The 50 best Disney movies of all time

Clockwork from top left: Beauty And The Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Toy Story, Up, and Mary Poppins (All screenshots: Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios/YouTube)
Clockwork from top left: Beauty And The Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Toy Story, Up, and Mary Poppins (All screenshots: Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios/YouTube)

As Disney celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, The A.V. Club marks the occasion with a series of lists, essays, and more.

Think “Disney movies” and your mind will probably conjure up images of classic animated films like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and even Pinocchio. And while the company continues to be an industry leader in animation, its films have encompassed a huge variety of genres, styles, and mediums. To mark Disney’s 100th anniversary, we’re counting down their 50 best films. Animated classics are well-represented, but so are modern, live-action movies like Enchanted. The only things you won’t find are films that Disney owns due to its acquisitions of Fox and Marvel Studios. If a film wasn’t produced by Disney, it doesn’t count. And now, on with the list.

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50. Hercules

Hercules - Official Trailer 1997 [HD]

A late entry in the Disney Renaissance featuring an all-time great villain in Hades (James Woods), Hercules perfectly captured the zeitgeist when it was released in 1997. Some of the pop-culture references feel a bit dated now, but it’s hard not to enjoy the film’s whimsical take on Greek mythology. It even spawned an animated series spin-off that lasted for more than 50 episodes. [Jen Lennon]

49. A Bug’s Life

A Bug’s Life (1998) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

For their second feature film, Pixar Animation Studios set out to tell another story of chosen family in the form of a band of misfit bugs who must unite to stop a hive of tyrannical grasshoppers. Is it basically just Seven Samurai with computer-animated insects? Yes, but that doesn’t stop A Bug’s Life from working as a thoroughly engrossing, memorable tale of outsiders learning to work together and build something new. [Matthew Jackson]

48. Escape To Witch Mountain (1975)

Escape to Witch Mountain | Unofficial Official Trailer | Disney+

Despite being a live-action film, Escape To Witch Mountain actually shares something in common with Pixar films: although geared toward children, the movie rarely talks down to them. Instead, it validates their feelings and emotions in a way that makes it an easy watch for adults, too. And its themes are classic Disney; Tia (Kim Richards) and Tony (Ike Eisenmann) are nominally trying to escape a Bad Adult who wants to exploit their psychic powers, but they’re really just trying to find out who they are and a family that will accept them, powers and all. [Jen Lennon]

47. The Aristocats

The Aristocats Theatrical Trailer

Cats are way underrepresented on the big screen as beloved pets, mainly because dogs are much easier to train, but animation avoids all that. The adventures of a mommy cat and three kittens left for dead by a bumbling, jealous butler, The Aristocats features some of Disney’s most underrated songs, including the last two tunes by the Sherman Brothers as staff writers. In keeping with the jazzy vibe, the animation bops back and forth between slick and rough-almost-draft, and the kitten body language is captured in a way that only a true feline lover could render. Everybody wants to be a cat, indeed. [Luke Y. Thompson]

46. Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Petes Dragon 1977 Official Trailer

Pete’s Dragon is one of those movies that’s so important it’d be easy to forgive any lapses in overall story quality, but luckily, this charming flick succeeds there too. It was Disney’s first film containing animation that wasn’t worked on by the famed Nine Old Men, making this ambitious live-action-animation hybrid even more of a risk. Luckily, though, Don Bluth, who went on to direct animated classics like The Land Before Time and The Secret Of Nimh, was on hand as the animation director, making sure everything came together smoothly. And Elliott, the titular dragon, is perfectly lovable as Pete’s (Sean Marshall) sidekick. [Jen Lennon]

45. Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 - Official Trailer 1999 [HD]

Toy Story 2 is among the rarefied air of sequels that are just as good as the original. What started out as a direct-to-video sequel play for Disney turned into one of their biggest theatrical hits, and became one of the cornerstones of Pixar’s legacy as Woody gets kidnapped by a greedy toy collector and it’s up to his one-time nemesis, Buzz Lightyear, to save him. Toy Story 2 sticks closely to the plot structure of the original, but invests more in the emotional lives of these very dynamic and complicated toys. Its most inventive flourish is the addition of discarded cowgirl Jesse (voiced by Joan Cusack), whose tragic, defining backstory makes for one of the most moving and haunting scenes in Pixar history. [Phil Pirrello]

