Disney is a company that isn't going anywhere any time soon. By acquiring Marvel and now Lucasfilm, Mickey Mouse has cemented for himself another long era of successful filmmaking and merchandise. Going back to the ‘30s and even ‘20s, one might find that Disney has not always been about making money and in fact their ideals were much more in favor of art than anything else. That’s not to say that nothing they do now has any creativity whatsoever, but we can’t argue that box office plays a major part in the company’s reputation. The over-saturation of MCU has derailed opinions to align more with Disney owning the superhero and Star Wars franchises, but looking back, it’s important to keep in mind how different their animation department is.
From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to 2013’s smash hit #Frozen, let’s look at all the official Disney animated features and run through a list of their worst to best. Ultimately, this list may be different from what one would expect, but when has art been objective? So without further ado, let’s start with:
#53. Home on the Range (2004)
Probably the worst animated movie I've ever had to sit through in my adult life. The fact that they lumped Roseanne Barr and Judi Dench together is enough of a head scratcher but I think the movie could have been forgiven since they’re simply doing voice work. The problem is that they have to bounce off each other the entire time and I never found Roseanne to have good comedic timing. I really hate that Disney became such a star*&%^ medium because the days when they actually employed character and voice actors, it made the entire thing work so much better. The animation is serviceable I suppose, though slightly juvenile for a Disney full length feature. This was released in the same year as The Incredibles!
Finally, the music in the movie is atrocious. It features probably one of Disney’s weakest from the entire 53 movie collection (“Will The Sun Ever Shine Again?”), though come to think of it Chicken Little may give it a run for its money in that regard (more to come later).
#52. The Rescuers (1977)
Somewhat of a controversial opinion since most people either really like it or love it. What I hated about The Rescuers is that it didn't at all feel like a Disney animated movie. The animation design is probably my least favorite and it’s the best example of why that xerox method was just a bad idea aesthetically, making the whole thing look really flat, pale and grainy. For me it also had collectively the most boring characters. It’s when the whole “don’t even try to act, just do your own voice” mentality started and I blame the people behind this movie for all of it. Even the character designs were really uninspired apart from perhaps Madame Medusa, but she’s a complete rip-off of Cruella de Vil (they literally tried to recreate the iconic villainess on purpose). The great thing about Disney villains is that they all look similar (usually lanky, tall, dark outfits with light complexions), and yet they’re all very different. Madame Medusa is just an indolent version of a previous character.
#51. Make Mine Music (1946)
The first movie that tried to recreate Fantasia’s formula is also one that failed hardest at it. The music is utterly dated. Instead of using timeless melodies as Fantasia did, they decided to throw in music that was popular at the time, ignoring the fact that popular music changes as quickly as any other fad. As a result it all feels incredibly dated, and aside from “All the Cats Join In” (which I found a lot of fun), everything is really forgettable. I hear a lot of praise for “Peter and the Wolf” and “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met,” but I really can’t see why. They may work as short cartoons for little kids on a Saturday morning, but in a full length feature that was meant to be a continuation of a classic, it’s slightly embarrassing. There was no time put into the animation (apart from aforementioned “All the Cats Join In”), so it feels rushed (which it was).
Plus the whole propaganda bit. You can just feel the entire thing was trying desperately to make people feel good about USA and life in general, which I guess is a good thing considering the time, but it forced the quality of Disney’s standard to plummet hard. Boring, awkward, forgettable and completely hackneyed, it’s certainly the worst of the package films and although the intentions weren't bad, the years have not been kind to it.
#50. The Three Caballeros (1944)
The most forgettable Disney animated movie. There are some impressive things about it -- the visual effects worked extremely well for a movie made in the early ‘40s (the blend of animation and live action was more than impressive), but it’s that very reason I can’t consider it good at all. It’s not really an animated feature length movie, as there’s just as much live action in it, but I can forgive that if the segments were actually impressive. Problem is they really were not.
The entire thing suffered because there was almost no passion for the project and apart from the staff getting an excuse to visit South America, there’s no reason for the movie to exist artistically. It often rides a very fine line between boring and just kind of creepy (Donald Duck constantly hitting on a Mexican dancer, and her eventually reciprocating just comes off strange in a movie that educates people about the continent). Some of it is somewhat entertaining but overall there’s not one single scene, apart from the now famous titular song, that I can say I genuinely enjoyed. The three caballeros are wildly energetic characters yet the entire movie feels unnecessarily dull and empty.
#49. Chicken Little (2005)
Back when this movie came out I considered it one of the worst things I’d seen not just that year but also the last few years. Having been nine years since, I was a little less pessimistic about the whole thing. My biggest issue with the movie is that it just feels really mean-spirited. The entire world that’s created is constantly rude to the main protagonist, his father wants nothing to do with him and the whole town treats him like some sort of circus freak. Sure there’s some redemption and character development in the end but that doesn't change the fact that the message of the movie gets really lost in translation from pen to paper. They try really hard to bring humor to the movie but they fail almost at every attempt, forcing countless jokes at the audience hoping that something will stick. Also, Barenaked Ladies? Come on Disney.
#48. Brother Bear (2003)
I think the only reason this movie was made was to apologize to the natives after the disastrous racism they expressed toward them in Peter Pan (more on that later). I enjoy it for being the only Disney animated movie set in Canada, and it allows for some really beautiful landscape shots of the country, but someone really mucked this project up. Firstly, this movie could have worked really well if it didn't feel so recycled from things like The Lion King and The Fox and the Hound, but there’s absolutely nothing distinctive about it. There are glimpses of impressive animation (the transformation scene for example), but it’s not nearly enough to lift this preschool story to anything above a misfire.
#47. Saludos Amigos (1943)
Yet another package film from the ‘40s, and the first of the propaganda era. The reason I didn't rate this much lower is because I can forgive them for making something feel so rushed given the state of the studio at the time. Many of the employees were recruited to the army and most of their overseas markets were cut off plus there was a strike, so Walt Disney and co. created this quick mashup of random short films, having Saludos Amigos clock in at a strange 42 minute running time. I still have trouble considering it a full length feature because of that, but the Disney gods will have it so.
The shorts actually aren’t that bad. “Pedro” and “El Gaucho Goofy” are pretty fun and both “Lake Titicaca” and “Aquarela do Brasil” aren't too terrible, with the latter introducing us to José Carioca, who’s actually wildly entertaining. Still, there’s nothing groundbreaking about them and being released right after the studio’s first five masterpieces, it feels like a huge letdown for fans. The random clips of Brazil serve as a good education tool, but they’re extremely dated.
#46. Treasure Planet (2002)
This is where, for me, the bad movies end. After this it ranges from mediocre to excellent. Everything about Treasure Planet should technically work: the great voice work, beautiful animation, good action set pieces and an interesting adaptation of the beloved classic story. It’s precisely because the movie hits those highs that I felt so cheated and betrayed. It really could have been fantastic but unfortunately there’s so much going against it. First off, none of it makes sense. It’s, I’m guessing, set in the future yet they use flying old fashioned ships to move around. On top of that, while they’re in space they’re completely exposed. Then there are random anthropomorphic characters mixed in with humans, just in case you weren't confused enough. Finally some people wear 18th century garb while others choose to go with modern clothing. It just feels like the people behind this movie had countless ideas and had no clue which one to go with. It meshes together and creates this bipolar tone with very little substance beneath the surface.
