Under Walt Disney Pictures’ current leadership team of Alan Horn and Sean Bailey, it seems that every 30-days or so they announce another film in development based on some of the company’s most classic characters. The most recent incident of this was Mary Poppins, which caused a great divide amongst fans. With this barrage of announcements and mixed reactions to recent hits like Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and Cinderella, many are already experiencing remake fatigue. The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast and Pete’s Dragon are all practically in the can, so it seems like the perfect time to take a closer look at what else is ahead. Here is my ranking from least excited to most (and don’t forget to vote in our poll at the bottom!).
10) Winnie the Pooh – 1 Star
Imagine this: Christopher Robin is an adult who returns home to find his childhood toys and backyard Hundred Acre Woods still there… and that’s all we know. I sure hope there’s more to it that hasn’t been revealed because, at the moment, this sounds like a stinking pile of Pooh. Disney’s most over-explored franchise has mostly exhausted its potential in animation. Is Disney desperate to keep this merchandise occupying store shelves? This announcement feels like just that: an excuse to re-sell slightly different looking versions of the same A. A. Milne characters while also renewing interest in the animated products. It’s not a bad business decision, but the film sounds uninspired.
9) Chip ‘n Dale – 2 Stars
In a world where one of Twentieth Century Fox’s biggest film franchises is Alvin and the Chipmunks, it seems like ruthless copycatting for Disney to bring their most famous ‘munks to the screen. But here we go anyways. Rather than pitting them against a disgruntled duck or finding them quarrel over a beautiful dame, this film will act as an origin story to the fondly remembered Disney Afternoon series, Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers.
Did anybody see G-Force? No? Okay. Well, it was Disney’s live action crime fighting team made up entirely of rodents back in 2009 and it was terrible. While I think Rescue Rangers offers the potential for more appealing characters and source material that modern parents are familiar with, I fear they are going down the same path as that film. Fox’s Chipmunk series is hugely popular with kids, but parents mostly abhor them. I foresee this being the case with Chip n’ Dale, but if it gets kids interested in the original animated series again, then it’s not all bad.
8) Genies – 2 Stars
Rather than create a direct remake of Aladdin or expanding the other tales from A Thousand and One Nights, Disney has set their sights on a prequel. This origin story finds everyone’s favorite blue Jinn living a normal life and tells the story of how he came to be enslaved inside the lamp. The goal is that this will be a success and will be followed by a live-action version of Aladdin. However, Robin Williams is so heavily associated with the role that the biggest challenge the production will face is casting.
Outside of Disney’s animated products, where Robin Williams’ essence is often recreated by Dan Castellaneta, most Genies are merely trying to replicate Williams’ persona. Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular at Disney California Adventure gets by with having Genie continue to rip on modern pop-culture while still offering a performance inspired by Williams. The only successful diversion thusfar comes from James Monroe Igelhart’s portrayal in the Broadway show, but some audience members have found the show unenjoyable simply because Genie isn’t Williams-esque. Can this film work without him? I’m not yet convinced.
7) Dumbo – 3 Stars
If you really think about it, Dumbo is actually one of the darkest Disney animated films ever made. Behind its cute characters and colorful world lies a heartbreaking story that few Disney films come close to in terms of thematic elements. A mother unfairly separated from her child, a kid forced into labor, and a world full of heartless elephants and cruel clowns who are careless enough to pour alcohol into his water trough. Even the birds mock poor little Dumbo; his only friend is a wisecracking mouse.
Yes, Dumbo is a dark film. Is it Tim Burton dark? Alice in Wonderland seemed like a natural fit for Burton to adapt, but at first glance Dumbo seems like an odd choice. But if you look at Edward Scissorhands, its actually a very similar story (practically the same, even). So while my initial gut reaction was to reject this pitch, I’ve grown more welcoming of it. However, I’m still quite cautious. The script is written by the man behind Transformers 4 (oy! I hope that changes) and since Dumbo is a really short story, I fear it will suffer from having too much filler thrown in.
6) Mulan – 3 Stars
Disney has yet to make any casting announcements for their live action version of Mulan and already the internet is up in arms over whether or not the lead actress will be Asian enough. With Hollywood’s repeated trend of whitewashing characters of color, its a legitimate concern and Disney would be wise to take precautions when choosing their heroine. Might I also add that Ming-Na Wen, the speaking voice in the animated film, still looks like a twenty-something and showcases her martial arts abilities almost weekly on Marvel’s Agents of Shield. Seems like the casting decision is basically made, Disney. Just pick her, ‘kay?
Mulan was a modest hit back in 1998, but has grown exponentially in popularity over the years thanks to the character’s inclusion in the Disney Princess franchise, despite the fact that she is not royal by birth or marriage. But think of this less as a remake of the animated film and more of a retelling of the original Chinese tale. Not much more is known about the film other than the writers and producers, so time will tell if this looks good… or if it even gets made.
5) Tink – 3 Stars
The world’s most feisty pixie comes to life on the big screen in a film all her own. Reese Witherspoon produces and stars in this live action story about Peter Pan’s best pal and confident. Not much else is known at this time. Is it an origin story ala the animated Tinker Bell film series? Is it a retelling of Peter Pan from Tink’s point of view? All that remains to be seen.
