Ah, Disney movies. The topic that keeps on giving. I’ve already talked about the Disney Renaissance movies from 1989-1999, as well as all of the Walt Disney Animation Studio movies from 2000-2010. Now, I’m going to cover the most recent Disney Animation Studio movies from 2011-2020. Consider this my personal trilogy of articles on the subject. But, also consider that Encanto and Raya and the Last Dragon will not be on this list, since both of those films came out in 2021.
No matter, since the movies from 2011-2020 are so spectacular that some might even consider it a second renaissance. This was a period where a song like “Let it Go” was actually heard on the radio. The time was a period of new movies, as well as sequels, and it also represents an era where I feel that the company was more cognizant of the messages that it was sending to its younger audiences, which is why I’d much rather my daughter watch recent Disney movies like Moana than classics like The Little Mermaid. But, enough talk, and on with the ranking. Here are all the Disney Animation movies from 2011-2020, ranked.
Oh, and a few spoilers up ahead.
7. Big Hero 6 (2014)
Big Hero 6 is set in an alternate, tech-powered universe called San Fransokyo, where a young kid adept at robotics must band with his brother’s healthcare robot and his friends, who become high-tech superheroes, to stop a masked villain. It’s loosely based off of a Marvel comic, and even has a shocking Marvel cameo at the end. It’s so much fun!
So, then why, pray tell, is at the bottom of this list? Well, I think that’s just a testament to how great the movies were in this period, since Big Hero 6 is an excellent film. In fact, I think the movie is super underappreciated, and I wish more people talked about it. The superhero stuff is amazing, and the story hits all of the right emotional beats.
But, when we have some of the other movies on this list, well, I just didn’t have the heart to put it above any of those other films. Sucks, but that’s just how lists like this work. Something has got to be on the bottom.
6. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
A “bad guy” video game character is tired of his label, so he wants to do something about it and become a “good guy.” But, in the process, he accidentally sets things in motion that could destroy all of the games in his arcade. Adventure (and heart-warming antics!) ensue.
Wreck-It Ralph was the first movie in the 2011-2020 era, and it was something totally unique coming after Tangled (which is better than Frozen). But, I digress.
It’s great to see all of the video game references in Wreck-It Ralph, and I love the third act with the race, but the rest of the film kind of meanders a little bit for me. Yes, all of it is fun, but I feel that some of it isn’t entirely necessary. So, while I do love it, and I’m super happy that it brought Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz to the Disney universe, I feel like the second act could be a little stronger. The rest totally gives me a sugar rush, though.
5. Frozen (2013)
A princess must help end the perpetual winter that her sister accidentally created in order to unfreeze their kingdom. There’s also a loveable snowman, a moose, and a mountaineer who loves ice. But, why am I explaining the plot of Frozen to you? You’ve already seen it. And, if you’re a parent, possibly multiple times.
Look, I dig Frozen. It’s a good movie, and nothing I’m about to say will take away from its cultural impact or significance, but…Frozen is kind of overrated. I like the story, as well as the message that sisterly love is more powerful than any love from a male suitor, but “Let It Be,” while a showstopper, kind of breaks up the flow of the film, and the other songs aren’t nearly as good. Plus, the story kind of hits a standstill when the trolls come out.
Honestly, I’m putting it at this number since I understand just how much people love this film, and I know the shot in the arm it gave Disney that led it on to a successful string of years to come after its monumental success, but the first Frozen is just okay for me. It is what it is.
4. Ralph Breaks The Internet (2018)
After Ralph and Vanellope accidentally break Vanellope’s game, they have to go on the internet to get enough money to purchase a new part. Along the way, Vanellope learns that maybe she belongs elsewhere, and Ralph has to deal with that.
Okay, so I KNOW most people prefer the first Wreck-It Ralph to the second (even though the sequel has a slightly higher critical score, but a MUCH lower audience score), however, I just think the second movie is better in every way. The first film felt a little disjointed. I mean, you had these older arcade games like Street Fighter II, and Q-Bert, but the world of Sugar Rush felt super modern. I know that’s part of the story – the old vs. the new – but the modernism of the sequel feels much more consistent and enjoyable.
I also love the emotions that we get more in the sequel, giving Vanellope more to do and consider, and how Ralph feels left out in the cold. Finally, having all of the Disney princesses was the icing on the cake for Wreck-It Ralph 2. So, while I greatly enjoy the first movie, I LOVE the second one. It’s just a better film, overall. I think so, at least.
3. Frozen II (2019)
Elsa hears a voice from off yonder, and follows it, only to find out that the voice is coming from within. Whoa, trippy.
Okay, so I’m well aware that this choice might be even more controversial than putting Wreck-It Ralph 2 over the first one, but hear me out. Frozen II is the better movie since it has much more depth. We learn that the ancestors of Arendelle actually had a really dark past, and the overall tone of this sequel is just darker, overall. Olaf dies (DIES! - but he’s brought back, of course), Anna is struggling to hold on to the newly formed relationship with her sister, and poor Kristoff keeps trying to marry Anna, only to be thwarted at every occasion.
I also like the music a lot more in this one, as it feels more organic to the overall story. The setting is also more interesting. In every way, I think Frozen II is the better movie, and you’ll never convince me otherwise. It’s simply the superior film.
2. Moana (2016)
A teenager who has a calling for the sea, sets out on an adventure with a demigod (and a chicken) to bring the heart of the ocean back to its rightful place.
Moana freaking has it all. The songs are magnificent, the story moves at such a brisk pace, that it’s almost a little too fast, Moana is a phenomenal protagonist, and it has The Rock giving the people’s eyebrow. I mean, Moana would far and away be my pick for the best movie in this time period if not for one other...
A city where the predators and the prey live together in harmony have that harmony disrupted when certain citizens start turning savage. We soon learn that the peace the citizens thought they knew may have never even existed in the first place.
I’ve actually already discussed why I think Zootopia is the best recent Disney animated movie, but, in a nutshell, Zootopia is the best since it genuinely feels like it has something important to say on many different topics, such as race, identity, bigotry, and class. Zootopia is not just fun (even though it is that), nor is it just a beautiful movie to look at (it’s that, too). Zootopia is both those things, and so much more, making it the best movie of this era. Seriously, I LOVE this film!
Disney doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon with their animation division, and I’m looking forward to its future. For more news on everything from the company, make sure to swing by here often.
Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.