Disney’s live action studio has struggled with launching new movie franchises in the past decade, with ambitious flops ranging from John Carter to The Lone Ranger to Tomorrowland. Where it has had bountiful commercial success is in mining its library of past films, both live action and animated, for blockbuster remakes and sequels. The actual quality of these films varies wildly (Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book arguably being the best of the bunch, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland the most disappointing). Still, while fans of the classics and advocates for more original stories might roll their eyes at this trend, even the worse Disney remakes tend to make that dough. Naturally, Disney’s going where the money is, and we could soon be seeing as many as 25 Disney classics being reimagined.
Nine of these movies are absolutely happening, whether you like it or not. For those films, this article will look at both the potential pros and cons of these blockbusters to help manage expectations. Of the 16 movies announced as being in development that have not officially entering production yet, this article will divide them between those that sound like potentially great ideas and those which don’t sound so appealing. Naturally, execution matters a lot, and there’s potential for the movies on the “want” list to turn out awful and the movies on the “don’t want” list to end up being pleasant surprises. Still, as Disney seems to be intent on pursuing virtually every possible remake idea possible, certain ideas absolutely sound a lot more appealing than others.
25. CONFIRMED: MARY POPPINS RETURNS
Mary Poppins Returns is the Disney nostalgia vehicle coming the soonest to a theater near you. It comes out December 19th. A sequel inspired by further books in P.L. Travers’ series, this is a movie with a lot to live up to. The first Mary Poppins might very well be the best film Walt Disney himself was ever involved in. Can the sequel live up to those heights?
The cast inspires confidence: Emily Blunt should make a great Mary and Lin-Manuel Miranda is always delightful. Less confidence-inspiring is the director. Rob Marshall helped revive the movie musical with Chicago but since then, nothing he’s directed has risen above “OK.” “OK” isn’t enough for a film that deserves to be practically perfect in every way.
24. WANT: THE BLACK HOLE
One important thing to keep in mind when considering remakes is that the greatest ones aren’t usually based on the best movies. There are exceptions, of course (both Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven are classics), but typically remakes are a lot more interesting as a chance to improve upon a work that was interesting but flawed.
“Interesting but flawed” is a descriptor that fits The Black Hole. This 1979 release attempted to give Disney its own Star Wars (long before it owned actual Star Wars) and wasn’t successful. A remake could easily take this material and improve it. This remake was put on hold because Jon Spaihts’ script was deemed “too dark” for Disney, but it’s still in development with Emily Carmichael writing.
23. DON’T WANT: CRUELLA
Some villains can be reimagined as heroes. Others it’s probably best to not make sympathetic. Wicked witches? Sure, there’s something to work with there, given the whole history of misogyny and scapegoating behind the trope, so you can make a statement making the witch the secret hero in Wicked or Maleficent. Someone hunting puppies for a fur coat? That’s probably not someone you can twist into a hero.
Yet, for some bizarre reason, Disney thinks Cruella de Ville is someone audiences could sympathize with, given Cruella was announced as part of the studio’s development slate. How it’s even possible to make Cruella the least bit sympathetic is a mystery.
22. CONFIRMED: DUMBO
The live-action Dumbo, set for release on March 29, 2019, is more a new story than a direct remake of the animated film. That’s probably a good idea, as the original Dumbo — an hour-long film with no major human characters — simply wouldn’t make sense for a direct live action adaptation.
Tim Burton’s a master at creepy visuals, and one imagines his “Pink Elephants” scene will be fantastic nightmare fuel. It’s not clear if Dumbo himself is supposed to be as creepy as he looks, though, with those uncanny cartoon eyes on an otherwise photorealistic design. The biggest cause for worry: the screenplay’s by the writer of Transformers 2, one of the rare modern movies that’s even more racist than the original Dumbo.
21. WANT: CAPTAIN NEMO
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of Disney’s first major live-action hits. For almost a decade, the studio’s gone through various proposals for a new adaptation of the classic Jules Verne novel. McG was attached to direct in 2009 but his version was shelved after Terminator Salvation bombed. David Fincher took over in 2010 but parted ways with Disney over casting disputes in 2013.