44. Bedknobs And Broomsticks

Bedknobs and Broomsticks Movie Trailer

This classic Disney musical has been flying under the radar on a giant, magical bed for decades. It’s so underrated that it had its 50th anniversary in 2021 and no one noticed. The film teams Angela Landsbury and David Tomlinson (Mary Poppins’ George Banks) in a fantastical adventure set in England during World War II. The film was originally intended to fill in for Mary Poppins when it looked like Walt Disney might not be able to secure the rights to it. But then he did, and Bedknobs And Broomsticks was cast aside. By the time it eventually got made it was doomed to live in Mary’s shadow for perpetuity. The similarities are not subtle: magical mayhem, precocious children, a score filled with bouncy Sherman Brothers songs, even an extended sequence that mixes animation and live action. It has a charm all its own, though, and the World War II setting adds some color. The final set piece features Landsbury and company using witchcraft to bring an entire military museum to life as they fend off a platoon of invading Nazis. It’s pure, chaotic fun. [Cindy White]

43. The Muppets (2011)

Official Trailer | The Muppets (2011) | The Muppets

The Disney era of ownership over Jim Henson’s Muppets has sometimes been hit-or-miss, but we’ll always have this triumph co-written by and starring Jason Segel. As much a love letter to the Muppets as a new Muppet adventure, The Muppets rebooted the presence of the title characters in our world without dramatically altering the characters themselves. The result is a film that gets to ponder the importance of Henson’s creations, while also simply letting them exist and thrive as they have for decades. [Matthew Jackson]

42. The Parent Trap (1961)

The Parent Trap Trailer

While the original Parent Trap wasn’t quite as generation-defining as the 1998 version, it’s still a fun film with plenty of charm. Hayley Mills stars as twin teen girls separated at birth by their parents, and their hijinks at summer camp when they discover each others’ existence carry over into the rest of their lives when they decide to switch places in order to get their parents back together. It’s a convoluted, manipulative concept that has virtually no basis in reality, but Mills’ captivating performance and her characters’ sweet intentions are enough to make the movie feel heartwarming all the same. [Jen Lennon]

41. 101 Dalmations (1996)

101 Dalmatians (1996) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

“Iconic” is a word that’s been so overused as to be virtually meaningless at this point, but how else are we supposed to describe Glenn Close’s take on Cruella de Vil? She’s clearly having the time of her life as the classic baddie, making it easy to ignore all the very obvious holes in her plan to kidnap a bunch of dogs to make an ugly coat. With support from Hugh Laurie and Jeff Daniels, 101 Dalmatians is one of the few live-action remakes that actually justifies its own existence. [Jen Lennon]

40. Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3: Trailer

Toy Story 3 is a peerless continuation of its predecessor’s storyline, and one of the few movies to break the “threequel curse.” It also flips the sequel formula on its head by aging Woody and Buzz’s owner, Andy, between films and bringing him to the point where he has grown past the need for his toys. In turn, the toys get put out to pasture by becoming new additions to a nightmare daycare ruled by the villainous teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty). Director Lee Unkrich and screenwriter Michael Arndt allow the toys to showcase a wider range of emotion than ever before, and in doing so, let the audience feel the most they’ve ever felt watching their heroes during the climactic incinerator scene. For a movie aimed at kids, Toy Story 3 packs in adult themes and big emotional stakes to establish itself as the most complete feeling of the Toy Story films. [Phil Pirrello]

39. Tron (1982)

1982 - Tron - Trailer

Never underestimate the nostalgia factor that has kept Tron in the pop-culture conversation for decades. The groundbreaking 1982 film didn’t have much of an impact when it first came out, except on the generation of kids who saw it in theaters and never let go of that mind-blowing experience. As one of the first films to mix CGI and live action, it had a visually distinctive look that was far ahead of its time. Jeff Bridges is also an undeniable part of the film’s appeal, breathing life into the computerized world as game-designer-turned-hacker Kevin Flynn. Despite mixed reactions to the 2019 sequel, Tron Legacy, Disney isn’t planning to unplug the franchise anytime soon. We recently heard that a third film may be in development with an entirely new creative team. Keep the faith, programs. [Cindy White]

