I haven’t done a Disney post in a little while so I thought I would give a list of my favorite Disney live action movies. I am not including Muppets on this list as I am going to cover them at another time. This also does not include Marvel, Star Wars, Touchstone or other studios/franchises owned and operated by Disney. These say Disney right on the cover!
What made me think of this is the recent announcement of Emma Watson playing Belle in live action Beauty and the Beast. I love Watson but am not excited about this project at all. The idea of a CG Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs Potts makes me want to throw up. Watson seemed to give the impression in an interview they would be including the music from the animated film, which would be a first in these live action fairytales. That could be a good thing or bad thing.
I just hate this live action trend so much. They all are big, garish, stupid and lose any of the charm of the originals. Hopefully with Beauty and the Beast being Howard Ashman’s masterpiece and him working on his death bed will keep them from complete sacrilege but I am not optimistic.
Just stop Disney. Stop cannibalizing yourself. At least the cheap cash grab sequels of the 90s weren’t released in the theaters. Shame, shame, shame!
Anyway, when Disney gets it right in live action it can be very entertaining. Friend of the blog Mark has a live action Disney blog you should definitely check out. We disagree on a lot but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying his reviews.
So here is my list…
Best Disney Live Action
Honorable Mentions- Shaggy Dog, Absent Minded Professor, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Freaky Friday (old and new), Newsies, High School Musical, Pete’s Dragon, Darby O’ Gill and the Little People, Happiest Millionaire, Cool Runnings
12. Swiss Family Robinson-
An admittedly hokey story but well cast and paced. I love the Home Alone style traps they construct for the pirates and the tree house. The love triangle is less interesting but it is an entertaining family adventure along the lines of Princess Bride.
A lesser known Disney entry that I think is underrated. Based on the book by Natalie Babbit it is the story of a girl who falls in love with a boy who can’t age. It is beautiful and sweet and isn’t afraid to give kids/teenagers something to think about instead of the same dopey romance movie we’ve seen a million times. I love the cinematography and overall feel of the picture. (This movie is my argument they should have cast Alexis Bidel as Bella in Twilight. She is way more ethereal and hauntingly beautiful than Kristen Stewart…)
The story of 2 twin sisters who find each other at camp and decide to try and get their parents back together. Both the old and new are very charming with great lead performances by Hayley Mills and Lindsay Lohan. The chemistry between parents on both films is palatable and convincing and as someone who hates camping I sympathize with poor Vikki (I may not show this to my kids for fear they will submarine me!) . I think it is funny and sweet. Some worry it gives kids a false hope their parents will get back together but in my experience kids are smart enough to tell the difference between a movie and reality. If they have such a hope it is likely a natural emotion not really having anything to do with a movie.
9. Pirates of the Caribbean Curse of the Black Pearl
The sequels have all been terrible IMO but the original was so much fun. Great sword fighting sequences, fun story, strong cast and our first introduction to Jack Sparrow. Wish they had figured out a way to make the follow ups good but at least we got one good movie out of it! 8. Old Yeller
The Disney movie that will make you cry your eyes out but in a good way. Tears in a movie can be manipulative and I can end up resenting the movie (I’m talking to you Nicholas Sparks!) but when done right it we can cry out of a love and attachment to the character. This is certainly true with Old Yeller and I’m not even a dog person. What Travis has to do at the end of the movie is so well acted and gut wrenching. Makes you want to reach through the screen and give him a hug. It’s a movie I like to watch when I’m sick and feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes a girl just needs a good cry!
Yes it is a paler imitation of Mary Poppins but I still really like it. Angela Lansbury is so much fun as the witch who wants to learn a spell so she can help in the war effort. David Tomlinson is also wonderful, as usual, as the con-man selling Lansbury the course. The kid actors are not great but the special effects hold up in a hokey kind of way. The animated sequences are completely unnecessary to the story but a lot of fun. It’s just a charmer.
6. Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, Witch and Wardrobe
Kids not old enough to watch Lord of the Rings? Narnia is a perfect option. I love it for its biblical allegory but even if you aren’t religious it is a classic story full of magic, sacrifice, love, friendship and an amazing villain played by Tilda Swinton. Narnia is vividly created and Aslan is just as I would have imagined when reading the books. The kids are not as good as the Harry Potter kids but they are fine. It’s an exciting story in a fantastical setting. It also has a nice message about pride and how Satan will work on our egos to get us to move away from what we know is right.
When this first came out I called all my friends and family and told them to see it! I loved it. I still love it. It’s so creative and clever the way it tells several stories at once with Shia Lebeouf sent to camp where they dig holes in the desert all day. What are they digging for? Well, we learn about that as the movie tells the story of an old west bi-racial romance between Kissing Kate and Trout Walker and a curse put on LeBeouf’s family. It’s kind of a puzzle for kids as they put together the various clues in both stories. Great supporting work by Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Henry Winkler and Tim Blake Nelson.
A movie I think about a lot despite its stupid title. Bruce Willis meets his 12 year old self and they are both horrified with each other. I have wondered many times what the 12 year old Rachel would think of my life. In some ways she’d be thrilled and in others disappointed. It’s a story that has huge heart and is maybe more for adults than children. We all hope we have lived a good life and this movie makes me ponder every time I watch it.
I am aware this movie is mostly fan fiction but for the story it tells it really moved me. I love the ending when Tom Hanks tells Emma Thompson “I’m tired of remembering it that way”. That really impacted me and made me think. I’m tired of remembering certain things from my life in certain ways. It’s such a great example of showing how most humans have a moment where childhood is over and most of us always resent whoever it was that gave us that moment. For me it was bullies, for Disney it was his Dad making him deliver papers in the cold, for Travers it was her father dyeing on her. Disney compensated with whimsey, Travers by scorning whimsey and embracing a whole new identity.
One of my all time favorite children’s movies about a girl named Pollyanna (played by Hayley Mills) who having lost both of her parents has decided to live her life always looking at the upside. Her positivity effects all around her including her stubborn aunt played by Jane Wyman. Karl Malden is so good as the minister who realizes preaching fire and brimstone may not be the way to share God’s message. Agnes Moorehead is also great as a lonely cantankerous woman who learns from Pollyanna how to see color and light even from her room. Yes it’s drippy and sentimental but it is all so well acted that when an event happens to cause Pollyanna to loose her cheerfulness it is really quite devastating. Then it ends on just the right note. It’s a movie I don’t know if it could be made today. We have all gotten too cynical for such a story which is kind of sad when you think about it. 1. Mary Poppins
In the running for the best children’s movie ever made. It is practically perfect in every way! Julie Andrews as lovely as Mary, the positive yet sometimes stern governess to little Jane and Michael. David Tomlinson is so great as Mr Banks the banker who believes in order and discipline and comes into conflict with Mary. When he thinks he is going to be fired and see’s the Bird Lady it is a completely devastating moment. He is not the villain of the picture which a lesser film would have done. Glynis Johns is fun as the suffragette Mrs Banks and the kids are sweet and charming.
The music by the Sherman Brothers is unforgettable and dancing sequences like Step in Time are so captivating you hardly notice how long they are. The animated section is whimsical and fun and who can forget Dick van Dyke bad accent and all as the free spirited Burt. If the only flaw I can find in a movie is a bad accent I think that is pretty darn great. Definitely one of Disney’s great movies. Glad he fought Travers to make it!
So there you go Disney. How about you look at these films and remember how to make good live action instead of junk like Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland…Please!