2019 and 2020: A Review of the Disney Live-Action Movies

Luke Doherty, Reporting Journalist

During the course of two years Disney, has remade some notable classics from our youth. I have watched every single one and though some may enjoy them, for the most part I did not. So, my hopes weren’t very high with the first release of 2019, The Lion King (2019).

Like many modern-day remakes, it had some positive aspects. Firstly, I liked Donald Glover and Beyoncé as Simba and Nala respectively. The story was great as it didn’t stray much from the original. Though something was off. The realistic lion CGI was and still is revolutionary, but falls short into the uncanny valley. The landscapes are drab and plastered with the color brown, and even James Earl Jones’ (who played Mufasa in the original) voice performance wasn’t as powerful. Director Jon Favreau, who previously directed The Jungle Book (2016) was set on having the lions move realistically and that is the biggest fault of the movie. Besides the songs being longer with better voice performances, the animation painting this beautiful and colorful African savannah, a gripping story with gut-wrenching moments, and the characters generally being more expressive lead me to my humble opinion that it did not live up to its predecessor. Some people enjoyed it though, so I stayed optimistic about the other movies released in 2019.

Secondly, I watched Dumbo (2019). Honestly, this is the most boring of the movies I watched for this review, but make no mistake dear readers when I say that I thoroughly believe you should at least give it a try. It’s a pretty standard children’s movie and most of the movie is relatively forgettable, but there’s a certain charm with its demeanor. The atmosphere Tim Burton produces in this movie is strangely beautiful. The gorgeous visuals and lighting is also accompanied by an excellent score by Danny Elfman gives this movie a great feel despite the poor execution. There wasn’t much to enjoy about this vastly different perspective on an old Disney movie, but the things to enjoy are to be cherished through and through.

The next film I watched was Aladdin (2019). I surprisingly enjoyed a good portion of the film. Will Smith takes on the shoes of Robin Williams as the Genie in a entertaining new way. The story somewhat deviates from the original, but the important plot points remain intact. It’s more colorful than The Lion King and the backgrounds are very unique and diverse. The songs are really good, even if cut short. The heart and spirit that Disney usually brings in their animated films are there and it pains me to see a movie on the verge of being great, but not quite there. I disliked how they wrote Aladdin and how stale they made Jafar. I grew tired during the third act and how uncreative the creators went about it. There’s some to hate, but also some to love; in this light, I recommend this movie if you are a fan of the original. Even though it doesn’t do everything right, it does just enough to be a passable movie.

Mulan (2020) was the only remake movie released this year. In my opinion, it is by far the worst. They take Mulan, a strong female lead who has trouble being a warrior but rises above it by realizing her strengths, and totally deviate from the original plot in the worst way they could. In the remake, they basically explain that Mulan has superpowers only because she is a woman. Now, a powerful female lead for young girls and boys alike is progressive and fantastic in our society, but when you don’t give an explanation on why and how, it becomes totally illogical. The villain also has superpowers, a witch that turns into a bunch of birds (not joking), tossing realism out the window. I can go on about how they replaced comic relief Eddie Murphy with a nameless non-talking phoenix that just flew around Mulan sometimes. There is no subplot about the horrors of war or about Mulan training to become a better warrior with the sole moral of the story being she just has to “believe in herself.” This is the only movie I don’t recommend unless you are determined to, like me, watch them all. This movie, unlike the others, doesn’t add anything from the original; it just subtracts character development and plot points. This is by far the worst remake yet and I hope Disney can work it out because as both a reviewer and a Disney fan, I am not optimistic for the future.

Note: I didn’t write about Maleficent 2 because it is almost completely original and I have nothing to compare it to, though I will say it was pretty average, nothing special.