38. Pinocchio (1940)

Pinocchio (1940) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

After defying the odds with Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney needed something spectacular and ambitious for his second feature, and he got it with this animated triumph adapting Carlo Collodi’s stories of a little wooden boy. Featuring gorgeous, sumptuous, and often quite dark animation, Pinocchio casts a spell that reminds us of the impact of Snow White without attempting to carbon copy it, bringing a magic all its own. Then there’s the film’s centerpiece song—“When You Wish Upon a Star”—which has gone on to become the most iconic piece of Disney music ever. [Matthew Jackson]

37. Encanto

Disney’s Encanto | Official Trailer

If you said that there was no point in the last year when you didn’t have “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” stuck in your head, either you’d be lying or you’ve been actively avoiding all things Disney lately. That’s just one of the enchanting songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lively musical score for Encanto, inspired by the beats and melodies of Colombia. The Madrigal family is full of memorable characters (including their magical Casita, brimming with personality) who face the relatable predicament of being part of a loving family that’s also scarred by generational trauma. When those issues threaten to literally tear their home apart, it’s up to Mirabel (adorably voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), the only family member without a supernatural gift, to put the pieces back together. Encanto calls back to the best of classic Disney—pairing music and magic to tell an inspiring tale—with a dash of cultural flavor for a new generation. [Cindy White]

36. The Parent Trap (1998)

The Parent Trap (1998) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

After 37 years, Disney rebooted Haley Mills’ 1961 classic The Parent Trap with a version that proved to be just as successful as the original—especially among ’90s kids. Lindsay Lohan stars as identical, separated-at-birth twins Annie and Hallie who, following their reunion at summer camp on the eve of their 12th birthdays, spark a battle of wits before settling into the promise and comfort of their new (and charming) sisterly bond. Is there anything a plot to switch places to help reunite your respective parents can’t do? [Phil Pirrello]

35. Coco

Coco - Official US Trailer

Before Soul came along and dove into the bureaucracy of life and death, Coco arrived at Pixar with a much more exuberant approach to the great beyond. Soaring on the strength of jaw-dropping designs, great characters, and unforgettable songs, it’s a rare musical approach for Pixar that paid off in big, beautiful ways. It’s an indulgent, nakedly emotional exploration of family, legacy, and memory that remains one of the best things Pixar has made. [Matthew Jackson]

34. Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus (1993) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Certain adults may have recoiled at the poster image of Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker made to look as goofily ugly as possible, but to an entire generation of kids, Hocus Pocus was just the right amount of scary. A sort of horror gateway drug, even giving master monster-player Doug Jones one of his first big breaks as zombie Billy Butcherson, Hocus Pocus has gradually become a holiday favorite, even spawning a sequel—and a breakfast cereal—a full 29 years later. [Luke Y. Thompson]

33. Enchanted

Enchanted (2007) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Armed with one of the most ingenious premises for a story—what if an animated Disney-inspired princess entered the real world?—Enchanted’s fish-out-of-water story achieves a tricky balance between satire and four-quadrant entertainment. Amy Adams’ star-making turn as the doe-eyed princess Giselle gives Disney one of its most likable and fully formed heroines ever, while the scene-stealing James Marsden as Prince Edward lends this whimsical comedy most of its LOL-worthy laughs. [Phil Pirrello]

32. Bambi

Bambi Blu-Ray - Official® Trailer [HD]

The titular white-tailed deer (and the traumatizing death of his mother) inspired generations of kids to love and respect nature. It also gave Disney the chance to further refine its state-of-the-art animation techniques to become the industry standard bearer. If you don’t smile constantly while watching the interactions between Bambi and Thumper the rabbit, then you may be some kind of wrong person. [Phil Pirrello]

31. Lady And The Tramp (1955)

Lady and the Tramp (1955) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

One of Disney’s great small-scale triumphs, Lady And The Tramp is a straightforward love story about star-crossed dogs who find their way to each other, and while it lacks the grandeur of the Disney Renaissance, there’s undeniable beauty and power in its simplicity. The animation and design work behind each dog is wonderful, and as for that spaghetti-eating scene … well, it’s iconic for a reason. [Matthew Jackson]