#45. Tangled (2010)
Bring on the hate. Sure, it looks wonderful, but the humor is vapid, the characters are mostly disposable and the animation is distracting for a story like this. If there’s one Disney wish I could have, it’s to make the animators do this in a traditional hand-drawn medium. Nothing about the actual design of Rapunzel feels like a Disney princess. It’s mostly the animation of the eyes that come off creepy. Disney characters historically have really big eyes but in Tangled it’s because of the detail in the retina that it makes it look really odd. Yes, there are some strong themes throughout -- dealing with an overprotective mother, experiencing life for the first time and so on -- but they’re all jumbled in with particularly strange and juvenile humor. And though certain scenes are funny, the ratio of bad to good humor is way off balance.
Apart from “Mother Knows Best,” I can’t bring myself to feel anything but distant from all the other numbers. Everything about “I See the Light” feels forced, as though they desperately wanted to create a magic prince/princess moment, but it’s utterly transparent. It also feels way too top 40 as opposed to the great Broadway feel the renaissance imitated. The rest of the stuff I can’t even remember, which is bizarre given that Alan Menken did most of it. The voice work ranges from terrible to good (Donna Murphy is on the latter side of the spectrum for me), and the action sequences often feel rushed and underdeveloped.
#44. Dinosaur (2000)
Here’s a movie that I never had any interest in. Dinosaur always looked like an updated, yet somehow uglier version of The Land Before Time and even knowing it was produced by Disney, I couldn't really imagine what kind of story the movie could have presented that we hadn't seen before. Much to my surprise, it was not a total failure. Yes, there’s quite a lot about it that keeps it from being unique, but it has some merit. I’m not sure if Dinosaur still remains the only animated film they ever did where all of the backgrounds are real yet the characters are fully CGI, but either way, it actually worked at times.
Here’s my major qualm with it: the animation of the characters. It actually took me until the end of the movie to figure out the distinction between the dinosaurs. They all looked very similar because they tried to make them look as realistic as possible. The big problem is that they talk and do a lot of things you wouldn't think dinosaurs do, so why not make them a little more ‘animated’? They kept moving in and out of the same place and most of the time I was just confused by who was talking. The voice work doesn't help much either, other than Joan Plowright and Della Reese they’re all really generic and forgettable.
#43. Oliver & Company (1988)
I have to admit one thing: I find Oliver to be immeasurably cute. The fact that he’s voiced by a young Joey Lawrence only adds to it. The songs are catchy -- try watching the scene where Dodger sings “Why Should I Worry” and tell me it doesn't get stuck in your head for at least the next 10 minutes! Some of the humor is good and it has a cool, retro atmosphere that makes it feel really unique.
So why’s the movie ranked so low? Honestly, it’s mostly the animation. Yeah the story isn't really that engaging especially considering that it’s based on a great novel, but the way this was drawn is unappealing. It’s the ugliest Disney movie in my opinion, combining washed out backgrounds with stiff, flat characters. The colors are also brutally monotonous, often giving zero room for contrast. Considering this movie was being animated around the same time as The Little Mermaid, there’s no way I can look past it. If it wasn't for the dreadful look, the movie could have been much higher on the list, but as it stands it just did not work. Side note: Oliver & Company has one of the most brutal villain deaths and I still have no idea how Disney got away with it.
#42. Peter Pan (1953)
Another somewhat controversial placement. To this day, Peter Pan retains that magic that made kids fall in love with it, and the animation is certainly impressive (plus Kathryn Beaumont was perfect as Wendy). Still, it has a lot of flaws. For starters, the story of Peter Pan is meant to serve as a blueprint for childhood innocence and yet so much of the stuff in the movie completely contradicts that. For example, both Peter Pan and Tinkerbell are absolutely despicable characters. She’s a maniacal jealous wench who basically wants Wendy dead because Peter Pan likes her and does she not understand the concept of size? Peter is the very definition of an entitled little brat and a downright bully. Then there’s the blatant racism. It has to be the most uncomfortable animated Disney scene to sit through. I can forgive some older movies featuring racism because, well, that’s what the norm was, but something about Peter Pan doing it just feels really awkward. If the movie’s message is that it doesn't matter if you’re different, that you should actually embrace it, then why segregate an entire group of people so blatantly?
The movie also felt really inconsistent. There were beautiful, entertaining scenes that take you back to your childhood, but they’re coupled with tedious stretched out, pointless segments. Neverland could have been so much more magical and yet they spend half of the time running around with Captain Hook and dancing around with self-loathing natives. I enjoy the characters (Peter Pan and Tinkerbell notwithstanding), and Captain Hook is one of the most entertaining villains in Disney’s collection -- plus I believe he was the first downright comedic villain.
The movie is perfect for children, especially because most of them won’t understand what’s meant by “what makes the red man red?” Buuuuuuut it’s a really big miss as far as full length features go during the company’s prime. Much of it felt like Walt wanted random things to happen without any sort of fluidity or thought, but unlike the two previous movies from the ‘50s, it felt less like a passion project and more like a necessity.
#41. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
On one hand Atlantis: The Lost Empire is visually striking and often really engaging, but on the other hand it’s completely uninteresting and a complete letdown. Given the fact that it’s by the directors of Beauty and the Beast this should have been so much deeper and focused, but instead we’re treated to a lot of filler and disposable characters with some eye-rollingly blatant biblical references. If you’re looking for something that looks really good, this one’s definitely it. If, however, you’re more about the story, this is somewhat of a disaster. I think my stance on it is that the two balance each other out and ultimately it stands right at the mediocrity line.
#40. The Aristocats (1970)
The Aristocats seems to be pretty hated on the internet for some reason, and I suppose that’s partly because it just doesn't have any ambition at all. It’s a very straightforward story, and while the premise may be amusing, I can see why some would find the way it’s fleshed out completely dull. I didn't love the movie but there’s a lot that I do admire about it. It’s the last movie that was greenlit by Walt himself, so it’s apparent that this could have been something substantial. The issue is that he died and others had to develop it without any contribution from the boss.
The positives: The cast. I think it’s the only time Eva Gabor actually fit the Disney feel, and Phil Harris was absolutely perfect as Thomas O’Malley. Of course it doesn't ever hurt to have Sterling Holloway, whom I consider to be one of the best contributors to Disney, and Scatman Crothers as, appropriately, Scat Cat. They all work together to create a fun, bouncy, heartfelt tone and I have to say I fell for it. I also like some of the animation. As aforementioned, the Xerox era is one of Disney’s worst, but there are some sequences I found to be gorgeous (for example the look of Madame worked so perfectly with the style of drawing because it actually accentuated her wrinkles and age).
#39. Melody Time (1948)
This is the only one of the “Fantasia continuation” films that actually worked. The first three shorts are absolute aces. “Once Upon a Wintertime” is brilliantly animated and “Bumble Boogie” is something that should have been in Fantasia. Finally, the third one is “The Legend of Johnny Appleseed” which I actually kind of found boring at first but thought about it for hours afterward. The very final shot of it is one of my favorites from the Disney collection but it’s also a pretty deep and complex story with sensational music.
But then it kind of just goes downhill from there. “Little Toot” is pretty great, and it scared me silly when I was a kid, but “Trees” was lazy, “Blame it on the Samba” doesn't at all fit in, and “Pecos Bill” is just pointless and should have been scrapped completely. They’re all pretty good shorts for children but once you get half way through this movie the appeal almost completely wears off if you watch it as an adult.
