Since the release of their first feature-length film in 1937, Disney has made princesses a priority. The Disney Princess franchise is one of their most recognizable. But in recent years, Disney has been taking these classics and remaking the as live-action films. With the release of the live-action The Little Mermaid teaser trailer, Disney is continuing to add adaptions to this already lengthy list. Each new remake brings a different twist to the familiar story in order to build upon the original. Though some are more distinct than others. With a variety of added characters, new takes, and even extra songs mixed in with the stories everyone knows and loves, Disney has made a new line-up of princesses.
The trend began in 2014 and to date, five of the thirteen Disney Princesses have been redone. But Disney shows no signs of stopping. Two more adaptions are confirmed to be on the way in the near future. Disney’s live-action princess films are simultaneously familiar and different to long-time Disney Princess fans. But it can be hard to keep up with which films have been made when the titles are already so recognizable.
Disney’s princess remakes struggle to respect the classics while making the story their own. It is impossible to satisfy all fans, but they have tried tirelessly. In the last eight years, Disney released six live-action princess movies and there are more to come. With any luck, The Little Mermaid and Snow White will find a happy balance between old and new that will allow them to tell their own story while maintaining the nostalgia that comes with a remake.
Kicking off the remake craze, Maleficent told the story of Princess Aurora with one key difference. In this version, the story is told from the perspective of Maleficent, the iconic villain from Sleeping Beauty. Still the adaption most removed from the original, Maleficent stars Angelina Jolie as the titular character. The film attempts to garner sympathy for Maleficent as it tells the story of the fairy starting when she is young. She becomes the protector of the fairy kingdom, which is at war with the neighboring kingdom. Maleficent is betrayed by her ambitious childhood friend Stefan (Sharlto Copley) who cuts her wings in order to become king. Years later, Stefan has a daughter. As seen in the beginning of the original film, Maleficent curses the princess. But over the years, she watches Aurora (Elle Fanning) and Aurora comes to think of Maleficent as a fairy godmother. The events of Sleeping Beauty play out much the same, but it is the love parental between Maleficent and Aurora that save her from the curse. In the end, Aurora becomes queen and Maleficent gives her the power to unite the fairies and the humans. By tackling the story from a different point of view, it changes key moments, showing that however clear it may seem, no one is the villain in their own story.
The next princess film to be brought back to theaters was Cinderella in a much more familiar retelling. The star-studded film includes Lily James in the title role, Richard Madden as the prince, and Cate Blanchett as the Stepmother. This adaption chose to cut the songs from the original, though, unlike Maleficent, the plot points remain mostly the same. Orphaned Cinderella is forced to be a servant to her stepmother. In this version, as Cinderella hides from her family, she meets a hunting party including the prince. Only after this does he throw the ball where he is specifically looking for her. Cinderella goes to the ball with the help of her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) and dances with the prince. She loses her slipper and the rest is history. The live-action film chooses to downplay several roles, most notably: the mice. Jaq and Gus do not talk to Cinderella. Though this removes some whimsy from the story, the mice appear, so they can fulfill their role in the story, just with less humor. This version also spends more time developing Cinderella’s character and her relationship with the prince. The adaption isn’t the same as the 1950 version, but Disney built on the foundation of the original beautifully.
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
In 2017 Beauty and the Beast became the first live-action princess movie that felt like a true remake. It used all the same characters, the same music, and added to the story rather than changed it. The film shows book-loving Belle (Emma Watson) trapped in a small town where she doesn’t fit in. When her father (Kevin Kline) angers the mysterious Beast (Dan Stevens), Belle volunteers to prisoner in her father’s stead. Over time, Bell and the Beast learn to love each other, and that love turns the Beast and his servants back into humans. The plot is basically the same as the 1991 version. The remake features a magical book that allows Belle and the Beast to travel as a way to show them spending time together, but this addition is more confusing than anything else. In these travels, the film attempts to give a backstory to Belle’s mother, but it seems unnecessary. The live-action version does expand the role of Gaston (Luke Evans), making him a much more threatening villain. The new film did everything it could to retain the magic of the original, and in many ways, it succeeded. Ian McKellen‘s Cogsworth and Ewan McGregor‘s Lumière play off each other to maintain the humor expected from those roles. But perhaps, the film should have done more to differentiate itself. Of the two, why pick the new one over the 1991 version everyone fell in love with when they are so similar?