30. The Princess Diaries

The Princess Diaries (2001) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

The Princess Diaries did for Anne Hathaway what Parent Trap did for Lindsay Lohan—make her a star. Based on a series of epistolary YA books by Meg Cabot, The Princess Diaries follows teenager Mia (Hathaway) as she goes from awkward high schooler to royal princess of a small (and fictional) nation of Genovia. Directed by the late, great Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman), and co-starring Julie Andrews, Princess Diaries is a breezy addition to the “nerd gets a makeover” genre, one that has become the nostalgic equivalent of catnip for millennials. [Phil Pirrello]

29. Dumbo (1941)

Dumbo (1941) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

While certain elements of Dumbo have definitely not aged well, the fourth animated feature from Disney still retains the sense of wonder that permeated those early years of Disney, when each full-length cartoon adventure still felt like something of a miracle. Even now, it’s home to some of Disney’s most effective sequences, from the “Pink Elephants” parade to Dumbo’s mother gently rocking him from her cage, and at a brisk 64 minutes, it’s proof of how quickly the studio could work its magic in those early days. [Matthew Jackson]

28. Peter Pan (1953)

Peter Pan (1953) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

You’d be hard-pressed to find a story that more perfectly captures the existential terror of aging than Peter Pan. By taking kids on a swashbuckling adventure, this classic tale helps soothe fears about growing up. It’s also just a ton of fun, making it easy to see why there have been so many different versions of it over the years. [Jen Lennon]

27. Honey I Shrunk The Kids

Official Trailer: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

Shrinking movies have long been a fun staple of sci-fi, but decades before the CG effects of Ant-Man, practical effects took Rick Moranis’ kids on a gleeful journey through the perils of an oversized backyard and home. Based on a script by the Re-animator team of Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids kicked off the career of Joe Johnston, for whom such effects-heavy family adventures would become a signature style. Beating out Chevy Chase and John Candy for the lead, Rick Moranis secured himself another beloved franchise as the perfect caring, yet accidentally dangerous dad. [Luke Y. Thompson]

26. The Sword In The Stone

The Sword in the Stone 1963 Preview | Disney

Disney’s take on the King Arthur myth, and the last animated film the studio released while Walt Disney was still alive, is not remembered as a particularly masterful example of the studio’s early style, but there’s still a lot to love here. Thanks to spirited work by Karl Swenson as Merlin, The Sword In The Stone is at its best when it has a little fun with its own source material, from a wizard in bermuda shorts to an unconventional wizards’ duel. [Matthew Jackson]

25. Moana

Moana Official Trailer

A highlight of Disney’s CG-animated output, Moana achieves the emotional and narrative highs of its classic movies while establishing its own unique identity among that pantheon. With music created by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, the gorgeous, photo-real water animation, and a satisfying dynamic between the lead heroine and her demigod sidekick, Moana effortlessly achieves modern classic status. [Phil Pirrello]

24. Inside Out

Inside Out - Official US Trailer

Somehow, Pixar keeps finding new and surprising ways to absolutely destroy us. You go in, thinking, “Okay, I know they’re going to do something that will completely break my heart and bum me out for at least a week after I watch this movie, but I’m prepared this time, I’m ready,” and then they throw something like freaking Bing Bong at you, and you realize what a fool you’ve been. If there’s one thing that Pixar films excel at capturing, it’s the universal truth that growing up is hard, and you’re not going to get out of it without losing some intrinsic part of yourself—and no Pixar film exemplifies that more than Inside Out. [Jen Lennon]

23. Frozen

Disney’s Frozen Official Trailer

For families everywhere, there was life before and life after Frozen. This massive blockbuster reigned at the box office and penetrated the lexicon in large part due its catchy (and overplayed) “Let It Go,” but Frozen’s staying power comes from how it downplays and subverts the traditional princess/prince romantic narrative in favor of a heartstring-tugging tale about the reconciliation of two sisters through the most powerful force ever: Love. [Phil Pirrello]

22. Soul

Disney and Pixar’s Soul | Official Trailer | Disney+

Pixar has long thrived on stories about systems, whether the studio is delivering a world controlled entirely by cars or a world in which emotions literally pilot human bodies around. Soul emerged as another entry in this tradition, re-imagining birth and death through bright, inventive Pixar landscapes. But in the end, it’s the film’s meditation on purpose and how it shifts our worldview, and the pitch-perfect voice performances of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, which lift Soul to become something special. [Matthew Jackson]

