Disney: My Top 12 Animated Movies

I have been meaning to complete this post practically since I first began this blog.

I mean, who doesn’t love Disney? I certainly do! So many wonderful childhood memories, the heroes, the villains, the music, the laughter, the tears, all of it, Disney has long since become a phenomenon in our society. So, of course, any self-respecting blog that features favorite countdowns must certainly visit the Disney library at some point. πŸ™‚

Why did it take so long? Well, life gets very busy, and narrowing down ones favorite Disney films can be just a bit challenging.

I am focusing on the animated features in this countdown. Disney has more non-animated features than one might realize at first, but they are most famous for the animated. And why not? There’s so much history there! When Snow White and the Seven Dwarves first came out, it was absolutely fantastic, and it still holds up fairly well even under modern scrutiny! I just love it! All at once, they became the superpower of animation in the Western Hemisphere and across much of the world as a whole, which had a profound impact on our culture. Even more, their movies have had a profound impact on people at a very personal level, myself included.

So, looking through their entire library of fifty-some animated movies, it can be very difficult to narrow it all down to a Top Ten list. There were a few I haven’t seen, including the Winnie the Pooh movies, and Brother Bear. Yet, having seen most of them, disqualifying those unseen few did little to make this list any easier to put together. I mean, Disney’s work has dominated the box office for the better part of a century for a reason. In the end, I had to stop trying to analyze them all and just go with my gut. Based on that, I got a dozen top-tier hits, which fits perfectly as all of my countdowns thus far have completely ignored the β€œten” in β€œtop ten.” πŸ˜› Then I just shuffled them around a bit and figured out why I liked these, specifically, more than the rest.

So, without any further ado, here is the countdown of my personal favorite Disney animated features!

12. Hercules

And from here on, there isn’t really anything β€œwrong” with any of these. …it’s just really stiff competition!

Obviously must be said, but as there have been nearly five dozen animated features produced by Disney, just getting into the top dozen on anyone’s countdown is huge. When you’re that far up already, the competition is very stiff, and not coming in first is less about anything being wrong, and less about lacking anything, and more about all the rest simply having something more, in whatever small degree.

Myself, I think we can all enjoy the tale of a guy who was an outcast because of what made him special, and his journey towards learning what true strength and heroism are. Like many of Disney’s older classics, and those that have followed their Renaissance, the movie is hilarious and heart-warming, fantastic for kids and families, with a great villain, and great music.

If there is one thing I might dislike about it, just a little, it’s how it does what Disney is famous for: altering the stories and legends of other cultures, to make them simple and child-friendly. Don’t get me wrong, I understand it, and I enjoy the end result, but the inner intellectual in me was always a bit mad about this, even as a kid.

11. Lilo & Stitch

Lilo is a child who has lost a great deal of family, and now the government looks to take her away even while her older sister fights so hard to keep them together.

Stitch is a artificial alien, created by a scientist and given a number of advantages, but also an inclination towards havoc and mayhem.

Their paths collide, and while Stitch’s experience with Lilo begins to teach him lessons that result in better behaved conduct, the birth and acceptance of a better version of himself, Stitch’s influence is able to help Lilo’s family stay together, and even grow a little.

It actually took me quite some time to see this movie. Actually, as I stop to consider, I’m not sure I’ve even yet seen the entire thing uninterrupted from beginning to end one single time, unbelievable as that may sound. Which is probably why this isn’t quite in the top ten.

It’s a more subtle movie, with the mischief maker becoming more heroic and the hero becoming villainous through little more than the overzealous fulfillment of his duty. It doesn’t have the classic Disney flavor of songs either. It simply tells a tender, beautiful story, and tells it very well.

And you know it had to be good for Hawaii’s economy. πŸ˜‰

10. Frozen

This is one that maybe got a little too much praise at first, and then got a little too much criticism because of the praise.

Myself, I see a story that was supposed to be one thing, and then, purely by accident, had to become something else, and the result is pretty good. They manage to take the old Disney stereotypes and turn them on their head. It began as a musical, and eventually left that behind. It had the princess meeting a prince and falling in love immediately, and turned that inside out by making the prince a psychotic villain taking advantage of a sheltered, naΓ―ve girl, which led into a discussion of what love really is. And it had another princess who learned to accept herself and stop being so afraid.

Is it flawless? No. But it’s plenty good, and I like it. πŸ™‚

9. The Princess and the Frog

I was surprised and intrigued to learn how Disney was altering the classic tale, setting it in New Orleans in the 1920’s. I suppose the literal translation of the tale would be a bit short and possibly disgusting for a Disney feature. There’s also the usual complaints about princesses doing nothing but being pretty and kissing ugly creatures to make them beautiful. So, not only did they change the setting, they changed the story so Tiana is turned into a frog too! And now that she and the Prince Naveen of Maldonia are on the same level, she is quite clearly shown to be the stronger of the two, yet not entirely complete.

What she learns from Naveen, and their adventure together, and her father’s example, is to accept herself as she is, rather than pinning all her hopes and dreams and self-worth on a fancy restaurant. She learns what is truly important, what she, and people, truly need, which often gets lost beneath what we want.

I also really like the music. Yes, I know, it’s a pale imitation of the genuine cultural music, but so’s pretty much all Disney music, especially in their animated features. It’s still beautiful, pointed, and often pretty catchy and entertaining. πŸ™‚

8. Robin Hood

This is the only old-time Disney classic on this list. Nothing against the older classics, really, but the Disney Renaissance kicked up the quality by a huge margin. πŸ˜‰

Even so, I just love Robin Hood. Sure, it’s an example of an older, stale approach of practically just sewing a bunch of animated shorts together into a somewhat cohesive story, but this is also an example of getting that sort of thing right. Nothing feels rushed or easy or overly built up. There is a genuine building of tension as things get more and more serious, and yet there’s almost always a little humor.

