Every Walt Disney Animation Studios Feature, Ranked
Eighty years ago last December, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had it's World Premiere, but it wasn't until the beginning of February that the rest of the country got to see Disney's first feature-length animated film. Over the last 80 years, the studio that became synonymous with animation has released a total of 56 theatrical films, and so, on this anniversary, and nearly a year before we see the 57th animated feature, it's a good time to look back at what's come before and take on the impossible task of actually ranking them.
No two people are going to have exactly the same list when ranking such a history of cinema, this one went through numerous iterations. We could still tweak a few things a little, but all in all, it's pretty good, based on quality, technical achievement, historical standing, and more. Give it a look, then give us your thoughts. From worst to first, here are all 56 films from Walt Disney Animation Studios.
56. Home on the Range
Home on the Range is a movie that there's a very good chance you forget even existed, and there's a reason for that. It's the single most forgettable Disney animated movie. It's an absolute shame that the one time Judi Dench lent her voice to a Disney film it was then dull and lifeless story. The fact that she plays second fiddle to Roseanne Barr is all the more confusing. Barr's appearance might have made sense if this movie came out in 1992, but in 2004, it's far too late for anything in this film to be relevant.
55. The Black Cauldron
The Black Cauldron nearly single-handedly killed Disney animation, and that's just the beginning of this one. The story crams together details from several different fantasy novels, and it's clear, as the various bits and pieces of the movie feel crammed together with little to no connective tissue explaining anything that happens. It has a protagonist who is utterly unlikeable from start to finish and side characters that are actually worse. It had such potential as a more mature Disney feature, and in another era, this would have been handled properly with an eye toward making this a franchise in its own right. Instead, we get an adventure made up of characters you'd never want to go on an adventure with in the first place.
54. The Aristocats
The Aristocats was the first feature without Walt Disney and it shows. It's got quite possibly the most useless villain in Disney history, and that's a fatal flaw when you're talking about films that include some of the best villains in all of cinema. The plot, overall, is utterly nonsensical, with a butler who attempts to kill his employer's cats after he learns they will inherit her fortune before the butler does. Not that the employer expects to be dead anytime soon, making the whole thing bizarre. Frequent Disney voice actor Phil Harris has done better work for Disney and so has Eva Gabor for that matter.
53. The Fox and the Hound
The Fox and the Hound isn't a bad movie, but if the idea were proposed today, there's no way it would get the green light. There just isn't enough of a story here. Disney has done small-scale stories before, but the emotional core of those is missing here. There just isn't enough to get a hold of and get invested in with The Fox and the Hound. No characters get fleshed out enough to become liked or hated, and that includes the characters in the title. It's a movie starring cute animals, and that's not nothing, but it's hardly enough.
52. Oliver and Company
While Disney was trying to find its way in the '80s, the studio released a version of Oliver Twist that saw the characters reimagined as animals in New York City. The premise isn't terrible, but the story gets so reimagined that little of the classic remains. The inclusion of Billy Joel as both the voice of Dodger, and part of the 80s pop soundtrack is about all you need to know about. The movie wants desperately to be cool, and as is usually the case, when you try to too hard, you end up having the opposite impact. There are some fun moments in Oliver and Company but the film is mostly forgettable overall.
51. Chicken Little
Chicken Little was one Disney's early forays into computer animation, and it shows. The animation hasn't held up and the story that goes along with it has just enough of a plot to be considered a movie. Much like Oliver and Company, it tries far too hard to be hip, which, especially now, has the effect of dating the material terribly. There's a kernel of a good idea in here, as the first part of the movie focuses on a son trying desperately to be accepted by his father, and that part works, but that story is pretty much over by the midpoint and all you have left are the space aliens.
Dinosaur was Disney's first foray into a computer-animated movie that opens with a fantastic sequence that sees a dinosaur egg get separated from its nest and go on a silent (except for the score) journey across a beautiful prehistoric Earth. It's quite stunning. And then characters start talking and it all goes to hell. While Dinosaur's animation is clearly dated, it holds up acceptably. What doesn't is the story, which is essentially The Land Before Time, but with less interesting characters.
49. The Sword in the Stone
The Sword in the Stone is a strange film because one wonders why they bothered to make it a King Arthur story in the first place. The titular object only appears at the tail end of the story and instead, the film focuses on a teenage Arthur and Merlin running around as different animals in some sort of bizarre attempt at educating the future king. Outside of the final moments, this could have been a different story, and probably should have been. It's more like a collection of shorts than a cohesive story, the actor playing Arthur apparently went through puberty during recording as the character's voice changes from high pitched to low and back again throughout the film. Clearly, nobody was paying much attention to this movie.
