Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Best Live-Action Disney Movies of the Last 20 Years

20. 101 Dalmatians (1996)
Glenn Close's performance just edges out Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (a better movie than it often gets credit for).  Glenn Close's portrayal of Cruella de Vil is the movie's redeeming factor.  She puts a unique live-action spin to the Marc Davis cartoon character and brings class and energy to an otherwise forgettable film.

19. Sky High (2005)
An above average high school storyline full of pretty obvious superhero cliches.  Once again, as in many of these choices, the fun is in the casting.  The adults are played by terrific character actors such as Lynda Carter, Bruce Campbell, Kevin MacDonald, Dave Foley and Kelly Preston.  The best performance comes from former Disney child star coming full circle, Kurt Russell who plays a great archetypal superhero.

18. Holes (2003)
Not as good as the excellent book by Louis Sachar, but still fun.  Possibly the last time Shia LaBeouf was likable in a movie and features a good cast of kids and adults (with Jon Voight and the late Eartha Kitt being the most fun).    The plot is very creative and there is a very sweet, tragic love story.  Of course a big part of the appeal was the rap Dig It performed by members of the cast as the boy band The D-Tent Boys.

17. Miracle (2004)
One of Disney's better sports movies (I need to see The Rookie otherwise that would probably earn a spot).  The movie dispenses with family movie gimmicks and plays the true story very straight forward. This is one of Kurt Russell's better performances and the period costuming is very good.

16. Freaky Friday (2003)
Much like Lindsay Lohan's previous Disney remake this uses the premise of the original movie but finds its own modern identity.  It does not feature anything as clever as switching into the right bodies but in the wrong places but it is an enjoyable movie.   Mainly due to Jamie Lee Curtis in a Golden Globe award nominated performance.

15. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
Although this is where the Pirates series started to fall apart it is still an enjoyable adventure.  There are many well choreographed set pieces and the special effects of Davy Jones' ship is eerie but believable.  The love triangle is fun, the father-son aspect is touching and as overused as he is now it was fun seeing Captain Jack again.  Also this has several references to Disney's classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea which is a nice touch.

14. Tuck Everlasting (2002)
I don't think that anybody saw this one, I rented it several years later.  A decent adaptation of the classic children's story.  The characters are aged up a bit but the romance aspect more or less works.  It is very simplistic, but it captures the fantastical feel of Natalie Babbit's story.  Definitely a nice change of pace from Disney's loud, overly visual fare.

13. Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Not everybody liked this, but I really got into it.  It knew what it was.  Never once tried to fix or outdo Victor Fleming's classic but it used the audience's familiarity and love with the source material to its advantage.  There is a lot of imagination behind it and the decision of Raimi as the director was inspired as he adds definite suspense to it.  There is much more of an edge to this than the usual family movie, which is not a bad thing.  Also the most creative opening credits I have ever seen.

12. Angels in the Outfield (1994)
One of the most underrated scores I have ever heard.  A great ensemble lead by a touching Danny Glover makes this sports fantasy tug on some heart strings.  It works as a sports movie, works as a family drama and works as a fantasy.  This may have simply been created due to corporate synergy (Disney owned the Angels at the time), but this was one of the more heartfelt live-action family movies of its time.

11. George of  the Jungle (1997)
A personal favorite comedy of mine.  With so many cartoons being adapted to live-action this is the one that really does it right.  There is a definite cartoony feel to the zany, self-referential humor of the movie.  The visual gags work and it is consistent in its breaking of the fourth wall.  The likable, lively cast sells the movie with Brendan Fraser playing stupid but sincere, John Cleese voicing a perfect straight man, Thomas Haden Church hamming it up just the perfect amount as a villain and Holland Taylor excelling as an over the top mother.

10. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
A remake of a dialogue free movie, but the script and the jokes here are above average for a family talking animal movie and it is executed ideally by the celebrity voice cast of Sally Field, Michael J. Fox and the late Don Ameche.  The live-action footage, script and vocal performances all come together to create memorable, relatable and heartwarming characters as well as a fine ensemble.

9. Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
Disney's follow-up to 1992's Muppet Christmas Carol while not the most critically acclaimed Muppet movie has been vindicated by history by the kids who grew up with it.  Perfect casting of the Muppets and Tim Curry in Robert Louis Stevenson's classic, fun songs and the superior puppeteering we've come to expect from The Jim Henson Company.  Also has one of my favorite Statler and Waldorf bits.

8. Princess Diaries (2001)
This creative, touching story is a huge step up from the traditional Disney teen comedy.  Garry Marshall definitely brings his experience with comedy and the leads of legendary Julie Andrews and then up and comer Anne Hathaway make this movie hold up.  This was a great start to Anne Hathaway's career and  it is always great seeing Julie Andrews involved in Disney.

7. The Parent Trap (1998)
This is one of the most perfect examples of a remake of a good movie that I have ever seen.  It does not take anything away from the original, but it uses the good qualities of that one while having its own identity.  Lindsay Lohan gave an incredible dual child performance and the supporting cast, especially Dennis Quaid and the late Natasha Richardson are just as good.  The gags and contrived situations are very well thought out and executed.  This comedy has creativity and a lot of heart.

6. The Straight Story (1999)
A Disney movie by David Lynch is surprisingly their most simple feature.  This feature based on a true story of an old man traveling across four states on a riding lawnmower perfectly captures middle America.  The old man is played in a well deserved Oscar nominated performance by the late-Richard Farnsworth.  Just so much heart and emotion as well as a decent sense of humor.  Disney has never done much with this movie, but this is the kind of basic heartwarming feature they should do more of.

5. Enchanted (2007)
This came out in a time when making fun of classic Disney fairy tale animation was the norm in animated feature.  Here Disney pokes fun at itself while homaging their beloved features of the past.  Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz gift the world with new songs, three of which were nominated for Oscars.  The opening animation from James Baxter's studio is very much styled like Disney, but still has its own feel.  The human cast keeps a very animated feel with the well cast leads of a hammy James Marsden and a lovable Amy Adams in one of her greatest performances.

4. Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
A fantastic newer fairy tale that really captures the imagination.  It is well told from the perspective of a child and the four leads are well picked.  As are other cast members with James MacAvoy, Tilda Swinton and the voice of Liam Neeson all defining their classic roles.  The score from Harrison Gregson Williams is perfect and the special effects work alongside practical makeup and costumes well.  It is a shame that Disney dropped this franchise, because it started off as something truly magical.

3. Remember the Titans (2000)
Just a terrific sports movie that plays well across multiple demographics.  This is a great look at the Civil Rights movement and the issue of race relations, which is still a relevant issue today.  The movie works outside of being just a history lesson as the characters and their issues are so realistic.  Just basic themes of getting along and accepting one another are told so beautifully and relatably.  The cast is perfect with a great group of high schoolers (Ryan Hurst, Wood Harris, Donald Faison, Ethan Suplee) and of course Will Patton and one of the best performances from movie star Denzel Washington.  A great score and perfect sixties soundtrack.  There is plenty of levity along with the more difficult issues which should help younger audiences.  Just a great movie that always gives me what I need.

2. The Santa Clause (1994)
This is my annual Christmas classic.  Not A Christmas Story, It's a Wonderful Life, Elf, Christmas Vacation, this family fantasy.  Tim Allen delivers an eye opening performance as he portrays a familiar cynic, admirable father and loving Santa.  The supporting cast is rounded out well with Wendy Crewson, Judge Reinhold and David Krumholz.  This is a great father-son story as well as a story about faith and imagination.  The special effects and makeup still hold up.  This is a perfect Christmas movie, even if its sequels are nowhere near as good this is classic Disney.

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
This was a turning point for live-action movies at Disney and the movie all of their current live-action movies are judged against.  Disney keeps trying to replicate the success of this movie with more Pirates, John Carter and The Lone Ranger to varying degrees of success.  With this movie the Disney brand had a live-action blockbuster that skewered towards adults but was still marketable with kids.  Just a great adventure movie, something that 2003 audiences were not used to.  Big, exciting, edgy action sequences and a break out character of Captain Jack Sparrow played of course by Johnny Depp.  Yet another great score and iconic costume and production design.  Disney's best live-action movie of the past two decades.

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