Disney live-action movies: where dreams come true


Sadie Downing ‘26 is a part of Wordshop and the Board Games Club, and she hopes to join a book club on campus. She is also a frequent and earnest defender of many movies that people might consider to be bad. Contact Sadie at sedowning@wm.edu.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

When I first read that Disney was planning to make live-action remakes of pretty much all of their vast library of animated movies, with remakes of classics like “Snow White and Seven Dwarfs” and “Lilo & Stitch” slated to arrive next spring, I was just as confused as the next person. Like many other students at the College of William and Mary, I thought that the originals were pretty much perfect; I must have seen the original “The Little Mermaid” movie upwards of ten times throughout the first ten years of my life. 

So, before I saw any Disney movie remakes, I assumed that they were cash grabs, using beloved franchises to squeeze a couple more bucks out of parents desperate to occupy their children’s time. In fact, the first live-action remake I saw, “The Lion King,” seemed to confirm this belief for me. The movie was lackluster, and the animation style was incredibly boring. The music itself was fine, but it’s “The Lion King” — the music was going to be good no matter what. I allowed myself to feel secure in the assumption that live-action remakes were all going to be boring, pasteboard carbon copies of their much better animated counterparts. 

However, I then saw the remake of “Aladdin,” and while I wasn’t exactly taken with most of the movie (especially Will Smith as the genie), a little inkling of doubt began to take root in my mind. While much of the movie was worse than the original, there was one major standout for me: Naomi Scott as Jasmine. 

Naomi Scott’s amazing vocals shook me out of my assumption that all Disney live-action remakes are boring and uninspired. Disney also added a new song in the live-action “Aladdin” just for Jasmine, and while it doesn’t have the same magic as most animated Disney movie songs do, it still struck a chord with me. For those who haven’t seen the movie, Jasmine sings a song about how her own wants and needs feel unimportant and ignored because she’s a princess, and princesses are supposed to marry, not rule, like she wants to. When I saw that as a 15-year-old, I wondered what it would have been like to hear that song as a little girl and to see a Jasmine confident in her own abilities beyond marriage, unlike the Jasmine in the animated “Aladdin.” While animated Jasmine is strong-willed and competent in her own right, she is never given the chance to do anything more important than become the wife of a sultan, not a sultan herself like live-action Jasmine.

The idea that all Disney live-action remakes are bad and unnecessary was finally shaken out of me for good when I saw “The Little Mermaid.” Now, most people might remember “The Little Mermaid” for all the controversy around Disney casting Halle Bailey, a Black actress, to play Ariel, who had only ever been a white character in the world of Disney. Some claimed that casting a Black woman to play Ariel is unrealistic and unfaithful to Hans Christen Andersen’s original story, which was set in 19th century Denmark and thus depicted Ariel as white. To that, I say that in Andersen’s original story, Ariel is 15, the prince is 21, she has her tongue cut out and she dies at the end instead of living happily ever after with her beloved prince. For a Disney movie, how faithful to the original story do critics actually want it to be? 

Beyond the criticism about the diversity of a fantasy movie’s casting, critics claim that the movie remake was unnecessary and fell flat. On both charges, I disagree. While I love the animated “The Little Mermaid,” the story is fundamentally about a teenage girl who, for most of the story, is voiceless and searching for validation from a man who only likes her for her looks. In the live-action “Little Mermaid,” Ariel, while voiceless, takes agency over her own life, and her chemistry with Prince Eric is realistic and not just based on her looks and his shallow ideas about her personality. Part of this is due to the fact that Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King, who plays Prince Eric, have real-life chemistry, but it’s also worth noting that some of the changes made for the live-action version actually make it better. 

For instance, there are multiple scenes in which Ariel and Prince Eric spend time with each other and learn more about each other beyond an instant attraction. Throughout the film, Ariel also relies less on external help and stands on her own as a competent and active player in her destiny that needs nobody else to save her from the villain at the end of the movie. This depiction of a strong woman gives young girls who watch this movie a realistic yet powerful princess to look up to, not just a beautiful one. 

Though most of the Disney remakes I discuss in this article came out years ago, I think it’s important to think about them when remembering the Disney remakes that will come out in the coming months, like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Lilo and Stitch.” Though I love the animated versions of these movies, I will be seeing the live action ones because I now understand that sometimes the changes made for them are necessary and actually make the story better. I would suggest checking them out, even if you think they’re not going to be good. I tend to see a predisposition towards all-or-nothing thinking with students at the College, in which those I know decide that they cannot enjoy a film with flaws or that a film is inherently bad because they personally dislike it. 

However, a movie doesn’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be good to be enjoyable. Disney live-action remakes are mostly enjoyable, and that’s all that really matters. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s terrible, and just because I like it doesn’t mean it’s amazing. It comfortably rests somewhere in between, in the sweet spot where a movie is fun to enjoy.     

I encourage you to try out some Disney remakes. You might be surprised how much you end up liking them in the end. 

Sadie Downing ‘26 is a part of Wordshop and the Board Games Club, and she hopes to join a book club on campus. She is also a frequent and earnest defender of many movies that people might consider to be bad. Contact Sadie at sedowning@wm.edu.


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