48. Melody Time
During World War II, the Disney Studios stopped producing the fairy tale films they were known for and instead focused on "package films" collections of shorter animations that were cheaper to produce during what was a lean time in America overall. Melody Time was one of the final films produced like this. While there's nothing wrong with any of the shorts, they're all fine, there aren't any that are of particular note either, which makes Melody Time really the least interesting of the package films. There's no cohesive narrative between the shorts and it feels even more thrown together than the rest of the collections.
47. Meet the Robinsons
A story that nobody was looking for based on a book that few were familiar with. Meet the Robinsons takes a simple idea from a children's picture book and expands on it to reach a theatrical length. The story we end up with, dealing with time travel, alternate timelines, and other such sci-fi elements -- but in only the simplest possible way -- feels utterly contrived and it's not nearly as creative as we know Disney can be. The entire movie feels like a set-up for a big reveal that is telegraphed from the beginning.
46. Brother Bear
Brother Bear features one of the most irritating Disney sidekicks in history, which is saying something. The heartfelt message at the center of the story is a worthy one, but every time the film gets close to building some real emotion, the Phil Collins soundtrack jumps in to steal all the thunder and kill any feeling that might have been building in the audience. If the music was particularly good that would be one thing, but when it plays over one of the most heartbreaking conversations ever in an animated film, hearing what the characters say could have made Brother Bear one of the all-time greats.
45. Make Mine Music
Make Mine Music was the first short collection released by Disney as a feature film. It's essentially Fantasia. One of the segments, Blue Bayou, was actually originally created for that film, but with all different sorts of music, not simply classical. There's no connective tissue between the shorts, which Fantasia has, which makes some of the jumps between the shorts feel really disjointed. Shifting from the calm and peaceful Blue Bayou into All the Cats Join In with music by the Benny Goodman Orchestra could give you whiplash. Still, it does contain a couple of classics in Disney's version of Peter and the Wolf and Casey at the Bat.
44. Fun and Fancy Free
Fun and Fancy Free is another package film, only this one contains a pair of longer stories, rather than multiple shorts. First is Little Bear Bongo, about a circus bear that escapes to the wild and falls in love, and Mickey and the Beanstalk, about Mickey Mouse...and a beanstalk. It's one you've more than likely seen, though it's less likely you've seen the feature film version that includes narration from ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy. If their style of humor works for you (and it does for this writer), it's actually pretty great.
43. The Rescuers
The Rescuers was one of those 1970s Disney films where it was clear the studio wasn't quite sure what to do with itself. The film sees a collection of mice who have made it their job to help out humans, including, in this case, a little orphan girl who has been kidnapped because she's small enough to fit down a hole where the remains of a treasure from a sunken ship can be found. Yeah, the plot is rough. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor voice Bernard and Miss Bianca, our two rodent leads, and they work well together. Still, they must have done something right, they got a sequel.
This movie is a beautiful mess. Hercules is a movie about finding your place in the world. Or perhaps it's a movie about the problems with celebrity culture? A classic chosen one hero's journey? Hercules doesn't know what it wants to be. Still, there is something oddly charming about everything in the film that isn't Danny DeVito. Amongst the film's issues, there are a couple of standout performances, including an all-time great villain in James Woods' Hades and a female lead in Susan Egan's Megara who will be forever criminally overlooked because she was in a movie that wasn't a smash.
Once upon a time, Disney believed Pocahontas was the movie that would win the Animation Studio the coveted Best Picture Oscar. Needless to say, that didn't happen. It's clear from the beginning that Pocahontas wants to be something grand and important, but the execution of the idea never quite works. It's false equivalency of both Native Americans and European settlers as "savages" tries desperately to be insightful but it's not. The music is also off-key, as there's almost nothing memorable about the soundtrack. It's a visually stunning film, but that's about all that makes Pocahontas special.
40. The Three Caballeros
The Three Caballeros was the follow up to Saludos Amigos and another Disney "package" film. It's essentially a sequel to one of the shorts from Amigos (more on that in a moment) that sees Donald Duck receiving birthday gifts, that take the form of animated shorts, from friends in South America. The shorts are fine, and they at least have a related theme. But watching an animated duck lust after human women on a beach is just disconcerting, which is a something that occurs multiple times throughout the film. You might learn something here, which always worthwhile, as each short focuses on a different part of Central or South America.
