No matter who you are, Disney was most likely a part of your childhood. They have dozens of classic, iconic animated features from 1937-2021. They are a powerhouse studio that continues to create fabulous films to this day. At fourteen years old, I haven't watched most of these movies in a while. So most of this list is based on nostalgia. There are a few that I have watched recently, but classics like The Lion King and Snow White have not appeared on a TV in my house in too long. With that said, here's my fifteen favorite Disney animated features.
Frozen was one of the strangest film crazes ever. The film was the highest-grossing animated film of all time until the CGI remake came out in 2019. I remember going to see the film after school in second grade on opening day. The theater was packed. I liked the movie. But I really remember the impact that it had afterwards. Songs such as "Let it Go" and "In Summer" were sung daily in the halls of my elementary school. As an actual movie, Frozen is good. It has a great, powerful message for young women and it constantly subverts all the tropes of Disney princess movies. People have said Frozen II is better. I haven't seen it yet, but I really can't imagine Disney topping this one with a sequel.
14. Raya and the Last Dragon
Disney's most recent release, Raya and the Last Dragon was a really fun movie. I could still enjoy all the kid-like humor and vibe that the film had, but I could also understand and appreciate the more mature message about trust and family. The characters are all nuanced and vibrant. The film combines stuff from other great Disney films. In my review, I said it was a mix of Mulan, Moana, and Aladdin, and I stand by that. Those are three great films, and they work when combined. I did end up going Savory on this one, because there were a few plot beats and holes that I noticed, but this is a really fun family adventure.
13. The Princess and the Frog
The Princess and the Frog has never been talked about enough. Disney uses the usual princess template and takes an iconic fairy tale, but puts their own unique spin on it by setting it in modern New Orleans. The music all has some kind of jazz flair. I think that Tiana is one of the best Disney princesses. I also think that Dr. Facilier is one of the best Disney villains. The Princess and the Frog really isn't anything new, but the way that it executes Disney's princess formula feels new and makes the film stand out.
Pinocchio is legitimately disturbing. While it is a G-rated kids movie, there is a surprising amount of darkness in this movie. There is slavery, child abuse, child trafficking, smoking, drinking, and more. That scene with the donkeys is one of the most horrifying scenes in an animated movie. I appreciate the creepiness and dark undertones that this movie has. I also think that this film has a really good character arc for Pinocchio himself. It also has themes about family and lying. It's really one of the scariest, most disturbing, and most adult Disney films ever made. While Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a ground-breaking film that changed cinema forever, Pinocchio is the one that cemented Disney as a powerhouse studio that is still owning the industry today.
11. Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty is another perfection execution of the Disney princess formula. There is a princess. There is something going on in her life with love. There's an evil villain that places some kind of curse on one of our protagonists. And then the other protagonist has to save the one that was cursed and defeat the evil villain in the process. While it may play a little bit too close to Snow White, Sleeping Beauty has one of the most memorable villains from the Disney canon. Maleficent steals the spotlight every time she is on screen. This movie is worth watching simply to see this purely evil villain.
10. Peter Pan
Peter Pan is maybe a bit nonsensical in the story, but the film itself is just a blast. It's so energetic and fun. Peter Pan may be this crazy, fantastical character, but we also get to see him as a good, caring person when he saves Wendy and when he frantically looks for Tinker Bell after the bomb explodes. I also think that Captain Hook is a fantastic and memorable villain. I love everything with him and the crocodile. Peter Pan is a fun fantasy adventure that everyone will enjoy.
9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
You can't have a Disney list and not put Snow White. This film was revolutionary. It took animation and film to a new level. And now, almost a hundred years later, the animation still looks good. The story is still classic. While the voice actress for Snow White has a shockingly high voice, that doesn't stop you from enjoying the movie. This, along with classics such as Star Wars, Citizen Kane, The Godfather, or Gone with the Wind, is a milestone in cinematic history. Now, it definitely isn't the best Disney film, but none of the films on this list exist without Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
8. One Hundred and One Dalmatians
One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a very strange movie. I like to think of it as the Ratatouille of the Disney canon. It's an unusual story for Disney to tell. There aren't any princesses, fantastical beings, or wicked curses. It's a very small scale story, but one that works really well. It's one of the best written Disney films, too. Cruella de Vil is an incredibly memorable villain. She represents the worst of humanity, and I think that it works really well and makes her very memorable. I've always thought it's a bit underrated, but it has been getting more recognition and been revisited as Cruella was just released last week.
