- Disney has been remaking its animated classics as far back as 1996’s “101 Dalmatians.”
- With plenty more live-action remakes on the way, we examined the biggest changes that Disney has made in its remakes.
- 2020’s “Mulan” removed some of the most beloved aspects from the animated version, like Mushu the dragon.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Disney has no fewer than 20 live-action movies in the works right now. Some recent releases appear to be faithful remakes of the original films, like 2019’s “Lady and the Tramp,” while others are diverging from their source material, like the non-musical reimagining of “Mulan.”
There are a fair few other Disney live-action remakes already, like “Alice in Wonderland,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Cinderella.” Insider took a closer look to find the biggest changes Disney made when turning its animated classics into live-action blockbusters.
Keep scrolling to learn more about Disney’s biggest alterations.
Right off the bat, there are a few big changes from the original “Mulan” animated film. First up: It’s not a musical.
To go with the more grounded and realistic vibe of the live-action film, all spontaneous bursting into song was eradicated. That means no “Reflection,” no “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” and no “Honour to Us All” – or at least, not in the ways you’d expect. Orchestral versions of the songs play throughout.
There’s no talking magical dragon named Mushu either — he gets replaced by a phoenix as the family’s guardian.
Again, with the darker and more realistic tone of the film, a wise-cracking mini-dragon with the voice of Eddie Murphy doesn’t really make sense. We miss him, though.
Instead, Mulan’s father explains that the phoenix is their family guardian and will always be there for them.
When Mulan changes her name in the live-action film, it’s to Jun, not Ping.
Without Mushu around to suggest Ping, Mulan goes for the name Jun.
There are a few other missing characters, like Mulan’s love interest Li Shang and her kooky grandmother.
Mulan’s beloved grandmother didn’t make the jump from the animated to live-action film, while something different happens to Shang …
Shang gets split into two characters. Mulan’s new love interest is Chen Honghui, a fellow solider, while her new commanding officer is Commander Tung, who is a mentor to her.
Before the movie’s release, one of its producers, Jason Reed, told Collider that the reason Shang was rewritten was, in part, due to the #MeToo movement. “I think particularly in the time of the #MeToo movement, having a commanding officer that is also the sexual love interest was very uncomfortable and we didn’t think it was appropriate,” Reed said. Instead, her new love interest is her equal in terms of power dynamics.
Instead of being her love interest, Donnie Yen’s Commander Tung becomes a mentor to Mulan, and encourages her to use her chi (more on that later). In fact, Tung becomes so fond of Mulan (as Jun), that he tells Mulan he’d like “Jun” to marry his daughter.
The film’s main villain is also different. Say goodbye to Shan Yu, and say hello to Bori Khan.
While they have similar interactions with Mulan, including that signature avalanche, Bori Khan is a Rouran, and he has more of a personal bone to pick with the Emperor, who killed his father. He also has a very powerful new ally …
One of the film’s brand new inventions is Xianniang, a powerful witch and ally to Bori Khan.
Xianniang is a brand new character for the live-action film. Over the course of the story, she’s revealed to be a skilled shape-shifter and witch, who was outcast by her family and community for being a powerful woman, which is why she links up with Bori Khan, as it’s her only option to gain power and safety.
Both Xianniang and Mulan exhibit something like a superpower: chi. One of the reasons Mulan doesn’t fit in is because women aren’t supposed to possess it — chi is only for great (male) warriors.
In the animated movie, Mulan is clumsy and it takes a lot of training for her to become the hero who saves China. In the live-action version, Mulan is almost supernaturally skilled at combat, acrobatics, and is generally an amazing warrior, which comes from her ability to channel her chi.
Unfortunately, her father has to force her to hide it away, as it’s only meant for great warriors (i.e. men). It’s what connects Mulan and Xianniang – they’re both powerful women in a time when that was frowned upon.
Instead of a dog named Little Brother, Mulan has a human sister named Xiu.
In the original epic poem, Mulan had multiple siblings. In the animated film, she was an only child (adding to the pressure of finding a husband and continuing the family line). Now, Mulan has a younger sister, Xiu.