However, Disney isn’t done with this property. In 2016, Logan director James Mangold signed on to direct Captain Nemo. This won’t be a direct adaptation of 20,000 Leagues, but rather a prequel of sorts addressing the captain’s background (revealed in another Verne novel, The Mysterious Island). The anti-imperialist themes should provide extra depth to a fun adventure story.
20. DON’T WANT: GENIES
In 2015, Disney announced what might have been the worst possible movie idea for a world still mourning the passing of Robin Williams: a prequel to Aladdin focusing on the Genie. It would seem like this was put on the back-burner, given Disney chose to focus on a proper Aladdin remake. Let’s hope this stays shelved.
Even if we ignore the questionable viability of a non-Williams Genie character, this just sounds like a terrible idea. The Genie isn’t a character who ever needed to be explained. Knowing the movie will have to end with his imprisonment makes it sound like a bummer. To make this sound even worse, the screenwriters’ past credits include Freddie vs. Jason and the Friday the 13th remake.
19. CONFIRMED: ALADDIN
Guy Ritchie’s gone from edgy gangster films to more family-friendly blockbusters, but even so, he’s kind of a surprise pick to direct Aladdin. Can he capture the right mix of lighthearted comedy and fairy tale magic this needs? Audiences will find out on May 24, 2019.
One hopes the script (by Ritchie, John August and Vanessa Taylor) is sharp, since Will Smith, the new Genie, isn’t known for Williams-style improv. Added to the story is new character Prince Anders, played by Billy Magnusson, because it seems Disney was afraid to make a movie without a white guy. Alan Menken’s teaming up with La La Land‘s Paul & Pasek for new original songs. Then again, will any be as epic as Demi Adejuyigbe’s fake credits song?
18. WANT: THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN
Here’s a movie — potentially a series of movies — many people won’t even realize is a redo of a Disney cartoon. Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain series was the basis for 1985’s The Black Cauldron. That flop almost destroyed Disney’s animation department, and no one was fully satisfied with it either as an individual film or as an adaptation of Alexander’s books.
It seems Disney wants a do-over, and has reacquired the rights to the Prydain books. No writers, actors or directors were announced with the 2016 purchase, but with the right team, this could be a chance for the studio to atone for one of its biggest misfires.
17. DON’T WANT: JAMES AND GIANT PEACH
A remake of James and the Giant Peach just conceptually does not sound like a good idea. It’s not like Henry Sellick’s 1996 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book is some (ahem) unimpeachable masterpiece, but what it had going for it was its uniqueness. You just don’t see a lot of hybrids of live action and stop motion these days.
So what would the proposed new movie look like? It seems unlikely it’ll use stop motion for the insect characters yet again; that’d be repetitive. Doing computer animation, however, would just feel bland in comparison to the old movie’s more unique effects. Frankly, this story isn’t one of Dahl’s best, anyway. Why does it need to be readapted?
16. CONFIRMED: THE LION KING
OK, this isn’t really a “live action” adaptation, right? If Jon Favreau is using the same techniques he used on The Jungle Book, then all the animals and scenery will be CGI. There are no human characters in The Lion King, so unless they’re making some really forced changes, this is just going to be a realistic-looking animated film rather than an actual live-action film.
Regardless of what you call it, this remake is guaranteed to make a gagillion dollars when it comes out July 19, 2019. As an essentially animated remake of an already near-perfect animated film, it might be pointless. Still, that voice cast, headlined by Donald Glover as Simba with Beyoncé as Nala and James Earl Jones returning as Mufasa, is amazing.
15. WANT: GARGOYLES
Some advice to the Disney execs: if Jordan Peele wants to adapt your ’90s action cartoon Gargoyles into a blockbuster movie, you let him make that movie! After Get Out, Peele really should be able to make whatever he wants. It’s notable he’s turned down Akira and other adaptations because he wants to focus on original stories, so if this is the one preexisting property he wants to adapt, he must have some amazing ideas!
It seems Disney isn’t sure about giving Peele the greenlight. Producers there don’t want to reject him, but they also don’t think Gargoyles would fit with their slate. The original Gargoyles was already an odd fit for Disney, though, and that didn’t stop it from becoming a cult classic.
14. DON’T WANT: KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE
Thank goodness this one almost certainly won’t get made. In 2005, back when Disney controlled the Studio Ghibli library, there was an announcement of a live-action Kiki’s Delivery Service movie. Now, technically this was set as a new adaptation of the rather different source novel rather than the anime, but you know Disney was interested in the anime’s brand recognition.