Another very underrated Disney movie, Hercules is one of the campiest, most fun movies on the list. I don't know why it took Disney 60 years to tackle Greek mythology. But when they did, it works. There is so much energy in this movie. From Danny DeVito's hilarious performance as Phil the Satyr. I do think that Hercules is the worst looking film on the list. They tried to go with this very Greek format, and I don't think it quite works. Otherwise, great movie.
6. The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid kickstarted the Golden Age of Disney. It Disney-ized Hans Christian Andersen's poem into a relatable, charming film that has amazing songs, great characters, and a timeless story. Ariel still stands as one of the best Disney princesses, if not the best. The animation is gorgeous. Ursula is one of the most conniving and maniacal Disney villains. This set the standard for the next few films. 1989-1994 is the strongest era of Disney films. You know it's a good thing when The Little Mermaid is one of the weakest films released in those few years.
2016 marked a strong year for Disney. While Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, Rogue One, and The Jungle Book were all fantastic, the standouts were two films from Disney HQ itself. First is Moana. Where to start with this film? I think that the songs in Moana are the best of the 21st century. Even better than Frozen. I think that Moana is also one of the most emotionally powerful Disney films...ever. Up there with The Lion King. I love Moana, and I love that Disney is transitioning to more original stories now.
Zootopia is the best Disney film released in the last twenty years. Disney's second detective story (the first being The Great Mouse Detective) is much more compelling, relatable, and fun, all while having something to say. This film, once again, blends child-like fun with deep underlying themes about racism and social hierarchies. The only problem that I have with Zootopia is the stupid villain twist. It was so obvious and boring. Otherwise, this movie is pretty much perfect.
3. Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to get nominated for Best Picture, and rightfully so. Everything about Beauty and the Beast is great. I think that these Top 3 films have the three best soundtracks in Disney's history. This film is riddled with iconic songs: Gaston, Beauty and the Beast, Be Our Guest, and more. But the film does a fantastic job of making you understand the relationship between Belle and the Beast. And, while it is a fantastical film about a romance between a cursed prince and a beautiful peasant girl, the film is relatable. Everyone has been Belle at some point in their lifetime. You've been the outcast. Everyone has had their inner beast come out. And everyone knows a Gaston. Overall, I think Beauty and the Beast has the magic of Disney while giving you these characters that we all know in real life. On any other list, this would probably be number one. But we still have...
2. The Lion King
If Beauty and the Beast got nominated for Best Picture, I have no idea how The Lion King got snubbed. This is widely regarded as the greatest animated movie ever made, and it is very, very close. The Lion King takes inspiration from classic tales of the hero's journey, William Shakespeare's Hamlet, and ancient African culture and combines it into an epic tale about the Circle of Life. What Disney does with The Lion King is transform the hero's journey into a musical drama that kids and adults with resonate with. When you talk about The Lion King, people will scoff and say "It's a kid's Disney movie.". But it's not. This is an adult movie that kids can enjoy, too. The Lion King is mature, iconic, and entertaining. It's only beat out by a movie that is basically perfect in every way.
If you have seen Aladdin and do not like it, please tell me why. I really want to know. Because I cannot imagine anyone disliking this movie. I have watched this film countless times. It's so much fun. Everything is executed perfectly. Whether it's the story of Aladdin and the lamp, the Genie and Robin Williams' iconic vocal performance, Jafar and his evil plans, or the incredible soundtrack, everything works. At only an hour and a half, it's hard to believe that everything is so fleshed out. But it is. We understand everyone and everything so well: Aladdin is a street rat that wants an opportunity to prove himself. Jasmine is a princess that does not want to be a princess. The Genie is a slave that is dying to be free. And Jafar is hungry for power. All of these storylines and arcs are given time to develop and have satisfying payoffs. The film's slower moments are broken up with huge spectacle musical numbers that will be stuck in your head for hours on end. Aladdin is one of my favorite movies of all time, so it comes in at number one.