39. Saludos Amigos
Saludos Amigos was the first Disney package film and it comes out the best for it. Saludos Amigos is unique among this collection because in addition to the animated shorts, it includes a look at the animators who created them, in the form of documentary-style footage of Disney animators on a trip to Central and South America so that they can learn about the sorts of things they'll need to animate. This makes Amigos feel a bit more like a coherent feature than most of the other collections.
38. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
As the title implies, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is more a collection of stories than a single film, though there is enough connective tissue to make this feel like a movie. The Heffalumps and Woozles bit is likely what most people remember, if only for the sheer bizarreness of the segment, and from a purely creative standpoint, it is the highlight of the film. Beyond that, we have classic segments like "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" and "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree" that have become classics in their own right.
37. The Rescuers Down Under
The Rescuers Down Under is often overlooked in Disney's canon as the film was a somewhat surprising sequel to a movie that was a favorite to very few. The sequel exceeds its predecessor by virtue of being beautifully animated, something that can't really be said of the original. The film's setting of the Australian outback is something that's lovely to look at. While the story itself is about on par with the original, this movie does have the benefit of seeing George C. Scott voice a Disney villain, which means it can't be all bad.
36. The Jungle Book
The Jungle Book was the last Disney feature that Walt was involved with before his death. The movie started a sort of trilogy (which includes the Aristocats and Robin Hood) of animal-focused stories with a similar stable of voice actors and the use of a significant musical act in one of the voice roles. In this case, it was Louie Prima as King Louie. The Jungle Book is a solid story, and the film actually has one of the better soundtracks, as many Disney musicals are lucky to have a single breakout song, and The Jungle Book has three (Bear Necessities, I Wanna Be Like You, and Trust in Me) that have gone down in history.
35. Winnie the Pooh
The second Winnie the Pooh movie probably wasn't what people were expecting from Disney in 2011, which explains why the movie wasn't particularly successful, but the movie is actually solid. It's a silly movie, to be sure, with the entire plot revolving around a simple misunderstanding of language, but the silliness is part of the charm of Winnie the Pooh as a character, and the more recent film still captures this near perfectly. Add in a perfectly cast John Cleese as the narrator and the songwriting team behind Frozen all before we knew what "Let it Go" was, and this one is worth going back to see.
34. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis: The Lost Empire was an obvious attempt by Disney to try something very new, as the art style and the more action-adventure focus of the plot was not what the studio had been known for up to that point. The film's performance made it clear that this wasn't what audiences were looking for from Disney, but the film makes for an enjoyable enough pulp adventure in its own right. The action works in what is essentially Disney's version of an Indiana Jones movie, and one that's better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Bolt's premise is one of the odder ones in the Disney franchise. A dog that is the star of a TV show that doesn't know he doesn't really have superpowers. It's a silly set up, but the movie itself is really just a road trip with a handful of entertaining characters. While it doesn't quite reach the level of some of Disney's more recent films, there's more fun to be had here than you'd at first expect and it's got surprising heart considering its off-the-wall setup.
32. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
The best of Disney's package films is clearly The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The movie combines two stories, The Legend of Sleppy Hollow and The Wind in the Willows. While this is clearly two separate stories crammed together, they work remarkably well together, with the first being mostly upbeat, with surprising moments of darkness, and the latter being mostly dark with some surprising humor. The fact that the films contain two of the most famous voices ever, Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby, certainly doesn't hurt. Each of these stories is a classic in its own right, together they're a joy.
31. Robin Hood
Disney in the 1970s was going through a bit of a rough patch, and the movies were not, overall, fantastic, but there's fun to be had with Robin Hood, even if a lot of the film's animation was recycled from The Jungle Book. This is the classic version of the tale, where Robin robs Prince John to give to the poor, only with animals playing the parts of the leads. Think of this as a prequel to Zootopia, as Robin Hood was a large part of the inspiration for the movie that came 40 years later.
30. Treasure Planet
Treasure Planet is famous for being Disney's biggest animated flop. The movie was a failure as soon as it came out and Disney never tried to make it more than that. This is too bad because the movie isn't nearly as bad as its box office would imply. It has issues, sure. The Martin Short-voiced sidekick is one of the most annoying in the history of Disney, and little interesting is done with the Treasure Island based plot, but the sci-fi animation is something different and unique for Disney and fans of swashbuckling adventure could certainly do worse.
