With the continuous trend of movie studios rebooting popular classics to ensure financial success, Disney is among those with no signs of stopping. After the successful live-action reboot of The Jungle Book earlier this year, which grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide, Disney announced a slew of additional classics from their animated library set to get the live-action treatment within the next few years. For better or worse, beloved animated films like Aladdin, Mulan, and The Lion King will soon be hitting the big screen in a whole new format.
Despite the continued success of remakes in Hollywood, many fans and professionals in the film industry have taken to social media to express their frustrations about the lack of original content coming from Disney. Thor writer Zack Stentz, for instance, wrote a series of tweets earlier this month, commenting on Disney’s reboot announcements. “Favreau’s Jungle Book & Branagh’s Cinderella were cool, but at what point do audiences get tired of Disney remaking their animated catalog?” Stentz mused.
Nevertheless, if they’re going to go ahead with remaking a huge chunk of their catalog, they should at least take into consideration what their fans and critics are saying. Why not focus on the films that could actually benefit the most from a reimagining rather than just rehashing the same few popular titles? We’ve compiled a list of our picks for a few underrated Disney animated films that actually need a live-action reboot. Read on to see if your favorite made the cut.
15. Robin Hood
Although there have been other live-action adaptations of Robin Hood that have debuted to varying levels of success, there has never been a reboot of the light-hearted Disney classic. The closest existing version would probably be Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights, although it’s much more risque by Disney standards. Disney’s version, however, has anthropomorphic animals playing the roles, which when translated to live-action may mean combining CGI with actors in prosthetics. They could, of course, forget about having animal characters and instead get back to basics with an all-human cast. After all, Robin Hood was actually a combination of ideas from the story of Reynard the Fox, which was scrapped in its original form.
Ultimately, though, since Robin Hood was the “Prince of Thieves,” Disney felt that making him and his band of Merry Men animals distanced the viewer from the moral conflict of supporting a thief. It would definitely be interesting to revisit that concept now, over forty years later, especially considering the state of the world as it is.
A new Robin Hood origin-style film has been in development for some time now — with names like Jamie Dornan, Justin Lin, and Jamie Foxx attached — but we can’t help but think that a more family-friendly reimagining would be the way to go here.
14. The Prince and the Pauper
Based on the Mark Twain classic of the same name, The Prince and the Pauper told the story of a prince and pauper who traded places due to their striking resemblance to one another. Although the characters were played by Mickey Mouse and his ensemble in the Disney version, it would probably make more sense to have humans in a live-action reboot. Mickey just doesn’t translate well to live-action; the story does, though. It’s an excellent social commentary about class, political corruption, and justice—themes we can all relate to in the present political climate.
Since the original film only had one female character, it could be fun to see this as a gender-flipped movie; “The Princess and the Peasant,” or something along those lines. Disney has been all about creating strong female characters as role models for their old and new audiences, and this would present another worthwhile opportunity to do just that. They’d have to stick to the original source material, though, and set it in medieval times; otherwise, it might resemble The Parent Trap too closely, and lord knows we don’t want that.
13. Meet the Robinsons
A highly underrated Disney animated feature, Meet the Robinsons could benefit from a live-action reboot, becoming a modern day Back to the Future. Although it made considerably less than some of its other Disney counterparts released in the years since then, it remains a favorite among those that have seen it due to the originality of the story and characters. In it, Lewis, a twelve-year-old orphan meets a mysterious kid named Wilbur Robinson. Together, they defeat the aptly named Bowler Hat Guy, the main antagonist of the film.
Meet the Robinsons has the inspirational, future-centric quality that Tomorrowland should have had, but didn’t. It encourages the audience to focus on moving forward rather than exploring the what-ifs of the past, since the future is where creativity and potential lives. While there have been loads of sci-fi animated features in the past ten years or so, live-action contributions to the family-friendly version of the genre have been severely lacking. Considering the huge budgets for films of that nature, Disney would have to throw everything they had into making Meet the Robinsons work as a live-action time travel adventure, but we think it’d be worth it.
12. The Rescuers
Considering it was the first Disney animated film to get a sequel, The Rescuers is a strong contender for a live-action reboot. The film was the highest grossing for Disney up to til then and spawned a series of hits due to the combination of the “Nine Old Men” animators and their newly hired proteges. Nevertheless, The Rescuers is often overlooked or forgotten as a Disney feature, since it’s not a princess film and has a relatively dark storyline.
However, Bernard and Bianca would definitely still benefit from a live-action reimagining. Disney could take inspiration from Babe or Charlotte’s Web and use trained animals with human voiceover. They might have a difficult time with Orville the albatross, though, since many species are endangered or threatened.
In particular, the scene in the pirate’s cave where Penny finds The Devil’s Eye could be spectacular if reimagined in the real world. Madame Medusa is also a fabulously underappreciated villain, one who could attract some major star talent to the project. Emma Thompson or Meryl Streep, anyone?
11. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Disney’s first foray into animated science fiction, Atlantis: The Lost Empire doesn’t get a lot of love, surprisingly enough. Likely due to a combination of its animated style, content, and lack 0f songs, the film didn’t do particularly well despite Disney’s expectations for it. Regardless, the film has become a cult classic of sorts due to the incredibly talented voice cast (It has Leonard Nimoy for crying out loud!) and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola’s visionary concept art.
A live-action imagining has the potential to make for an incredibly breathtaking adventure, as Milo and his crew explore the lost city of Atlantis. We’ve seen what Mignola’s art can look like in real life, especially when put in the hands of a capable director like Guillermo del Toro on Hellboy. Disney going all out and bringing on del Toro to helm the project would be a long shot to say the least, despite his involvement with fairy-tale projects and production experience in animation. At the very least, we’d settle for Mignola returning as production designer to ensure the world he created translates over effectively.
10. The Great Mouse Detective
Like The Rescuers, The Great Mouse Detective hasn’t seen the kind of love or popularity other classic Disney films have enjoed. While The Great Mouse Detective was considered a success by 1980’s standards, it was only just at the start of Disney’s upcoming Renaissance, as they were struggling to find their footing among a declining interest in animation at the time. Since there has been a renewed interest in the character and stories of Sherlock Holmes recently, Disney could undoubtedly cash in with a kid-friendly, live-action version of their detective caper.
Seeing as The Great Mouse Detective is an animal-centric Disney film, a live-action adaptation would probably work best as a CGI/prosthetics-heavy hybid, not unlike Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland films. Production costs could skyrocket as a result, but the steampunk aspects of the film would likely find a welcoming audience, especially if Disney could get Colleen Atwood (Alice in Wonderland, Into the Woods) to design the costumes and Dante Ferretti (Sweeney Todd, Hugo) as production designer.
9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Disney’s version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of those films you either love or hate. Despite how you may feel about Quasimoto’s fate or the dark, religious aspects of the plot, there’s no denying Alan Menken’s musical genius. “The Bells of Notre Dame” and “God Help the Outcasts” are some of the most moving Disney songs ever penned. Pair those tunes with one of Victor Hugo’s famously tragic stories, and a live-action version would have audiences crying with the passion of Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables.
The subject matter may be a little touchy in today’s ultra-politically-correct landscape, but not if Quasimoto is played by an actual sufferer of kyphosis (not an easy task, we know) and has darker skin — since he is in fact supposed to be of Romani descent, like Esmeralda. Most of the Romani characters shown in The Hunchback of Notre Dame are racial caricatures, so they’d better get some racially-fitting actors up in there if they don’t want another online petition making headlines.
8. Treasure Planet
Essentially Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island story set in space, Treasure Planet follows teenage adventurer Jim Hawkins on a journey to find the legendary treasure of space pirate, Captain Flint. While the film generated mixed reviews, overall, it was a box office bomb. Why then, would Disney ever reboot such a film, you might be wondering? Treasure Island was indisputably ahead of its time when it was released in 2002. It brought full-on steampunk to the masses before they were even aware there was a name for the genre. By effectively mixing the old with the new, it captured the spirit of a new frontier that’s relevant to both pirates and space travelers.
There’s more interest in sci-fi films now than ever before, as movie-making technology continues to advance. Children should have access to sci-fi the way they have access to technology, with relatable role models that might inspire them to travel or have a career in the sciences. Having a live-action Treasure Planet could make that a reality for kids while introducing them to a modern way of relating to classic literature. Pirate ships are cool, but the additional layer of fantasy with pirate ships in space makes the story even more intriguing for young viewers.
7. The Black Cauldron
If any Disney film could use a fully reworked live-action reboot, it’s The Black Cauldron. So much of the material was mishandled in the original; the result of constant delays, changing hands, and an over-inflated budget. Writer Lloyd Alexander, even stated that “there is no resemblance between the movie and the book.” The mid-80s wasn’t exactly a high point for animated film, and Disney’s animation department was nearly shut down after The Black Cauldron flopped and former executives from Paramount and Warner Bros. took over.
Seeing as The Black Cauldron novel received a Newbery Medal in 1966, the source material is obviously worthy of adaptation. If Disney could stay true to the books in The Chronicles of Prydain series, they might even be able to secure a full trilogy out of it. Some elements of the classic could be modified for modern audiences, of course, like changing Taran’s job from assistant pig-keeper to something a little less archaic. Making the Horned King and Cauldron Born scenes scarier and more prominent would also attract modern audiences who like a little darkness with their fantasy.
Oh, Pocahontas. ’90s kids the world over loved this film. The titular heroine is a gorgeous Native American warrior-princess with a cute and cuddly raccoon friend named Meeko. “Colors of the Wind” and “Just Around the Riverbend” are classics that still stand the test of time. Even though it was a commercial success, the story and characters were somewhat lacking; never mind the immense historical inaccuracies, which we won’t dive into here.
If Pocahontas is to be remade into a live-action film, and it should be, the story and characters could stand to be reworked so that it’s no longer a “fictionalized account” of historical events and people. Pocahontas would have to be played by a woman of color; hopefully, someone with Native American ancestry. But let’s not even get into the weird love triangle between Pocahontas, John Smith, and John Rolfe (her actual husband), which Disney felt was necessary in the straight-to-video sequel. Since Pocahontas is still a love story at its core, why not show her falling in love with her future husband instead of someone she was never romantically linked to? Disney’s always going to be Disney, so they might stick to the story people know when all is said and done, but a slightly more faithful live-action adaptation of the character’s already-fascinating real-life tale could improve the film in the long run.