21. Fantasia

Fantasia Trailer (1940)

Walt Disney’s ambitious animated anthology Fantasia features beloved star Mickey Mouse, the fearsome demon of “Night on Bald Mountain,” dancing hippos, epic dinosaurs and charming centaurs. It is a majestic showcase of the power of animation and feels less like a movie and more like a stunning work of art brought to life. [Phil Pirrello]

20. The Princess And The Frog

The Princess and the Frog - Trailer

The Princess and the Frog was Disney’s first attempt (and last hurrah) at a more traditional animated movie, following their costly creative and financial misfires in the early aughts (we’re looking at you, Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire). Princess harkens back to the classic Disney flourishes, complete with a handsome prince, catchy songs and a heroine with big dreams and an even bigger heart. This underrated movie also found plenty of welcome ways to break new ground, including a predominately Black cast and some great Jazz Age New Orleans trappings. [Phil Pirrello]

19. The Jungle Book (1967)

The Jungle Book Official Diamond Edition Blu-ray Trailer (2013) - Disney Movie HD

The last Disney animated film produced by Walt Disney himself before his death in 1966, The Jungle Book remains both an interesting turning point in Disney history and one of the most stealthily influential films in the catalog. Its character animation survived well beyond its original run, appearing in everything from Robin Hood to TaleSpin, and its beautiful design work and sheer attention to craft was an inspiration for generations of incoming animators. All that, plus an all-time great song in “The Bare Necessities,” makes it a Disney essential. [Matthew Jackson]

18. Robin Hood (1973)

Robin Hood 1973 Trailer | Disney

Though it might be best remembered today as that Disney movie with the weirdly hot cartoon fox, there’s still a lot of charm lying elsewhere in Robin Hood. The voice cast is sound, the character designs are warm, and there’s a sense of fun running through the tale that helps it to rise above what was a somewhat dark time for the studio in general. Plus, you’ll be hard-pressed to get that rooster’s songs out of your head once they’re in there. [Matthew Jackson]

17. Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo (2003) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Pixar goes underwater in Finding Nemo, an animated adventure that brings back moments of old-school Disney terror, as Marlin the clownfish (Albert Brooks) loses almost his whole family upfront to a barracuda, and later encounters sharks and angler fish that play on viewers’ deepest fears of the deep. Yet it’s leavened with plenty of humor and heart, from Dory’s (scientifically accurate) short-term memory to the way Nemo’s escapades in a fish tank become a mini prison escape adventure. It’s also mercifully lacking in the usual gratuitous tear-jerking, making it arguably one of Pixar’s best ever. [Luke Y. Thompson]

16. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Disney’s first full-length feature was considered groundbreaking for its time, which is part of the reason why it’s still regarded as a classic today. Its sluggish pace struggles in the face of more modern storytelling choices, but Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs’ tale about Disney’s first princess and her seven friends standing up to and defeating the evil queen is still timeless. [Phil Pirrello]

15. Lilo & Stitch

Lilo & Stitch (2002) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Disney has a proud tradition of unlikely friendships taking the lead in animated films, but they’ve rarely gotten more mileage out of the concept than in Lilo & Stitch. The story of a little girl who becomes best friends with a genetic experiment gone wrong, it’s a Disney film that’s unafraid to dig into the darkness of what happens when families start to crumble in the wake of tragedy. But confronting that darkness is always an excuse to bounce back, and Lilo & Stitch’s Elvis soundtracked friendship wins the day (and the hearts of the viewers) in the end. [Matthew Jackson]

14. Cinderella (1950)

Cinderella (1950) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

The tale of the servant girl who gets gussied up in glass slippers is a fairly basic story, but Disney magicked it up into a classic feature. With the earworm-y nonsense song “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” French mice named Gus and Jaq, and a surprisingly evil cat named Lucifer, an earnest fairy tale added some much-needed toe-tapping and comedy to the lavish dance and romance. Animated by the original “nine old men,” Cinderella saved the studio from bankruptcy and spawned the castle used as its logo to this day. [Luke Y. Thompson]