Mulan’s other sidekick, a cricket named Cri-Kee, is turned into a human and fellow soldier who goes by Cricket.
In addition to her three classic friends and Chen Honghui, Cricket is the fifth and final solider who Mulan befriends.
“Lady and the Tramp” was part of the initial lineup when Disney Plus went live in November 2019. One of the most needed changes was getting rid of the Siamese cats.
In the original, Aunt Sarah comes to dog-sit Lady and brings along her cats Si and Am, who are thinly veiled caricatures of Asian people, from their slanted eyes to their buckteeth to their voices – which were performed by a white woman, Peggy Lee. Their inclusion in the film led to Disney adding a disclaimer, saying that the film has “outdated cultural depictions.”
In the 2019 version, the cats are renamed Devon and Rex, and they are a different breed. They also sing a whole new song called “What a Shame.”
One of Lady’s friends, Jock, was gender-swapped for the 2019 film and is now voiced by a woman.
In the original movie, Tramp, Jock, Bull, and Trusty are all male, while Lady and Peg are the sole female dogs. Adding Jock to the mix was a good way to even things out.
The cast is more diverse, with Yvette Nicole Brown and Kiersey Clemons taking over previously white characters.
Ken Jeong, Adrian Martinez, Arturo Castro, and Parvesh Cheena are among the people of colour with roles in the film, in addition to the voice cast of Tessa Thompson, Janelle Monáe, and Benedict Wong.
Instead of wandering through the zoo, our leading pups jump on a riverboat cruise.
In the original, Lady receives help taking off her muzzle from a friendly beaver in the zoo. The zoo and the beaver don’t make an appearance in the 2019 update – though there is a sweet nod to Lady’s helper with a statue.
Tramp gets a sad back story, and it’s revealed his family left him once they had a baby.
It’s revealed that Tramp has firsthand experience with a baby edging out a pet – he was abandoned once his owners had a baby of their own.
In the 1955 film, it’s never made clear where Tramp came from.
The Dears’ baby is a daughter named Lulu, not an unnamed son.
We never learn the name of the Dears’ baby in the original, but he’s referred to as a little boy. Lulu is more of a character in the 2019 film – at least she got a name.
Another of Disney’s latest remakes is the 2019 update of “The Lion King,” which was originally released in 1994.
One of the biggest changes is that many pivotal scenes from the animated version that focused on the lions’ faces were shot from behind, since photo-realistic lions can’t emote as much.
Since the animated movie was just that – animated – the writers and animators were at liberty to include colours, expressions, and more human-like behaviour that would be harder to achieve in the real savanna.
“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” has a much more muted colour palate.
Check out the original version from the 1994 movie to see exactly what we mean. With the commitment to realism, it’s simply impossible to include some of the magical touches from the animated movie.
Also, the song doesn’t end with Simba and Nala escaping Zazu after he gets smushed by a rhino. Instead, he gets distracted by some bugs.
While there are three hyenas in both versions, the 2019 update replaces Banzai and Ed with new hyenas Kamari and Azizi, who are much more intimidating.
There was a conscious choice by director Jon Favreau to turn the hyenas into a menacing presence in the film, rather than just comic relief. They’re not as subservient to Scar as they were originally, and barely have any respect for him, unlike the sycophantic hyenas in the animated film.
Speaking of the hyenas, Shenzi gets more of a backstory and apparently had a years-long beef with Nala.
The two face off in the climactic battle between Simba and Scar as well. Their problems go all the way back to Nala’s childhood.
Instead of just being power-hungry, it’s revealed that Scar was in love with Sarabi, his brother’s queen, the whole time.
As the real “Lion King” heads know, there was originally a scene in the 1994 version that depicted Scar attempting to make Nala his queen, which is a bit creepy and was thankfully deleted.
The 2019 movie puts a twist on this, and reveals that Scar has been harbouring resentment towards Mufasa and Sarabi this whole time as Sarabi chose Mufasa over him. After Scar takes over as king, he offers to make Sarabi his queen, which she staunchly refuses.