29. Fantasia 2000
Fantasia was supposed to be a regular occurrence, being released in theaters every few years with minor changes each time. Unfortunately, the original film's overall lack of success prevented this from happening until the turn of the millennium. However, Fantasia 2000's failure means we're unlikely to see another. The animated sequences are more hit or miss than the original, and the interstitial bits with celebrities doing the introductions are absolutely unbearable, even though some great talent is involved. Still, at its best moments, such as the "Pines of Rome" and "The Firebird" it is everything great about Disney animation.
28. Alice in Wonderland
A lot of the early Disney features feel more like a series of loosely connected shorts than a single story. This in the case of Alice in Wonderland, though in this case, the idea works by virtue of the fact that the source material is little more than Alice stumbling into one bizarre situation after another. Disney wanted to be sure that the "nonsense" of Lewis Carrol's original story was properly captured, and it's difficult to argue he didn't succeed. The movie is weird but in a good way.
27. The Emperor's New Groove
The Emperor's New Groove was originally going to be a very different movie and one wonders what things would have been like if the original version had come to be. Instead, we got what turned out to be Disney's most comedic animated film to date. Everything from the premise to the tone feels less like a Disney movie and more like screwball body swap comedy. The comedy duo of David Spade and John Goodman make it work, although the supporting performances of Eartha Kitt and Patrick Warburton are what put it over the top.
26. Big Hero 6
Comic book movies are more popular than they've ever been, and with Disney owning Marvel, it was only a matter of time before we got a superhero movie from the studio. Surprisingly, what we got was the little known manga-inspired Big Hero 6. As a superhero origin story it's an acceptable enough movie. Unfortunately, it seems designed to give us sequels that we'll likely never get on the big screen. Most of the six heroes are little more than set dressing, which is too bad because what we get of them seems more interesting than the main character Hiro. Luckily, Scott Adsit's Baymax is there to save the day and make the movie an overall solid experience.
Disney often gets criticized for Disney-fying classic fairytales, but the same is also true of the studio's version of Tarzan. The original text is... problematic. In many ways. But the animated version skirts those issues for a much more family-friendly adventure. The combination of hand-drawn and computer animation gives the action a life it likely would not have had otherwise and foreshadowed some of the computer-animated films to come. The Phil Collins soundtrack is used here to enhance the story rather than hinder it as it was in Brother Bear.
24. The Great Mouse Detective
The Great Mouse Detective isn't the beginning of the Disney Renaissance, but it is the movie that allowed that rebirth to happen. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements were able to use their success here, following the trainwreck that was The Black Cauldron, and they used it to make The Little Mermaid, and the rest is history. And we do see the beginning of something special here. The first use of computers by Disney animation makes the Big Ben finale something special. Vincent Price's turn as the villain is exactly as deliciously fun and you'd expect it to be.
23. Wreck-It Ralph
Quite possibly the most modern Disney film, since everything takes place within the world of video games, Disney successfully made one of the best "video game movies" of all time with Wreck-It Ralph, mostly because it's not actually based on a real game. Each world we visit in the film is uniquely designed, from the 8-bit aesthetic of Fix-it Felix Jr to the bright and colorful, and far more modern, Sugar Rush. It makes you wish you could fire up your game console to play these games for real. John C. Reilly is the perfect voice for an oversized bad guy unhappy with his place in his world. It's no wonder this is the movie getting Disney's first theatrical sequel in decades.
As one of the classic Disney princesses, Cinderella has a place among true Disney, well, royalty. Having said that, the film that brought her to life is a bit of a mixed bag. Much has been made about the fact that the classic Disney princesses weren't necessarily the greatest characters when it came to depth or agency. The issue with Cinderella is that these problems probably could have been avoided if the feature didn't dedicate a significant portion of its runtime to the mice and the cat. Cinderella is less of a character in her own movie than the cat. It's not the first time side characters will get too much exposure in Disney films, but it may be the most disappointing.
Dumbo is a unique film in many ways, not the least of which is that the title character has no voice actor. This fact makes Dumbo one of the most sympathetic characters in all of Disney animation, he has a minimal character of his own, and the audience is forced to interpret his experience themselves. While the film is fairly short, barely over 70 minutes long, in that time we see some creative animation in the form of the Pink Elephants on parade, as well as what might be the first of many truly tearjerking Disney moments in "Baby Mine." Dumbo isn't without problems, however. "The Song of the Roustabouts" has not aged well and is more than a little uncomfortable to listen to today.