#38. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
Both Tod and Copper are irresistibly adorable when they’re first introduced, and the opening scene broke my heart. Seeing Tod abandoned, whimpering, just shattered me. Then there’s the famous bear scene, and I thought that was both well animated and paced perfectly to create a lot of the thrill needed for the target audience. The entire thing did have a very adult message and I commend it for that, but I can’t help but feel that despite the mature themes, much of it felt disconnected from that tone.
Apart from the fact that the plot is kind of thin, it just felt kind of done before. Maybe I’m being a little too harsh on it but it does come off as though the creators had an idea for a few scenes and then just threw in a lot of filler. Still, it’s definitely a movie that stays with you for a long time after you've seen it and a lot of the craft is really good. I may have to re-watch it in a few years to see how I feel about it again, but for now it’s just good, not great.
#37. Pocahontas (1995)
Ah, the Disney Renaissance – what can be said that hasn't been said already? If you ever get a chance to watch the movies chronologically please do yourself a favor and find the movies. There’s such a marvelous feeling going through and feeling the history changing before your eyes. With a few exceptions, after Sleeping Beauty the movies felt really empty and rushed. The magic disappeared for most of that part and a lot of the movies didn't really even feel like Disney movies. When you get to The Little Mermaid (some may argue it’s The Great Mouse Detective, I’ll disagree), you just feel that same magic you did watching the first section of films.
Well, there has to be the weak link in the renaissance. For the most part I think Pocahontas is actually quite underrated. Yes there are historical inaccuracies galore, but it’s not meant to educate the audience inasmuch as it’s just a really beautiful love story between humans and nature. It must be said that Pocahontas also has one of the best use of animation in the Disney collection. The colors and the entire atmosphere make it very polished and unique.
For the longest time I thought Pocahontas was just bashed because it came out right after The Lion King and considering how many animators left that project to pursue the new ‘princess’ movie, it’s easy to see how a lot of people already made up their minds after the financial and critical success of the Hamlet tale. I will defend Pocahontas to my grave but there is one massive flaw that stops me from having it any higher than this. It’s the characters.
There’s honestly no one in this movie I can actually say had any sort of trait beyond the most one dimensional shell of what they’re supposed to be. I guess an argument can be made that Pocahontas herself is kind of interesting because of her complex love for the environment and her inner struggle to find a balance between the respect of her father and genuine need for adventure… But it’s handled with such boring conviction. The villain is yawn-inducing, the side characters meant for comedic relief are annoying and I don’t even want to start with John Smith. They might as well have had Pocahontas fall in love with a branch. Bottom line, I really like the movie for its ambition and aesthetic (plus the music is amazing), but the characters drag this mother down so hard.
#36. The Black Cauldron (1985)
Probably the most underrated movie on this list. I really don’t understand what a lot of people hate about this. Did they watch a different movie than I did? I found it to be pretty impressive on a lot of levels. Okay so the main character isn't the most interesting, and much of what happens in the movie is kind of forgettable, but someone please try and tell me the villain isn't incredible. Voiced hauntingly by John Hurt, this badass has my favorite death of any villain. His skin literally rots off his body while he screams in agony!
The animation isn't consistent -- in fact it’s kind of all over the place. Certain scenes just look like they've been animated by someone else (which they have, this movie was production hell), but they’re not ugly. I’ll go so far as to say that some of the visual aspects of this movie are gorgeous and pretty influential. I dare anyone to tell me they thought The Fellowship of the Ring looked great and that The Black Cauldron didn't. You can see the direct influence with both the set design and actual use of color here. There’s really no denying it. Plus the scene where Hen Wen is captured is glorious! It’s the first time they incorporated CGI and it paid off amazingly. Just look at the backgrounds, the action and the design of the characters in that scene. It’s really quite emotional!
This is one of the darker Disney movies that I actually really enjoyed despite some stuff that messed it up. Often times the characters look badly cut out and pasted on the backgrounds and other times the lighting on them doesn't match the environment, but I still think there’s more than enough here to enjoy. Haters can continue to hate.
#35. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
I adored the first half of this movie. I thought it was genuinely clever and the actual premise was pretty cool. The animation looked different (points to the way ‘older’ looking characters moved around) and in an age where most CGI animated films look similar, Disney managed to breathe some new life into this. Alan Tudyk’s homage to The Mad Hatter was actually really great and Sarah Silverman’s performance really shouldn't go unnoticed. The movie is really fun and at times pretty touching too.
It’s the flat-lined second half that makes it go from great to just good. The cuteness wears off quickly and it becomes kind of tedious. There’s not much more to marvel at so you’re left with nothing more than forced character developments inside of a plot where not much happens until the climax. I also didn't really care for some of the voices. John C. Reilly basically just played himself, Jack McBrayer works well on 30 Rock but that’s the issue: it felt like I was listening to Kenneth Parcell. Jane Lynch, Mindy Kaling and Ed O’Neill also add nothing more to the movie except maybe recognizable names. It worked for me part way but then lost me after a while.
#34. The Sword in the Stone (1963)
The Sword in the Stone is a hell of a lot of fun. The whole thing is really entertaining and the magic battle is one of my favorite things from that era, but I can’t help but think the entire thing doesn't have much depth. Okay so not a lot of Disney movies are made to make you think, but it just felt like a very bare bones story with somewhat forgettable characters mixed into an active imagination. Maybe that doesn't make much sense but it’s the best way I can describe the movie. The animation for the most part is pretty good, but I still wouldn't say it’s one of the best since it was the beginning of the Xerox era.
Merlin is kind of an asshole, and the villain isn't really a villain, she’s more like Kaa in that she represents an obstacle more than a constant threat or any sort of relevance to the main plot. It’s definitely a movie I’d have no problem putting in again and re-watching it but I know I won’t be getting anything more than just mindless entertainment.
#33. The Jungle Book (1967)
I find this movie to be slightly overrated. I know a lot of people consider it one of Disney’s best but I really can’t get behind that. There are some really impressive things about it. I love the animation style (even though the Xerox look is really distracting here) and the songs are catchy, plus the villain is just perfect. The problem is that most of the other characters are either bland or irrelevant. Kaa serves no purpose, and the vultures imitating The Beatles just seemed more like an attempt to serve the pop culture at the time than anything else, but it’s Mowgli that really gets under my skin. While (almost) everyone is trying to help him, he’s purposely getting himself into really stupid situations that he almost never gets himself out of. Other characters constantly have to be the ones to save him.
The biggest aspect that brings this movie this high on the list is the ending. I just love the bitter sweetness of the whole thing and it made it feel so poignant considering it was Walt’s last overlooked film. Little John saying goodbye to Mowgli after he finds humans, with a really touching song playing over, just crushed me. It was an extremely fitting ending and based on just that alone it’s a movie that I really like in hindsight but it’s not one of the greats.
#32. Robin Hood (1973)
Jumping ahead ten years we find ourselves with the laziest of them all. I wouldn't call the package films lazy as much as just deliberately rushed, but Robin Hood cannot be forgiven. The look of it is just okay, and the amount of re-used animation (especially Sheriff of Nottingham walking toward the camera) makes it really distracting. The story doesn't add much to the original tale except for anthropomorphic characters (some of which were really clever), and the actual style of animation isn't anything to write home about. Plus Robin Hood himself is fun at times but mostly kind of dull and this is where I just got sick of Phil Harris and started to get irritated by his inclusion.
