25. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is an unusual entry in the Disney canon. Technically, it consists of three previously-released shorts that were released in the 60s and 70s, with newly animated material inserted to bridge the stories, open the film, and a short fourth segment at the end to wrap things up. The crazy thing, though, is how it works. In spite of little variations between the three segments (most tellingly, Christopher Robin’s voice), each individual story is enjoyable, the songs are memorable, and the final product is a charming, gentle feature.
24. Winnie the Pooh
Even though Disney’s take on Winnie the Pooh has encompassed TV series and numerous films, 2011’s Winnie the Pooh marks only the second feature to come from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Like its 70s predecessor, Winnie the Pooh pulls its stories from A.A. Milne’s classic books. Unlike that film, though, this feature takes three stories and intertwines them. Along with new music that stands nicely alongside Many Adventures‘ songs and an animation style that gently refines its predecessor’s look, including a new look for Christopher Robin that’s actually far less dated than his old one, Winnie the Pooh is a worthy entry as one of WDAS’ few formal sequels.
Dumbo was the first – though certainly not the last – film in the Disney canon made for economic reasons. The story itself is very basic, and at barely over an hour, it’s one of the shortest of the Disney films. Still, it’s a sweet film that highlights the love between a mother and child, and it’s one of the purest examples Disney’s ever shown. Plus, there’s the time-extending and surreal “Pink Elephants on Parade” segment, which is fabulously weird.
22. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Disney’s first animated film was considered a risky and foolish move before its release, but Disney certainly had the last laugh. With gorgeous old-school animation and some signature songs, Snow White created a solid template for the studio’s future films. And while it’s tempting to think of Snow White as more of a pushover than future Disney princesses (yeah, that whole apple incident doesn’t help her case), keep in mind the way she’s able to assert authority over the dwarfs. She knows how to get her way.
21. The Rescuers
Released in an otherwise dark period for Disney animation, The Rescuers managed to become a surprise critical and commercial hit for the studio. It’s deserved. While there are comedic and musical elements, it’s built onto a more straightforward and heart-wrenching story about a kidnapped orphan girl. And for the first time since One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the film includes a villain who might be silly at times, but can be truly frightening at others. The animation, while still sketchy, is noticeably smoother than the studio’s then-recent output. While some of the elements would be refined in the film’s sequel, i is overall the stronger of the two.
While Disney animation would return to the idea of segments marrying animation to various forms of music in the future, Fantasia remains the first and best example of this format. “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” is easily the most recognizable of the segments, but the film as a whole works remarkably well. It’s also notable that, due to various budgetary issues that would follow the release of this film, Fantasia is the last film Disney would produce with the specific, rich animation style that distinguished Snow White and Pinocchio. Just look at the character design of Chernabog, one of the more visually haunting Disney villains.
19. One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Generally, my least favorite era of Disney animation in regards to the actual animation is the period that utilized the Xerox process that lasted from this film through the 80s (though the process did become more refined in later years). One Hundred and One Dalmatians is the only film, though, where it genuinely doesn’t bother me. As far as the animation goes, it works with the more modern look Disney was striving for here. Look at those backgrounds, for example. They’re products of the 60s and proud of it. It helps, too, that the story is one of the stronger ones of this era. The human and dog casts alike are enjoyable, and Cruella De Vil is still one of the best Disney villains.
18. Big Hero 6
Disney’s tried tackling action/adventure movies for years now, and outside of ones that also function as musicals, I don’t think they’ve really nailed it – until Big Hero 6. Big Hero 6 is visually a tremendous step forward for Disney’s work in computer animation, and it’s married to a great story about love and loss. It’s also the most diverse film Disney has created, by far, and it works beautifully. Bonus points for making Baymax the most memorable Disney sidekick in years.
17. The Emperor’s New Groove
Just in terms of pure comedy, The Emperor’s New Groove may be the funniest overall film in Disney’s animated canon. Aladdin may have Robin Williams, but this film manages to crank out laughs from every major and supporting character at some point. Rather than being completely silly, though, it also manages to have some heart and create a real change in Emperor Kuzco – though thankfully, he retains plenty of his entitled elements. Plus, there’s Yzma, a rare Disney villain who can pull off both comic timing and true menace.
What child hasn’t been scarred by what happens to Bambi’s mother? And what villain is more potentially terrifying than “Man”? Few films offer the emotional gut punch of Bambi, which mixes in serene samples of young Bambi’s childhood with traumatic encounters with Man. Combined with some of the best illustrated animals ever produced by Disney and a handful of memorable songs, Bambi is a worthy cap to Disney’s initial era of animation.
Here’s where the current Disney era of animation really, truly kicks in. Disney’s princess films have traditionally been some of the studio’s most successful efforts, both critically and commercially, and Tangled finds an effective way to make it work in its current CGI form, while also producing something fresh as a story. One of the best scenes, hands down: Rapunzel’s initial reaction to being outside of the tower for the first time. Her alternating panic and joy feels right. Plus, who’s doing the saving most of the time? The princess. Good call.
14. The Great Mouse Detective
While it takes place outside of the Disney Renaissance, The Great Mouse Detective set the stage for the revival of Disney animation. An intriguing story that creates a great mystery, along with a strong voice cast that includes Vincent Price as Professor Rattigan, helped make this the strongest film Disney had made in years. Hat tip to first-time directors and writers Ron Clements and John Musker, who took the success of this film and made two of the pinnacles of Disney animation.
While Disney’s animation during the second half of the Disney Renaissance era is typically not as well-regarded as the first half, Mulan stands out as by far the strongest film from that half. Mulan takes the issue of gender equality and shows the foolishness of confining anyone to specific roles. Mulan also provides us with a rare story set outside of America or Europe, opening the Disney canon up to gorgeous new surroundings.
After going through most of the 1940s with a reduced staff and limited budgets, resulting in a string of package films, Disney animation came roaring back with Cinderella. The film takes advantage of new styles of animation, and the story is the strongest the studio had produced in years. As a character, Cinderella is surprisingly well-rounded; just watch her early-morning reaction to preparing for work. And as far as purely human villains go, few are as chillingly cold as Lady Tremaine.
Tangled may have signaled a new era of creativity for Disney, but Frozen cemented it with a story that twists conventional Disney princess film clichés left and right, whether it’s taking jabs at the idea of “love at first sight” or making a case for the problems that can arise from hiding who one truly is. It works because Frozen still maintains the heart that sets apart the best of Disney’s works. Plus, it’s a surprisingly clever film with some genuine surprises for those who don’t know what to expect going in. Well done, Disney.