I’m a very big Disney fan, and sort of a burgeoning animation geek, so I’m much more familiar with these movies than your average red-blooded 27-year-old American male with no children has any right to be. That said, while I’ve seen some of these very recently, a lot of this is based on half-remembered thoughts and opinions. So this might not exactly be my definitive list. Also, Pixar movies don’t count here; this is just Disney Animation Studios stuff. Here’s the official list. In honor of my upcoming, highly anticipated trip to Walt Disney World, here are my thirty favorite Disney Animated Classics (movies I haven’t seen, or don’t remember, are excluded and listed at the end).
30) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
I haven’t seen this movie since it came out, and I don’t remember it that well, really. But I was utterly disappointed by it at the time, and it certainly confirmed to us what Pocahontas had hinted at the year before: the modern golden age of Disney classics was over.
29) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
This movie is a big deal. It’s the first full-length animated film ever made. At the time, people thought making a feature-length animated movie was ridiculous. Reading about Walt Disney’s drive to get this made and the technological breakthroughs he and his animators made during the production is even sort of inspiring. That said, this movie is boring as hell nowadays. And the animation style, in my opinion, is not at all visually interesting.
28) Pinocchio (1940)
This movie gave us “When You Wish Upon A Star,” which is a great song. That’s pretty much all it has going for it. It’s divided into three completely unrelated, nonsensical acts, each possibly more dull than the last. Rarely does an hour and a half feel this long.
27) Mulan (1998)
I didn’t know until writing this that this movie was based on a story that dates back to the 6th century. One would think fourteen hundred years of gestation would lead to a better movie. At least Eddie Murphy got to practice being an animated sidekick before making the godawful Shrek movies.
26) Treasure Planet (2002)
I’m a fan of Robert Louis Stevenson, and I imagine that I might like this “adaptation” better if it weren’t, you know, set in outer space. It’s not bad, per se, it just feels weird and forced. At least it’s sort of funny that the main character’s singing voice is provided by Johnny Rzeznick.
25) Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
This is a classic less than the sum of its parts, throw everything against the wall to see what sticks, formulaic Disney adventure, but it actually has a lot going for it. Michael J. Fox is charming as always, and this features one of my favorite secondary casts from a modern Disney movie. I particularly like Mole and Vinny.
24) Meet the Robinsons (2007)
This is one of the few computer-animated movies that count as a “Disney Animated Classic,” and the only one that makes my list. I saw this one afternoon on HBO or something, and I’m guessing no one else that is reading this has ever seen it. It sort of just came and went. I thought it was pretty fun, though.
23) The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
Obviously a classic, but this movie’s legacy is helped by the fact that people love the books so much, and probably forget that this is a collection of several Pooh stories and not one long-running narrative. That hasn’t stopped my sister from continually buying Eeyore stuffed animals.
22) The Three Caballeros (1944)
I can’t remember the name of the little Mom and Pop video store in the mini-mall at Mattis and Kirby in Champaign. Stars and Stripes Video, maybe? For some reason that was the store my mom always took me to get videos as a kid; Blockbuster might not have been around yet. I do remember that when we went I was definitely going to leave that store with either this or Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Every time. So I can forgive these characters for ruining the Mexico ride at Epcot.
21) Fantasia (1940)
This is an animation classic that features some great segments (most notably “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”). Before anyone says I should have it higher on the list, let me remind you that it has no dialogue and is over two hours long. I dare you to pop this in and watch it beginning to end without getting antsy.
20) The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
I like both halves of this compilation movie, but I particularly love the Mr. Toad story. It’s cliché to complain about its removal, but I really do miss the “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” attraction at Magic Kingdom.
19) Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Maleficent rocks out in this movie. She is maybe the most perfectly realized Disney villain. Scary, and not too cartoonish. The rest of the story is a bit paint-by-numbers, though.
18) Cinderella (1950)
I wasn’t sure what order to put this and Sleeping Beauty in, but eventually decided to put this ahead because Cinderella’s castle in Walt Disney World is so much better than Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland. Also, “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” are better than anything in Sleeping Beauty. This obviously isn’t my favorite, but between the glass slipper, the Fairy Godmother, and Prince Charming, it might be the quintessential Disney movie.
17) Dumbo (1941)
Supposedly Johanna’s favorite Disney movie, although I’m not sure she would pass a lie detector test if questioned about that. I think it might be a childhood infatuation. It probably led to her love of elephants, though. At only sixty-four minutes, it’s shockingly short. It crams quite a bit of classic in, though, including one of my favorite animated segments of all time, the “Pink Elephants on Parade” bit.
16) Lady and the Tramp (1955)
I haven’t seen this one in ages, and can’t buy it now because Disney has it in the cursed “Vault.” It gets a high ranking based on the fact that I remember loving it, and also because the Tramp bears a resemblance to my first dog, Joey.
15) The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
This is a great movie that began the transition towards the modern Disney Golden Age (which didn’t really blossom until 1989). This is also my friend Bryan’s favorite Disney movie, I think, which sort of endeared him to me during my second year of college. The character “Professor Ratigan” led directly to my roommates and I naming the rat in our fourth year apartment “Rattigan.”
14) Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Until the category expanded to ten nominees this year, letting Up slip in, this was the only animated movie ever nominated for Best Picture. There has to be some movie that was more deserving that year that got snubbed. This was always just a bit too feminine for me. Even The Little Mermaid threw male viewers a little bit of a bone. Beauty and the Beast is all French people, fancy clothes, and ballroom dancing.
13) One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
Johanna and I watched this recently because we wanted to see how our dog Ernie would react to the barking. It actually holds up pretty well, assuming you can get past the bizarre story of a woman wanting to kill puppies to make a coat. The Sixties are my favorite years for Disney movies, I think. The animation style throughout the decade feels quirkier and a lot looser than usual.
12) Fantasia 2000 (1999)
Clocking in at a brisk 75 minutes, this solves the main problem I had with the original Fantasia. The “Rhapsody In Blue” segment is possibly my favorite bit of animation of all time set to what is possibly my favorite song of all time.
11) The Little Mermaid (1989)
Started a five-year period where Disney was really firing on all cylinders. This period also happened to coincide with my formative years, which is probably the reason I still love Disney more than I have any reason to. This movie might be somewhat responsible for my life-long affinity for redheads.
10) Alice in Wonderland (1951)
A great example of a movie, like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, that you love as a child for the same reasons that make it seem incredibly bizarre as an adult. I’m sure that this is better than the crazy Tim Burton version (sequel?) coming to theaters soon.
9) The Sword in the Stone (1963)
So, I don’t know if you’ve seen this recently, reader, but it’s kind of a mess. The plot is really disjointed, and it has some serious pacing issues. But it’s just so much fun, and so whimsical, that it makes the top ten. Archimedes the Owl is one of my favorite tertiary Disney characters.
8 ) The Aristocats (1970)
This feels a bit like a lost gem in the Disney canon. I love this era of Disney animation, but some of the movies suffered from pacing problems; this one manages to stay pretty taut. Phil Harris, the outstanding voice actor who also provided the voices of Baloo in The Jungle Book and Little John in Robin Hood, shines here as Thomas O’Malley. I blame this movie’s title for forcing me to stop and think every time I want to use the word “aristocrats” to make sure I’m saying it correctly.
7) The Lion King (1994)
If I had made this list a couple of months ago, I might have had this as high as number four. But then Johanna and I rewatched this. It really did not live up to expectations. It was actually kind of…bad. I’m keeping it relatively high because I’ve always loved Rafiki and because the opening Pride Rock bit is great. Also, because it reminds me of Chary, the kid from Zaire that went to my middle school and high school. He claimed to speak seven African languages, and translated the opening bit of this movie as something along the lines of “I present to you a king, born today, of all Africa!”
6) The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
I love his whole career, of course, but this might be my favorite David Spade role. This movie is legitimately funny. Patrick Warburton is great as Kronk. This breathed a little bit of life into Disney animation, which had really atrophied in the late-Nineties.
5) Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Stitch immediately became one of my favorite Disney characters of all time. And Lilo has her moments, too. I love how she takes random photos of fat people and hangs them on her wall. I haven’t seen The Princess and the Frog, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that this will be the last of the great, non-Pixar Disney animated movies.
4) Robin Hood (1973)
Obviously I haven’t seen the upcoming Ridley Scott movie yet, but this is by far the best adaptation of the Robin Hood story ever made. It features probably my favorite cast of characters in any Disney movie, with Little John, the Rooster narrator, Sir Hiss, Friar Tuck, and Prince John. The opening credit theme is the song that runs through my head when I’m walking around with nothing else to think about.
3) Peter Pan (1953)
My favorite of the early Disney classics, and the only one that really holds up today. The story moves along well, and the animation is vibrant and lively. But let me tell you something: this shit is racist. Watch this video (the song’s name is “What Makes the Red Man Red?”) and be shocked at what people got away with in the Fifties:
2) The Jungle Book (1967)
I love the jazzier Disney movies, and this might be the jazziest. This shows up right in the middle of an incredibly strong five movie stretch for Disney animation, and features some of the best voice acting and most fun songs of any movie on the list. Louie Prima is great as King Louie, one of my favorite characters. Now that I think about it, I might just love this movie because the two main supporting characters are an ape and a bear, which are my two favorite animals. I can’t decide if it helps or hurts this movie’s case that Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson decided to name their kid Bronx Mowgli Wentz.
1) Aladdin (1992)
For a while, when anyone asked me what my favorite movie was, I answered Aladdin. I’m not sure it ever really was my favorite movie, but it was an easy answer that got me off the hook, and it’s always funny to have a Disney movie be your favorite of all time. My easy, stock answer to that question now is Rushmore, but Aladdin remains my favorite Disney animated classic. Great characters, great songs, my favorite Disney princess in Jasmine, and maybe my favorite Sega Genesis game. The peak of the modern Disney golden age; I’m almost afraid to rewatch it this point, considering how underwhelming The Lion King was.
Movies I don’t really remember at all: Bambi (1942), The Rescuers (1977), The Fox and the Hound (1981), Oliver & Company (1988), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Pocahontas (1995), Hercules (1997), Tarzan (1999)
Movies I haven’t seen: Make Mine Music (1946), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), Melody Time (1948), Saludos Amigos (1942), The Black Cauldron (1985), Dinosaur (2000), Brother Bear (2003), Home on the Range (2004), Chicken Little (2005), Bolt (2008), The Princess and the Frog (2009)