The Future of Disney: The Best and Worst Live-Action Remakes That Could Be Next

in Disney, Movies

Jim on the riggings of a ship in 'Treasure Planet'

Credit: Disney

Ever since the Walt Disney Company realized there was a whole lot of box office money in remaking its own animated films in a hybrid of live-action and state-of-the-art CGI, fans have faced an unprecedented onslaught of re-told tales. Disney remakes have become their genre of film, and by now, audiences have been trained to expect a new version of an old favorite to hit theaters every year.

Live-action 'Little Mermaid' shot
Credit: Disney

Disney remakes have ranged in quality and popularity from the critical acclaim and massive box office gross given to the Emma Watson-led Beauty and the Beast (2017) to the comparative indifference that The Lion King (2019), Pinocchio (2022), and The Little Mermaid (2023) landed with. Clearly, it is not just a matter of the original source material that determines whether a remake will be successful.

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Then there are the remake-adjacent films like Maleficent (2014) and Cruella (2021), which take the original story and go in a different direction, usually by revealing that the big villain was actually just misunderstood, and that’s why it’s understandable that they wanted to turn dogs into coats (or something like that).

Emma Stone as Cruella
Credit: Disney

But one thing is certain: Disney will keep making remakes until it has completely exhausted its entire catalog of classic films, whether that’s what audiences want or not. Since it’s inevitable, we’re throwing in our two cents and giving our thoughts on which movies would be a good idea to redo and which…would not be.

Good Idea for Disney Remakes:

‘Alice in Wonderland’ (1951)

Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party in 'Alice in Wonderland'
Credit: Disney

Alice in Wonderland is already a bit of a scapegoat for the glut of Disney live-action remakes, after the Tim Burton-directed “reimagining” of the source material generated over a billion dollars at the box office in 2010. However, that particular film is not particularly representative of either the original Lewis Carroll source material or the 1951 Disney film, which means that it’s prime material for an actual live-action remake.

Decades of advancement in CGI imagery have finally made the surreality of Wonderland an actual possibility, and there are doubtlessly many A-list actors who could be persuaded to take on the oddball, colorful characters that inhabit that mixed-up kingdom. After all, if Johnny Depp can be persuaded to portray a bizarro version of the Mad Hatter in two movies, we can probably get Orlando Bloom to play the March Hare or something.

‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959)

Princess Aurora talking to birds in 'Sleeping Beauty'
Credit: Disney

Princess Aurora is arguably the least utilized Disney Princess. There have been two Maleficent movies that completely sideline Sleeping Beauty in her own story, though the star power of Angelina Jolie and her cheekbone prosthetics make it a little bit understandable.

However, that makes it an ideal time to remake Sleeping Beauty with a gorgeously realized CGI dragon, three charming mid-tier comedy actresses as the Good Fairies, and either Chris Pine or Chris Hemsworth to play Prince Phillip. It would also give Disney a chance to turn one of its biggest box office bombs into the kind of blockbuster smash that it enjoyed with Beauty and the Beast.

‘The Fox and the Hound’ (1981)

Tod and Copper splashing water in 'The Fox and the Hound'
Credit: Disney

We’ll be frank: this one could be risky. While The Lion King remake starring Donald Glover and Beyonce as the voices of a pair of royal Serengeti apex predators was a financial success, critics were not quite as taken with the state-of-the-art visuals. While Disney has the ability to make it look as though actual wild animals are speaking with human voices, the animators did not think about how real lions don’t really have the evocative expressions that traditional, non-photo-realistic animation can provide. Basically, if “Simba, I am your father” is coming out of a blank-faced big cat, it doesn’t hit quite as hard.

All that said, if Disney remakes The Fox and the Hound, it could redeem itself. The story of Tod and Copper, a red fox raised by a kindly farmer and a hound dog raised by a strict hunter, who manage to become lifelong friends beyond the restrictions of species and duty, is a heartbreaking and joyous one.

The original film was produced at the end of the tenure of Disney’s legendary Nine Old Men, i.e., the first Golden Age of the House of Mouse. While it was also an incubator for future world-class talents like Tim Burton, Brad Bird, and John Lasseter, it also didn’t receive the same kind of careful treatment and release that a movie this emotionally compelling should. If Disney can figure out how to get animals out of the uncanny valley, it would have a winner.

‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ (2000)

Pacha and Kuzco walking up a cliff in 'The Emperor's New Groove'
Credit: Disney

Speaking of emotionally expressive animals, The Emperor’s New Groove is one of Disney’s best and most underrated movies involving a spoiled Incan monarch who is transformed into a talking llama who must go on a journey of discovery with a villager disillusioned by his leader’s selfishness.

Famously, The Emperor’s New Groove was initially developed as Kingdom of the Sun, an uber-serious animated musical with songs by Sting. However, the disappointing box office returns of Pocahontas (1995) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) made Disney think twice and transformed the project into a madcap adventure full of anachronistic references, broad comedy, and a rocking song performed by Tom Jones.

If Disney live-action remakes have had a single problem to date, it’s that they have generally erred too far on the side of seriousness. It’s time to treat the source material with a little less reverence, and how better to do that with one of the wackiest, most-llama-filled animated movies ever made?

‘Treasure Planet’ (2002)

Jim and Long John Silver in space in 'Treasure Planet'
Credit: Disney

We stan Treasure Planet here, despite it being an enormous box office bomb and a probable reason for the slow death of hand-drawn animation. The mere idea of a science-fiction adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island (1883) is a brilliant one, and the Disney version, directed by the legendary duo of John Musker and Ron Clements and featuring a brilliant voice cast for the ages, is an unmitigated triumph of hybrid animation and breathtaking visuals. Just check out this one scene for a taste of the movie’s masterful use of space and detail:

Treasure Planet, maybe more than any other Disney movie, deserves a remake. We have reached the point in technology at which actual humans can appear to be anthropomorphic dog scientists, malfunctioning comedic robots, and even pirate cyborgs. It’s time we used that tech.

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Bad Ideas for Disney Remakes:

We’d be happy to see any of the Disney movies above get remakes, either because it would be incredible to see them brought back to life with modern visuals and special effects or because they deserved more acclaim and attention the first time around.

Then there are these movies, which should definitely never get another go around the block.

‘Fantasia’ (1940)

The conductor in 'Fantasia'
Credit: Disney

Fantasia is arguably the most ambitious movie that Disney has ever made, and it should never be part of its slew of live-action remakes.

For one thing, part of the initial marvel of Fantasia was its groundbreaking technology, like its pioneering use of stereo sound and its combination of live-action photography and animation, which has since become both commonplace and surpassed. For another, it is very difficult to imagine that audiences used to Marvel movies and IMAX are going to be drawn in by orchestral classical music over impressionistic setpieces depicting everything from dancing hippos to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Plus, a live-action Fantasia means we’d have to see a live-action Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and that’s too horrifying to imagine.

‘The Three Caballeros’ (1944)

The Three Caballeros wearing sombreros and serapes
Credit: Disney

The Three Caballeros is, to put it bluntly, overt 1940s propaganda designed to promote the United States’ interests in Latin America. That’s not an opinion or an exaggeration; both it and Saludos Amigos (1942) were commissioned by the Department of State to make America look good to countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. The idea was also to shake up some Nazi alliances below the equator, but we won’t even get into that.

Long story short, The Three Caballeros is less an actual Disney movie (the presence of Donald Duck notwithstanding) than a series of queasy shorts using broad Latin American stereotypes. There is no possible way this movie could stand up to the current socio-political climate, and Disney already has enough problems to deal with in both remakes and lawsuits. Just leave it alone, Disney.

‘Pocahontas’ (1995)

John Smith with a knife in 'Pocahontas'
Credit: Disney

Pocahontas is perhaps the apex of Disney’s mid-1990s frenzy to turn animation into prestige film, and it just really, really does not hold up to the test of time. After Beauty and the Beast became the first movie to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, the studio became obsessed with creating dramatic movies like Pocahontas, which may have an adorable cartoon raccoon, but also takes a brush to history and paints with all the colors of revisionism.

While Pocahontas may be a beautifully animated movie and prompt nostalgia in many middle-aged fans, its combination of white saviorism, historical inaccuracy, and broad comedy amidst the beginnings of a cultural genocide that would ravage the New World just can’t be done again, let alone in live-action.

Sorry, Pocahontas fans.

What Disney live-action remakes do you think the company should never attempt? Let’s hear your opinions in the comments below!

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