The name Disney is synonymous with amazing animated cartoons, and with 75 years of making feature length cartoon movies under their belt, there are some absolutely amazing films they’ve released. There have also been some crap ones. However, what this list is about the ones that have fallen by the wayside, and slipped down the cracks. Unfairly panned, easily forgotten, and just generally decent Disney movies that have simply not received the attention they deserve in recent years.
15. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Strangely for a Disney flick, I think Atlantis’ strongest point was actually its design. For just about the first time, Disney made a radical departure from house style, adopting the dark and angular stylings that they used on Atlantis. Based on the work of comics superstar Mike Mignola (the man behind Hellboy), Atlantis was filled with deep sea monstrosities, brooding statues, and shadows like ink. Unfortunately, it didn’t sit to well with the usual princess set, and the lack of musical numbers didn’t help the case. Its performance was lackluster, and marked one of the last times that Disney would experiment so significantly with format.
14. The Black Cauldron
Despite what people think about Disney creating sanitized stories for children, almost all of their movies have some deeply scary bits, and villains that terrorize a fresh year of youngsters with every release. The Black Cauldron, however, deserves special mention. The titular cauldron could be used to create horrific, unkillable zombie warriors. You can imagine how dark and pants-shittingly scary that would be to kids. It’s also rare in that it was based on a modern novel rather than a classic tale. The story was so pitch black that the movie was vaulted for a very, very long time â€” and it was the first Disney animated movie to be rated PG.
13. The Sword in the Stone
The last Disney film released while Walt was still alive, the Sword in the Stone has fallen by the wayside in recent years. It’s one of the titles that sits between the old, old classic and the modern success stories, and is often forgotten because of that. It’s not the same vintage as Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella, it’s not one of the perpetually well selling Princess titles, nor was it part of the 90s-era best sellers. And none of that changes that it’s a beautiful, joyful animated story that is too often forgotten.
12. Treasure Planet
I’m going to blame the failure of Treasure Planet on one thing: Marin Short as that horribly goddamn annoying robot B.E.N. Honestly, he was crap. Okay, that’s an oversimplification â€” Treasure Planet struggled for a number of reasons: it was made when Disney’s 2D department was already floundering, there was a shortage of female characters and romance roles, and was perhaps too adventurey. Where it excelled was visually, with a stunning melding of traditional pirate garb and space opera â€” and those incredible space vistas! It debuted on IMAX as well as normal theaters, and on that huge screen, the deep space stuff was amazing. Unfortunately, the visuals and design were stronger than the script, which was severely wanting.
Disney’s original forays into CG were utterly abysmal (see Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons), but Bolt? Bolt was actually surprisingly good. Sure, it had no chance against the incomparably wonderful WALL-E, but it marked the first time a Disney CGI movie was actually…you know…worth seeing. Reviewers widely considered it a throwback to the older age of Disney, one which delighted both the old and the young with family friendly but still smart and funny action â€” and didn’t rely on hackneyed pop culture and celebrity voices (DreamWorks, I’m looking at you…)
10. The Great Mouse Detective
Another slightly odd choice for a Disney movie in that it was based on a relatively contemporary book series, rather than an established classic. The Basil of Baker Street novels were published through most of the second half of the 20th century from 1958-1982, and Disney decided to pick them up for their 26th animated title. It was an early work by the man who went on to direct Aladdin and the Little Mermaid, and its success staged the way for the Disney Renaissance of the 90s. Even though it has been overshadowed by those later works, the Great Mouse Detective is still a remarkably fun movie, and one that is too often forgotten.
9. Emperor’s New Groove
I was really, really not expecting to like the Emperor’s New Groove, because David Spade is one of the most annoying human beings on the planet. Casting him as an equally annoying character? I can live with that. With John Goodman, Eartha Kitt and Patrick Warburton rounding out the cast, those three actors managed to elevate the movie into the comedic genius that it was. Seriously, Warburton is absolutely fantastic. New Groove was a critical and box office success, not breaking any records, but doing seriously well for a non-princess, not-very-musical Disney title, but for some reason it was soon forgotten.
8. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
You know, I completely missed the sequel Winnie the Pooh movie that came out this year. I guess I really just wasn’t paying attention. Anyway, 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is an interesting case of a Disney movie, because it’s constructed of three little featurettes, strapped together into a full length title, produced this way to keep costs down. This title proved to be a remarkable success, spawning off TV shows and merchandising the likes of which had not been seen by Disney before, but in recent years it has lost a lot of its lustre. Hopefully 2011’s sequel will respark interest in the classic original.
Pinnochio was just the second Disney full length feature, after the classic Snow White. Watching it, it’s astonishing to think it was created while the world was embroiled in war, yet one of the most technically advanced and incredible pieces of animation ever crafted was put together. Pinnochio’s animation is absolutely stunning, and compared to today’s often outsourced and poorly made cartoons, the fluidity and detail is just mindblowing. Sure, the animators probably worked for slave wages, but they cared, damnit! Another classic that doesn’t seem to have received quite as much attention as it deserves, without Pinnochio, Disney would never have become the powerhouse it is today.
6. The Rescuers
The Rescuers (and to a lesser extent, its sequel, Rescuers Down Under) were major critical and commercial success, and marked the end of the silver age of Disney, but remain very separate beasts in their own right. The Rescuers was one of the first Disney movies to use star actors for voice roles, something they used frequently ever since (but never to the pop culture level that you see in many CG flicks). Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor played the roles of Bernard and Miss Bianca, agents of the Rescue Aid Society, off to stop the evil Madame Medusa. It was the first successful animated film that Disney himself had not animated, and was the legendary Don Bluth’s first time as animator rather than assistant animator. The film was a smashing success when it was released, but has since been mostly forgotten.
One of Disney’s more recent released, Tangled marked the move of the traditional princess comedy into the world of 3D and CGI â€” yet despite having almost infinite potential to go horribly and tediously wrong, Tangled ended up being a heartwarming and hilarious tale. It also has some of the most wonderful CGI ever seen, with environments looking like paintings in an obvious nod to Disney’s roots. Because of its long development time, Tangled ended up costing $260 million to make, making it the most expensive animated movie of all time, and the second most costly movie ever. As enjoyable as it was, I can’t help but feel that there was a bit of a DreamWorks pop-culture influence.
4. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad
Created during WWII when animators and supplies were scarce, the Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad was a package film made up of two separate shorts â€” a retelling of Wind in the Willows, and the decidedly dark Sleepy Hollow. That Sleepy Hollow short film would continue to be in rotation for years, and I’m pretty sure that every Halloween it still gets shown â€” and is a dark and disturbing story if ever there was one. With its uncharacteristically downbeat ending, it’s seen a lot less frequently these days, but if you can get it, it’s great for scaring the kids on dark nights.
3. 101 Dalmatians
The 1961 animated 101 Dalmatians (not to be confused with the 1996 live action version with a bumbling Hugh Laurie) was a landmark Disney film â€” the first to be set in a contemporary setting, and was a major technological leap from earlier films. It was universally loved, and has been reissued more times than I care to think about â€” yet at the same time it has never seen quite the level of respect of some of Disney’s other titles. You can still easily track down the DVD, and it has been one of the most long term profitable movies of all time, thanks to its classic status.
2. Three Caballeros
Arguably horribly stereotyped, if you can look past that the Three Caballeros is an incredibly fun old film, considering it was only Disney’s seventh. It also offered a mindblowing technological innovation: a mix of live action and animation, which had never before been seen. The loosely connected set of short segments were put together as a propaganda package to improve relationships between USA and Latin America, hence the large number of latin stars who popped up in the film. It also marks one of the few times an existing Disney character appeared in a feature Disney film.
When I was younger, I found Fantasia to be one of the most mind-numbingly boring Disney cartoons in existence. I mean sure, the dinosaurs and the demon were awesome, but everything else was just dull. It wasn’t until later in life that I came to appreciate just how incredible Fantasia was â€” and I’m sorry, but Fantasia 2000 doesn’t compare. It’s astonishing to think that this was only Disney’s third full length feature, and that it was such a blatantly experimental piece â€” telling stories to nothing but classical music. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a profitable venture at first due to the cost of installing the high quality sound systems needed to play it properly, but in the years after, it has become a firm favorite â€” and has been re-edited and released more times than I care to mention. It’s beautiful, touching, adventurous, and everything else you could want from a Disney film â€” without a word of dialog.