Since Disney live-action remakes are all the rage right now, let us discuss the highs and lows of romance in Disney's live-action films.
From the time that the company released its first feature film in 1937, romance has been a major part of Walt Disney's winning formula. Though Disney has always primarily been known as an animation studio, it has regularly been producing live-action films since the premiere of Treasure Island in 1950. Its live action features don't veer too off course from the path forged by its animated films. Thus, the Disney company is still very concerned with romance, even when it's working outside of the world of pens and ink.
Not all of the Disney romances, however, are infused with Disney magic. As wonderful as the Disney Company's cinematic output often is, for every masterpiece they've given us, they've also released something regrettable. How else could a studio have given us both Mary Poppins and Hannah Montana: The Movie? While we could restrict this article to the studio's theatrical live-action films, we will be going through the entire gamut of Disney's back catalogue, from theatrical films to Disney Channel Original Movies to the numerous direct-to-video Disney sequels from the 1990's and early 2000's, as well as everything from the studio's greatest triumphs to its worst embarrassments. Without further ado, we are counting down 15 Couples That Hurt Live Action Disney Movies And 10 That Saved Them.
25 Hurt: Jyn Erso And Cossean Andor (Rogue One)
Everyone who is not a very dedicated Star Wars fan is asking "Wait, who were those two?" A quick refresher – they were the leads in Rogue One. After spending a day with each other where they never discuss anything that isn't related to the Rebellion, they kiss before they are destroyed by the Death Star. The audience is supposed to see this as some sort of grand romantic tragedy. Their decision to kiss each other only makes sense if one interprets it as a last, futile attempt at emotional togetherness from two people who know their lives will soon end. Yet, even that interpretation doesn't make the scene romantic.
24 Saved: Cinderella And Kit (Cinderella 2015)
Cinderella is one of those stories like Romeo and Juliet or Dracula that has been adapted into a ridiculously large number of films, including multiple films that have become classics. Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella had a number of hard acts to follow, the most obvious being Walt Disney's take on the tale. Branagh differentiated his version of the story from Uncle Walt's (and from the Brothers Grimm's for that matter) by developing the relationship between Cinderella and the prince. Don't get me wrong, Walt Disney's film will never be equaled, but the chemistry between Lily James and Richard Maden is incredibly endearing.
23 Hurt: Gabriella And Troy (High School Musical)
Though it may be blasphemy to Disney Channel devotees, the High School Musical franchise is probably not going to be remembered as a cinematic landmark. There's a reason why the series stopped after the third movie and hasn't been resurrected in some form – it's too limp to interest somebody over the age of ten. If anyone could have made the series decent, it was leads Zac Effron and Vanessa Hudgens as Troy and Gabriella. While the two dated as the movies were in production and they grew up to be talented actors, in High School Musical, they deliver less-than-stellar performances.
22 Saved: Kate And Sam (Holes)
Holes wasn't a monster hit upon release, but if there's one thing people remember about this movie, it's the relationship between Kate and Sam. Kate is a nineteenth-century school teacher who becomes friendly with Sam, a handyman. Each time something in the schoolhouse breaks, Sam tells her "I can fix that." One time he notices her crying over a sad book, holds her hand, and says "I can fix that." The moment made millions go "Aww" in unison. Sadly, Sam and Kate's relationship becomes public knowledge and Sam is ordered to be eliminated. While their relationship only serves as the film's backstory, it could've been a compelling film on its own.
21 Hurt: Han And Qi'ra (Solo: A Star Wars Story)
So far, Solo: A Star Wars Story is the least commercially successful Star Wars film and it earned that distinction. While other Star Wars films might be worse, they at least were more imaginative than Solo. Q'ira is a love interest so uninteresting she makes Padmé Amidala look like a force of personality. For no real reason, Han is totally infatuated with her and his first impulse after being locked in jail for years is to find her. Their relationship never has time to develop, as the film is too concerned with action scenes and fan service, but the leads never get sparks to fly on the few "romantic" moments they have together.
20 Saved: Cinderella and Prince Christopher (Cinderella 1997)
The Walt Disney Company has produced five different films about everyone's favorite fictional scullery maid and none were more hyped than Cinderella '97, which remains one of the most expensive made-for-television movies of all time. With Brandy in the title role, Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, and Filipino-American actor Paolo Montalbán as the prince, Cinderella stands as one of the studio's most diverse films. Its casting made contemporary critics dub the project "Rainbow Cinderella." Like most post-Walt takes on the tale, Cinderella '97 spends more time on developing the relationship between Cinderella and her beau than the original story does, and Brandy brings an appealing sweetness to the role.
19 Hurt: Max And Allison (Hocus Pocus)
Over the last few years, Hocus Pocus has had a pop culture renaissance and deservedly so – it's one of the few films to capture both the spooky and ghoulishly fun sides of Halloween. That doesn't mean the film lacks flaws and chief among them are the pairings of Max and Allison. Their relationship is centered on Max's dissatisfaction with a certain aspect of his personal life that will not be discussed here and probably shouldn't be mentioned in a family film, anyway. Luckily, those two don't get in the way of a stellar Bette Midler performance, so Hocus Pocus will remain the pièce de résistance of millennial Halloween parties.
