Halle Bailey attends the UK Premiere of “The Little Mermaid”

Halle Bailey attends the UK Premiere of "The Little Mermaid" (Photo by Loredana Sangiuliano on Shutterstock)

Once upon a time, as the story goes, a man named Walt Disney decided to make a film based on the German fairytale “Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs.” This would mark the first feature-length animated film by the Disney company, as well as their first princess, but it certainly would not be the last. The company took the idea of a princess and transported audiences through the “Golden Age” of Disney all the way to the “Renaissance” with its spellbinding stories of pumpkins that become carriages and entire countries that bowed to one warrior. Now, the company has entered its “Second Renaissance,” or the “Revival Era” where these classic stories are getting real-life makeovers, giving us some of the best live-action Disney princess movies.

But why are these stories so compelling? What about them has the power to stay in pop culture for centuries? The story of “Cinderella,” for example, has origins all the way back to the 1600s, with renditions such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Bad Cinderella” opening on Broadway in 2023. Well, for one, we were all raised on these fables. Whether your mother read you a chapter from a Brothers Grimm book before bedtime, or your father bought you your first princess dress, the women and these stories helped teach us and give us someone to idolize when we were young. Didn’t we all wish a prince or a princess would sweep us off our feet when we were kids?

Another reason these stories are so popular is because of their constant retelling. Whether it be seeing a tale from a different angle, like with 2014’s “Maleficent” or giving the story an entirely new setting and time period, like 2005’s “A Cinderella Story,” our nostalgia for fairytales from our childhood seems to know no bounds. This is why this new “Revival Era” consisting of Disney live-action films is so popular. We may not all agree or even end up enjoying the movies, but it sure tickles that child part of your brain to see these stories continuing to be told.

The new renditions of our beloved princesses give everyone a chance to relive childhood or introduce these tales to younger generations. As always, we at StudyFinds have pillaged through ten different websites to find you the top five best live-action Disney princess movies out there. Don’t see your favorite on the list? That’s okay! We still want to hear from you in the comments below! Now, onto our best of.

A princess tiara
A princess tiara (Photo by Church of the King on Unsplash)

The List: Best Live-Action Disney Princess Movies, Per Experts


1. “Cinderella” (2015)

There is no more quintessential princess story than that of “Cinderella” and the wish she made to go to the ball. “This 2015 remake of the classic 1950 animated classic really exemplifies what can make these adaptations so enjoyable for audiences of all ages. ‘Cinderella‘ manages to retain all the beauty and magic of the original, and it is faithful enough to the original to flood audiences with feelings of sweet nostalgia. The advancements in technology and film quality are utilized in its presentation to prevent audiences from yearning for that original to the point of ignoring the film they are watching. The settings and costumes are beautifully brought to the screen as a storybook comes to life,” says MovieWeb.

“Kenneth Branagh’s glass-slippered redo scales the pinnacle of what Disney can do with its remakes, mainly by pulling back from the over-the-top magic – though there is still plenty – and instead focuses like a laser on the dramatic trials and rousing triumphs of its central character. Top-notch casting is the cherry on top, with Lily James as the supremely likable Cinderella, Richard Madden as her down-to-earth prince, Cate Blanchett as the detestable stepmother with her own imperfect backstory, and Helena Bonham Carter as one lovably flighty fairy godmother,” raves USA Today.

“Unlike future live-action adaptations, ‘Cinderella’ doesn’t try to reinvent the animated movie; instead, it brings it to life lovingly while introducing a few additional scenes to complement the story. James’ portrayal of Cinderella fits this approach; she is the epitome of a Disney Princess: kind to a fault, pure of heart, selfless, and ethereal. James’ Cinderella is perfection embodied, what most people imagine a Disney Princess should look, sound, and act like. James’ portrayal might seem too safe and conventional, but it’s an affectionate homage to one of Disney’s most revered characters and the main reason for ‘Cinderella’s’ undeniable success,” adds Collider.

2. “The Little Mermaid” (2023)

“It was only a matter of time before a perfect live-action remake happened. Yes, I’m calling ‘The Little Mermaid’ perfect because when it comes to adapting a beloved animated movie into something new, the Rob Marshall version of Ariel’s story gives her a new sense of agency, gives Prince Eric his own story, and just genuinely makes this beloved classic new and exciting for audiences. And it helps that Halle Bailey is perfection as Ariel. As a whole, The Little Mermaid is just a well-done movie that honors what we love about the original film while still staying true to its own vision,” says The Mary Sue.

Collider went on to rave about the film as well, especially the movie’s breakout star; “Halle Bailey’s portrayal of Ariel finds the perfect balance between honoring the original and introducing new and necessary changes to an outdated story. Bailey’s Ariel is likable, clever, brave, and resourceful, respecting the animated version’s characterization while bringing a new and modern approach to her psyche. Bailey understands that this Ariel is an icon for a new generation; she embraces the past without being married to it, resulting in a refreshing performance that feels as unique as the original Ariel felt in 1989.”

“The shining jewel of Disney live-action remakes is undoubtedly the 2023 musical, ‘The Little Mermaid.’ With music from legendary composer Alan Menken and the amazing talents of Halle Bailey as Ariel, ‘The Little Mermaid’ manages to capture the essence of the original ’80s movie while being original at the same time. Yes, GCI Flounder may give you nightmares, but trust us, it’s worth the sleepless nights to watch this Disney banger,” raves The Digital Fix. “The Little Mermaid” is rumored to start streaming on Disney Plus after summer, but till then, if you want to get your fish fix, you’ll have to see it on the big screen.

