Disney has made a killing with its string of live-action remakes. The blend of childhood nostalgia, realistic settings, and kid-like storytelling have drawn viewers of all ages for years now. In many cases, the parents in attendance were kids when the animated version of each movie originally came out, and they’re looking for a way to share the Disney experience — both past and present — with their kids.
But while the sentimental overtones are all well and good, not every one of Disney’s live-action remakes has been a critical hit. As Disney keeps the remake machine humming, that got us thinking — what animated Disney favorites would not translate well to a live-action rendition? What animated Disney flicks, both classic and modern, should never make the shortlist for Disney’s live-action production slate?
Here are a few of the worst options on the table in no particular order. Let’s have some overtly critical fun, shall we?
Lilo & Stitch
Way back in 2018, The Hollywood Reporter dropped the news that a "Lilo & Stitch" live-action film was, indeed, in the works — even if the news was followed for a long time by radio silence regarding a release date. Regardless, the supposedly impending arrival of a live-action film surrounding this heart-warming story was anything but welcome news.
"Lilo & Stitch" is a great story about friendship, family, and the fact that anyone can change for the better. And yet, it’s most certainly told best in an animated format. For one thing, the film moves quite dramatically between different backdrops. It spends significant time in space with galactic-sized interactions between different alien races. It has fight scenes and explosions and interstellar space travel.
From there, it spends a large portion of the story in Lilo’s bedroom. The backed-out-zoomed-in nature of the film is enough on its own to make a live-action version jarring, to say the least. Add onto that the quirky, unrealistic power level of Stitch, and the film would have to be dramatically altered to make it work in a live-action setting. That would require a lot of changes, many of which were integral to what made the original movie so weirdly charming in the first place.
The Emperor’s New Groove
"The Emperor’s New Groove" is a raucous film about a narcissistic ruler’s journey as he learns to truly respect his power and value his subjects. Along with the grounded, human element of this story, its setting and culture are rooted in the ancient Incan empire that used to be located in modern-day Peru. This gives it a great attraction as a relatable story with real-world, ethnic roots.
But then, there’s the whole part where the main character goes and turns into a Llama for the better part of the film. Yeah, there’s no doubt that, if he were a little younger, John Goodman could stand-in for a live-action version of Pacha pretty easily. But the same can’t be said for David Spade’s Kuzco. Even if the actor were younger, the whole hairy body and elongated neck bit would be too much to handle.
In reality, if they make this one, they’ll need to CGI Kuzco into the film. And don’t get us wrong, we’ve come a long way from the Jar Jar Binks years. A fully CGI-ed character can hold their own on the screen at this point. Just look at the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast." But, truth be told, the Beast’s slow, ponderous style lends itself to a live-action representation pretty well. In comparison, we’re willing to bet that Kuzco’s slapstick nature — not to mention the smorgasbord of animals that the characters are turned into at the end of the film — wouldn’t go over as well.
Disney has tackled several different genres of live-action remakes at this point. They’ve done fantasy, they’ve done talking animals, and they’ve done human stories. One area that they’ve tended to leave alone, though, is anthropomorphic films — where the characters are animals, but they walk on two legs, wear clothes, and talk like people. Sure, you have the occasional White Rabbit character pop in to greet Alice in Wonderland, but the studio has generally avoided films that focus on those kinds of characters — and with good reason, too.
If Disney were to adapt an anthropomorphic animation, they would literally be creating a live-action film that uses CGI to reproduce animated animals that look and dress like human beings. The number of layers here is frightfully overwhelming to the senses, and there’s no doubt that it would make the willing suspension of disbelief challenging at best. If we have to watch a live-action CGI-ed version of Bianca and Bernard, the leads of the two "Rescuers" films — regardless of whether they’re infiltrating the Devil’s Bayou or kicking it Down Under — it’s going to be a long hour and a half spent cringing in a movie theater.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
If there’s one thing that the existing live-action remakes has proven, it’s that when you turn an animated film into a real-life movie, things can get dark really quickly. Films like "Mulan" and "Maleficient" brought seriously moody overtones to films that already addressed fairly somber topics like war or kidnapping. If there’s one Disney film that absolutely doesn’t need this treatment, it’s "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." In spite of the fact that this is yet another film that The Hollywood Reporter announced years ago was in the live-action queue, we’re pretty sure that a realistic version of this story would stand out in the Disney Vault archives for all of the wrong reasons.
