Disney’s foray into the realm of remaking their classic animated films as live-action, high-octane adaptations has been met with mixed results. Though some are less than stellar, there are others that are rousing, charming versions of their original stories like Christopher Robin and Beauty and the Beast, and benefit from the heartfelt retellings on the big screen.
Much of the success comes from the impeccable casting in the remakes across the board. Most actors who turn up in Disney’s live-action remakes are giving sumptuous, enchanting performances, but here are the best of the best.
10 Donald Glover As Simba
Anyone who attempted to replace Matthew Broderick as Simba would have some daunting work ahead of them. (Less daunting than replacing Mufasa, but, happily, James Earl Jones re-upped for the 2019 Lion King remake.)
Donald Glover, however, nails the light-hearted tone of Simba’s young adult voice and provides some delightful pipes to the soundtrack, too. The man is one of the industry’s top talents for a reason.
9 Emma Watson As Belle
On paper, Emma Watson is a no-brainer for Belle, especially coming after her all-time turn as Hermione Granger. But Watson didn’t settle for the obviousness of the casting choice. She really worked to make the Belle role her own.
Paige O’Hara would be proud of Watson, as she dances and dazzles with all the grace of Hollywood’s most beloved musical leads. Even just the lilt in her voice during the first verse of “Belle” is enough to vault Watson onto the list.
8 Colin Farrell As Holt
Colin Farrell was an undeniable highlight of 2019’s remake of Dumbo. Considering his role in Saving Mr. Banks, too, it’s clear that Farrell thrives whenever he’s cast as a father trying his best in a period Disney film.
Of course, Farrell is always dynamite, but this role could have been a total waste of his time. But the sincerity he gave to Holt Farrier is largely what makes the Dumbo re-do work.
7 Bill Murray As Baloo
The entire cast of Jon Favreau’s 2016 remake of The Jungle Book is inspired. (Turn to the soundtrack to hear Christopher Walken and Scarlett Johansson engage in some singing.) The best choice might have also been the most obvious, though: Bill Murray as Baloo.
He brings the necessary wisdom to Baloo, as Murray is a veteran of the movie industry. However, the jovial demeanor is also needed. Murray inhabits that beloved bear to perfection.
6 Gong Li As Xian
Surprisingly, the best performance in 2020’s Mulan comes in service of a character who is not the main villain of the film and not even a character in the original 1998 film. That’s how impressive Gong Li is as Xian Lang.
Of course, Li’s resume is an impressive one outside of Mulan, as she’s starred in some acclaimed Chinese films. But she didn’t let the Disney of it all deter her in Mulan. She’s arguably the most gripping performer on screen.
5 Billy Eichner As Timon
Returning to the remake of The Lion King, it’s clear that the breakout performance was Billy Eichner as Timon. It might seem like blasphemy, but Eichner might have even topped Nathan Lane’s original voice acting.
Part of this is thanks to Eichner’s irreverent sense of humor and riffing with Seth Rogen (who played Pumbaa). But Eichner also has real pipes and helped make the “Hakuna Matata” number a musically memorable one.
4 Lily James As Cinderella
One of the earlier Disney live-action remakes, Cinderella, is not as widely regarded as some of the later successors. But Lily James’ performance in the title role is one that will not soon be forgotten by the princess devotees.
James exudes enchantment in many of her roles and Cinderella was no exception. She even deepened the pathos of the original character by showing facial flickers of all that she furtively yearned for.
3 Luke Evans As Gaston
Revisiting Beauty and the Beast here, the 2017 remake had a number of high-quality star and vocal turns from its cast. But Luke Evans might have stolen the entire show as the narcissistic, screen-feasting villain, Gaston.
The villains tend to be the juicier roles anyway. Evans was so fun to watch as the heartsick, misogynistic bodybuilder that Disney+ has even opted to provide him his own series, reuniting him with Josh Gad’s LeFou.
2 Naomi Scott As Jasmine
So far, the best live-action Disney princess is Jasmine in 2019’s Aladdin and that’s all courtesy of the direct identity infused into the character by Naomi Scott.
Not only did she bring Jasmine to life with empathy, ferocity, and a powerful singing voice. She also provided previously unseen dimensions to the future ruler of Agrabah. Scott was the perfect choice when it came to fleshing out Princess Jasmine with a veritable character arc.
1 Ewan McGregor As Christopher Robin
Granted, Ewan McGregor might have a claim for two spots on this list, considering he also brought a stunning bravado to Lumiere, the sentient candlestick. But the honorific for the actor has to go to Christopher Robin, the lead of Christopher Robin.
This is a remake role that calls upon its lead actor to do something truly magnificent and deep. All of the Winnie the Pooh voice actors are charming, but McGregor brings unprecedented pathos to the role as a man reconnecting with his inner child. It’s silly, sweet, and sentimental all in one. McGregor is just aces in the part.
NEXT: 10 Things Live-Action Disney Remakes Did Better Than The Original Films
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