The classic Miyazaki movie is just so perfect that a Disney live-action remake just seems utterly pointless. Since this remake was proposed, Disney’s changed management and given up the US rights to the Ghibli library to GKIDS. We might have dodged a bullet.
13. CONFIRMED: MULAN
Disney’s live action version of Mulan was once set to release in October of 2018, but has since been delayed to March 27, 2020. Hopefully producers are using that extra time to get this right. There was controversy over the initial spec script Disney purchased, which inexplicably focused on a white man in Ancient China. The script’s since been completely rewritten.
Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei is playing Mulan, while the supporting cast includes such stars as Jet Li, Gong Li and Donnie Yen. Nikki Caro’s film is set to be a serious action epic. Unlike other Disney remakes, this won’t be a musical. But please… at least let there be an awesome cover of “Make a Man Out of You” in the credits!
12. WANT: MR. TOAD’S WILD RIDE
This might be the single strangest project Disney’s announced. In all honesty, it probably won’t happen, given that there hasn’t been a peep on this project since 2012, and it’s just that weird of an idea. This would be a movie based on a theme park ride based on one half of the 1949 animated movie Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Somehow this is all supposed to work as a live-action/animation hybrid.
So why on Earth would anyone want to see this? Because the director attached, Pete Candeland, is the best person for the job. Candeland’s best known for his Gorillaz music videos, some of the best animation/live-action hybrids around. If this movie actually gets made, it should be a visual wonder at the very least.
11. DON’T WANT: NOTTINGHAM & HOOD
Can Hollywood just quit it with the Robin Hood movies? Unless you have a really clever new take from the best filmmakers around, it’s hard to get excited about a story that’s so overdone. It doesn’t help that the trailers for the next Robin Hood film, coming from Lionsgate on November 21, look so generic.
Disney’s next go at the story might end up being a spec script it purchased titled Nottingham & Hood. It’s been described as similar in tone to Pirates of the Carribean, but Disney’s last few attempts to recapture that magic haven’t seen so successful (Lone Ranger, anyone?). Honestly, if this gets made, people are just gonna be disappointed that Robin Hood isn’t an uncomfortably attractive fox.
10. CONFIRMED: MALEFICENT 2
Looking at Disney’s upcoming official release slate, Maleficent 2 is one of the bigger question marks in terms of potential success. This would only be the second time a live-action remake of an animated classic got a theatrical sequel. The last one, Alice Through the Looking Glass, was a flat-out bomb. The similarly long gap between release dates (Maleficent came out in 2014, the sequel arrives May 29, 2020) could spell doom.
Also not inspiring confidence is the director attached to the sequel. Joachim Rønning’s last collaboration with Disney was Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, a movie you probably didn’t see and have probably forgotten even if you did. Still, a positive surprise is always welcome.
9. WANT: PINOCCHIO
Disney’s proposed live-action Pinocchio remake might not be as exciting as some of the Pinocchio adaptations that didn’t come to be. It would have been amazing if Paul Thomas Anderson’s version with Robert Downey Jr. as Geppetto got made. Ditto Guillermo Del Toro’s proposed stop motion version set in 1930s Italy.
Still, the team that it appears will go ahead doing the Disney version is pretty solid. Director Paul King’s Paddington movies are as beloved as live action/CG hybrid family films come. The screenplay’s being done by Rogue One‘s Chris Weitz and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child‘s Jack Thorne.
8. DON’T WANT: SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
It’s only been six years since there were two live action Snow White movies in theaters, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. The latter even got an inexplicable sequel! Now, given Disney’s packed release schedule, its proposed Snow White movie wouldn’t be coming out until 2020 at the very earliest, so maybe enough time will have passed for this to feel fresh.
Still, how would the studio go about it, and would producers even want to? The 1937 Snow White was a groundbreaking classic, and one of the properties the studio is most careful with (notably one of the few Disney classics not to get a cheap direct-to-video sequel). Maybe this does turn out OK, but it’s just hard to get excited right now.