The movie includes seriously heavy topics like infanticide, genocide, lust, and the phobic treatment of the disabled. These topics may be presented in a digestible manner, for the most part anyway, in the context of the original animated movie, but creating a live-action (yet still Disney-approved) version of the narrative would most certainly take things to the next level — and make the film really, really intense in the process. Don’t get us wrong. If it was handled carefully, it might make for a good movie, but there’s no doubt that it would hardly fit into the family-friendly nature of the bulk of the live-action remakes thus far.
Pocahontas is another down-to-earth, human-centric story that seems ripe for a remake. But when you break it down, Disney could be opening up Pandora’s box if they decided to tackle this one. The poor treatment of indigenous Americans alone is enough to make it a flashpoint film for most viewers.
The problem doesn’t even have to revolve around whether the remake accurately or inaccurately represents the actual Pocahontas story. Regardless of how it’s handled, there’s no doubt that the studio would be criticized six ways from Sunday once the movie came out.
The proof for this one can be seen in how the recent "Mulan" remake was received. From the second the movie was announced, it started garnering criticism from all directions. From boycotts to issues with a release in China, of all places, the movie had trouble right out of the gate — and Mulan didn’t do very well in China once all was said and done, either. While "Pocahontas" isn’t the same as "Mulan," a live-action film that adapted the epic tale of Powhatan’s daughter could create a lot of headaches. In this case, it might be better to start from scratch with an independent script that can march to the beat of its own drum.
"Zootopia" was a modern hit the moment it was released. The high-energy, hop-happy film was a fun take on the classic big-city, buddy cop movie. It involved a massive amount of world-building that was as diverse as the animal kingdom itself.
But while "Zootopia" was a sensational success as a cartoon, we tend to think it wouldn’t go over well as a live-action remake. The most obvious reason stems from the whole "anthropomorphic animals don’t transition to live-action well" argument. In this case, the entire film would be filled with fast-action CGI that would be very hard to pull off in a believable — let alone watchable — manner.
But it goes further than that. A large part of the theme of the movie revolves around the visceral, animalistic nature of the inhabitants of the "Zootopia" world. The moral lessons of the film may be good, but the way it’s told involves a lot of rather frightening sequences. The depiction of caged, wild, rabidly aggressive animals in the animated version is already a lot for younger viewers. Creating a realistic version of the same story could lead to a movie that is stuck in that awkward spot between a kid-friendly message and an adult-level presentation. If that happened, it would leave Disney with no one to market the film to but a small segment of tween viewers that don’t have anything better to do.
Disney’s "Robin Hood" is one of the great classic films of the cinematic era. It brings the charm of Sherwood Forest down to a level that is much more accessible for children. While the robberies and other dangerous shenanigans are still present, the more violent side of the great Locksley and his merry men is masked under football-esque skirmishes and showers of arrows that never hit their mark.
In spite of its endless appeal, though, "Robin Hood" just wouldn’t go over well as a remake. Of course, the anthropomorphic nature of the film immediately gives it negative marks as a candidate for the live-action treatment.
But we don’t need to revisit that same argument again to add this one to our list, since there’s something even more obvious working against a live-action "Robin Hood" — the fact that the movie already exists, like many, many times over. The number of Robin Hood flicks that have been made ad nauseam over the years makes a live-action remake of "Robin Hood" feel redundant and a complete waste of time. The obsession with the hero of Sherwood has gone on long enough. We’re probably not alone in saying that we’re ready to see Disney’s resources spent on a more unique project than simply remaking a live-action version of a story that has already been done to death.
They call it "the Bambi effect" for a reason. The 1942 classic has been around for over half a century, and it’s still impacting the attitude that viewers have toward nature. The movie is particularly poignant during its emotional high point when (spoiler alert for a movie that is about eighty years old) Bambi’s mother is killed by an anonymous hunter. The movie continues from there and life goes on for the orphaned deer, but the moment is seared onto the emotional conscious of young and old viewers alike for life.
Not surprisingly, this is one of the biggest issues with turning this one into a live-action remake. The idea that someone at Disney would want to reproduce a more realistic version of the traumatizing death of the maternal figure is a bit morbid. The thought that it would go over well with younger audiences — or even older ones, to be honest — stretches belief.