5. Lilo & Stitch
Lilo & Stitch marked a pivotal point in Disney animation, and some would say was the precursor to both Frozen and Moana. The film was relatively popular upon release, and its reach only widened upon the release of its sequels, TV shows, and Japanese anime. Lilo & Stitch was the first animated feature to take place in Hawaii, which colored much of the plot and characters in the film. The Hawaiian term for family (blood or otherwise), ‘ohana, played a large role in the film, effectively taming Stitch and giving Nani and Lilo a larger family support system.
A live-action adaptation of Lilo & Stitch would certainly become one of Disney’s quirkier films. Stitch and the other aliens would be mostly CG of course, as would any scenes in space. It’d be interesting to see how they’d merge sci-fi elements with the tropical setting of Hawaii, which may not translate as well as it does in animation. Regardless, diehard fans of the animated film would likely flock to see it, since they gobble up everything else related to it. Since Disney’s Moana also deals with Polynesian culture, it would also be interesting to see a crossover live-action film where Moana and Lilo meet.
4. The Emperor’s New Groove
Definitely a beloved, but highly underrated, Disney film, The Emperor’s New Groove is ripe for a live-action remake. They’d have to find an actor with a comedic style equal to David Spade’s, since his voice is pivotal to the role of Kuzco, but he doesn’t actually look the part. Since Kuzco is Incan, it should be someone with Hispanic descent, and given the recent backlash Disney’s faced in regards to racial sensitivity, they’d be wise to stick as close to the source material as possible in regards to casting.
With the popularity of Yzma’s henchman, Kronk, however, his casting would probably be of more interest to people. Since no one can duplicate his incredibly distinct voice, Disney would have to cast Patrick Warburton as Kronk, keeping to the original animated film casting. Ysma would be a hard one to cast since she’s so damn pointy and would actually be quite terrifying if she was a real person, but hey, if they can pull off Maleficent…
3. The Sword in the Stone
Often overlooked because it was the last Disney film released before Walt’s death in 1966, The Sword in the Stone deserves more love than it’s given. It tells the story of how young King Arthur came to pull the sword from the stone and go on to become the rightful king of England. What works best about the film is Merlin’s training of Arthur in various scientific arts, all of which give the boy increased confidence in himself and the magic of the world. It’s a coming-of-age film, which would work equally well (if not better) in live-action, with Arthur acting as an ideal role model for young boys.
With an increased interest in magic and mythology these days, especially due to the popularity of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones, a live-action version of The Sword in the Stone would be right at home with modern fantasy films.
Sure, there have been many live-action adaptations of the story of Hercules already, but none have the comedy and heart of Disney’s animated version. Aside from Hercules himself, there are some great characters and locations in the film that it’d be fun to see translated into a real-life setting. Hades, for one, is one of the best Disney villains of all time, thanks to a spectacular voice performance by James Woods. He’s probably too old at this point to reprise his role, especially considering all the hours he’d have to spend in a makeup chair to make it work, but perhaps he has a younger, fast-talking equal who may be able to fill his shoes.
Overall, a live-action Hercules would give audiences a chance to re-explore Greek mythology and the pantheon of Mount Olympus gods like Zeus. The 2014 film of the same name was a much darker telling of Hercules’ tale, one that focused more on his brute strength as a warrior than anything else. A light-hearted kids version with a romantic subplot would be more appropriate for all audiences to enjoy, one likely completely devoid of Brett Ratner.
It’s actually quite amazing Pinnochio has never been redone by Disney, considering it’s one of the most highly regarded animated films of all time. Although it was a box-office disaster upon its 1940 release, the film went on to win two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Song. Even though Pinocchio was regarded implicitly as a children’s film, the subject material is actually quite dark, and might make for a scarier film when translated into live-action.
In particular, Pinocchio deals with child labor, kidnapping, delinquency, and underage smoking and drinking. A live-action film of any sort that dealt with those topics would have to have a PG rating at the very least, but could go into PG-13 territory depending on how far the filmmakers took things. It’s easy to visualize all of the characters as real people, but we could see Pinocchio remaining a CG puppet until the very end when he’s transformed into a real boy (…spoilers?).
Of all the possible adaptations on our list, this one is currently the closest to becoming a reality. Robert Downey Jr. has been attached to portray Geppetto in a live-action adaptation for some time now, and Ron Howard signed on to direct earlier this year. Could this classic Disney flick return to the big screen within the next year or two? One can only wish upon a star!
Which underrated Disney flicks do you think should get the live-action treatment? Which do you think are untouchable? Let us know in the comments.
Among the confirmed live-action reboots in the works is Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson as Belle, which releases on March 17, 2017. The Lion King, Aladdin, and Mulan will follow in 2018 and beyond, in addition to another Disney villain focused flick, Cruella, and a Peter Pan film following that.
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