18 Saved: Will And Elizabeth (The First Three Pirates Of The Caribbean Movies)
Jack Sparrow remains the most iconic character to emerge from the Pirates franchise. In those movies, he functions as spice, and a good dish can't just have spice. Will and Elizabeth help give the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies a degree of emotional weight that they definitely would not have it they were just about Captain Jack. While the two were never fan-favorites, their absence in the last two films in the series sadly allowed the filmmakers to spend too much time on tired Jack Sparrow antics.
17 Hurt: George And Ursula (George Of The Jungle)
If there's one live-action Disney feature that doesn't deserve a Hocus Pocus-style resurgence, it's George of the Jungle. Based on the mostly forgotten 1960's television series, Jungle was probably an attempt the capitalize on the success of the other film adaptations of 1960's sitcoms like The Flintstones (1994) or The Addams Family (1991). George and Ursula are basically an insufferable Tarzan and Jane. The one good thing about this movie is that it is the only Disney movie that has a "Weird Al" Yankovic song on the soundtrack.
16 Saved: Nick And Elizabeth (The Parent Trap 1998)
The reason why The Parent Trap has held so much appeal for multiple generations is that it's both a fun tale of youthful mischief and a touching story of a couple reconnecting after years of being apart. The rekindled relationship between American winemaker Nick and his British fashion designer ex-wife Elizabeth is so cute that you wonder what the American Revolution was fought over. This film also gets points for utilizing the "get someone's fiancé out of the way so the movie's main relationship can blossom" trope more effectively than most romantic comedies.
15 Hurt: Carina And Henry (Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales)
Whoever wrote the movie likely wanted the central couple in the story to recall Han Solo and Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back. Like Han and Leia, Henry and Carina start out bickering and then fall in love. The difference is that Henry and Carina bicker so long and so hard that their romance feels abrupt and shallow. To make things worse, their bickering is more irritating than enjoyable and witty. The silver lining of this movie is that its disappointing box office performance in the U.S. has inspired Disney to reboot the Pirate film series, meaning that we won't be treated to the further adventures of Henry and Carina anytime soon.
14 Hurt: Maleficent And King Stefan (Maleficent)
None of the recent live-action remakes of Disney movies have been as good as their animated counterpart, but Maleficent takes things to a whole other level. This film doesn't just fail to improve on the original Sleeping Beauty – it has contempt for the original Sleeping Beauty. The kind-hearted King Stefan from the original film is reimagined as a ruthless boyfriend who was so awful to Maleficent that she turned evil out of revenge. Maleficent becomes less compelling as her sinister deeds have an explained motive. In Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is a pure force of evil. In Maleficent, she's just a cliché traumatized villain.
13 Saved: Carol And Santa (The Santa Clause 2)
Besides Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause is the best movie to feature Jolly Old Saint Nicholas as a main character. Its first sequel doesn't have a whole lot to recommend it on, save for a lovely romantic pairing between Santa and his girlfriend and later wife, the aptly named Carol. Santa Claus is undoubtedly the most ubiquitous fictional character in the Western world but his lady love rarely gets as much attention, possibly because she was a later addition to the Santa mythology and possibly because she's not the one who delivers those presents. Bravo to Elizabeth Mitchell for giving Mrs. Claus her day in the North Pole sun!
12 Hurt: Ape And Sally (George Of The Jungle 2)
Who wants to watch a movie about a woman who falls in love with a talking ape? Say what you want about Beauty and the Beast – the Beast is a human being who just happens to be under a bizarre curse. In George of the Jungle 2, a woman falls in love with a monkey. That is made more unsettling by the fact that the prosthetics on the actor playing the ape are unnecessarily ugly, perhaps for the sake of being "realistic." Let's just hope that the George franchise never gets rebooted.
11 Hurt: Belle And The Beast (Beauty And The Beast 2017)
The original Beauty and the Beast stands as one of the greatest films in the Disney canon decades after its release. Two years later, its live-action remake is already beginning to fade from the public consciousness, with good reason. The Beast is much less appealing this time around, both because he was rewritten to be meaner and because the CGI used to bring him to life is unconvincing. It's sad that millions of dollars of computer effects couldn't compete with pen and ink. Emma Watson's Belle doesn't help, as her performance is oddly flat for someone who had so much experience acting in front of a green screen during her Hermione Granger days.
10 Saved: Giselle And Robert (Enchanted)
As far as parodies go, Enchanted (a parody of the earlier Disney princess movies) is a touch more cynical than it needs to be, which is insane given that this movie was produced by Walt Disney Pictures. What keeps the film's head above water, besides its sparkling Allen Menken/Stephen Schwartz tunes, is the romance between Giselle and Robert. Patrick Dempsey displays the charm the world already knew he had while Amy Adams made herself a global superstar with her adorable portrayal of the wide-eyed Giselle. Adams perfectly translates the mannerisms of Ariel from The Little Mermaid, a major inspiration for Giselle, into live action.