Scar’s big villain moment, the song “Be Prepared,” is more of a speech set to music.
“Be Prepared” is one of the all-time great villain songs in the Disney canon, so needless to say fans were excited for Chiwetel Ejiofor’s take on the song. Many viewers were disappointed when the song was changed from a giant, belted number complete with Scar sneering at the hyenas and dramatic steam blasting around him to a speech set to music. Ejiofor barely sings until the last line.
Zazu spends most of the latter half of the animated movie held captive in a cage. In the new version, he’s never captured and continues to give Sarabi updates.
Frankly, this helps to explain why Zazu was ever Mufasa’s majordomo, since he was just a lame stickler for rules in the original. 2019 Zazu directly defies orders, continues to give Sarabi morning reports, and regularly evades getting captured by the hyenas. He also gets to be part of the final battle.
Nala gets to battle Shenzi, actively goes out looking for someone to stop Scar, and is an all-around fierce warrior.
Essentially, Nala gets a lot more to do than just be the catalyst for Simba’s quest to reclaim his kingdom.
In the original, Nala is sent out by a desperate Scar to try and find food for the pride. In the 2019 film, Nala is forced to flee after she is open about her disapproval of Scar, and goes out looking for someone to take down the evil king. She’s a much more proactive character.
Timon and Pumbaa don’t live alone in the jungle. Instead, there are plenty of other creatures that live amongst them — all of which are afraid of Simba.
Even though Simba swears off meat and sticks to an insect-based diet, the other jungle-dwellers are still skittish around him, only enforcing that Simba doesn’t belong here with them. The animated movie makes it seem like Simba leaves behind a jungle oasis to return home.
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is a real musical number, not just a short scene.
In both versions, the song is cut short by Nala discovering Timon and Pumbaa and terrifying them. But the 2019 scene is extended, and includes the rest of the jungle joining in on the sing-along. It’s one of the funniest moments in the film.
In the 2019 remake of “Aladdin,” one of the biggest changes was to Princess Jasmine’s character. She got to sing her own song, and her character was given more ambition than getting married for love — she wanted to become the first female sultan of Agrabah.
Even in the 1992 original, Jasmine has more autonomy than the average Disney princess. She’s sassy, and frequently turns down handsome princes. She sees through Aladdin’s “Prince Ali” disguise relatively quickly, and isn’t afraid to stand up to the movie’s villain, Jafar.
She gets even more to do in the live-action version. She gets to shine performing her new song, “Speechless,” and instead of wanting to marry a man, she simply wants to become sultan herself. Jasmine also gets a new friend and a more detailed back story.
She also gets more of a backstory: We learn that Jasmine’s mother was murdered. Originally, her mother’s fate was more ambiguous.
In both versions of “Aladdin,” Jasmine’s mother has died prior to the events of the movie. Her death is never explained in the animated version, and isn’t talked about much.
In the 2019 movie, Jasmine’s mother’s memory hangs over the film. Her father won’t let her outside because her mother was murdered – though that’s never fleshed out, either – and Jasmine wears a bracelet to keep her close.
Jafar also repeatedly talks about invading Jasmine’s mother’s homeland, which is never named or discussed in the animated version.
A brand new character is introduced in the new version: a handmaiden named Dalia, played by Nasim Pedrad.
Jasmine specifically states in the animated movie that her only friend is her tiger, Rajah. Thankfully, in the 2019 version she gets a human confidante in Dalia, her handmaiden who encourages her to give Aladdin a chance. She also provides some genuine comic relief – and has a special bond with the Genie.
One of Dalia’s main narrative functions is to provide the Genie with a love interest.
The framing device of 2019’s “Aladdin” is the human version of Genie telling the story of himself, Aladdin, Jasmine, and, as we find out, Dalia, to their children. In the original, the Genie longs to be free and make his own decisions, but this Genie specifically longs to be human and quickly develops feeling for Dalia.
Jafar also gets more of a back story, and viewers are told that he grew up a “street rat,” much like Aladdin.
