Walt Disney Animation Studios has been the premiere name in feature animation since the release of their very first movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s taken me a little bit, but I’ve now seen every single of the 56 entries in their official Canon along with all but one of Pixar’s animated library (Cars 3 will just have to wait). That brings the grand total to 73 movies — with Song of the South, an unofficial entry, making #74. I thought I’d make a thoroughly subjective ranking of every Disney and Pixar movie ever made, just for kicks!
The criteria for this list is relatively simple — each movie is ranked based on which movies I would rather watch again before that one. So, for example, I’d rather watch A Bug’s Life (#57) over The Fox and the Hound (#58). I’d much rather watch anything else over the lowest film on the list, the atrocious Chicken Little (#74).
Today we’ll move through the rest of the Canon’s bottom half, where the films get better but still aren’t the shining jewels in Disney’s storied history. Keep in mind that this ranking isn’t meant to be a judgement on quality, even though it kind of is. These are just the movies that didn’t quite grab me as much as the more exciting ones!
56. Home On The Range (2004)
This was meant to be the last traditionally-animated film for Walt Disney at its release — thank goodness for The Princess and The Frog coming along later. Home On The Range isn’t as bad as most people think, though; it has a load of awesome supporting characters, and the big villain song is one of the funniest surprises ever in a Disney film. Roseanne Barr as Maggie almost single-handedly manages to sink the whole affair, though. It’s not her voice acting, really — Maggie is just a dud of a main character. The rest of the movie makes a valiant effort to escape her gravity, but just can’t manage.
55. Brother Bear (2003)
I LOVED this movie when it came out, so much that I saw it probably four or five times in theatres. It ticks off a number of boxes for me — a dude transforms into a bear; there’s shamanic mysticism; and the way the story warns us about the way grief can curdle into anger is a potent emotional punch. Seeing it again after all this time reveals too many of the movie’s flaws, though. The humor is toothless and juvenile in too many places, and the action is a bit too episodic for the narrative to have the weight it should. Still, it’s a gorgeous movie, and changing the aspect ratio and color palette to match Kenai’s new view of the world remains one of my favorite cinematic tricks.
54. Song of the South (1946)
It’s no surprise that this live-action/animation hybrid isn’t really a part of the Disney canon, considering its toxic reputation among even the most die-hard fans. I get it, but I don’t share in that anger — I think that Song of the South was a progressive movie for its day and just aged fairly poorly due to the US’ persistent inability to reconcile its past. Uncle Remus is presented as a good, wise, patient teacher at a time when black Americans didn’t have many positive representations anywhere, and my goodness the Br’er Rabbit cartoons are so much fun. The story used as a framing device for the short cartoons is fairly problematic, and it’s a shame that such great animation is bound up in such a racially-charged package.
53. Hercules (1997)
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (fresh off their triumph in Aladdin), Hercules had all the ingredients of a huge Disney success — an interesting story cribbed from mythology, an engagingly different animation style, top-notch voice talent, and music from Alan Menken. The end result, though, is…just fine. Hercules himself is likable enough, and sidekicks Philoctetes, Megara and Pegasus are all pretty cool. But the story just doesn’t connect for me emotionally, and I’m not a huge mark for Greek mythology. Still, James Woods will go down as an all-time heavyweight villain for his rendition of Hades.
52. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
This is another movie I loved at the time of its release, but have since cooled on. The film was so weird and different from what I had expected in a Disney movie that it was easy to fall in love with it, but once the shock of the new wears off there isn’t that much left. Still, the vocal talent is what really sells this movie — David Spade, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt are pitch-perfect in their respective roles. Fun fact: this film was completely retooled during its production, the first movie since Pinocchio to be so drastically overhauled.