Next came Aladdin. This remake faced many of the same problems as Beauty and the Beast. The film tried to set itself apart by expanding Jasmine’s role. The film still follows Aladdin (Mena Massoud) as he finds Genie’s (Will Smith) lamp and masquerades as a prince to try and impress the princess. But it also shows Jasmine (Naomi Scott) trying to convince her father to give her more power rather than her simple not wanting to marry a stranger. Jasmine is given a friend Dalia (Nasim Pedrad). As in the original, Aladdin and Jasmine fall in love, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) schemes for power, and the Genie’s power is the key to restoring peace. While the extra focus on Jasmine brings a lot to the film, it feels disjointed with the plot points borrowed from the original. Genie’s role is also expanded in the form of a romantic subplot with Jasmine’s friend, which comes off as forced. However, the live-action Aladdin does a marvelous job turning the sets and costumes into a spectacular fantasy world deserving of the original film.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)
As yet, Maleficent is the only one of the live-action princess movies to have its own sequel, though Disney has discussed a sequel for Aladdin and a prequel for Beauty and the Beast. As Maleficent includes the complete story of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil has to go in its own direction. It is set years after the first film when Aurora has been the ruling queen for some time. The characters tell the story of the first film, but as they are in Sleeping Beauty where Maleficent is the villain. Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), Aurora’s soon-to-be mother-in-law, hates fairies and does everything she can to drive a wedge into Aurora and Maleficent’s relationship, including framing Maleficent of cursing her husband. Maleficent retreats to hide and discovers herself to be one of the Dark Fey, which means she has a phoenix form that she must earn. The fairies and the humans are on the brink of war again. Aurora and Maleficent make up and Maleficent sacrifices herself for Aurora, but once again their love saves the day, resurrecting Maleficent into her phoenix form. This live-action movie is an original sequel, and as such has little comparison to Sleeping Beauty, but it does give Aurora more screen time than in the previous film. In this way it does expand the princess’s character.
Mulan had a lot going against it. The film was released on Disney+ due to Covid shutdowns. Like Cinderella, this remake removes the music and some of the more eccentric characters. Mushu is not included in this version and her fellow soldiers are less comedic. But this decision wasn’t made in order to make the story more realistic, as other fantastical elements were added. This film includes a super-power-like magical ability called qi which is only supposed to be used by men. Yet Mulan (Liu Yifei) posses qi. Otherwise, the story is very similar. Mulan disguises herself as a man to become a soldier in her father’s (Tzi Ma) place. But there is a witch villain, Xainniang (Gong Li), another woman with qi who is rejected by friends and foes alike. The women meet on the battlefield and Xainniang’s taunting leads Mulan to reveal her identity. Mulan is cast out, but returns to save the emperor. Xainniang changes sides, sacrificing herself to help Mulan restore honor to her family. The film certainly puts its own spin on the story, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it improves on it. Though it is a welcomed change of pace that the two are so different.
The Little Mermaid (2023)
Mulan was the last remake to be released, but The Little Mermaid is not far away. The film will be released on May 26, 2023. As of yet, only a teaser trailer has been seen. So are, everything lines up closely to the original, and seems to indicate it will be an adaption in the same vein as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. The film is set to star Halle Bailey and Ariel. Melissa McCarthey will play Ursula and Jonah Hauer-King will be Eric. The cast also includes Daveed Diggs, Javier Bardem, Jacob Tremblay, and Awkwafina. Noma Dumezweni was announced as a new character named Queen Selina, though it is still unclear how she will factor in. Alen Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda have written new songs to go with the ones from the original as well. Though there will certainly be changes in the new film, it so far seems to be holding fast to the classic. But hopefully it will find a way to distinguish itself.
Snow White (2024)
In the more distant future, Disney will be remaking their first princess film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The new film, entitled, Snow White, will be released on March 22, 2024, though little more is known at this time. But Disney has announced a some of the cast. Rachel Zegler will be Snow White and Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot will play the Evil Queen. Grumpy will be Martin Klebba and Andrew Burnap will play a character called Jonathan who did not appear in the original. Marc Webb will direct the film but the direction he will choose is yet to be seen.