Okay so maybe I made it seem like I wasn't a big fan of Robin Hood. Not the case at all. I admire the movie quite a lot, but those flaws drag it down. I thought the whole thing was extremely fun and Peter Ustinov’s performance is spectacular. I think his voice work in this is one of the best I've certainly ever witnessed and the character as a whole really puts up a huge fight with Yzma and Cruella de Vil as one of the funniest of the canon. The humor was clever and at times worked extremely well for adults, and the entire thing is endlessly quotable. The best thing about Robin Hood though is how it just feels so laid back and nostalgic, making it an absolute classic for anyone who has seen it as a child.
#31. Fun and Fancy Free (1947)
I don’t consider this in the same category as stuff like Melody Time, Make Mine Music, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. Those movies were just random short segments or vignettes coupled either with music or some sort of narration. Fun and Fancy Free is two ‘short’ films, each completely distinct. Disney was working on making both of them their own separate features but because of time constraints and budget cuts they just put them together.
The whole first short is basically a circus bear experiencing wild life for the first time but it’s very goofy and extremely forgettable, plus it’s too similar to both Dumbo and Bambi thematically. But then we get to the second feature, “Mickey and the Beanstalk. I absolutely adore this short. As a kid I used to watch it endlessly and it really does hold up. It’s wonderfully entertaining, and actually hilarious. To this day one of my favorite one-liners from the entire collection is when Mickey brings home the three beans and Donald Duck, after losing his mind because of no food (props to the animators for including transparent slices of bread -- that kills me every time), goes apeshit. Mickey asks him: “But Donald, don’t you know what you get when you plant these magic beans!?” And Donald, bitter as a bag of cabbage replies, “Yeah, ya get more BEANS.” I just can’t ever contain myself. I quote it every chance I get. His delivery is also flawless. Watch the scene if you haven’t, you’ll thank me.
After that it’s still good, though not on the same level. The animation of the beanstalk rising and the three of them just generally being clumsy makes for some really clever visuals, and the giant is fun. I love the ending, with them tying up the giant and him slamming to the ground creating a sort of grave for himself. It feels like one of their shorts, but that’s not a bad thing, they've had some extraordinary ones.
Still the whole thing doesn't fit together well and it being narrated by Jiminy Cricket just makes no sense to me at all. The whole thing feels strangely disjointed and random, but I found the second half to be brilliant so it’s up this far.
#30. Meet the Robinsons (2007)
No one ever talks about this movie and it’s kind of a shame because it’s actually pretty good. Narratively it’s a little too complicated and convoluted but everything from the impressive animation (and a much bigger improvement in CGI from Chicken Little) to the surprisingly great villain puts this movie much higher than most of the misfires released in the aughts. There is some clever humor throughout and it actually has a lot of heart. Plus all the characters are pretty unique and amusing, albeit a bit too much at times. There are definitely a few problems with it though. Some of the animation just isn't the best, the dinosaur for example was pretty badly rendered and the whole thing is predictable, but I suppose those things aren't issues for children so it’s not the worst thing in the world.
#29. Tarzan (1999)
There are things about Tarzan that work better when you are young than when you’re an adult. It’s a movie that apart from one massive fuck up and one minor flaw, actually worked perfectly as the end of the renaissance era. They seemed to have reached their pinnacle in animation by then and the entire love story angle got a little bit tiresome by the end of the 10-year run.
Instead of focusing on the story (which is good but not great, it seemed to take about 1/3 of the running time to introduce the whole thing), the movie focused on themes and there’s some really great stuff in there. I won’t dive into what the movie is saying -- it’s not that hard to figure out if you've seen it, but I will say that they did a good job at conveying the messages. I've already mentioned the animation but I do have to emphasize just how crucial the entire thing was to this movie. They invented a new way of using computers and multi-plane cameras so that the entire environment seemed 3-dimensional without being CGI. As a result, you get to experience amazing roller-coaster scenes where Tarzan is swinging around and sliding from tree to tree. It looks gorgeous and with the really impressive character design in the foreground, it puts the movie on a best-of level when it comes to the animation.
The big fuck up? It really has to be Phil Collins. His music almost ruins the movie completely. It’s a good thing that there’s so much other merit otherwise I wouldn't be able to handle it. There are way too many montages and it felt more like they threw them in so Phil Collins can sing, but it all just looks so tasteless. I’m not generally a fan of musicals where none of the songs are sung, but I suppose Glenn Close singing at the beginning saves it a little bit. I will forever be really angry for them hiring Phil Collins to do everything. It bothered me way more than Brother Bear because at least that’s not considered part of the renaissance era.
#28. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
We've finally entered the area of movies I don’t really have any problems with, so it all depends on how much passion I have for the whole thing. Technically Lilo & Stitch doesn't have anything wrong with it at all. Some may say Stitch is kind of annoying but when I viewed the making of and saw that they based him on a French bulldog, that’s all I saw and just fell in love with the adorable little guy. I thought the use of music was clever and it worked well, the animation was sublime -- it was very different from other Disney movies but it still felt like typical Disney. The voice performances range from fitting to great and the story itself is cute for the most part. I would have loved for the whole movie to be about the sisters, I thought that aspect was brilliant and emotionally some of Disney’s best stuff. The thing though is that apart from the sisters, everything else is just good but not fantastic. The whole thing stayed with me and it was certainly impressive but by that time we've seen so much impressive stuff from the studio that I can’t help but feel less enthusiastic about it than I could have been.
#27. Bolt (2008)
Another movie I don’t really think has any flaws but I can’t help but feel dispassionate about the whole thing. The concept is really clever and the entire thing is really adorable, plus the pigeons are hysterical, but ultimately it felt like a typical action movie as opposed to the magic you get with Disney. John Travolta voicing Bolt was a really good decision, and I like how life is a villain here, plus the way they ripped on the studio system in Hollywood was nice to see. The score is great and the animation is miles better than Meet the Robinsons and light-years ahead of Chicken Little. The movie finally showed us that Disney isn't toying around anymore, and it’s a really nice road trip movie.
While the humor is pretty impressive, a lot of it just made me smile more than chuckle or laugh, and it’s all based on one running joke. Some of the stuff in the middle is a little bit dull. I understand why it’s in there and it helps build the characters organically, but I guess I wish it was a little more memorable. Still though, the scenes that did stick with me are amazing. Everything about the pigeons made me laugh really loud, the way they move is really well done. The craft is great and some of the voice work is impressive.
#26. Hercules (1997)
I originally had this movie much lower. I thought the whole thing, while impressive, just didn't fit together. The songs felt off with the style of animation and they ranged from Broadway to Motown to gospel to Top 40. They’re all good individually for sure but together it makes the whole thing feel slightly all over the place.
I thought about the movie for a while though and honestly that doesn't bother me that much. It’s a pretty crazy story and you have to fully suspend your disbelief in order to enjoy it so all that stuff becomes secondary. I love that it doesn't focus on the love story too much and that Hercules is a really relatable character despite being nothing like a human. The animation is perfect for the movie and the use of color and backgrounds are brilliant. James Woods as Hades couldn't have been better and his death is chilling. The entire thing just had a very huge and epic feel to it which is a really brave task to pull off considering the amount of stuff it had to compete with in the ‘90s.
#25. Bambi (1942)
Some of you may be thinking “is this guy crazy?” but consider that I had Bambi in my bottom 10 for the longest time. As a kid I found it painfully boring and hated the songs. There were segments I did adore (the skating scene for example), but it didn't gel together well for me and I think it’s because the movie is more of a message than an actual story. A lot of it was always cute but apart from that I never found myself invested in it at all.