Aladdin’s nemesis, Jafar, has just one goal in the animated movie: to become sultan and gain power. It’s not clear why – he’s just power hungry. The live-action Jafar is revealed to have some deep-seated insecurities about his less-than-regal upbringing. He rose through the ranks, from petty thief to second-in-command, a title that he despises.
His villainous actions come from a place of wanting to prove the world wrong about his past, and a tyrannical need to become the most powerful being in the universe.
A new character, Prince Anders, is introduced. The choice to cast Billy Magnussen was controversial.
Prince Anders doesn’t exist at all in the 1992 animated movie, but he takes the place of another one of Jasmine’s suitors, Prince Achmed. Magnussen’s prince is, to put it lightly, a complete doofus.
People were unhappy with the addition of Anders, a white man, to a movie that takes place in the Middle East.
Will Smith’s take on the Genie involves more rapping.
In addition to brand-new song “Speechless,” some of the original classic songs got updated lyrics was well as raps, to better suit 2019 and Smith’s skillset as a rapper, not a belter like Robin Williams.
In “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” the Genie gets to flex his skills as an MC, and sings more kid-friendly lyrics in “Arabian Nights.”
There’s a mid-movie Bollywood-style dance break in which Mena Massoud gets to show off his dance skills, and another dance party at the end.
Neither of these big dance numbers exist in the original. The first one takes place while Aladdin is still in his Prince Ali persona, and trying to woo Jasmine. The second is at the end, after Aladdin and Jasmine are married.
The 2019 live-action version of “Dumbo” changed almost everything from the original, especially by removing Timothy Q. Mouse.
This fast-talking mouse is completely left out of the movie, even though he’s Dumbo’s closest pal in the 1941 film. There are no talking animals at all in the 2019 version.
In a positive change, the remake leaves out the problematic Jim Crow character.
Jim Crow laws were designed to enforce segregation in the South following the end of the Civil War, and were enforced until the mid ’60s. In other words, these laws were firmly in place when Disney decided to include a black crow, called Jim Crow, voiced by white actor Cliff Edwards, in its 1941 original. He and the rest of the crows were not missed from the 2019 version.
Another welcome change was the removal of the downright terrifying pink elephant scene.
In the original movie, Dumbo, a child, drinks so much alcohol that he hallucinates pink elephants tormenting him. Kids the world over were scarred by this frightening scene.
The additions of Holt, Max Medici, Vandevere, Milly, Joe, and all the other humans were new.
In 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Disney featured its first gay character, LeFou, though his sexuality was not discussed in the animated classic.
LeFou’s “exclusively gay moment” in “Beauty and the Beast” consisted of him dancing with another man at the end of the film, when everyone gets their happy ending.
This was a departure from the animated movie in which – while LeFou seems to have a crush on the villainous hunk Gaston – his sexuality is never made entirely clear.
Also in “Beauty and the Beast,” there’s an addition of a magical book that can take the reader anywhere they want to go — and it gives Belle’s mother a much-need back story.
The magical book lets Belle – and viewers – visit her first home in Paris, when she was just a baby. She learns that her father moved her to her “provincial life” after her adventurous mother died of the plague.
Belle’s mother is barely mentioned in the 1991 film, and it’s never explained why Belle and her father live in such a small town, which clearly makes Belle miserable.
Belle’s not just a voracious reader in the live-action version, she’s an inventor as well.
Not content to just sit and read like her animated counterpart, 2017’s Belle is also an inventor, and frequently creates gadgets to help her with her daily chores. However, this make her even more of an outsider in her community.
2017’s “Beauty and the Beast” also features an entirely new character, Maestro Cadenza the harpsichord.
Cadenza, in his human form, is married to the wardrobe, a character from the animated movie.
The 2016 version of “The Jungle Book” has a few key differences to the 1967 original, the main one being that it isn’t a musical.
The 2016 version manages to include “Bare Necessities,” “Trust In Me,” and “I Wanna Be Like You,” but the vocals are decidedly more natural and less polished than in the original.
Director Jon Favreau explained on Twitter that the songs were taken out because “[I] wanted to include enough music to satisfy people who grew up [with the 1967] film, but not make it a musical or betray action tone.”
