Meet the Stars Bringing Your Childhood Dreams to Life as Live-Action Disney Characters

We've been getting more and more live-action adaptations of classic Disney cartoons, we can hardly keep them straight! Here is your guide to the actors breathing new life (literally!) to the iconic roles

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Dwayne Johnson, Moana

Dwayne Johnson,Maui
Dwayne Johnson, Maui.

Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty,  Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

The 2016 hit Moana will soon be taking live action form, and Dwayne Johnson will be reprising his role as demigod Maui. The actor was the first to launch news of the remake on his Instagram.

"This story is my culture, and this story is emblematic of our people's grace, mana and warrior strength," Johnson captioned his announcement. "I wear our culture proudly on my skin and in my soul, and this once in a lifetime opportunity to reunite with MAUI, inspired by the spirit of my late grandfather, High Chief Peter Maivia, is one that runs very deep for me."

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Maia Kealoha, Lilo & Stitch

Maia Kealoha, Lilo and Stitch
Maia Kealoha, Lilo.

Maia Kealoha/Istagram,  Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection

While no official release date has been set, Disney has confirmed that Lilo & Stitch will be getting the live-action treatment. The Hollywood Reporter unveiled a few names featured on the cast list, including newcomer Maia Kealoha, who we'll see in the lead role of Lilo.

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Sydney Agudong, Lilo & Sitch

Sydney Agudong, Nani
Sydney Agudong, Nani.

Albert L. Ortega/Getty,  Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection

Lilo's big sister, Nani, will be played by Hawaiian actress Sydney Agudong.

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Zach Galifinakis, Lilo & Sitch

Zach Galifinakis, Pleakley
Zach Galifinakis, Pleakley.

David Livingston/Getty, Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection

The Hangover star is set to appear in the live-action adaptation of the 2002 animation. His actual role is yet to be confirmed, but The Wrap reported that he'll play Pleakley, one of the aliens on a mission to track down Stitch.

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Rachel Zegler, Snow White

Rachel Zegler ; Snow White
Rachel Zegler.20th Century Studios; Everett

The live-action adaption of Snow White isn't set to hit screens until 2024, but Disney's already found its lead actress. West Side Story star Rachel Zegler will betaking on the role of Disney's first animated princess.

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Gal Gadot, Snow White

Gal Gadot, Evil Queen.Amy Sussman/Getty Images; Walt Disney Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Gal Gadot is swapping her heroic Wonder Woman title for something sinister as she steps into the role of the Evil Queen. In 2021, the actress spoke to PEOPLE about her villainous stint.

"I can't say much other than the fact that I'm so excited and I cannot wait to get into the shoes and the crown of the Evil Queen," she teased.

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Martin Klebba, Snow White

 Martin Klebba, Grumpy
Martin Klebba, Grumpy.

Steve Granitz/WireImage,  Everett Collection

Pirates of the Caribbean alum Martin Klebba is set to play Grumpy, one of the seven dwarves from the original 1937 animation.

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Halle Bailey, The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid; Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Halle Bailey, Little Mermaid.Disney (2)

Halle Bailey gave the 1989 animated heroine new life with a widely acclaimed performance. Critics have effusively praised the multi-hyphenate's "epic" performance blowing naysayers out of the water. The voice of the original Ariel, Jodi Benson, applauded Bailey as well, calling her portrayal "absolutely amazing!"

Bailey shared some emotional words of gratitude for the role when the official Little Mermaid poster debuted a few months ahead of the movie's release.

"Words can't describe how immensely honored I feel to play the mermaid of my dreams, Ariel, in Disney's The Little Mermaid," she tweeted alongside her undersea portrait.

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Melissa McCarthy, The Little Mermaid

Melissa McCarthy
Melissa McCarthy, Ursula.Steve Granitz/WireImage; Disney

Melissa McCarthy told PEOPLE she "begged"The Little Mermaid director Rob Marshall to let her play Ursula in the recent adaptation of the beloved Disney film. The Bridesmaids star felt a special connection to Ariel's sea witch nemesis, despite her evil nature.

"She's such a broad, I just wanted to have a drink with her," McCarthy explained in conversation with PEOPLE. "And yes, she's the villain, but I was like, I think I get her. She's been ostracized. Especially after COVID, I think we all get Ursula a little bit more. Spending all that time alone."