Having seen it again I have to say that a lot of the stuff about it really improved. This time around I didn't actually mind the music and songs. I think “April Showers” is a brilliant song not only in the context of the story but also the tone of it. Every time I hear it I just get this overwhelming feeling of something beautiful approaching. The entire sequence that the song plays over is phenomenal. It cleverly edits out much of what we don’t need to see in order to show a passage of time, and it also uses the fantastic animation to its full potential.
Oh yeah, the animation is perfect. It’s one of my favorites from the entire collection; I think it’s in my top 3 actually. The backgrounds couldn't be better, every frame looks like it can be printed and put up on a wall. They basically invented the anthropomorphic characters here and they never used the multi-plane camera better. All of the characters are adorable (though I didn't like when Thumper got older and his voice changed, he’s always been the cutest character for me), and the entire message of the movie is haunting yet beautiful. I also always quote the movie (“You can call me flower, if you want to... I don’t mind...” and “If you got nothin’ nice to say... don’t say anythin’ at aaaall” are just some of the stuff I love) so they did a good job giving the characters some good stuff to chew on.
So why isn't it in my top 5/10? Well I still find parts of it kind of slow. It’s not as well paced as the movie that came right before it (more on that way later), plus there isn't much of a story apart from Bambi experiencing life. I do love that they never show “man,” and the constant threat is very real because we can never see it. That said, it doesn't explore what The Lion King explored much better: the circle of life. It mostly shows herbivores and they’re all happy together, but I would have liked to see some obstacle in the animal kingdom that didn't include humans off-screen.
#24. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
This felt so much cleaner than the movie that came after it, and so much more focused on what makes Disney movies work. The story itself was pretty interesting but it’s mostly the animation and the amazing villain that hooked me. Seriously, look at the way they drew London with the fog floating through the streets and oh my god that chase scene inside the clock tower. Unlike The Black Cauldron they utilized CGI really well here and it was rendered perfectly with the environment of the 2D characters.
It’s a well-paced movie so it’s really enjoyable for adults but has a lot of characteristics about it that would make it appeal to a younger crowd. The songs are really good and overall I didn't mind any of the characters. I thought Basil was funny and the rest of the cast did a really good job with the performances. It’s a fantastic movie that I think definitely belongs in the ‘some of the best’ section of Disney classics, but because I have so much love and passion for the rest of the movies, it had to settle here for now.
#23. Mulan (1998)
Mulan was always one of those movies I thought was good but never really thought much about apart from the songs. I always understood why it was well received when it came out but something about it made the whole thing kind of forgettable. I’m happy to say that this time around, having paid more attention to it and seeing the behind-the-scenes, it deserves to be recognized and talked about for years to come. The entire premise of the story is based on, I believe, a poem or a folk tale. Regardless, it wasn't a medium that could afford a lot of room to explore themes and characters, but they did a brilliant job with it in the movie. Mulan herself is probably the most inspiring character and despite a few contrivances, she’s the most real too.
Eddie Murphy and the villain are a little off for me but everything else about the movie is so great that those things are immediately forgiven, plus the villain’s death is great. It goes without saying that the music is incredible (even though I chose to forget about the somewhat awful ‘80s montage music they used for when Mulan cuts her hair and runs away), but the animation is just spectacular. The style of it works well, and the avalanche scene is something that really does deserve to be in the company of some of the greatest Disney sequences of all time.
#22. Fantasia 2000 (1999)
First of all how distracting is it that the movie didn't come out in 2000? I guess it got released wide that year but the OCD in me is screaming out. I couldn't believe how much I actually liked Fantasia’s follow up. Maybe it was a little bit strange that they threw in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” again, especially considering that short wasn't even meant to be in the original movie, but I digress. There are a few shorts that I adored and the rest range from bad to really strong. Ultimately it’s two of the segments that lift this movie up here: the very first segment I thought was something that could have been in the original movie and yet it looked updated, and the very last one, “Firebird Suite,” was visually flawless. Folks if you haven’t seen this segments please please please please go and find it, because it’s one of the most visually dazzling things I've ever seen on screen.
I also thought “Rhapsody in Blue” was really well done and “Pomp and Circumstance” was a really cute version of Noah’s ark. “Pines of Rome” was impressive but I feel like it’s only great if you see it in IMAX (I didn't.) “The Carnival of the Animals” was just kind of dumb and it felt like a big rip-off of the “Dance of the Hours” short from Fantasia. Finally, I thought “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” was brutally bad. The animation was just not good and on top of that it bored the life out of me -- plus it was kind of creepy.
One or two of the segments and the hosts which range from good to awful (Steve Martin, seriously?!) push this movie down quite a bit, but if everything was as good as the first and last segments, I honestly could see it being in my top 10.
#21. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
I never thought that this would be in my top 25, but here it is. I was dreading the day I had to sit through this movie considering how much I disliked The Rescuers, plus being between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, it had a lot to live up to. Fortunately I was in a really good mood and coming right off of The Little Mermaid I welcomed it with open arms.
It depends on the day, but this one has to be the one that shocked me most. From frame one the animation is not only updated from the dreadful original, but it also puts up a fair fight among some of Disney’s best. I won’t talk too much about what scenes worked best for me visually, but the opening shot alone was enough to warrant this feeling. Yeah some of the characters are disposable but for the most part they all have a good role to play. I still think it would have been a much better movie if Bernard and Miss Bianca didn't exist, but it did allow for some really touching moments.
#20. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Another movie that kind of decreased on re-watch. I used to watch this movie on a loop when it came out on DVD, but it was more to do with how funny I found it than an appreciation of the entire thing. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s brilliant and very unique, but it’s not top 5 material anymore.
I think the first thing that has to be said is that Yzma is without a doubt one of the best villains ever. It’s not just the outlandish design of her that works really well, but Eartha Kitt’s performance is otherworldly good. She brings such great diva flair to the role with just the right amount of over the top. Her back-and-forth with Kronk is comedic timing gold, and there are some scenes that to this day remain uproariously funny thanks to her.
The style of animation was really impressive -- similar to Hercules but distinct enough to not be confused with it. David Spade... eh, I’d be fine without his voice but his persona did fit the character really well. John Goodman does big ol’ teddy bear and it works really well.
The only thing that kind of makes the movie drag a bit for me is Sting. As I stated I don’t like when one celebrity just signs on and does all of the songs for a Disney movie, but like Phil Collins, Sting just used it as an excuse to write some more of his regular music. It doesn't really degrade the movie at all but it certainly doesn't help. I still love The Emperor’s New Groove and I’m sure I’ll be seeing it many more times in the future.
#19. Aladdin (1992)
Now we’re getting into movies that I just straight up love. The higher we get on the list the more passion I have toward it and the less stuff about it that I nitpicked. This movie was ‘my everything’ when I was a kid and it still retains that brilliant magic. I can’t really say there’s anything I disliked about it, save for maybe how the message of the movie is a little muddled with Aladdin stealing and lying his way through obstacles to basically become a prince, but it’s not a huge deal since so much of it actually depends on the supporting characters.
It makes me emotional just thinking about how lucky I was to be born in the mid ‘80s, consequently being the perfect age when the movie came out. There’s so much to praise here, from the miraculous animation -- I remember they showed the process of doing Genie and having to basically retrace him 15 times each frame because certain sides of him were thicker -- to one of the most romantic and iconic love scenes of all time. Aladdin will always be a classic. It felt like it then, and it feels like it now.
