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Top 30 Disney Animated Classics
The Ultimate List
Every single person on Earth has heard of the name Disney, if not seen one of their films. The animated classics, beloved by generations, are the pinnacle of magic and wonder and everything Disney itself stands for. As a Disney fanatic, I can safely say that I have concluded the top 30 animated classics Disney has produced, taking into account their music and arrangements, characters, and story line.
Keep in mind, I am not including Pixar movies. Those deserve their own article.
Of course, not everyone's favorites are going to be on here. These are my top 30, but I feel that I could easily sway anyone into thinking the same way because I tried to put bias aside and consider each one objectively. If you feel like my list is completely out of whack though, let me know about it with a comment!
Warning: This article contains movie spoilers!
30. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
Name a song from this movie that you can sing or that gets stuck in your head. Yeah, you probably can't. Even though it was the first Disney animated movie to use CGI for the cogs of Big Ben, this movie wasn't notable in any other way. It's kind of slow and at times jarring in its scene transitions, and lacks some of that Disney magic we've come to expect from their movies. It did make the list, though, because the main mouse, Basil, is based on Sherlock Holmes.
29. 101 Dalmatians (1961)
Who doesn't love those spotted cuties? And little Lucky, who's always hungry and blocks the TV. The movie itself, though, lacked the likeability that most Disney movies now have. Cruella de Vil, first of all, is one of the most actually terrifying Disney villains there is. She's nothing but skin and bones and provides the movie with it's only noteworthy song, but aside from that, you're just watching puppies avoid being turned into coats.
28. The Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Oh Miss Laaaaaaady Ma'am. The sentiment for this film was there and it made me want to go out and buy a puppy or rescue one from the pound, but the turn of events wasn't all that shocking: a stray dog falls in love with a nice pedigree dog and ends up in the pound. Obviously he gets adopted and joins Lady's family in the end (not much of a spoiler alert there). "Bella Notte" is such a pretty song that it helped the movie make the list.
27. Dumbo (1941)
My brother loved this movie when he was growing up because he loved animals, but I never particularly thought it was spectacular. It has probably one of the saddest moments in Disney animated history when Dumbo is taken away from his mother in a heart-wrenching scene, but little Timothy the mouse teaches his elephant friend how to keep his chin up and gives him the feather that lets him fly, shattering all myths about elephants being scared of mice. The little hope that Dumbo shows kids is inspiring, if not tear-jerking. Fun fact: Dumbo is the only Disney main character who never talks.
26. Fantasia (1940)
This is the start of Sorcerer Mickey - of course it's on the list. The beautiful music also contributed to its spot, but other than that the movie is rather boring and the scenes drag on too long. It is, however, one of the most iconic films in the Disney cannon because of Mickey's sorcery scene, leading to the Hollywood Studios emblem in Walt Disney World, Orlando and the show Fantasmic!. While some may argue that Fantasia 2000 was the better of the two, Fantasia's sequel 60 years later, this is the classic that started it all.
25. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
The main heroine of the film, Kida, is an empowering young woman, and her relationship with Milo gave Disney viewers a glimpse of the opposite of the princess romantic stereotypes they usually portray. Not that there's anything wrong with them, but it's refreshing to see characters in love in a different way with such a unique plot as well. This is more of a movie people hear about than actually know about, though, and there's not much more to say about it. Overall, it's pretty strange.
24. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
This movie has a beautiful female lead, Esmeralda, and some good songs, but the general tone of it is sad because you know Quasimodo is never going to get the beautiful gypsy, who ends up falling in love with someone else anyway. Frollo is also a disturbing villain who gives the film a dark and sinister feel in addition to the sadness. The whole time, you just pity the main character because he's deformed and society rejects him. The best part of the movie? The funny gargoyles.
23. The Aristocats (1970)
Everybody wants to be a cat, because a cat's the only cat, who knows where it's at. We've all sung those words in our heads a thousand times, or repeated Marie's wise words, "Ladies don't start fights, but they can finish them." The characters are funny and loveable, but when you actually look at the film, it's a crazy butler who drugged some cats and abandoned them in the countryside so that he can have the inheritance from a wealthy elderly French woman who willed her felines an enormous fortune. It ends with the cats of France that O'Malley, Duchess, and her kittens befriended that take down the evil butler villain. It sounds even dumber when you type it out.