And who doesn’t love a good underdog story, eh? The sly fox and his friends defying the cruel, mad lion and his minions, stealing money from the king to give back to his oppressed subjects, helping them survive on the hope of eventual deliverance.

And, of course, the love story of Robin and Maid Marian! I forget if we ever learned how that story began, but I don’t recall it. I do, however, recall their love being pure, and self-sacrificial, and fun too. Me, I would not at all complain about having a Marian in my life. πŸ™‚

7. Moana

Putting Disney’s most recent hit at such a high spot might, if I am perfectly honest, have just a little something to do with how it hasn’t had time to age yet. I freely admit that. However, my placement of it currently stands anyway. πŸ˜‰

I’ve already waxed eloquent about this movie, so let me just add: I really like it.

When I look at Moana, I see someone to look up to. I admire her kindness, cleverness, and courage. I admire how, at her lowest moment, she draws strength from who she is, everything about herself, every piece combining into the whole. I admire how she becomes a leader of her people, but in her own way, lifting her people higher than anyone thought possible.

As such, I admire how my nieces, and the daughters I hope to have someday, can also look up to her.

For that, I just couldn’t leave Moana’s story at any lower rank. πŸ™‚

6. Aladdin

I’ve already mentioned Disney’s Renaissance a couple of times, so you know it had to appear again on this countdown. πŸ˜‰

While The Little Mermaid was a revolutionary step forward, and Beauty and the Beast earns its place as a beloved classic, Aladdin, I think, was the one where Disney really hit its renewed stride. They crafted a wonderful tale about a street rat who has to learn to accept the truth about himself, a princess who simply wants to be loved as a person instead of as a possession, a dastardly villain and his humorous hench-bird, and, not least, a genie who is is hilarious but has powerful depths to him. They hit a perfect balance in this movie, I think.

Robin Williams, you are many beloved, inspiring characters to all of us, but to me, you will always be, first and foremost, the ever-impressive, long-contained, often imitated, but never duplicated, Genie of the Lamp.

5. The Emperor’s New Groove

Possibly, I would argue, the single most hilarious of Disney’s animated works, ever.

Departing from the standard formula, this movie tells a buddy story instead of a true love story, and with nary a song to be found. Who doesn’t like seeing a stuck-up overgrown brat learn a bit of humility, eh? Kuzco is the popular kid, the center of the universe that’s easily forgotten and never missed because no one actually likes him. He has to come down to Earth a bit with the humble, lovable Pacha. Yzma is hilarious and nefarious, and Kronk is such a perfect foil for her diabolical scheming! Oh, I love this movie!

A couple of my favorite quotes:

β€œWhy does she even have that lever?”

β€œNo touchy!”

β€œ…or, to save on postage…”

4. Mulan

Sometimes you find out who you are by being someone you’re not.

In the case of Mulan, first she was forced to be the kind of woman she wasn’t, then she took on the disguise of a man to save her father. Though she proves herself to her comrades, she still doesn’t see her own self-worth until very near the end, when she is accepted by her comrades, the emperor, all of China, her family, and, above all, herself.

What’s not to love about that, eh?

3. Zootopia

Just to quickly recap what I already said elsewhere:

This is an entertaining, heart-warming story, with a message that is most timely and necessary for us to hear. I love Judy’s indomitable spirit and Nick’s loyalty, as they both come to terms with themselves and each other. And who can forget the DMV sloths, eh?

…also, I love the mouse mafia boss. I mean, who doesn’t? πŸ™‚

2. The Lion King

Perhaps Disney’s single best and most enduring classic of the age… come on, you knew this would have to be pretty near the top! πŸ˜‰

If Aladdin was where Disney hit its new stride, then Lion King is where they crafted their masterpiece.

And there’s not much more to say, is there?

They got pretty much everything right in this one. …which does make me a little angry when they put new things into every new addition of their movies. It’s ridiculous! Can’t they just leave it be as it was? But I digress.

…so, what could possibly be ranked above it? Who claims my number one spot?

First, the Honorable Mentions:

As I said before, there are so many great Disney movies, and it was really hard to choose all my favorites! So I just want to give a shout out to some which were seriously considered, but didn’t make this list for one reason or another, including: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Tangled, The Rescuers Down Under, Bolt, Tarzan, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, Cinderella, The Sword in the Stone, Sleeping Beauty, Dumbo, Dinosaur, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Pinocchio, 101 Dalmatians, Meet the Robinsons, Pocahantas, and most of all, the one that started it all, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves! All fantastic movies with fantastic stories and fantastic characters! But, alas, there can be but one true favorite of them all! And I have chosen…

1. Wreck-It Ralph

You may notice that all of these, my favorites, have a running theme, as Disney often does, of finding and accepting the value in oneself. That is a really big thing with me. And nowhere is it more powerfully said than in this movie.

It’s literally about the guy who has to go to group therapy because nobody accepts him. He wants, so bad, to be someone else, to be accepted, to be acknowledged for his contributions. Then, when he finally finds someone who likes him, he comes to care for them so much that, when he’s told he has to hurt them in order to save them, he does so immediately. And so he is alone… until he realizes the truth of the situation, and is willing to do anything, even make the ultimate sacrifice, to clean up his mess and put things right.

And in direct opposition: a villain who really is just a cracked reflection of Ralph. Where Ralph gains acceptance as he accepts himself, his foe does neither.

This line says it all: β€œThere’s no one I’d rather be than me.”

And that, above all, is why this is my favorite Disney movie of all time.

So, what about you? What are your favorite Disney movies, and why?

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