive thinking has been parodied, referenced, and made into a Broadway musical. Often considered the crowning achievement of Walt Disney’s career, Mary Poppins was the only Disney film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture while Walt was still with us, and it won five more statuettes that year.
It’s a film that continues to appeal to everyone – Mary Poppins herself is somehow both wholesome and subversive, and her imaginative romps and catchy tunes will get everyone smiling and singing along. Sadly, author P. L. Travers was one of the few audience members not to be charmed by the film, and refused to let Disney adapt any more of her books after seeing it.
However, the studio still owns the rights to the original, and Mary Poppins is in line for the re-make treatment. The new version is set to star Emily Blunt as Mary herself, and is currently in development (although no release date has been set).
What other live action Disney films should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!
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