22. Pinocchio (1940)
"When You Wish Upon a Star" is arguably the trademark theme song of the Walt Disney World company and it's one of the things the movie is known for. That, and you can't mention lying without making a reference to someone's nose growing. Jiminy Cricket is also a good little manifestation of conscience for kids to think about, even though they probably don't know what a conscience even is. But Pinocchio's a puppet, which is pretty creepy, and he survives in a whale's belly, who's actually the villain when you really think about it. In the end though, Gepetto finally gets his greatest wish, and his puppet son becomes a real boy. Are we just going to pretend that it's okay for an 80-year-old man to have a puppet-turned-toddler for a son? Which is why he created the puppet in the first place and wished upon a star? Even the goldfish knew there was something weird going on.
21. The Sword in the Stone (1963)
It's based historically - and loosely - on the King Arthur legends, except we get Arthur when he's growing up before he becomes king. His escapades with Merlin the sorcerer and the little sassy owl, Archimedes, make for a film that I enjoyed at the age of seven and twenty-two alike. In addition, the villain, Madam Mim, is one that you can't bring yourself to completely hate because she's clearly lost her mind in a charming and funny manner. If Merlin wasn't such a moody pompous wizard (who abandons Arthur when he's crowned because he's chosen that life and not one with education, since Merlin taught Arthur arithmetic and how to read) and there were more songs than just the one that cleans up Merlin's hut in the woods, this would've gotten a higher rating.
20. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Walt Disney's first animated film had to be on the list. More people showed up for this movie premiere than the Star Wars premieres, if you can believe that. But, despite all that, the film is still just average. It's moderately disturbing to think that Snow White is only 14 years old and that the Evil Queen is so obsessed with vanity that she'd hire a huntsman to kill a young teenager, not just in any manner, but to rip out her heart and put it in a jewelry-box-looking container. She's evil plus crazy times infinity, and it's ultimately her vanity that leads to her death as a repulsive old woman anyway. On top of that, Snow White lives with seven dwarves and, after she's killed by a poison apple, is kissed by a prince she's never talked to and brought back to life. Then they get married pretty much that day. Tell me that's not super weird. She may be the "fairest of them all," but this movie certainly wasn't.
19. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Say what you want about this movie being a representation of all kinds of drugs, but this film is such a trip that you're practically frustrated when you're watching it. Nothing makes any sense, which is the point, but to sit down and watch nonsense for over an hour is almost like you're on drugs yourself. The Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit are characters that everyone loves regardless, and I think it's notable that Alice is neither a princess nor a romantic interest for anyone and the movie still gained so much popularity. You don't even mind that the whole movie was a dream and that's why nothing ever made sense - you're just glad to take a breath when it's over.
18. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
I know so many people loved this movie, but I can't say I was one of them. I thought the cutest part of the whole thing was the firefly who was in love with a bright star, and when he died he became a star right next to her. The plot was so expected that I was actually bored. One or two songs are good, in particular the last one during the credits by Ne-Yo, but even the villain I didn't really care for. Its progressiveness as the first African American princess is what earns its spot because it takes place right in the heart of New Orleans with a girl who upholds the American Dream and ends up a princess. Frankly, though, I did think Tiana and Naveen looked so strange as frogs. I know that vanity is supposed to be an issue addressed here and it teaches that beauty should be more than skin-deep, but their amphibian animations were still creepy.
17. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
I like this movie for one main reason: the prince and princess of the film know each other for longer than ten minutes. They met when she was born, their parents the royalties of neighboring kingdoms who arrange their marriage from infancy - and Philip actually knows who Aurora is, even if he doesn't know that the beautiful girl he dances with in the forest is the long lost princess. She's only 16 (which by Disney standards is old enough to marry) and after being in the forest her whole life to avoid a tragic prophecy, her fate is left up to three rather incompetent witches and her betrothed, Prince Philip. Maleficent earned this movie its higher spot because of her multidimensional characteristics and the fact that she's so realistic that she gives you that chill that no other Disney villain does. But really, enchanting a spinning wheel to kill someone? Not the best death scheme I've heard. Also, let's not forget that the main character is asleep for the majority of the movie - she's the Disney princess on record with the least amount of lines - so the other characters had to be that good.
16. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
If you say you never read any Pooh stories or didn't have a favorite character, you're lying. The Hundred Acre Wood provided the setting to so many children's pastimes, myself included, that even today I still consider Tigger as one of my absolute favorite Disney characters. The imagination of Christopher Robin brings Winnie the Pooh and his friends to life and they handle obstacles like Heffalumps and Woozles, very windy days, and Pooh getting his fluffy behind stuck in a tree hole filled with honey. The only drawback? There has been speculation that each character is a portrayal of a psychological disorder (and when you consider this, it's probably true, but you could assert this type of thing about anything if you try hard enough). That being said, just because I love Tigger, doesn't mean I can stand all the other characters, who, when you think about it, are actually quite annoying.
15. The Jungle Book (1967)
Look for the Bear Necessities! We all know the words to that song, don't we? And we all thought it was the coolest thing that Mowgli, a "man cub" as he's known in the jungle, was raised by wolves, befriends a panther and a bear, escapes the clutches of a boa constrictor, outsmarts an orangutan, marches with elephants, and takes down a tiger. Inspired by Rudyard Kipling's novel, the film also borrows the social commentaries subliminally conveyed about the destructive force of human nature and the necessity to separate mankind from the natural world. Mowgli eventually does join the local village and leaves his friends behind, reaffirming that there should be a definite divide between man and nature. A little heavy for a Disney movie about talking animals, don't you think?
14. Pocahontas (1995)
After watching this movie, every single girl expected her hair to look flawless when it blew in the wind. And every single girl was disappointed when the wind blew and made her hair look like a tumbleweed. Historically based like The Sword in the Stone, this film is a loose depiction of the real Native American princess whose tribe met the white British settlers during the early colonial days of America. The actual story of Pocahontas is much sadder, but the romance that develops between her and John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson, swoon) is one everyone rooted for despite their differences and clear signs that they wouldn't end up together. Even still, she's a princess whose strength does not come from her relationship, but from within herself, and her confidence is something girls should look up to because she's courageous and bold with a genuine heart. Not to mention, the songs are fantastic and Meeko is possibly Disney's cutest animal sidekick.
13. The Lion King (1994)
You're probably wondering why this wasn't higher, but I thought that this movie was unnecessarily sad for a cartoon intended for children. Still one of the saddest moments of TV history, Mufasa's death that his own son is witness to really only highlights to everyone how evil of a villain Scar truly is. As an adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet, I think Disney maybe should have based this movie off of something else (or at the very least, read the play till the end to see the bloodbath that actually happened that resulted in the death of the main character). Timon and Pumbaa really pull this movie forward though, and who can resist the melodies of "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" the latter sung by the one and only, Elton John. And let's not forget the always-inspiring opening song that no one will ever figure out the words to but tries to sing anyway.
12. Tarzan (1999)
Often an overlooked and forgotten movie, this animated classic has everything in it: tragedy and loss, humor, friendship, romance, and sacrifice. Tarzan may act like an ape and lack the skills to communicate with the English language, but his genuinely good and pure heart is irresistible to animal and human alike. His compassion knows no bounds and he risks his life to save the ape father who never approved of him and the woman he met with whom he fell in love. Phil Collins provided the music for the film and it's uplifting, moving, and sets each mood of the movie perfectly. Even if the movie has a perfect ending, the journey to get there was anything but, and the lessons learned are transferable through age and time.
11. Cinderella (1950)
It's well known that Walt Disney's favorite piece of animation was Cinderella's rags transforming into her beautiful ball gown from the generosity of her Fairy Godmother. Her castle is the symbol of the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, but her character is so pathetically subservient that the movie can't have a higher ranking than this. I understand that was the norm for women at the time that the movie is set, but she could've poisoned her evil step-family or something! If Scar can kill his own brother, Cinderella can off her step-mother. Fairy Godmother could've at least bippity-boppity-booped the step-sisters to teach the mother a thing or two about enslaving someone to sweep floors and feed chickens. She's a flat character whose romance comes together because a shoe fit her foot (which doesn't even make sense, because everything magical was supposed to disappear at midnight so the shoe wouldn't have still been there at 12:01 am). In my opinion, the real star of the show is Gus Gus.
