A Complete Ranking of All 54 Walt Disney Animated FilmsIn late 2013 while trying to come up with article ideas for the blog I was intending to start, I came up with the idea to rank all the Disney films. It seemed like an easy enough task, but I soon realized there were several Disney films that I had never seen, or had not seen in years. To accurately be able to rank all of them, I decided I would watch every film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series in the order which they were released. I watched a film a week for the entire year of 2014. It was a great experience, as I got to see not only the evolution of animation as an art form, but the highs and lows of Disney as a studio. Each week I would learn something new about the films I thought I knew every about. After a year and a half of research, here is how I ranked them:
54. Melody Time (1948)
One of the several low-budget "package" films produced in the years following World War II, Melody Time is a series of forgettable sequences set to popular and folk music. None of the sequences flow together, and the poor animation is distracting. "Pecos Bill" is probably the best remembered segment, but even that one is not very good.
53. Home on the Range (2004)This 2004 effort features the voices of Roseanne Barr, Jennifer Tilly, and Judi Dench as dairy cows who team up to catch a bad guy in the old west. Lackluster animation and almost entirely devoid of laughs, there is nothing redeeming about this misfire.
52. The Three Caballeros (1944)Produced as part of the studio's good will message for Latin America, this package film stars Donald Duck and his bird friends. The frame story of Donald opening presents on his birthday is abandoned halfway through the film in favor of extended dance sequences and colorful backgrounds. None of it really ever makes any sense and white specs throughout the film are very noticeable.
51. The Black Cauldron (1985)The Black Cauldron is by far the darkest film on this list. The film is about a boy named Taran who has to keep the evil Horned King from getting the mystical Black Cauldron. There's also a little creature guy named "Gurgi". The story makes about as much sense as the character names, and the animation is reflective of its low budget. It would be more forgettable, if it weren't for its notoriety as one the worst films Disney has ever made.
50. Make Mine Music (1946)Another package film, this film is also poorly animated, and has a bizarre collection of segments. The film is probably best remembered the "Peter and the Wolf" segment, although both "All the Cats Join In" and "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met" are more interesting and inventive.
49. Dinosaur (2000)Perhaps someone at Disney decided having really detailed animated dinosaurs against live action backdrops would distract people from the fact that this movie has no story. Instead we get a series of cliches strung together by unfunny attempts at dinosaur jokes.
48. Fun and Fancy Free (1947)Yet another package film produced in the years following WWII, this film contains only two segments, joined together by scenes featuring Jiminy Cricket and Edgar Bergen. The first segment, "Bongo" is the bittersweet story of a bear from the circus who ventures out into the wild. The second, "Mickey and the Beanstalk" is an adaption of "Jack and the Beanstalk", except starring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. Why are the three beloved characters thrown into this story? The reason is never quite clear, and the segment loses all its momentum by the time they actually get up the beanstalk.
47. Meets the Robinsons (2007)This cute, but uninspired film is about a young boy who travels to the future and meets an eccentric family. Much of the film had to be scrapped when John Lasseter took over, and that is perhaps why the film feels like a work in progress. It starts off engaging enough, but when the action moves to the Robinsons in the future, nothing really gels as well as it should.
46. Saludjos Amigos (1942)The first film that brought the filmmakers to Latin America, Saludos Amigos is much more coherent than The Three Calleberos. The animated segments are interspersed with clips of the Disney artists actually in Latin America, which are fascinating to watch. Donald and Goofy each get their own segment, which both aim to teach the audience something about Latin American culture. There is also a very cute segment about a plane named Pedro. The film gets a far worse reputation than it actually deserves, but that is not to say its a film anyone really needs to see. Fun, but skippable.
45. Chicken Little (2005)The first fully computer animated film, Chicken Little, like Dinosaur, puts style ahead of substance. The animation is distinctive, which is a major plus, and Zach Braff does a fine job voicing the title character, but the film is bogged down by a perplexing plot (which involves an alien invasion) and an endless parade of storybook characters.
44. The Emperor's New Groove (2000)This buddy comedy from 2000 has a self-centered emperor turned into a llama. Its troubled production is well-documented, but that doesn't give the film a free pass for being entirely devoid of charm and wit. Even at 78 minutes, this one feels way too long.
43. Fantasia 2000 (1999)The original idea behind the classic Fantasia was to update every few years, with new segments each time. Well, it took almost sixty years, but the sequel finally happened. Unfortunately, this one does not capture the magic of the first film. The segments are blandly animated, and match the musical selections only so well.
42. Robin Hood (1973)Produced at a low point for the studio and with a micro-budget, Robin Hood should have turned out much worse than it did. The decisions to use animals rather than people to tell the age-old story is a strange one, and the animation is spotty, but there is a certain amount of undeniable enthusiasm exuded by the film. It's not a very good film, but it has an energy that many films simply lack. Also, Phil Harris does some of his best voice work here as Little John.
41. Brother Bear (2002)Brother Bear features Joaquin Phoenix as the voice of a human that is turned into a bear as punishment for killing the bear that killed his brother. While it does offer an important lesson about empathy, the unoriginal story left critics and audiences asking 'Haven't we seen this before?' Not even a pair of comical moose could save this one.