13. Mulan (1998)

Mulan (1998) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

In the years following the massive critical and financial success of The Lion King, Disney endured a bit of a rough patch. The studio struggled to find movies that could match the level of success or storytelling that The Lion King, which ultimately led to the end of the “Disney Renaissance.” But Mulan, a daring and always timely blockbuster, is the highlight of their post-Lion King efforts. The movie arguably began the studio’s current trend of subverting the princess storytelling tropes it helped perpetuate by making Fa Mulan the very proactive and relatable hero of her own story. [Phil Pirrello]

12. Ratatouille

Ratatouille (2007) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Three years after The Incredibles, Brad Bird proved his versatility with something very, very different: the story of a rat who wanted to be a chef. That concept, and Patton Oswalt’s wonderful performance in the leading role of would-be gourmand Remy the Rat, is enough to carry any animated film into the realm of reasonably entertaining. But in Bird’s hands, Ratatouille became something more: A moving meditation on food as love, and the life-changing power of a single meal made with care. [Matthew Jackson]

11. Monsters Inc.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Billy Crystal and John Goodman are rarely upstaged, but in Monsters, Inc., Pixar’s follow-up to Toy Story, a babbling toddler named Boo (voiced by real toddler Mary Gibbs) steals the show completely. Unafraid of the monsters in her closet, who depend upon her screams to power their home city, she instead befriends the big “kitty” that is Goodman’s Sulley, who must protect her from a society that thinks human children are toxic and get her back home. Steve Buscemi is perfectly cast as an evil chameleon. [Luke Y. Thompson]

10. Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Sleeping Beauty Official Trailer

Upon its initial release, Disney’s costliest film wasn’t well-received, but Sleeping Beauty has since become a classic that’s regarded as one of the studio’s finest achievements. And it features arguably Disney’s greatest villain, the evil enchantress Maleficent (voiced by Eleanor Audley, who also voiced Cinderella’s sinister stepmother). [Phil Pirrello]

9. The Incredibles

The Incredibles (2004) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

After making a modern traditionally animated classic with The Iron Giant, director Brad Bird moved over to Pixar and did it again with computer animation. Rooted in a deep love of superhero stories yet never straying from its devotion to the tale of a family just trying to figure things out, The Incredibles came before the current wave of superhero universes put comic book icons on the big screen in a constant stream, yet it still seems smarter than many of those films could ever hope to be. Almost two decades later, and it’s still one of the best superhero stories ever to grace a movie theater. [Matthew Jackson]

8. Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin (1992) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Disney earned rave reviews for inserting the chaotic force of nature that was Robin Williams—and to a lesser extent, Gilbert Gottfried—into an otherwise standard heroic romance. Adding a genie whose shape-shifting matches his freeform riffs, and a parrot with a bad attitude, to a classic tale of a beggar who becomes a prince, Aladdin feels like it’s breaking many previously unwritten rules, like when the Three Stooges met Snow White. Many subsequent animated films tried to recapture the same magic by adding pop-culture references like Williams did, but most lacked the spark of energy in his soul. [Luke Y. Thompson]


WALL-E (2008) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Pixar’s second decade as a major animation studio brought a new wave of ambition from some of its most formative filmmakers. Of all the films from this period, Andrew Stanton’s second Pixar outing as a solo director might be the most visually stunning and stirringly inventive. The story of a simple robot who barely talks yet sees the world with a constant sense of wonder, WALL-E remains just as beautiful now as it was 15 years ago. [Matthew Jackson]

6. The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King | Original Trailer | Disney+

The Lion King was Peak Disney Renaissance in the ’90s; arguably, the studio still hasn’t surpassed this high point for both itself and the genre. This stirring action pic centers on a young lion cub named Simba, who is forced to grow up and learn what it takes to be king when his duplicitous uncle, Scar, (Jeremy Irons), pulls a Hamlet and takes down Simba’s loving father, King Mufasa (James Earl Jones). A large part of The Lion King’s landmark success is how willing the filmmakers are to push the boundaries of what moviegoers expected while still delivering comfortably familiar entertainment. Between the lush animation, catchy songs, and Shakespearean stakes, The Lion King still has us singing “Hakuna Matata.” [Phil Pirrello]