10. Frozen (2013)
I go back and forth about this movie constantly; sometimes I love it, sometimes I can't stand it. The plot, first of all, does not meet Disney standards in the slightest (especially for coming out in 2013) and there are so many holes in the logic that you're almost mad about it. The story feels thrown together for the sake of getting it into theaters quickly, even considering that it's based on Hans Christen Anderson's The Snow Queen (he also wrote The Little Mermaid, so expectations were high for this film). However, the musical arrangements in the film are some of Disney's best, along with the animation and the casting choices for the princesses since the actresses both appeared in major Broadway productions. It's a movie that will make you want to sing, laugh, and maybe even cry. The bond between sisters Anna and Elsa is sometimes frustrating because Elsa's story is generally so unnecessarily complex and sad, but in the end their love conquers over the destructive force that Elsa's ice powers wreaked on Arendelle.
9. Mulan (1998)
Thought to be based on an ancient Chinese folk hero, this film has everything for audiences of all ages: amazing songs, interesting story, great voice actors, and an inspiring message to young girls that society's rigid definitions of gender only mean something when you allow them to control your life, and that sacrifice for the sake of family is the ultimate honor. Since it's about war and there is a considerable amount of loss in the film, though, it may be too mature for younger kids which limits its likeability. That being said, the songs are some of Disney's catchiest and no one I know can hear the words "let's get down to business" without finishing it in their head with "to defeat the Huns."
8. A Goofy Movie (1995)
This another one of Disney's most underrated films that follows Goofy, one of the Fab Five, and his son Max on their road trip across the country and the comedic obstacles they must overcome, both externally and internally. Goofy is always a crowd favorite with his hilarious antics and Max is a character that every kid from ages 8-18 can relate to. The ending song, "I2I" (pronounced like "eye to eye"), is easily in my top favorite Disney songs of all time, but all the music in the movie is top-notch and the kind you love to get stuck in your head. To be perfectly honest, the movie wasn't higher on the list because Max is a whiny brat their whole father-son vacation and his sporadic angsty teenage outbursts make you want to smack him.
7. Peter Pan (1953)
It's every child's dream to never grow up and the adaptation of J.M. Barrie's novel brings that dream to life. Looking back on it, Peter Pan could've been taught some manners, at least towards Wendy - he laughs when the mermaids try to "drown" her with splashes and canoodles with Tiger Lily at the Indian campgrounds in front of her - so he wasn't all that nice of a protagonist, but he provided the world with the hope that believing is like magic on Earth and that nothing can hold you back from what you want. Captain Hook is also a beloved villain with his incompetent first mate, Mr. Smee, and his crippling vendetta with the crocodile who took his left hand. Join Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys, and the Darling children on an adventure in Never Land: second star to the right and straight on till morning. Fun fact: the voice of Wendy Darling and Alice are the same person, Kathryn Beaumont.
6. The Emperor's New Groove (2000)
God, I love this movie. The casting choices were perfect - David Spade, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton, and Eartha Kitt played the main four characters - and the raw comedy and dry humor of the film will keep you laughing the entire time. Kuzco, the greedy vain emperor, is about to turn 18 but instead turns into a llama when potions and poisons are switched. In his attempt to get back into his human form, Kuzco must learn the value of hard work and overcoming obstacles when things aren't simply handed to him. He's such a jerk in the beginning that if he hadn't developed over the movie, it wouldn't have been nearly as great. There's no music in it, but what it lacks in tunes it makes up for in one-liners.
5. Hercules (1997)
A gorgeous muscleman with a heart of gold and a witty sarcastic leading lady - what more could you ask for? Inspired by the tales of gods and goddesses from Greek mythology, Hercules is the god-turned-mortal with the strength of a thousand men, whose only weakness turns out to be the mysterious woman Megara he meets in the forest. Danny DeVito voices Phil, official satyr trainer of the gods, and James Woods lends his voice to Hades, God of the Underworld whose plan is to defeat his brother Zeus and take over Mt. Olympus. Hercules makes probably the biggest Disney sacrifice by offering his own life in exchange for Meg's, whose soul is swirling in the river of Hell. Through this action alone, Hercules finally understands what it takes to be a god and regains his immortal status by saving Meg and vanquishing Hades. The story is the typical hero/villain/damsel-in-distress plot, and actually doesn't follow any story in mythology at all, but the phenomenal music will have you singing "Zero to Hero" for days. In fact, you'll wish that the soulful Five Fates would follow you around and be the chorus for your life, too.