9 Hurt: Marnie And Ethan (Return To Halloweentown)
Just because Natalie isn't in Return to Halloweentown doesn't mean that the film lacks an awkward, unnecessary romance. Marnie bumps into Ethan, whom she was friendly acquaintances with in the last movie, and they fall in love. Return to Halloweentown is the most Harry Potter-ish movie in a series that was always Harry Potter inspired, so the makers of this film might have been trying to make Marnie the brainy Hermione to Ethan's oddball Ron, but it falls flat. At the very least, the character of Ethan works as fan service for dedicated DCOM fans, as he is played by Lucas Grabeel, who portrayed Ryan in High School Musical.
8 Hurt: Sara And Jim (The Haunted Mansion)
In addition to being a rare children's horror film, The Haunted Mansion is also a love triangle movie, because a love triangle is apparently what the beloved Disneyland/Disney World ride was missing. The real issue here is that the bad guy in this triangle (the ghost Edward Gracey) seems to care much more about the film's leading lady Sara than her husband Jim does. Edward's obsession with Sara, who he believes to be the reincarnation of his lost love, has a Gothic grandiosity to it, while Sara's marriage with Jim is pedestrian in a sitcom sort of way. Team Edward all the way.
7 Saved: Kermit And Miss Piggy (Muppet Treasure Island)
Kermit and Miss Piggy have been through so much in their forty plus years together. They've gotten married, broken up, escaped being experimented on by Mel Brooks, and broke into a government facility to learn secrets about aliens. Their most touching moment as a couple, however, is in Muppet Treasure Island, where they are dangled on the side of a cliff by ropes that are slowly being burned while they sing a duet about their undying love for each other. It's a gloriously romantic moment that carries even more weight because it comes from a couple that we've all grown up with.
6 Hurt: Roscoe And Loretta (Pixel Perfect)
This is a movie about a teenage boy who falls in love with a hologram of a pretty girl and has to snap out of it. This premise may not be appropriate for younger viewers; in fact, at least two dark comedies (Her and Lars and the Real Girl) with similar plotlines have been made for mature audiences. Ricky Ullman (of Phil of the Future fame) and Leah Pipes do what they can with icky Sci-Fi material that makes Smart House look as brilliant as 2001: A Space Odyssey.
5 Hurt: Dylan And Natalie (Halloweentown High)
The Halloweentown franchise divides people into those who think that the series is classic kitsch and those who forgot that those movies existed. One of the weirder aspects of the loopy series of films is the brief romance between Dylan, a human, and Natalie, a pink troll with the sort of hair you'd see on a Dollar Store troll doll. Natalie can shapeshift and Dylan is attracted to her human form but finds her true form ugly. This doesn't result in Dylan learning that real beauty is internal. Instead, he just ends the relationship. How romantic. At least the creators of these movies were wise enough not to bring Natalie back for the sequel.
4 Saved: Will And Layla (Sky High)
Sky High is about a school for the children of superheroes and continues Disney's trend of trying to make its own Harry Potter. It features a sweet romance between Layla, a young woman who has power over nature, and Will, the son of two famous superheroes who is dealing with the shame and inadequacy he feels over his lack of superpowers. She loves him no matter how much of an outcast he is but he eventually gains powers and leaves her behind to be with the in-crowd. It all works out in the end in the grand Disney tradition, while a lot of great character actors get to strut their stuff.
3 Hurt: Oscar And The Wicked Witch (Oz the Great And Powerful)
This pointless prequel to The Wizard of Oz teaches us that the Wicked Witch of the West knew Oscar Diggs, the future Wizard of Oz, for about five minutes, fell in love with him, and turned evil after learning he's not that into her. This plotline is kind of like the Maleficient/Stefan backstory in Maleficient without the tragedy. Say what you like about the shortcomings of the screenplay for Maleficient, but Angelina Jolie was on point in the title role. James Franco comes across as disinterested. Mila Kunis, however, is invested in her performance, she just screeches her lines like a banshee.
2 Hurt: Miley And Travis (Hannah Montana: The Movie)
Whether you loved or hated the Hannah Montana television series, its big screen adaptation wasn't going to change your mind - it featured the show's trademark mix of slapstick, sincerity and girly pop music. The main aspect of the movie that separated it from its television counterpart is the romance that develops between Miley Stewart and a newly introduced character, Travis, who inspires the fictional Miley to write the real Miley's hit single "The Climb." "The Climb" is no "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and Travis is no Prince Charming. He probably has less chemistry with Miley Cyrus than Miley has with that hammer that she licked once.
1 Saved: Lizzie And Gordo (The Lizzie McGuire Movie)
To end on a positive note, let's discuss the cinematic masterpiece of our time: The Lizzie McGuire Movie. That's an exaggeration, however, The Lizzie McGuire Movie provided closure to fans of the show by finally allowing the geeky Gordo to reveal his love to Lizzie so that they can be together. The plotline worked so well that giving the main character a secret crush whom they ask out on a date late in the series became a major cliché for tween sitcoms of the 2000s. The Lizzie McGuire Movie might not be a masterpiece but likable performances by its leads and good use of scenic Roman locations make it catnip for Disney Channel fans.