I have to admit that Peter Pan is one of my all time favorite Disney films and I enjoyed the Tinker Bell films, particularly the last three (Secret of the Wings, The Pirate Fairy, and Legend of the NeverBeast). However, of the live action non-musical versions of Peter Pan that exist, the only one that has ever delighted me was Stephen Spielberg’s Hook where grown-up Peter returns to Never Land to save his own children. That version also features a major actress portraying Tink — Julia Roberts — and it worked. I approach this film with that in mind… and I’m kind of excited for it.
4) The Sword in the Stone – 4 Stars
This one at first sounds like an odd choice for adaptation. After all, The Sword in the Stone is arguably the weakest full-length animated feature produced during Walt Disney’s lifetime (not counting any of the package features) and he was admittedly disappointed with the results. It’s the only of his animated films that still can’t be considered a true “classic,” unless you are only using that term to describe its age. So why, then, would modern Disney chose to remake it?
I believe the answer lies in the fact that Disney’s animated version was loosely based on T. H. White’s novel, which was actually the first in a series of four books. Disney appears to be making a bid to revive the medieval fantasy genre for families in the same way that Game of Thrones revived it for adults. I believe that’s why the only thing we really know about it so far is that it is being written by Bryan Cogman, of Game of Thrones fame. If this version is a little closer to the novel, that could really set it apart as something special.
King Arthur certainly is an exciting story and being that The Sword in the Stone features him in his youth, it will hopefully be appealing to kids while also enthralling adults. Disney’s live action version of Merlin will probably draw many similarities to Dumbledore from the Harry Potter franchise, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are lots of great casting opportunities for that role and Disney’s pocket books must be looking at the potential for sequels (at least three based on the original books alone), so this seemingly odd choice now feels inspired. Bravo!
3) Pinocchio – 4 Stars
In my lifetime, there have been at least three live action versions of Pinocchio, including Disney’s TV musical Geppetto. Like that version, this one is based on Disney’s animated film rather than the original Collodi novel. Screenwriter Peter Hedges knows a thing or two when it comes to writing films about children. His other credits include About a Boy and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and Disney’s The Odd Life of Timothy Green. I’m a fan of all three films, so this has my undivided attention.
Like Cinderella, there’s a lot of potential to make this a very beautiful film. With models and computer animated set extensions, I’m curious to see how they bring Pinocchio’s village to life. The snow capped mountains and shining stars in the midnight blue sky aught to look breathtaking in this version. There should also be some fun casting choices, particularly with Stromboli and the Blue Fairy. I’m just curious if Gideon and Fowlfellow will be foxes or humans in this version. It’ll also be interesting to see how far they go with Monstro, who frightened the mac & cheese out of me as a kid.
2) Prince Charming – 5 Stars
Perhaps it’s unfair to even include Prince Charming in this list. After all, it’s not strictly based on Cinderella’s true love, both rather an amalgam of all of the archetypal princes in every fairy tale where he is typically a means to a better end, a plot device that moves our heroine from a bad situation to a fantastic one. And this film, based on a script from relative unknown Matt Fogel, isn’t actually about the prince, but about his brother. How do you possibly live up to an older brother who is so handsome and perfect at everything and always gets the girl? That’s the type of comedy we’re looking at here. It’s been far too long since we’ve had a solid fairytale spoof ala Enchanted and I secretly hope it’s a musical. Casting wise, I’d love to see someone like Chris Evans as Charming while his brother is a Josh Gad type. That would be great! Yes, Disney, I approve.
1) Mary Poppins – 5 Stars
Mary Poppins is arguably one of the greatest Disney films of all time and Saving Mr. Banks made it obvious that it was also one of the most challenging to produce. Following my obsession with Emma Thompson’s portrayal of P. L. Travers, I read the original Poppins books and marveled in their philosophical approach to exposing children to the world. Combined with my love of the Broadway version, which is based more on the books than the Disney film, I am extra excited for the potential in this new adaptation.
What really sets it apart from the other recent announcements is that it’s NOT a remake or a reimagining of the original tale with a twist. Treat this more like a sequel, with Mary returning to Cherry Tree Lane for more adventures with the Banks family. Yes, the original cast was “practically perfect in every way” and Julie Andrews left some impossible-to-fill purple shoes, but I think there are enough talented actresses out there who could do a decent job. I would like to take this opportunity to nominate Anne Hathaway, who cut her acting teeth alongside Julie Andrews in The Princess Diaries and who also bears a striking resemblance to everyone’s favorite nanny (she even portrayed her once on Saturday Night Live).
The creative team in the announcement is impressive. While I did not enjoy Into the Woods, I can’t deny that it was very well made and with director Rob Marshall at the helm, this promises to be a beautiful musical. Speaking of the music, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are writing new, original songs and I’m a huge fan of their other movie musical smash, Hairspray. I expect that Richard Sherman will act as a creative consultant of sorts as well. So yes, Disney, please make this and don’t muck it up!
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.