Tangled has a more pop-focused soundtrack that might not work for everybody, but it's got some fantastic music overall, including one of Disney's most underrated love songs in "I See the Light." It also shows how well Disney's computer animation had come. Rapunzel's hair is a character unto itself and the animation done to bring it to life was no small task. Rapunzel's childlike innocence is infectious and it carries you through to the end. Tangled also has some the best action sequences ever put on screen by Disney animation, and a villain who is unique in her ability to mentally manipulate, rather than physically intimidate.
19. Peter Pan
While Peter Pan is one of Disney's most iconic characters, the movie doesn't actually hold up as well as some of the studio's other classic stories. The use of the Indians generally, and their musical moment specifically, is one that hasn't aged well. The movie seems to assume you know the story of Pan already as it doesn't build any of the characters beyond the surface level. It's also not entirely clear who this movie is about. Is it about Peter, or is it about Wendy? Peter Pan is still a classic and kids will love it for generations, though there's not as much there for the older Disney kid.
Leave it to Disney, somewhere among all the musicals and princess movies, to create one of the most compelling stories about the importance of diversity and acceptance that has been put on film. Zootopia may be one of the newest Disney animated films, but it has everything that makes them great. Strong characters, a compelling and fun story, and a message that is important to all audiences. It's as great a buddy cop movie as it is a parable, and it creates an interesting world that is ripe with opportunity for future movies.
There's not a lot to say about Aladdin that doesn't focus on the revolutionary performance of Robin William as the Genie. The comedian absolutely changed the way that voice acting talent is handed for all animated films. Only in an animated movie could Williams' rapid-fire non-stop delivery truly come alive, as anything he could do, Disney could draw. If that was all, the movie had, Aladdin would be little more than a footnote, but it also includes a fantastic soundtrack by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman which makes Aladdin a truly beautiful experience.
16. 101 Dalmatians
Cruella de Vil may not be one of Disney's biggest villains, but her name is well known and with good reason. She steals every scene she's in in 101 Dalmatians. She's like a smaller scale Maleficent, as she's pure evil, but for no explained reason. Often this is an issue, but De Vil is so delicious that you find yourself charmed by her. The same can be said for the film as a whole, as 101 Dalmatians is undeniably charming. So many of Disney's films focus on animals as the protagonists, but this is one of the best.
15. Lilo & Stitch
While one of the title characters in Lilo & Stitch is a space alien, the film itself may be the most grounded in Disney's history. While music is important to the story, it isn't a musical. The plot focuses on a pair of sisters who are just trying to get through life following the death of their parents. It's a heartfelt and emotional journey and one that many may have missed if they judged the movie by its marketing. Stitch is fine, but Lilo is who the movie is really about, and her story is a worthy one. This is when a smaller, more personal story from Disney really works.
Mulan is a unique Disney film in many ways. It deals with an eastern myth rather than a western one. Its heroine is the most proactive in Disney's history to this point in the timeline. And while the film does include a romantic element, romance is not the driving force of the story. Disney had to change their own rules in order to include Mulan in the class of "Disney Princesses" and it's no wonder because the character resonated with so many. This is Disney's fighting princess and Mulan will always be embraced if for that reason alone.
13. The Princess and the Frog
The final Disney feature that consisted of hand-drawn animation, The Princess _and the Frog_, wasn't a massive hit when it debuted in theaters, which is too bad because the film is actually pretty impressive. The film balances dark elements with slapstick humor well. It's got a fantastic jazz soundtrack, and it's got one of Disney's most unique heroines. Tiana is a working-class woman chasing a simple dream. She's not looking for a prince, she wants to open her own business. Maybe the simple goals were what turned some people off, but that's actually what makes the character, and the movie, special.
There's a reason that Frozen has become so insanely popular and it is, quite simply, that the movie is just that good. Also, "Let it Go" is just that great a song. The way it turns the traditional Disney princess tropes on their head without losing the underlying magic is perfect. Even the sidekick snowman is legitimately funny, something that could have gone drastically wrong in so many ways. Frozen doesn't break every mold, but it does fracture several, and it was a hint at what was to come with some of Disney's future movies.
11. The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid is a movie about a mermaid who very nearly ruins everything in pursuit of her dream to be human, and, as a result, gets everything she ever wanted. It's not the best message of a Disney film, but it is a beautifully animated return to the world of the Disney Princess, and it has one of the best complete soundtracks that the company has ever produced, and since this is Disney, that's saying something. This is also the movie that ushered in Disney's Renaissance in the 1990s, which means it has a place in film history forever.