 3. “Maleficent” (2014)

Don’t worry; we remembered to invite Maleficent to this party. “When it came time for Disney to retell the 1959 classic ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ they didn’t stop at making everything live-action. Instead, they retold the story from the viewpoint of its iconic villain — a decision that has made this reimagining one of Disney’s best to date. Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning star as Maleficent and Aurora still pitted against each other but for reasons far more complicated than first seemed. Oozing with style, Maleficent creates a dark world that is similar to the kingdom seen in the original ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ but with a dark texture and slippery personality all its own,” explains Mashable

"Maleficent" (2014)
“Maleficent” (2014) Blu-Ray

“Who better to receive a villainous origin story than the iconic Maleficent? With mega-watt talent Angelina Jolie cast in the title role and Elle Fanning playing Princess Aurora, director Robert Stromberg weaves a morally gray tale about motherhood that beautifully augments ‘Sleeping Beauty’ with a film that’s part revisionist prequel and part fantasy character study,” adds Indie Wire.

GamesRant specifically held high praises for Fanning’s portrayal of Sleeping Beauty herself, saying, “While Angelina Jolie clearly steals the spotlight, Elle Fanning manages to hold her own alongside this A-list superstar, allowing the audience to effortlessly fall in love with her charm. Aurora’s optimism is enough to inspire even the Dark Mistress to take a break from her melancholy, as Elle perfectly personifies the innocent, kind-natured characteristics expected from the Princess Ulstead (and Queen of the Moors).” As Aurora was the first to get the live-action treatment, it’s only fitting that she and Maleficent earned a spot on the list. 

4. “Beauty and The Beast” (2017)

“The reason’ Beauty and the Beast’ is one of the better live-action Disney remakes is that it doesn’t stray too far from the source material, with the live-action format giving the opportunity for big spectacle numbers like ‘Be My Guest’ to really flourish. Casting was also a strong point in this film, with Luke Evans, Josh Gad, and Emma Watson being perfect choices for Gaston, Le Fou, and the Disney princess Belle, says The Digital Fix.

"Beauty & The Beast" (2017)
“Beauty and The Beast” (2017)

While the film follows its predecessor’s story quite closely, some changes were made for the better. “Like ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast‘ manages to keep most of the original elements that made the classic animated feature so beloved, only this time around, they’ve stepped up the character development even further. Belle, who has always been among the greatest princesses, as she is smart, loyal, brave, compassionate, and she values education, has finally been fully fleshed out to reach her potential as the iconic princess and role model for young girls she deserves to be. She’s a far more empowered heroine here,” describes MovieWeb

“The tale as old as time got a new chapter in 2017 when the 1991 classic—the first animated movie to ever get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture—returned to theaters as a live-action musical starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. ‘Beauty and the Beast’s’ cast also includes Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, and Emma Thompson. The new Beauty shattered box office records when it debuted, raking in more than $1.2 billion globally,” explains Entertainment Weekly. With an absolutely star-studded cast filled with classically trained actors, comedians of their craft, and power-house singers, it’s no wonder this remake was and remains a success.

5. “Aladdin” (2019)

“Aladdin is one of my favorites of Disney’s live-action remakes,” says The Mary Sue. “Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are stellar singers and have excellent on-screen chemistry as Aladdin and Jasmine. As with the majority of Disney’s remakes, the film mostly stays faithful to the source material. There are a few additions, like a new song for Jasmine (which I loved—Naomi Scott, great voice).”

"Aladdin" (2019)
“Aladdin” (2019)

Vulture also raved about the pairing of Massoud and Scott, describing them as having “a sweet, understated dynamic as street thief Aladdin and Princess Jasmine.” The two also thrilled fans as we watched the first-ever live-action magic carpet ride through Agrabah. Vulture once again praised the moment, saying that “the love ballad ‘A Whole New World’” was a “highlight.” 

Buzzfeed went on to describe that the process of “remaking movies that people are so familiar with can be a tricky proposition, as you don’t want to deliver a note-for-note version, but any new choices could end up being criticized or despised. None of the remakes walk that line as well as ‘Aladdin,’ which stays close enough to the original while also making a few smart choices to make it feel distinct and fresh rather than a shameless cash grab. Most notably, Smith makes the wise decision not to emulate Robin Williams’ unforgettable performance and makes the Genie entirely his own, to great effect.” The film went on to gross $1 billion worldwide, making the top ten of the highest-grossing movies of 2019.

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

About Jilly Hite

Janelle is a freelance writer from New York. Her writing focuses on parenting, tech, business, interior design, education, and telling people’s inspiring stories. Janelle has written for Mustela and Newton Baby and has bylines in Pregnant Chicken, Syracuse Woman Magazine, the Baldwinsville Messenger, and Family Times Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in literacy from the State University of New York at Oswego.

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1 Comment

  1. Cassie says:

    i disagree Aladdin suckedddddddd not as much as mulan but yeah, lol Jungle book was good tho should of been up here girly, anyways i liked the little mermaid Halle was beautiful and honestly i loved her preformence but i kinda hate the directors for cutting out so many cherished special scenes, TLM was my shi growing up, but as a black girl seeing halle play my favorite princess, was so special, BUT HOW DARE THEY CUT OUT CHEF LOUIS POISSO’NNNN and the sparkly dress moment as a kid made me pass out, AND AS AN ADULT I ALMOST PASSED OUT NOT SEEING IT!!! like cmon now yall wrong asl only giving her that one basic ass raggedy dress, yall had the money, honestly im furious, not even the beautiful pink ballgown? and the sisters singing, i love halle sm and i will stick up and ALWAYS stand for her but chileeee they disappointed me more than the BFG