#18. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
This is one of only two movies done in that Xerox style I actually loved. To the movie’s credit, the sort of sketched look of the characters worked really well because the backgrounds used a nice watercolor style that made the edges bleed out. Stylistically it was spot-on plus the agonizing task of having to draw the dots on each one of the dogs exactly the way they’re supposed to be drawn is really a testament to how hard-working the company was at the time, despite almost going bankrupt thanks to Sleeping Beauty.
The movie has only one song and while many consider it a villain song I can’t really get behind that. Regardless, it basically sets the tone for Cruella de Vil moments before she swings the door open and makes an EPIC introduction with: “Anita, daaaaahling!” And I will never stop quoting the line she has after Anita asks how she is: “Dreadful, dahling, as usual, peeeeeerfectly WRETCHED.” Her motives may be in-fucking-sane, but she has so much physical humor that the balance is handled perfectly.
There are numerous heartfelt, touching moments which lift the screenplay way above most other Disney movies. Pardita giving birth while Pongo and Roger lose their minds in another room makes the whole thing have so much emotional resonance. Another scene that’s very real is when they’re all walking through the snow and they’re just about to give up. The whole thing remains one of the saddest moments in Disney history.
#17. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
I considered putting this below 101 Dalmatians simply because I think the puppy movie hit me emotionally much harder, but I just couldn't do it. The Princess and the Frog is the last great 2D princess movie. It’s everything that made the renaissance so memorable but it’s much different too. The style of music is far removed from the Broadway melodies you get in things like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, but it definitely holds its own. I’m not a fan of Randy Newman but he fit this movie very well.
A lot has been said about the character of Tiana and it’s all deserved. She’s my favorite princess and I absolutely love how she has a natural romance with the prince. Dr. Facilier is one of the best villains Disney has had, and Keith David was born for the role. Every time I hear someone say “are you ready?” now all I can hear is Keith yelling that out loud and those creepy masks going “BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM!”
I really want to praise the songs to the high heavens. It has the best villain song since “Hellfire,” almost every single segment gets ingrained in your head (I’m still singing “When we’re human, and we’re gonna beeeeee!” on the regular), and they all have some special purpose for existing -- save for maybe “My Belle Evangeline” but that one brought some nice humanity to Ray (who was voiced by Jim Cummings -- WHAT?! More on him later though). It’s a movie where none of the voice performances were bad, and it’s paced perfectly. There’s honestly nothing bad I can say about the movie, except that maybe I wish Charlotte La Bouff was in it a little more, but that’s just nitpicking.
#16. Cinderella (1950)
Another movie I quote endlessly (though it’s more Lady Tremaine that I quote than anyone else) and is the epitome of Disney magic. For all its flaws in logic (um ok, the entire kingdom has different sizes of shoes?) it still remains the quintessential princess movie and the most iconic of them all. One thing I always forget about Cinderella is just how great everything is when she’s not around. Not to say that she’s a boring character, though one could argue that bitch needs to step up and do something about her little situation, but that’d be stupid, it’s a fairy tale set in the 1600s! No, what I mean is everything with the mice and the cat. It’s handled surprisingly very well and it gives much more depth to a really short story.
I recall reading about how Walt said his favorite piece of animation was Cinderella transforming, and I have to agree. Yeah there are sequences that might have been more technically impressive, but that scene is just so iconic now. Tell me it doesn’t make you feel everything Disney has always wanted you to feel. With Cinderella they finally got back to really focusing on the visuals and it allowed them to create not one, not two, not even three, but five characters that to this day remain the models for what they’re supposed to look like (Cinderella, Fairy Godmother, Lady Tremaine, and the stepsisters).
There’s quite a lot of humor, mostly with the villains and Fairy Godmother, plus as annoying as “Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo” is, the songs are actually extremely catchy and have aged really well. I’ll never understand how that nonsensical song got nominated for an Oscar over “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” but the ‘50s were a weird time. I know a lot of people complain about how the prince doesn't have a single word of dialogue, but I don’t mind. It’s all about Cinderella and what happens with her, I don’t need the movie to derail from what it’s doing great so it can focus on his character.
#15. Winnie The Pooh (2011)
Now we’re in the section where I just flat out love the movies with not a single complaint. Alright so I don’t like the name of it, I would have preferred for it to at least be a slight continuation of the horrid original name (but this is not a flaw, just an observation). I love this movie so much. I literally went back and re-watched it the minute I finished it. To give you more of an idea about just how much I loved it, 2011 is one of the strongest year in history for me when it comes to movies and yet this places at my #8.
So why the huge love for this? Well it comes down to just how much of the original feel they captured. They basically matched the level of brilliance of the original and included some new, equally memorable, songs. Before the movie started I was really scared about how off the voices would sound but whoa, is Jim Cummings a genius or what?! He imitates both Pooh and Tigger flawlessly, and I just couldn't get over how great that aspect is. Craig Ferguson may be the weak link for me as he made Owl sound a bit different but his humor and performance more than made up for it (please check out “The Backson Song” if you haven’t yet, or better yet, watch the movie and see how flawlessly it fits in).
Speaking of “The Backson Song,” I recall one of the best things about the original film was the “Heffalumps and Woozels” sequence. It just took me off guard and made the thing feel wonderfully experimental -- plus the way it fit in with the psychedelic era made it so poignant. I had no clue whether they’d try something similar in Winnie the Pooh, but given how much they captured the feeling of the original it only made sense that they did. “The Backson Song” is brilliantly animated, using chalk for a different feel.
#14. Frozen (2013)
This will be the last time a movie from the past 15 years shows up on the list. It will always have a special place in my heart because it was released on my 27th birthday (which is my favorite number and my champagne birthday). The internet, and the general audience, has been drooling over this return to Disney form for almost a year now so I’ll just let the numbers speak for themselves. It’s the fifth highest grossing movie of all time, and the highest grossing animated film. It has two Oscars under its belt and it marked the first time Disney Animated Studios has taken the big animated prize outside of Pixar. The soundtrack broke records and who isn't humming “Let it Go” 8 months later?
There’s as much in Frozen for adults as there is for children and Disney’s choice to spark the feel of the Renaissance is probably the best decision they have ever made. It’s the most sophisticated of Disney films (save for perhaps The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and easily puts up a strong fight for the best soundtrack of the entire collection. While there is one huge plot hole (just how did Elsa get her powers?), there’s no denying that the overall theme is something we can all relate to. This is a movie that will easily become a classic and will certainly highlight another Disney high after years of not knowing what to do with the studio.
#13. The Lion King (1994)
Some may say this is too low on the list, but I still adore it. I guess it just shows how much passion I have for the remaining movies. The Lion King is a movie that reaches bigger emotional highs than any Disney movie ever has. I don’t know a living soul who didn't cry during the pivotal scene the first time they saw it. Thematically it’s probably also the deepest and when it comes to vocal performances, Jeremy Irons shines above everyone else.
The making of this movie was really interesting because it showed how they used traditional and really strange techniques to develop the story, so it gave me a different perspective of the whole thing. I find the opening shot to be one of the most memorable and iconic, and that was basically just a painting. I really don’t want to waste too much time with this one because there really is no one I know who doesn't like it, and I think we all do because of the same reasons.
#12. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
The last of the ‘package’ films from the ‘40s is also the most impressive by far. It probably wouldn't make anyone else’s top 12 and I suppose I can see why but consider just how great this movie is. The animation in both of the shorts is different yet respectively gorgeous. The first one, which tells the tale of “The Wind in the Willows” has a really clean and toned down look to it. Plus the characters are a riot, and the actual story is really interesting. At times I felt it was a little too advanced of a story for kids to enjoy but I think that’s precisely why I loved it. There wasn't a lot of stalling for the purpose of childish humor. They kept it moving at a swift pace.