7. CONFIRMED: LADY AND THE TRAMP
Lady and the Tramp is certainly an odd choice for the live action treatment. Given director Charlie Bean’s prior credits are all in animation, it seems pretty likely this will be mostly CGI anyway and the “live action” elements minimal. Another surprising aspect about this film: the screenplay’s by mumblecore auteur Andrew Bujalski.
Disney plans on using this film to launch its new streaming service, Disney Play, in 2019. Justin Theroux is voicing the Tramp, while Tessa Thompson’s playing Lady. The latter piece of casting has, sadly but predictably, stirred up some racist anger about Disney “racebending dogs”… as if dogs have any connection to human racial groups.
6. WANT: PETER PAN
Arthouse filmmaker Pete Lowery has found himself doing surprisingly well working with Disney. His remake of Pete’s Dragon was a critical success, and even before that movie came out, he’d started work on writing a new Peter Pan movie. He’s still writing it, a long process throughout which Lowery’s made multiple other films such as A Ghost Story and The Old Man & the Gun.
Though it’s uncertain when, if ever, his Peter Pan will actually get made, it does seem like Lowery has good instincts for the material, and that he has a fresh take that hasn’t been done before. It certainly sounds more promising than Joe Wright’s bizarre “origin story” movie Pan.
5. DO NOT WANT: TINK
Is Tinker Bell really a character who can support her own movie? Okay, there were all those direct-to-DVD CGI Tinker Bell movies made to sell toys to young girls, but those had to give her a voice and a huge supporting cast to work. Will Tinker Bell possibly work as the star of a big live-action blockbuster starring Reese Witherspoon?
Screenwriter Victoria Strouse did well with Finding Dory, giving some hope for the project, but the vibe of this is that Disney’s really stretching to find new live-action twists on their animated classics. It feels like this is unlikely to happen anyway, given David Lowery’s separate Peter Pan film was announced just a year later.
4. CONFIRMED: THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
Unlike in the 1967 cartoon, the 2016 Jungle Book ended with Mowgli chosing to stay with his animal friends in the jungle. The change definitely opened up possibilities for a sequel. Given the enthusiastic response to the first movie, a sequel is officially set to happen… at some point. Jon Favreau will get to it after finishing The Lion King.
Given the break between productions and the fact Neel Sethi is still contracted to reprise his role as Mowgli, it’s likely this movie will take place after some time had passed. Rudyard Kipling did write some stories about a teenage Mowgli, which could possibly be material to base this story off of, though certainly Favreau and co. can come up with fresh original plotlines.
3. WANT: SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES
The world could always use more scary movies for kids. So many of the best children’s films, from The Wizard of Oz to Coraline, are essentially nightmare factories, but lots of kids love being scared and these sorts of movies provide a safe gateway into horror. A new adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes should do the job right.
The 1983 Disney version went through heavy executive meddling, received mixed reviews and ultimately flopped. The proposed remake, by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and LEGO Batman Movie writer Seth-Grahame Smith, is aiming to stick closer to Bradbury’s original novel.
2. DON’T WANT: TRON REBOOT
Tron: Legacy was neither a hit nor a flop, ultimately underwhelming Disney enough that it decided to cancel a planned sequel. The Tron brand, however, still has enough cult appeal that the studio is considering a complete reboot. There are ways this could work, and if not for one important detail, this is would be on the “want” list.
So what’s keeping this in the “don’t want” category? Two words: Jared Leto. Yes, the Tron reboot is being pitched as a starring vehicle for the divisive method actor, who is currently being cast under a harsh spotlight. As funny as it might be to hear about him stuffing himself inside an arcade cabinet for research, there are some pretty disturbing allegations against him. Disney would be wise to look into those.
1. CONFIRMED: THE LITTLE MERMAID
The live action version of The Little Mermaid doesn’t have a release date yet, but it’s absolutely coming out in the next few years. After Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, this will be the last of four big “Disney Renaissance” movies to get remade.
Musical theater fans should be excited at the prospect of Alan Menken teaming up with Lin-Manuel Miranda for new songs. Kingsman‘s Jane Goldman is writing the screenplay, and Disney wants Rob Marshall to direct (Mary Poppins Returns better be amazing if the studio wants to give him this). Rumors have been circling recently that Zendaya will be playing Ariel, a choice that’s been received exactly how you’d expect (fans are curious, racists are furious).
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