Sinister snake Kaa was played by a woman, Scarlett Johansson, in 2016, unlike the original Kaa played by Sterling Holloway, a man.
“The original film was a little male-heavy so we changed the character of Kaa,” said director Jon Favreau.
In the original King Louie was an orangutan, but to make the film more geographically accurate he was changed to the now-extinct Gigantopithecus.
He’s still just as obsessed with figuring out how to make fire, though. And Christopher Walken gets to perform a much darker version of Louie’s song, “I Wanna Be Like You.”
The original version ends with Mowgli leaving the jungle to live amongst humans, while the 2016 movie keeps him with the animals, probably to set up the upcoming sequel.
Mowgli ends the 1967 version leaving the jungle behind to live with his own kind: humans. However, to keep the possibility of a sequel open, in the live-action remake Mowgli defeats terrifying tiger Shere Khan, and continues to live in the jungle with his animal family.
This gambit worked – a “Jungle Book” sequel is in the works.
The remake of “Cinderella” gave Prince Charming a name: Kit.
His only name is in the 1950 original is Prince Charming. He received a big upgrade in the 2015 remake by getting a real name: Kit.
In the remake, Cinderella and Prince Charming also meet before the ball, in the woods.
In the original, the Prince and Cinderella first meet at the ball, when she’s all dolled up and wearing her famous glass slippers.
In the 2015 version, the two meet in the woods while they’re both pretending to be other people – Kit says he is a palace apprentice, and Cinderella essentially doesn’t reveal anything about herself. It gives their love story some much needed back story, so it makes sense for Kit to persuade his father to let him essentially stalk every girl in the kingdom by making them try on a shoe.
The Grand Duke, in the 2015 version, teams up with Cinderella’s evil stepmother to keep Cinderella and Kit apart.
The Grand Duke is a minor character in the original, whose only purpose is to help the Prince find Cinderella.
He has ulterior motives in the 2015 version, however. It comes to light that he already promised Kit to another princess, so Kit’s new love interest really throws a wrench into his plans. Lady Tremaine overhears his predicament and offers to smash Cinderella’s remaining slipper – if she can be made a countess.
Lady Tremaine, the evil stepmother, also gets a tragic back story of her own.
In the 1950 animated classic, Lady Tremaine hates Cinderella because she’s jealous of her – and that’s about it.
In the 2015 remake, she reveals an intriguing backstory: that she loved her first husband, who died, and then married Cinderella’s widowed father to support her two daughters. She then had to compete with the ghost of Cinderella’s mother, to once again be left to support three daughters when her second husband dies.
We get to meet Cinderella’s mother in the live-action version, and see how she instilled her values into Cinderella.
Cinderella’s mother is barely even discussed in the 1950 original, but in the 2015 version she can be seen telling Cinderella to “Have courage and be kind” – something Cinderella takes to heart for the rest of her life.
Another big difference? There are no talking mice like Gus and Jaq in the 2015 version of “Cinderella.”
The mice are in the movie, they just don’t speak to Cinderella and help her create a dress. They’re simply there to get transformed into coachmen by the Fairy Godmother.
And finally, the new version of “Cinderella” isn’t a musical, which means no iconic songs like “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.”
Screenwriter Chris Weitz explained that the reason there’s no music in the remake is because he simply couldn’t fit it in. He told ScreenRant, “I don’t know how to write that kind of thing really, and I think that that’s something that for me, it’s much easier to do that with an animated film.”
The biggest change to “Sleeping Beauty” in “Maleficent” is, of course, changing Maleficent from villain to sympathetic hero.
Maleficent, in the the 1959 version, is just a one-dimensional villain. The only thing that happens to her to make her evil is not getting invited to Princess Aurora’s christening – which is enough to get her to curse Aurora to die at age 16.
In “Maleficent,” the titular character has a history with Aurora’s father, King Stefan, whom she was in love with. Clearly, their love doesn’t work out, and Maleficent spends the rest of her life nursing that heartbreak.
