It may seem like we’ve been inundated with remakes of Disney animated classics, but believe it or not, there’s only been ten so far. Now, there’s seemingly an endless supply coming down the pike, but there’s only been eleven brought to theaters so far, including two takes on “The Jungle Book.” It sounds crazy, but this is still a newer idea from the Mouse House.
In honor of this week’s release of “Dumbo,” (which we’ve seen and will be including below) as well as later on this year’s “The Lion King,” we’ll be running down a top ten list for Disney remakes. To be fair, not all of these are particularly good films, but it’s interesting to note the evolution of how the company has been mounting these efforts. To be sure, this is a list that can be updated in a few years. In fact, it’s probably essential that we do. For now, we play it how it lays.
10“102 Dalmatians” (2000)
dir: Kevin Lima
Not the finest hour for Disney, nor their best franchise, but it was admittedly cute to watch the dalmatians return for another adventure. Plus, getting Glenn Close back for more Cruella DeVil action is always a plus. A middling effort, to be sure, but undeniably better than the other options, like “Alice in Wonderland.”
dir: Robert Stromberg
Another entry that mostly resides here within the top ten due to a lack of other appetizing options. One can’t argue that Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast as “Maleficent,” though what the powers that be did to her character is another story. Critics weren’t wild about this one, though audiences enjoyed it enough to warrant a sequel. Hopefully later this year’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” rights the ship.
8“The Jungle Book” (1994)
dir: Stephen Sommers
The one that started it all back in the 90s, this version of “The Jungle Book” is much more an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling book than the Disney cartoon, but it’s under their shingle, so we’ll count it. A bit on the dated side, it does function as an interesting marker for where the company would evolve. Compare this to the second crack at the story we’ll address later and you’ll see how they’re worlds apart.
7“101 Dalmatians” (1996)
dir: Stephen Herek
The aforementioned Glenn Close is the main reason “101 Dalmatians” works as it does. Better than its sequel because the concept was not yet played out, watching Close menace the dogs is, like her character’s name, devilish fun. Disney had not yet decided to really dive in with CGI yet, for obvious reasons, so this was the height of their creativity. It’s cute enough, though nothing that would make the list once better efforts replace it in the years to come.
6“Christopher Robin” (2018)
dir: Marc Forster
A remake more steeped in nostalgia than any other, Disney aimed as much at parents as they did children with “Christopher Robin.” The approach was to make this more of a sequel than anything else, and in some regards, it really worked. One can quibble with the pacing and whether it really made use of Pooh Bear and company, but when you stack it up with most of the other efforts on this list, it clearly is in the high-quality section.
dir: Kenneth Branagh
Getting Kenneth Branagh to helm a remake of “Cinderella” was a stroke of genius. A filmmaker known for bringing difficult Shakespeare adaptations to the screen brimming with prestige and glory, he was able to do the same with this Disney tale. It’s perhaps even a little too old-fashioned, considering the modern audience it was appealing to, but there’s no arguing with the technical aspects of this film. It’s absolutely gorgeous looking work.
4“Beauty and the Beast” (2017)
dir: Bill Condon
The first Disney animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture was always going to be a tricky proposition to remake. That “Beauty and the Beast” turned out as well as it did was cause for celebration. As wonderful to look at as the original, it managed to be a visual treat and keep the power of the story intact. It pales in comparison to the classic cartoon, but in all honesty, all of these do.
dir: Tim Burton
Go figure, by toning down Tim Burton‘s idiosyncrasies, Disney was able to have him craft a solid new version of “Dumbo.” The original cartoon is a classic, though one not as beloved as others, so there was room for improvement. Hell, just the removal of the racist crows would qualify this one for the list. However, by making it a large scale epic, Burton and company give weight to the tale. Of everything on this list, nothing was more of a pleasant surprise than “Dumbo.”
2“Pete’s Dragon” (2016)
dir: David Lowery
An unusual choice for a remake, on the one hand, you could also make the case that “Pete’s Dragon” was also primed to be re-introduced to children. Getting indie auteur David Lowery to direct and Robert Redford to star brought in adults, while kids had a cute dragon to admire. It all could have gone very wrong, but by keeping it surprisingly mellow, this really works. Nothing else on the list came close to improving on the original than this one.
1“The Jungle Book” (2016)
dir: Jon Favreau
The only truly great remake of a classic Disney cartoon so far, Jon Favreau made “The Jungle Book” not just a visual marvel, but a compelling adventure as well. Stacked with great voice actors, including a perfectly cast Bill Murray as Baloo and Idris Elba as Shere Khan, along with a sense of spectacle, this works in every way. Easily the best of the bunch, it’s the bar from which all subsequent Disney remakes should hope to clear.