10. The Lion King
The Lion King is one of the most successful Disney animated films of all time. It's got a great villain, and a great villain song in Scar's "Be Prepared," and "Hakuna Matata" is one of those songs that gets stuck in your head, no matter how much you wish it would not. It's also got one of the most epic Disney openings of all time, which carries it through for a quite a long way. It's got heartbreaking loss and heroic redemption. Disney didn't expect The Lion King to be the hit that it was, which just goes to show sometimes they don't even know how good they can be.
9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is three gargoyles away from being a stellar film, which is to say that if the three gargoyles weren't in it, it would be fantastic. Hunchback is the most mature film created by Disney animation. It's dark and violent and deals with very adult themes. It's only when the comic relief shows up that things fall apart. The tone shift will give you whiplash. It's clear they were added to make the movie more kid-friendly. It makes you wonder what could have been if Disney had just made a movie for an older audience. It's almost unbelievable that Disney actually made The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but thank god they did.
8. Lady and the Tramp
Lady and the Tramp doesn't get a great deal of time or attention in the grand scheme of Disney movies, but it's actually a remarkably solid film. Everything about the film is lovely. It's beautifully animated entirely from a pet's point of view, and we rarely see humans above the knees. The characters are charming and the relationship between the titular leads is just one of the sweetest created by Disney. The Siamese Cat song, like many aspects of Disney influenced by stereotypes, hits a sour note, but the characters exit the film as quickly as they enter.
The newest Disney animated feature on the list. Moana does so many things so well. It's beautifully animated, and has one of the best soundtracks of any Disney musical. In large part, this is due to the way that the film embraced Polynesian culture in its story and its music. Dwayne Johnson's turn as Maui wasn't music to the ears of everybody, but there's little argument that his performance of "You're Welcome" became the ear-worm of the film that many couldn't stop singing. It's got great action and the lead character is a much more nuanced and complex heroine than any that came before. Moana is a modern classic.
6. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made history when the film debuted at the end of 1937. Disney's first feature-length animated movie is every bit as special today as it was back then. With a modern eye, there are clearly elements that don't work as well as they could, the story seemingly starts in the middle with a lot of text exposition rather than actually giving us character development, making Snow White less flushed out than you'd like. However, as the template from which everything was built, it needs to receive its due.
Disney has made countless films with animals as the primary characters, but usually, they're stylized and drawn in creative ways so they feel more like people. Bambi feels like you might be truly looking in on real animals in a forest. Bambi will always be known for one scene alone. The death of Bambi's mother is one of the most heartbreaking moments in film history, leading generations of children to tears. Everything else about Bambi is equally beautiful, as this film deserves its place in film history.
Disney's second feature holds up remarkably well to a modern viewing. It's got a compelling and emotional story, memorable songs, including the one that went on to become the theme song for all of Disney, and great characters. In many ways, Pinocchio could be made today and it's unlikely a great deal would even change. Jiminy Cricket, with his one-liners and audience asides, feels like an inspiration for Robin Williams Genie decades later. Pinocchio has everything you'd expect from a Disney animated feature today, which makes the fact that it was only the studio's second film remarkable.
3. Sleeping Beauty
Of all the early Disney Princess movies, Sleeping Beauty is by far the standout. Both Aurora and Prince Philip are actual characters and while the film's brief runtime doesn't exactly let them breathe as you might like, we at least get to know them. It also has one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of Disney's villains in Maleficent. Sleeping Beauty was, in many ways, the end of an era for Disney, as we didn't see another storybook princess movie for 40 years. Everything the studio had learned was on display here.
2. Beauty and the Beast
If Sleeping Beauty was the culmination of Disney's first great era, Beauty and the Beast was the result of an additional four decades of learning how to tell stories. There's a reason this became the first animated film nominated for Best Picture. The characters feel more real than any that have come before, the music is absolute perfection. Hand drawn animation assisted with computers has also been taken to a new level here, making the classic ballroom scene a moment that nobody will forget.
Fantasia was a financial bomb when it was first released but over the decades the film has come to be appreciated for the artistic achievement that it is. Animation is put together with music in a way that elevates both art forms. This was the movie that made it clear that cartoons weren't simply for kids. While it may not be a film with a narrative or deep characters, it shows Disney animation at its absolute greatest, and it doesn't lack an emotional punch, as the best music, as well as the best animation, can always make you feel something.
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