4. The Beauty and the Beast (1991)
It's literally the tale as old as time. You can't see a yellow dress and not immediately think of Belle twirling with the Beast in the golden ballroom, and everyone knows at least one person like Gaston who doesn't get the hint that you're uninterested. Inner beauty is the key theme in the film and shedding a hard exterior to let the right person into your life and ultimately save it, which is a timeless and beautiful sentiment often seen from Disney. We don't even mind that the human maiden falls in love with an actual creature and despite his temper, we want them to be together; it breaks our hearts when she leaves the castle and he gives her his magic handheld mirror and maybe even shed a few tears when Belle weeps over his dead body in a declaration of love. Belle sacrificed her own freedom for her father's and she got a prince husband out of the deal: classic Disney. But let's not forget that this whole movie is basically a musical about Stockholm Syndrome with talking pieces of furniture.
3. Tangled (2010)
I've said it since the movie came out: "I See the Light" is going to be my wedding song someday. Rapunzel and Flynn Rider (I hate the name Eugene) arguably have the strongest relationship out of any Disney couple. They make the effort to get to know each other, they're honest with one another, and they bring out the best in each other: Rapunzel becomes more adventurous and independent, and Flynn realizes the things in life that are actually valuable aren't material goods. Unlike a lot of Disney films, I felt that all of the songs in this movie fit the mood and plot well, and none of them should've been cut (Mother Gothel's could've been shorter, but Donna Murphy has a great singing voice so it's not so bad). Our heartstrings are tugged when Rapunzel is finally reunites with her parents, the king and queen, and the happy ending comes to two people who very much deserve it.
2. The Little Mermaid (1989)
True story: when my brother was born, my parents asked me what they should name him, and 20 years later he has me to thank for the name Eric. I could talk endlessly about this movie and how great it is, but we all know how great it is. There isn't a person alive who's never heard of The Little Mermaid, either Disney's film or Hans Christen Anderson's story. The music is unbeatable and every single song could easily make a list of top Disney tunes, but even the characters are ones you can't help but fall in love with immediately. Maybe that's why it's a classic tale of love at first sight for Ariel and love at first song for Eric, because I know I certainly was head over heels from the music alone. If you try to tell me that you don't know every word to all the songs, then you're a dirty liar. Taking a more realistic approach (as realistic as can be when discussing a mermaid), she's a 16-year-old who ran away from home and, in retaliation and assertion to have independence, married the first man she saw because he was an attractive human. Her fascination with the human world, though, lends to her hasty and impulsive decision; King Triton even wonders aloud which merman could've stolen his daughter's heart when it was clear she was in love, so she evidently rejected the available male population unda da sea. Giving up her mermaid form for a pair of legs wasn't changing herself so a man will like her, like some people are so quick to point out. Instead, it was a demonstration of sacrifice and seriousness as a dedication to her choice, and her strive to find true contentment and purpose since her current world left her unsatisfied. Bonus: after marrying Eric, Ariel becomes a princess of the ocean and on land. Pretty cool.
1. Aladdin (1992)
This movie will always have a special place in my heart, and now it probably will for everyone because of the death of Robin Williams, the voice of Genie. Because this movie isn't about the princess of the film, we get the crazy happenings of a street rat in Agrabah and his relatable struggle to get the girl of his dreams. Sure, he lies to her about being a prince, but he also risks his life, his friends, and his Genie to save her at the end. Everyone can relate to Aladdin and his inability to fit in anywhere, and how important it is to find that special person who makes you feel like you finally belong somewhere. And Princess Jasmine isn't the typical Disney heroine, either; she knows her value and turns down multiple eligible bachelors for the sake of love and pushes for gender equality while pursuing her dream of living a life not defined by her royal status. Most importantly, she fights on her own behalf and is smart enough to handle herself without running off to cry when she faces opposition. Jafar is actually a capable villain with plans that could've probably worked had Aladdin not foiled them, with his wielding of magic and trusty loudmouth sidekick Iago. Every character pulls their own weight by fulfilling their role of hero, heroine, villain, etc. in the story - even the magic carpet is a lively presence albeit a silent one. Aladdin even keeps his promise of freeing Genie as his third wish instead of using it to become a prince so that he was allowed to marry the princess. He's a character who has nothing but is willing to give his friends anything for their happiness, and it's a heartwarming reminder that wealth is not always a measure of money, but of friends and happiness. In terms of a message, if there's any Disney animated classic that teaches perseverance and the power of integrity and selflessness, it's this one. Aladdin is the complete package, and one of Disney's finest films ever made.