The second short, an adaptation of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is easily my favorite of all of Disney’s shorts. Having Bing Crosby voice all the characters and sing all of the songs was such an excellent idea. It may have been simply because he was really popular at the time but he gives it a fittingly brooding feel, and along with the spectacular animation, it creates such a unique atmosphere. Plus this version of Sleepy Hollow will forever be the definitive version.
#11. The Little Mermaid (1989)
The final movie before we get into the top 10. I've never really been able to connect with this movie when I was a kid because there was always such a big distinction between what boys and girls like, and this one was probably the most feminine of the Disney movies (except for maybe Cinderella). Still, I knew all of the songs and immediately recognized all of the characters, I knew a lot of the dialogue and always considered Ursula the best villain.
Watching it again gave me such a different (and better) perspective of the whole thing especially coming off of an entire decade of bad to decent stuff. It’s the first of the movies that I feel utilized music brilliantly, and to this day for me it remains the best soundtrack from the collection, with every single one of the songs as good as the other. Ariel herself is a bit of a spoiled brat, but her intentions are pretty innocent so I’m willing to look past it. The movie does a terrific job at animating underwater action, much better than anything they've done in the past (though The Sword in the Stone was impressive too), and the balance of doing ocean and above water landscapes was handled remarkably.
Everything about The Little Mermaid works and it’s a timeless movie that generations and generations after us will enjoy, but it offers quite a lot for older audiences to marvel at. The movie feels a lot shorter than the other ones, but that’s simply because of how well paced it all is. It’s a beautiful story with some of the most entertaining songs from not just Disney movies, but musicals in general.
#10. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
It’s difficult for me to say anything about this movie without repeating myself, but I will say this: it was the most pleasant surprise. I never really found Pooh particularly interesting. It was way too cutesy for me when I was young and all the characters were one-dimensional amplified to the max -- so I just always avoided it. Having said that, watching it this year I finally understood why everything was the way it was. I never knew these characters were stuffed animals based on this kid’s imagination. Finally it all made sense. The fact that they’re so “one-dimensional” just goes along with the whole childhood naivety and innocence. Everything these characters do is really well done because it all feels like it came right out of the mind of a child.
It’s much different from other Disney movies because it breaks the fourth wall regularly and is completely self-referential. The look of it just takes me back to my childhood, with the relaxing colors and storybook feel. It has some fantastic humor and I love how all the segments, while different, link up to one flowing story. The songs are really fun with “Heffalumps and Woozels” being one of my favorite scenes of all time. Sterling Holloway as Pooh could not have been more perfect and the rest of the cast makes the whole thing feel as iconic as the animators did -- an absolute near perfection.
#9. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
The best way to describe Lady and the Tramp is just: aaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwww!! But not only that, the craft here is some of Disney’s best. It’s difficult to remember that because of that one memorable spaghetti scene, but everything was handled so delicately. The editing is probably my favorite from the collection, with a lot of transitions happening seamlessly and it flowing so smoothly from beginning to end. It’s the first time they used widescreen and it paid off tremendously. Watching Peter Pan and its predecessors right before this was kind of like staring at the Grand Canyon through a rolled piece of paper and then finally taking it off and seeing it up close. The way the backgrounds are drawn just look visually arresting and all the characters are really clean and polished, which I suppose was the standard back then but the backgrounds really emphasized that in Lady and the Tramp.
The story is pretty simple but that’s because the nature of this movie calls for that. It’s just a simple classic love story. Not much time is wasted on side characters, so it gives the two leads a lot of room for growth. Honestly I can’t emphasize this enough: two dogs in an animated movie had more natural chemistry than most live action movies do these days. I know that the Siamese cats have become a basic starting point for Disney’s racism, but I guess it didn't bother me much at all. I was too enthralled by everything else on the screen. Plus, their song is a whole lot of fun.
#8. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
I’ll keep this one short because by now everyone here should have an idea of why this movie is so brilliant. From the songs to the animation which I think to this day remains the cleanest looking of all the films, to a princess who finally has a head on her shoulders, to the timeless story that doesn't get any better when it comes to romance. I've always had a minor problem with the whole idea of a woman being imprisoned and abused plus almost physically beaten, and eventually her still falling for the guy (hey kids, let’s learn about Stockholm Syndrome!). I know there’s a lot of build up to it, but it still doesn't change the fact that this chick is a bit of a masochist.
That’s literally the only reason that keeps this movie from being in my top 5. Everything else is perfection. The voice work is flawless, the music is incredible, and the side characters are a lot of fun and bring a lot of humanity to the story despite being inanimate objects. The villain is so great (and has two really good songs), plus it’s the one time that it’s all about his nuances and development more than what he looks like. We kind of know right from the beginning that he’s bad, but it doesn't reach a level of insanity until later on. It’s a slow build-up, but the payoff is amazing.
#7. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The one that started it all (how many times have you heard that??) is also one of the most impressive of all. I think this was the most enjoyable “making of” I've seen, because it gave me so much information about the history of the company and just how this came to be, the amount of work put into it as well as the large obstacles they had to overcome. Basically, to be as short as I can, they invented numerous techniques and technology for this movie to work. They also used some of the filming techniques they employed in their earlier shorts, but nothing came close to the level of craft this managed to reach.
Without going into the details about what made this movie so damn impressive (I urge you to check out any of the documentaries on how it was made), I want to mention how painful it was to animate this. Every single frame had to be animated by hand and then handed to the inbetweeners to fill in the gaps, then taken to a separate department where they hand painted everything on the back. Then it all had to be shot with a camera individually, then about 10 other steps before you can even see what the movement looks like. They did a lot of rotoscoping in this movie so it made the movement feel very real. Check out the scene of Snow White dancing and pay attention to how smooth the movement is.
All the hard work paid off and it not only created some of the most iconic characters ever put on film, but the story of it, as simple as it is, has become the definition of a fairy tale. I’m a huge fan of the music, not a lot of people are but I absolutely adore it, and for a 1937 movie some scenes still look surprisingly good. The scene where Snow White is running through the forest, for example, is brilliantly animated.
I love this movie to death, I think it was not only a solid effort for the time, but it aged very well. Snow White is kind of a dumb character, but that’s just how fairy tales worked back then. It’s actually pretty deep with some complex themes surrounding age and beauty, plus without it nothing on this list would exist.
#6. Pinocchio (1940)
Pinocchio is the first movie I fell in love with as a kid. It’s the first movie in the Disney collection that made me marvel at just how much they catered toward children as well as adults. It’s the movie that, to me, feels the most Disney -- though that may have something to do with the fact that the famous song from it is now the Disney theme -- and I doubt that will ever change. I don’t really know where to start when it comes to the praise of this movie so I suppose I’ll talk about the story first.
The story of Pinocchio can be taken as the darkest in Disney’s collection. It’s a brilliantly fleshed out lesson for youth but it’s also a warning for adults and the nature of life. The fact that the studio took a wooden doll and gave it so much energy and personality speaks volumes to just how much dedication they gave to this project, serving the narrative amazingly. The rest of the characters are extremely memorable and even though most of them get very little time on screen, the animators did an impeccable job of breathing life into them.