However, she grows to care for Aurora and even tries to reverse her own spell to no avail.
In the new version, it’s also Maleficent’s true love’s kiss that breaks the spell, not Prince Philip.
In “Maleficent,” the traditional love interest Prince Philip tries to awaken Aurora with true love’s kiss, but is unsuccessful. It’s Maleficent’s motherly devotion to Aurora that breaks the sleeping curse and wakes her up.
Princess Aurora is taken in by three fairies in both “Sleeping Beauty” and “Maleficent,” but their names are different.
In “Sleeping Beauty,” the bumbling, well-meaning fairies are named Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. “Maleficent” changes them to Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle, and makes them even more incompetent, demonstrating that Maleficent was behind Aurora’s childcare all along.
“Maleficent” is also not a musical, though Lana Del Rey was enlisted to record a track from “Sleeping Beauty” for the soundtrack.
“Once Upon a Dream” is an iconic song in the Disney canon, which is why it was chosen to be included on the “Maleficent” soundtrack. But the movie itself isn’t a musical like its predecessor was.
The 2010 version of “Alice in Wonderland” has a few new characters, including Anne Hathaway’s White Queen.
The White Queen is a character from the sequel to the original “Alice in Wonderland” book, called “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There,” written by Lewis Carroll in 1871.
This White Queen is similar to her book counterpart in name only, and doesn’t even appear in the 1951 movie.
The Red Queen from the 2010 movie is an amalgam of the Queen of Hearts from “Alice in Wonderland” and the Red Queen from “Through the Looking Glass” — the original 1951 version is just the Queen of Hearts.
While Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen from the 2010 remake is called the Red Queen, her personality is taken directly from the Queen of Hearts from the 1951 animated version, down to her penchant of cutting off people’s heads.
The only thing she has in common with her book counterpart is her relationship to the White Queen, a figure that doesn’t appear in the animated version at all.
Alice’s main objective in the 2010 movie is to defeat the Jabberwocky, a creature that doesn’t appear in the animated film at all.
The Jabberwocky is another creature that appears in Caroll’s books, but never makes an appearance in the 1951 original film. Alice’s main objective, in that movie, is to escape Wonderland and make it back home.
She has more of a hero’s journey in the Tim Burton remake, and slays the Jabberwocky to save Wonderland and all of its residents.
There’s no Unbirthday Party in the 2010 film.
The Unbirthday Party is one of the most beloved scenes from the original 1951 movie, in which the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse are celebrating their “unbirthdays” – any day that’s not your birthday. It’s cut out completely from the 2010 movie.
Alice is aged up considerably for the live-action remake.
The original Alice is a young girl, whereas the live-action Alice is 19 years old and attempting to escape an arranged marriage.
And the Mad Hatter gets more of a backstory in the live-action version, ultimately becoming a close friend of Alice’s.
Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is much more sympathetic than the original Mad Hatter, who is just there to annoy Alice when she attempts to speak.
The new Mad Hatter works alongside the other creatures of Wonderland to help Alice on her quest to defeat the Jabberwocky and the Red Queen, a plot that doesn’t exist in the 1951 movie. We learn that he has a family in the sequel, “Alice Through the Looking Glass.”
And like so many of its live-action brethren, 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” is not a musical.
Count out “The Unbirthday Song” and “All in the Golden Afternoon.”
The “101 Dalmatians” remake keeps most of the plot the same, except that it changes the time period it takes place in from the ’50s to the ’90s.
“One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” the original movie from 1961, is based on the 1956 novel of the same name. The 1996 remake keeps the general plot the same, but does bring Anita, Roger, and Cruella into the ’90s, with Roger being a video game designer instead of a musician.
While the animals are the main characters of “101 Dalmatians,” they don’t speak at all in the remake.
The dogs are still a huge part of the remake, they just don’t get to speak and express themselves like their animated counterparts do.
- Read more:
- Here’s how every character in a Disney live action movie compares to the original animated version
- 28 celebrities you didn’t realise voiced Disney characters
- The 15 worst Disney sequels of all time
- 21 celebrities that are totally obsessed with Disney
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