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Javier Bardem, The Little Mermaid

Javier Bardem, King Triton
Javier Bardem, King Triton.Oscar Gonzalez/Getty Images, Courtesy Everette Collection

Javier Bardem rules as the king of the sea in Disney's 2023 remake, a role that certainly excited one major fan – his daughter, Luna. The actor shared his nine-year-old's reaction to his casting on The Jess Cagle Show.

"My daughter got so emotional, and I said, 'But I am not playing Ariel, Luna,' and she said, 'Of course not, Dad, you will be Triton, right?" Bardem explained. "That is one of the reasons why I did [The Little Mermaid]."

11of 45

Jonah Hauer-King, The Little Mermaid

Jonah Hauer-King, Prince Eric.Alamy; Pierre Villard/SIPA/Shutterstock

Jonah Hauer-King stepped into the role of Ariel's love interest, Prince Eric (a part initially turned down by Harry Styles).

Hauer-King was previously in relatively small roles on TV, so preparing for The Little Mermaidrequired an entirely fresh set of skills. Luckily, he had Halle Bailey on his team.

"We were both experiencing something very new, doing a film like this," the actor said. "She obviously had vast experience in the music world, much more than I did, and I've probably done a few more acting gigs than she had, but in terms of doing a film like this, there was nothing that really could have prepared us."

12of 45

Jacob Tremblay, The Little Mermaid

Disney live action casting
Mary Evans/WALT DISNEY PICTURES / Ronald Grant/Everett; Emma McIntyre/Getty

Room actor Jacob Tremblay lent his voice to The Little Mermaid as Flounder, Ariel's best friend and fishy confidant. At the premiere of the 2023 flick, the 16-year-old spoke to PEOPLE about his character's updated live-action look.

"I was shown the design when I went in for the audition and I saw the movie last night, and I have to say that I think it really, really worked," he said. "I think that they were geniuses and they knew exactly what they were doing."

Tremblay recorded his parts when he was only 13-years-old.

13of 45

Daveed Diggs, The Little Mermaid

Daveed Diggs
Daveed Diggs, Sebastian.Jon Kopaloff/Getty; Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett

The Hamilton alum put plenty of effort to ensure his vocal performance as Sebastian lived up to the original animated crustacean. While he's not of Caribbean dissent himself, Diggs told Collider that he made an effort to "immerse [himself]" in the culture of his character.

"I've spent a lot of time in Trinidad and I went to Jamaica to research, and I did a lot of voice work with Chris Walker and with the late Tony Hall, to try to get the voice right," said Diggs.

"But more than the voice, the thing about a dialect is that everybody's voice is actually very different, so consistency is really more important than accuracy. Your speech pattern is based on culture, and that was the thing I didn't want to let down."

14of 45

Awkwafina, The Little Mermaid

Disney live action casting
Walt Disney Pictures/Everett; Rich Polk/Getty

The Crazy Rich Asians star voiced the outspoken seagull, Scuttle in the revisited mermaid tale.

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Jessica Alexander, The Little Mermaid

Jessica Alexander, Vanessa Little Mermaid
Jessica Alexander, Vanessa.

 Jeff Spicer/Getty,  Walt Disney

The British actress played Ursula's out-of-water alter ego, Vanessa, who tries to woo Prince Eric away from Ariel.

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Yara Shahidi, Peter Pan and Wendy

alexia fernandez
Aaron J. Thornton/FilmMagic

Speaking to PEOPLE ahead of the film's release in April 2023, the black-ish star said playing Tinker Bell "was just a no-brainer."

"It’s such an iconic part. The character has a long lineage of really incredible actresses playing her," said Shahidi, adding that her favorite portrayal was by Julia Roberts in Stephen Spielberg's 1991 film, Hook.

The actress also expressed her commitment to diversifying Disney worlds with live-action remakes: “It’s about telling a story that feels reflective of the times that we’re in. I think every change was extremely intentional," she said.

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Jude Law, Peter Pan and Wendy

Jude Law; Captain Hook
Jude Law, Captain Hook.Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images; Mary Evans/AF Archive/Everett Collection

Jude Law is the most recent actor to play Captain Hook in three-dimensional form, but he's hardly the first. Dustin Hoffman was the nefarious pirate in Hook, and Jason Isaacs took on the role in the 2003 film Peter Pan.

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Alexander Molony, Peter Pan & Wendy

actors playing live action Disney characters
Alexander Molony, Peter Pan.

Walt Disney Pictures/Everett; Jordan Pettitt/PA Images/Getty

Newcomer Alexander Molony became the boy who refused to grow up in the most recent take on Peter Pan.