5. Mary Poppins (1964)

Mary Poppins (1964) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Author P.L. Travers may not have agreed, but Mary Poppins was one of Walt Disney’s finest cinematic creations. It still holds up amazingly well nearly 60 years later (so well we didn’t need a sequel, but we got one in 2018 anyway). Julie Andrews is absolutely iconic as the magical nanny who brings a disjointed family together in Edwardian London. Stern but fair, with a fun-loving streak she’d deny if you asked her directly about it, Mary’s lilting voice and winking smile burrow deep into your heart and stay there. Richard and Robert Sherman (known collectively as The Sherman Brothers) help her along with a collection of catchy musical numbers that could all be hits on their own. Having them all together here in one film is an embarrassment of riches. Like its title character, it’s “practically perfect in every way.” [Cindy White]

4. Up

UP Official Trailer

While the rest of Up’s run time isn’t as memorable as its iconic, tear-jerking opening minutes, Pixar’s Oscar-winning hit offers a surreal but endearing story full of inspired visuals and deeply resonate character drama. In Up, the elderly, cranky Carl (the late Ed Asner) is still struggling with the loss of his wife, Ellie. Their longing for adventure is what helped bring them together, but life is what got in the way of their plans to make their dreams reality. But Carl soon gets to do just that (and then some) with the help of a Boy Scout-esque Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai), a fabillion balloons tied to his floating house, and a bizarre but heartfelt journey into South America. On paper, Up seems like a narrative mess. But in execution, it (no pun intended) soars. [Phil Pirrello]

3. The Little Mermaid (1989)

The Little Mermaid (1989) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

The impact that The Little Mermaid had on the trajectory of Disney’s feature animation division cannot be understated. Its release in 1989 marked the beginning of Disney’s animation renaissance, which lasted roughly 10 years and produced some of the most beloved films in the studio’s long history. But leaving all that context aside, the film itself is an astonishing achievement in so many ways. Composer Alan Menken and his former partner, lyricist Howard Ashman (who passed away in 1991), infused the project with their signature Broadway showmanship, creating a template—the “I want” song, the flashy dance number, the romantic interlude—that many animated Disney musicals still follow to this day. Those songs are made even better by vibrant, evocative animation and an endearing voice cast, including Jodi Benson as Ariel, Pat Carroll as Ursula, and Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian. The Little Mermaid is the latest film in the Disney animated canon to get the live-action treatment, with Hallie Bailey taking over the role of Ariel and Melissa McCarthy playing Ursula. We’ll find out this May if the film can successfully make the unnecessary leap from one medium to another, but however it turns out, we’ll still have the original to sing along with. [Cindy White]

2. Beauty And The Beast (1991)

Beauty and the Beast (1991) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

The first animated feature to score a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards got there by gently tweaking the Disney fairy-tale formula while still keeping it feel-good. In the end, it’s still about a princess-to-be yearning for more who finds it in a man, but this time, the man is also a monster, and the real villain, Gaston, turns the dull cliché of the charming prince savior upside down by revealing it as an unabashedly sexist caricature. The movie doesn’t quite shake some Stockholm Syndrome ickiness, but ultimately hits on truisms about how men who tame their beastly sides and remember compassion can win the admiration of smart women who deserve the best. [Luke Y. Thompson]

1. Toy Story

Toy Story (1995) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

If it had been nothing but a major breakthrough in the world of computer animation, Toy Story would still stand today as a monumental achievement, but what we got was so much more. In the hands of an early Pixar Animation dream team, this simple tale of two toys vying for bedroom superiority and becoming best friends in the process soared. Toy Story was Pixar’s first film, and it immediately established the company as the world’s new go-to for emotional, family-friendly entertainment.

It’s hard to overstate just how groundbreaking Toy Story was and continues to be, both in terms of technical achievement and storytelling. It was a kid’s film that didn’t feel juvenile, that wasn’t a slog for parents to sit through; it really did offer something for everyone, which many films claim to do but few can deliver on. It established themes that Pixar continues to revisit with each of its films, and the company keeps returning to them because they work. For so long, children’s entertainment pacified kids and occasionally taught lessons; Toy Story was one of the first times a film aimed at kids said, “I know how you feel, I know it’s hard, and you’re not alone.” In 1995, that was revolutionary, and you can still feel the effects of Toy Story’s novel approach to storytelling in films that are being produced today. [Matthew Jackson]

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