51. Brave (2012)
There’s no denying that Brave is gorgeous; the mythic Scottish countryside is deeply wonderful to travel through, and the castle of King Fergus is a bit more understated but just as awesome. Merida is a great, sympathetic heroine, and the tension in her mother’s relationship with her frustrating and relatable. Also, it’s another movie with bear transformation! Hooray!! But there are too many elements in the movie that don’t quite make sense, and Merida’s story doesn’t scan with the legend of the demon-bear(!!!) Mordu as much as the movie wants us to think it does. It’s especially frustrating since a Pixar story is expected to be nearly perfect; when it doesn’t ring, it’s really noticeable.
50. Meet The Robinsons (2007)
A lot of people sleep on this movie, mostly because it’s the one right after the disastrous Chicken Little. But Meet The Robinsons is a surprisingly sweet and funny movie that deserves a second look. I’ve got personal stake in it, since the protagonist is an awkward and nerdy orphan, but beyond that it’s got an absolutely killer villain and a few cool plot twists that come off well. Lewis is so earnest and brilliant that you can’t help but root for him, but it’s Bowler Hat Guy who just steals every scene he’s in. Imagine a Snidely Whiplash-type with Jim Carrey’s rubber-band body, and you’re nearly there. Seriously, this movie is a treat — though the titular Robinsons are a bit too “manic pixie” for my tastes.
49. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The first feature-length animated film, so it deserves props for single-handedly creating the genre. Beyond that, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is actually a pretty good film. It’s definitely old-fashioned, but Snow herself created the mold from which all future Disney princesses would spring forth; the Dwarfs are iconic characters in their own right; and the animation and production design are simply brilliant for their attention to detail and ability to create a world with weight and shape. The craft on display is what makes this such an amazing movie, even if the story is understandably a bit thin.
48. Bambi (1942)
It feels weird that Bambi ended up so low on this list; it really is an excellent movie and it’s earned its reputation as one of the first traumatic experiences for generations of children. There’s no way you don’t feel horrified by the death of Bambi’s mother, and Man’s reappearance at the end of the film actually manages to top that intensity with a fire that threatens not only the deer’s life, but the lives of all the forest animals we’ve come to know. It’s really impressive, but the movie between those sequences is quite a bit less so. I’ve gotten less fond of twee characters in my old age, so Thumper and Flower are a bit grating. Still, the character design and animation of these animals is a really neat blend of animal and human characteristics. Great work; I just wish it was in service to a more consistent story.
47. Pocahontas (1995)
This is another film I feel gets a bit more scorn than it deserves. Of course the treatment is problematic, but directors Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg really did try to get it right here — and there are moments where everything clicks. Of course Pocahontas and John Smith learning to understand each other through…listening to their heart…is appallingly stupid, but the rest of their cultural exchange is intriguing and kind of endearing. The whole movie has a theatrical feel to it, especially the song “Savages”, which is exactly the kind of well-meaning but tone-deaf story beat that makes this movie so hard to engage with.
46. The Sword in the Stone (1963)
This slightly-skewed telling of the Arthurian legend — which imagines Arthur as a bumbling young teenager nicknamed Wart — is more a loosely-connected series of adventures than a proper story, but that’s OK. Each adventure is engaging and entertaining, elevated by the easy, prickly rapport between Wart, his mentor Merlin, and Merlin’s “assistant”, the owl Archimedes. Wart is transformed into a bird, fish and squirrel in order to learn important lessons that will help him in being king, but really it’s all an excuse to tell some pretty fun stories. Merlin is an all-time great character who frequently gets overlooked, and his magical battle with the mad witch Mim is just awesome.
45. The Jungle Book (1967)
Who wouldn’t want Baloo as a surrogate father? He’s gigantic and cuddly, and knows where to get all of the best grub! This is a (very) loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s story, mostly written by Bill Peet with significant input from Walt himself. The two tugged against each other on the tone of the film, with Peet wanting it to be a lot darker. Walt, of course, won and Peet left the studio over it. Fun fact! I think Disney made the right choice here; the film is out-and-out fun, even with the problems it shares with its episodic source material. The cast of characters is top-notch, and the significant impact it had on Disney’s future design of its anthro cast can’t be understated.