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Ever Anderson, Peter Pan & Wendy

actors playing live action Disney characters
Ever Anderson, Wendy Darling.

Mary Evans/AF Archive/Everett; David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage

Ever Anderson played Wendy Darling in the latest adaptation of the 1953 animation. Her mom, Milla Jovovich, announced that the teen actress was cast in Peter Pan & Wendy on Instagram.

"We’re so proud of our baby!" Jovovich wrote in 2020. "Ever has been wanting to act since she was 5 and she’s put the time, focus and energy into making her dream come true!"

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Jim Gaffigan, Peter Pan & Wendy

actors playing live action Disney characters
Jim Gaffigan, Mr Smee.

Mary Evans/WALT DISNEY PICTURES/Ronald Grant/Everett; Theo Wargo/Getty 

The comic climbed aboard Peter Pan & Wendy as Captain Hook's right-hand man, Mr. Smee. During a Good Morning Americaappearance alongside costar Jude Law, Gaffigan opened up about his interpretation of the character and how it differed from previous portrayals.

"This version they establish backstory to justify some of the characterizations we know," said the stand-up star. "It explores almost a parental relationship. Anyone who has a teenager is treated the same way that Captain Hook treats Smee. Essentially Captain Hook is the teenager and Smee is any parent."

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Alyssa Wapanatâhk, Peter Pan & Wendy

actors playing live action Disney characters
Alyssa Wapanatahk, Tiger Lily.

Walt Disney Pictures/Everett; Theo Wargo/Getty

The Native actor didn't just play live-action Tiger Lily in Peter Pan & Wendy – she also had a hand in shaping the updated character. Wapanatâhk told NPR that she "was able to bring my culture into it and bring my language into it and just do what I wanted with the role."

Her Tiger Lily, for example, speaks both Cree and English and wears clothing based on real "dance regalia that we would use in powwow," Wapanatâhk explained.

22of 45

Beyoncé, The Lion King

Kevin Mazur/Getty; Disney

Queen Bey voiced Nala, Simba's childhood-friend-turned-love-interest, in the 2019 remake.

Bey was director Jon Favreau's top choice, with the Favreau even willing to work the production schedule around the birth of her twins, according to Variety.

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John Oliver, The Lion King

Ilya S. Savenok/Getty; Walt Disney Co./Everett

The British Last Week Tonight host tackled the part of Zazu, the uptight hornbill who serves as King Mufasa's majordomo. Rowan Atkinson originated the voice role in the beloved 1994 original.

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Seth Rogen, The Lion King

Ben Gabbe/Getty; Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Rogen played stinky, lovable warthog Pumbaa in the live-action Lion King. As expected, the comedian brought his own humorous flare to a new version of "Hakuna Matata."

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Billy Eichner, The Lion King

Theo Wargo/Getty; Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Joining Rogen as the other half of the duo? Billy on the Street's hilarious Eichner.

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Donald Glover, The Lion King

D Dipasupil/FilmMagic; Buena Vista Pictures/Everett Collection

He's going to be a mighty king! Glover starred in the Favreau-directed film, which used performance-capture technology and computer-generated imagery - and also included many of the hit songs from the beloved 1994 animated film.

27of 45

James Earl Jones, The Lion King

Walter McBride/WireImage; Walt Disney Co./Everett Collection

This one doesn't require much imagination: Jones once again lent his voice to the original king of the jungle, a role he defined in the 1994 animated classic.

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Keegan-Michael Key, Florence Kasumba and Eric André, The Lion King

Keegan Michael, Florence Kasumba, and Eric André
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images; Mike Marsland/WireImage; Vivien Killilea/Getty Images; Disney

The Lion King's ragtag group of hyenas were be played by a talented trio.

From left to right, Key (who also cameos in Disney's Toy Story 4) played Kamari, Marvel's Kasumba voiced Shenzi and André will took on Aziz.

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Will Smith, Aladdin

Disney live action casting
Walt Disney/Everett; Disney Studios/Kobal/Shutterstock

TheFresh Prince of Bel-Air star nailed his performance of the Genie in Guy Richie's reboot of the 1992 cartoon classic. Smith tried to make the role his own, rapping in new versions of the movie's most famous songs.

Smith went on to thank fans on Instagram for making Aladdin the highest-grossing film of his career.