The animation is one of their best. They had to invent a way for the titular character to interact with his environment and move around, and judging by the behind the scenes, it wasn't an easy task at all. They pulled it off with aplomb and allowed for some miraculous backgrounds that made you feel like you were in Italy in that time era. The scene with Monstro is some of the most gorgeously animated sequences they have ever done. Overall Pinocchio is as magical as Disney gets, it’s altogether the epitome of nostalgia and will forever remain close to our hearts.
#5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
The last time you’ll see anything on this list that’s less than fifty years old. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a movie that I didn't quite understand when it was released but grew to appreciate more and more as an adult until it reached a level of brilliance in my mind where I really couldn't stop thinking about it. I've seen the movie numerous times, but each and every one of those times I found something new to marvel at. Most people agree that the movie as a whole is really underrated but I believe it to be somewhat of a shrugged off masterpiece. It’s what Les Miz should feel like in a filmed medium. I personally believe that the only reason the movie was written off is because it just isn't that accessible for children. They included the gargoyles to remedy that but it didn't really work. It doesn't matter though because it’s the kind of movie that if you don’t like now, you will later.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a grueling tale with some of the most adult themes throughout including religion, racism and prejudice, lust, and straight up murder. Other villains have killed in the past (most of them off-screen), but Frollo just flat out throws a gypsy against stairs and cracks her head open. Then he threatens to burn down all of Paris if one of the gypsies, whom he finds blasphemous, does not agree to be his property. Everything else is a really human exploration of being an outsider, which goes hand in hand with what it means to be part of a huge following or cult.
Individually, the songs are the best Disney has ever composed. The power and scope of all of them transcend anything the studio has ever done. The opening song is my absolute favorite from the entire collection. “Hellfire” is also in the running for the best villain song, and belongs atop of the best songs overall. Everything else is either fun or just as epic as the aforementioned numbers, with a score that works perfectly to both remind you of the songs and set the tone for each scene.
#4. Fantasia (1940)
I thought long and hard about whether to just put this as my favorite because it would have all the markings, but I decided against it for two reasons. One is that a lot of it has live action footage and the second is that while it is a Disney movie and now feels like a Disney movie simply because it was released by the studio, the fact that it’s between four of their movies that narratively couldn't be less Disney if they tried, makes it feel slightly jarring.
I won’t go through all of the shorts because I think they’re all flawless in their own right. My favorite always flips between “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Night on Bald Mountain” depending on the day. Both of them are as iconic as anything can get with Disney. I don’t think there’s really any need to express how memorable Mickey’s outfit is in the former short and how much of an impact Chernabog has had on pop culture in general, even though he’s in 4 shots. Everything else ranges from brilliant to absolutely brilliant, with “Ave Maria” seamlessly being woven in at the end, perfectly finishing off the masterpiece. It’s as much art as any painting you see in whatever famous museum pops up in your mind first, and I don’t think a movie has ever utilized sound and imagery as well as this one, especially when talking about animated movies.
#3. Dumbo (1941)
Gah, just thinking about this movie makes me tear up. The fact that the budget was nonexistent, it wasn't a fairy tale and it was really rushed makes the movie so much more impressive. I think without the knowledge of the studio’s state at the time it’s still as enjoyable but it’s just the icing on the cake (another trivia worth checking out).
Dumbo grabbed me from the first second and just held on the entire time. It’s a relatively short movie and a lot happens in it so it shows that they weren't messing around. The music is fun, though I wouldn't really lump “Baby Mine” in that categoty. The animation is really impressive, focusing more on suggestion than actually beating you over the head with everything. The “Pink Elephants on Parade” is possibly my favorite scene in all of Disney and certainly one of my favorite songs.
In the end the movie is really inspiring, utterly heartbreaking and endlessly re-watchable, if you’re a masochist like me. It doesn't just rank among the best Disney movies, but some of the best movies ever made, period. It helped move the company along to create things like Bambi and consequently the two best movies on this list.
#2. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
By now many of you have figured out what the #1 is and maybe some of you are rolling your eyes -- maybe not, I don’t know. I always just shrugged this movie off because it was another Disney princess fairytale, and apart from the villain it didn't really stand out at all. I never stopped to think about the actual animation, or just the actual tone of the movie, so for me it was just: “some bitch does something stupid and falls asleep, some witch does something even more stupid instead of killing her right then and there. The end.”
Then I saw this movie as an adult. The way they actually animated this movie is just insane. I don’t mean insane as in they did a good job, I mean they were out of their minds bat shit crazy. They wanted to imitate the glass painting look of the era the movie is set in, so no biggie they fooled around for MONTHS until they finally developed a way to incorporate a really stylized background and middle ages-influenced characters to blend in with an environment that used a very very very VERY specific color palette. Oh, and it was drawn/filmed in 70mm. They also spent what seemed like an eternity animating the “Once upon a Dream” sequence because Walt Disney was practicing dictatorship and wanted the company to bankrupt.
Though Disney really did almost go down in flames (it happened several times, but this time was the most real), what eventually bloomed was astounding. The look of this movie is easily the best of the entire collection and really holds up when compared to even live action films. Every single frame is something you can marvel at for hours, and each character is stunningly designed. When it comes to the actual drawing, Aurora is my favorite of the princesses. The same goes for Maleficent, but she’s generally my favorite villain anyway.
And Jesus Christ can we discuss how creepy this movie can get at times? When Aurora is possessed and walks up to the spinning wheel, the music and overall look of it just paralyzes me, and it honestly is as scary as many horror movies. That’s without mentioning Maleficent’s castle. But I think the most impressive thing is the final battle. Not only is it wonderfully animated, the action is superb and it actually gives the prince something to finally do! He kills the witchfairydragon in the coolest manner, and her death is appropriately over the top. The whole thing is really a fairy tale for adults, but for me it’s personally the single most beautiful Disney movie ever made.
#1. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
This was the first story that really made me fall in love with the concept of imagination and there’s never been a better example of entertainment for the sake of being fun for me. The fact that the entire story has a pretty great message behind it amplifies the entertainment, but let’s get into the actual movie. There’s no way around it: this is the definitive version of this story. It’s kind of a shame that young kids will now consider Burton’s piece of shit the prototype for the story, so I hope parents everywhere force the 1951 movie down all of their kids’ throats.
Having said all of that, personally, Alice in Wonderland is exactly why I love Disney. They utilize all areas of storytelling while focusing as much on the animation. It’s not a very intricate narrative but everything that happens is carefully dissected out of both books and displayed perfectly to fit into the atmosphere Alice has created in her head. I think the fact that everything is a dream allowed all the animators, voice actors and storyboard artists to go to places they never would have the reason to, and it really does show. Every second of the movie is more memorable than the next. I can go through the entire thing and recite it almost word-for-word. That’s not because I've seen the movie ten thousand times. No, it’s more because the whole thing flows so well and the play on words is just riotously fun.
Alice as a character is really interesting. The way she reacts to all of the situations is very unique but extremely suitable for a young British girl. Every single side character is really memorable and everything about them shows how everyone involved with the movie was bringing their A-game. The Queen of Hearts is a whole lot of fun and Verna Felton’s performance is sensational. If it weren't for these eccentric characters, this would just be another quirky animated movie. But because the actors managed to breathe so much life into everyone, and bring so much humor, the movie instantly became something much more than just weird.
It’s the most creative Disney has ever gotten and the fact that it happened at the very peak shows how fitting this is at #1. It features collectively the best voice performances out of any Disney movie, the best use of colors, and it’s easily the most entertaining. Nothing works better for me than to see craft lifted to a level that makes it very hard to match, but doing it with such love and dedication in a time when the artistic merit and creativity was the most important, is something I’m so grateful for.