And that doesn’t even touch on the fact that, apart from the dramatic death, the bulk of the movie is a fairly slow burner. It crawls at points and doesn’t do much to retain a modern audience’s short attention span.
The Fox and the Hound
"The Fox and the Hound" is another classic film that tends to drag throughout. Its nature-focused theme is an iconic element that is required for the story to play out properly, but a remake would almost certainly have to beef up the action if it wanted to keep 21st-century audiences interested for more than five minutes. If a live-action remake opted to go the route of, say, "The Lion King," which tended to closely mirror the original movie, it would leave a lot of audience members snoring in their seats.
Ironically, the other issue with this one is the scary nature of the movie’s primary antagonist. When the pair of titular protagonists run into an enormous black bear on a mountain, it leads to a desperate fight that is scary enough as a cartoon. Turning the grizzly mammal into a live-action beast would be enough to send any younger child fleeing from the theater in terror. Much like many other films on this list, the old-school story-telling nature of "The Fox and the Hound" is simply too unbalanced as it shifts between dry, dragging segments and short bursts of over-the-top intensity.
Both "Frozen" and its sequel are enjoyable, family-friendly movies. They’re magical experiences filled with lovable characters, exciting action sequences, and snow — lots of snow. The movies also have a good amount of more fanciful elements that would be a bit difficult to translate to the silver screen.
Based on how things have gone with other live-action remakes, a realistic version of the spasmodic Olaf would be hard to create. Sven would likely have to be reduced to a mute reindeer with minor personality traits. It would be hard to make the slapstick rock trolls believable. Elsa’s larger ice sculptures would have to be less involved. And, of course, the Nokk would be even more terrifying than the aquiferous equine already is as an animated spirit of the deep.
The point is, on the surface, the "Frozen" franchise seems like a human-oriented, down-to-earth story that could be turned into a live-action movie fairly easily. But there are a number of places where the narrative would push the envelope. While it could still be pulled off, chances are the live-action version would be a bit toned down from its charming original.
And don’t forget the musical part, too. "Mulan" was lambasted for its decision to drop its iconic musical numbers. "Frozen" is arguably even more well-known for its melodic prowess. A remake would either have to redo recently famous songs or drop them to help the story flow better. This would cause major issues for most fans, one way or another.
Oliver & Company
Let’s be honest. "Oliver & Company" has never been one of Disney’s stand-out films. A B-film from day one, the movie hasn’t been able to keep up when compared to the countless other classics that surround it. This, on its own, makes the movie a long shot for a live-action remake. After all, the cost of making so many computer-animated characters isn’t cheap. Doing so for a film that many forget is even part of the Disney catalog is hardly alluring.
On top of that, this one would likely have the same vibe as "Lady and the Tramp." When the straight to Disney+ remake finally came out, it wasn’t hard to see why the company had opted to skip a theatrical run. It was anything but compelling. The kind-of-real-life feel of talking dogs with moving mouths was a bit disturbing, to say the least. Having them in a civilized, human setting made it an even harder pill to swallow. At least the isolated aspect of "The Lion King" made it easier to eventually get sucked into the animalistic atmosphere of the film.
At the end of the day, chances are, "Oliver & Company" would end up feeling more like "Lady & the Tramp" than "The Lion King." Even then, the forgettable feline film probably wouldn’t even get as much attention as the more venerable, spaghetti-slurping canine classic.
This one is a pretty easy argument to make. "Wreck-It Ralph" and its sequel are really fun movies about living video game characters. The films follow their adventures, both in-game and online, and are brimming with over-the-top fun from start to finish.
In spite of their universally appealing nature, though, the "Wreck-It Ralph" universe is anything but live-action friendly. The context of the movies is enough on their own to eliminate them from contention. Who would want to watch real-life versions of Ralph and Penelope being CGI-ed into an animated, computer-graphics-driven world? It honestly sounds worse than the anthropomorphic challenge that we’ve dinged so many other films on this list for already.
When you add the physical proportions of Ralph to the equation, it gets even more challenging. There are some pretty solid arguments for why each movie on this list shouldn’t get a live-action remake. But "Wreck-It Ralph" takes the cake in the sense that it, in and of itself, is a film focused on animated creatures. It would be unreasonable and unnatural to turn them into live-action versions of themselves.