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Marwan Kenzari, Aladdin

Disney live action casting
Walt Disney/Everett; Daniel Smith/Disney/Kobal/Shutterstock

Fans were excited to see Kenzari put a new (and attractive) twist on everyone's favorite villain, Jafar.

While many on social media were loving the actor for his looks, he still played a convincingly evil sorcerer in the new live-action remake.

31of 45

Mena Massoud, Aladdin

Disney live action casting
Buena Vista Pictures/Everett; Daniel Smith/Disney/Kobal/Shutterstock

Make way for this relative newcomer. Born in Egypt but raised in Canada, Massoud told PEOPLE that "people who look like me struggle to get roles."

With a cast lauded for its talent and diversity, Massoud hopes the movie will inspire others.

"I want to look back 20 years from now and be like, 'This movie affected people,' " he said.

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Naomi Scott, Aladdin

Disney live action casting
Walt Disney Pictures/Everett; Daniel Smith/Disney/Kobal/Shutterstock

In this 21st-century remake, Scott played a strongly independent, feminist Princess Jasmine. Already a Disney Channel alumna, the actress landed her roles on Life Bites in 2008 and Lemonade Mouth in 2011.

Scott followed the role by starring in a new reboot of Charlie's Angels.

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Danny DeVito, Dumbo

Disney live action casting
Disney; Jay Maidment/Disney/Kobal/Shutterstock

DeVito played circus owner Max Medici in the new live-action remake of the 1941 hit.

"I was so excited when I found out that Tim [Burton] was gonna do it," DeVito told PEOPLE. "He captured the charm of the original that we loved and he kept all the values of the story, and what happens when you're born different."

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Emma Watson, Beauty and the Beast

Walt Disney Co.; Neal Peters/Disney

With beauty and brains, it didn't take a bookworm to know to cast Watson in the lead role of the smash hit Disney blockbuster.

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Dan Stevens, Beauty and the Beast

Disney; Buena Vista Pictures/Everett Collection

The Downton Abbey actor went back to familiar territory - a big, European-set, castle-like house - in Beauty and the Beast.

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Josh Gad, Beauty and the Beast

Disney; Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

"[Director] Bill Condon did an amazing job of giving us an opportunity to create a version of LeFou that isn't like the original, that expands on what the original did, but that makes him more human and makes him a wonderfully complex character to some extent," Gad told the Associated Press of his on-screen alter ego, who had Disney's first "gay moment" in film.

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Luke Evans, Beauty and the Beast

Disney; Disney/Everett

My what a guy, that Evans! He's an intimidating figure off-screen, and on-screen, gave Gaston his muscles and determination. "[He] uses his charm offensive to whip other people into a frenzy to go and attack somebody they've never met. Somebody that's different. Somebody that only represents a danger because [Gaston] says that he represents a danger," Gad shared of his counterpart.

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Lily James, Cinderella

Moviestore/REX/Shutterstoc; Walt Disney Pictures/Everett

James didn't need a fairy godmother to perfect the Cinderella look for the 2015 adaptation.

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Richard Madden, Cinderella

Jonathan Olley/Walt Disney Studios/Everett; Alamy

He may have lost the Game of Thrones, but Madden certainly made the perfect Prince Charming in Cinderella.

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Cate Blanchett, Cinderella

Jonathan Olley/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Everett; Walt Disney/Everett

The animated version of Cinderella's evil stepmother was intimidating, but Blanchett's portrayal of her in Cinderella took the fear factor to a new level.

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Bill Murray, The Jungle Book

Guillaume Collett/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock; Everett

Murray took on the role of the big friendly bear, Baloo, in 2016's adaptation of The Jungle Book.

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Alexander Skarsgard, Tarzan

Jonathan Olley; Walt Disney Co./Everett

The live-action adaptation, The Legend of Tarzan, wasn't produced by Disney, but there's no denying that the character is a Disney classic. To prepare for the role, Skarsgard got even more chiseled than animators could have imagined.

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Margot Robbie, Tarzan

Warner Bros.; Buena Vista Pictures/Everett

Robbie joined the cast as Tarzan's love interest, jungle visitor Jane Porter.

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Angelina Jolie, Maleficent

Frank Connor/Walt Disney Studios/Everett; Walt Disney Co./Everett

Jolie, on the other hand, showed a different side to the famous dragon lady in Maleficent.

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Elle Fanning, Maleficent

Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock; Everett

When Disney animators drew up Sleeping Beauty back in 1959, we imagine they had someone like Fanning in Maleficent in mind.

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