44. Cinderella (1950)
Disney’s first film after its package-film period comes across like a mission statement: we can still do feature-length films as well as we always have, and there’s something new we can bring to the table. The animation of Cinderella is simply gorgeous — crisp and smooth, with little flourishes that draw attention to the painstaking detail the artists placed in every scene. Cinderella herself is a classic Disney princess but with more agency than most, and her wicked stepmother is a wonderful villain. The mice and birds who are Relly’s only friends are adorable but have legit personality behind them, too, and the music is seriously underrated. This is an overlooked gem in the Canon; if you haven’t seen it in a while, treat yourself.
43. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
This is a charming love story about a pair of mismatched canines who form an unlikely affair. Everyone remembers the back alley plate of spaghetti that Lady and Tramp share, but the chase scene — where a couple of Tramp’s friends try to break him out of a dog catcher’s wagon — is surprisingly great action. Sudden racism (an unfortunate staple of Disney films in the 1950s) rears its ugly head again, this time in the form of two Siamese “twin” cats who sing a really gross song. Despite that blip, this is a fun — if slight — movie.
42. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
This is technically another package film made up of three previously-released featurettes and one new sequence that brings the movie to a close. There’s not a bad apple in the entire bunch, though, and the songs are absolutely delightful. “I’m Just a Little Black Rain Cloud” is my absolute favorite, and I break down into helpless giggles every time I hear it. This is how American audiences were introduced to the works of A.A. Milne, and the love that Disney and his animators had for Pooh and the gang are evident in every frame.
41. Oliver and Company (1988)
Oliver and Company wasn’t well-received at release, and it was subsequently buried as the last film of Disney’s “Dark Age” before The Little Mermaid ushered in the Renaissance. But I think it’s a lot better than people give it credit for. After a string of more subdued, risk-taking failures, Oliver’s aggressively-modern swagger stamped the template for the studio’s attitude carrying it through its next decade. The cast — with the exception of a baby Joey Lawrence (!) as little orphan Oliver — is populated with native New Yorkers, including a game Billy Joel as Dodger. The music really kicks, too. “Why Should I Worry?” might just get you crushing on a street mutt.
40. Bolt (2008)
The 2000s weren’t a good time for the studio. They put out some pretty good movies that nonetheless bombed critically and commercially for various reasons, and it took them a while to find their way back. Originally Chris Sanders’ (Lilo & Stitch) follow-up project, called American Dog, story problems found him removed from the film (and ultimately the studio) with Chris Williams and Byron Howard taking over. The restructuring worked; Bolt was a surprisingly good film with great performances from John Travolta, Susie Essman and Mark Walton as dog, cat, and over-excited hamster, respectively. The bond they form over the course of their adventure is well-done, organic, and touching. And Bolt himself is one of the cutest animated dogs in a while.
39. Monsters University (2013)
Another movie that gets more flak than it deserves, Monsters University is actually a really solid follow-up to 2001’s Monsters, Inc. The prequel explores how Mike and Sulley met at the titular institution, starting as enemies before becoming colleagues and eventually friends. The first and third acts are magical, but the middle of the film — primarily concerned with the Scare Games and the pair’s rivalry — kind of drags. Still, what I love about the story is how it demonstrates the winding, unexpected path success often takes, and how the failures we endure along the way teach us the things we need to finally get it right.
38. Frozen (2013)
I’m not sure this will be a popular place for Disney’s latest blockbuster feature, but I just can’t get THAT excited about it. The animation is gorgeous, the songs are neat, and the chemistry among the cast is undeniable — but Frozen just tries so damn hard to be a big huge deal and it’s kind of off-putting. Olaf hits a number of false notes, and there are a few sequences that feel like they were put there just to justify a song that no one wanted to cut. Still, the really nice inversion of our expectations surrounding true love is welcome, and Elsa’s struggle to deal with power she can barely understand or control is a great metaphor for our own emotions and the damage we can deal with them without even trying.
Tomorrow: the only Disney film set in Australia, their best package film, and the depths of my furry trashness becomes evident!