40. Oliver & Company (1988)This update on Oliver Twist has Oliver as a cute, orange kitten on the streets of New York. The story takes some dark turns, and the soundtrack may be catchy, but does not fit with the tone of the rest of the film. The animators use computer animation to interesting results, but the overall visual look is familiar. Also the voice cast is fascinating collection of names, including Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Joey Lawrence, Cheech Marin, Dom DeLuise, and Sheryl Lee Ralph.
39. Treasure Planet (2002)This futuristic take on Treasure Island was a box office bomb when it was released. Critics were kinder and there's clearly no shortage of imagination and fancy visual tricks. But it's not hard to see why audiences could not connect to this ultimately charmless effort.
38. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)A film based on the lost world of Atlantis seems like a good idea, but this 2001 effort has a plot stuffed with mythology and a genuinely dark story, that makes it difficult to tell who the target audience was. The film has become a cult favorite in the years since its release, but I'm not really sure why. Aside from a unique visual style, Atlantis fails in its attempt to prove that animated films can be more than just for kids.
37. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
One of only three theatrically released sequels produced by the studio, this Rescuers followup's existence is probably only justified by its' gorgeous animation. One can really see how far animation technology improved in the 13 years since the original film. The story doesn't exactly require the characters from the earlier film, but their presence is certainly welcome, as the plot is nothing more than your run-of-the-mill adventure mission.
36. The Sword in the Stone (1963)Based on Arthurian legend, this take on how King Arthur became King Arthur has plenty of fun, imaginative set pieces, many of which include the hilarious Merlin. The songs aren't quite memorable, and one cannot help but wonder why the character of Madam Mim (a weak villain at best) was created instead of using a character from the actual legends.
35. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
The last post WWII package film is also the best. Focusing on just two stories this time, the film adapts two beloved literary works; The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. TWITW is a tightly plotted, solidly animated segment, and the second one, named "Ichabod Crane" succeeds in creating an exciting, and occasionally frightening seasonal favorite. Narrated by Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby, the strength of the film's segments allow them to work on their own, so why they were packaged together in the first place remains a mystery.
34. The Fox and the Hound (1983)This sweet film is about the friendship between a young fox and a young dog. Even if it's shrewdly animated, the film is sentimental and quietly powerful. Also Pearl Bailey is great as an owl named Big Mama.
33. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)A fascinating film, TGMD has some of the darkest under and overtones of any film on this list. And yet the cleverness of the concept (Sherlock Holmes with mice!) and a truly terrifying villain (thanks to a perfect Vincent Price doing the voice) make this often overlooked film one of the best from the '80s.
32. Bolt (2008)Featuring the voice talents of John Travolta and Miley Cyrus, this 2008 film revolves around a dog who believes he has superpowers. It's a warm movie, and Pixar's influence on the studio is evident by the film's mixture of heartwarming storytelling and dynamic animation. While it isn't quite in the same league as the films the studio would make in the following years, it's a much needed step in the right direction.
31. Alice in Wonderland (1951)Based on the Lewis Carroll classic, Alice in Wonderland is among Disney's most recognizable features, having introduced several characters that would be launched into the pop culture lexicon for decades to come (Mad Hatter, Tweedledum/Tweedledee, etc.). But the film itself is far more psychedelic than the average Disney film, and unsurprisingly would later become associated with drug culture on college campuses. A bizarre legacy for a film as off-putting as this.
30. Hercules (1997)
Another film with noteworthy animation, the design and story of Hercules was inspired by Greek mythology. It's also noteworthy for being the beginning of the end of the Disney Renaissance. With a fast-talking villain, forgettable songs, and unnecessary pop culture references, Hercules at times feels like a spoof of the kind of movies Disney was making just three years prior.
29. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)This collection of four stories starring the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood is a charming film, presented as if the characters are literally stepping off the page. The jokes mostly result from humorous word-play, and the distinct personalities of the lovable characters shine through. The only part that does not work is the song about the Heffalumps, which is too spooky for children and not smart enough for adults to enjoy.
28. Dumbo (1964)
This beloved film tends to get more credit than it actually deserves. Short, simple, and sweet. At only 64 minutes, the animation in Dumbo is charming, if not groundbreaking. The story is mostly cute, except for an appalling sequence in which Dumbo, a child, becomes inebriated. How the people at Disney thought including a fantasy scene in which Dumbo sees pink elephants in a children's movie was a good idea, I will never understand.
27. Wreck it Ralph (2012)
From 2012, this adventure comedy set in the world of video game characters features a villain on a quest to become a hero. It feels like something Pixar would make, with its stunning visuals and attention to detail, but its heartwarming conclusion is unmistakably Disney.
26. The Princess and the Frog (2009)This effort marks a return to the musical based on fairy tale genre for the studio, and is often regarded as a return to form. The songs are great, animation distinct, and characters lovable. While it may not add anything new to the genre, it's definitely a memorable entry into it.
25. The Aristocats (1970)A serviceable story revolving around a family of cats makes up the bulk of this 1970 offering. While it was released during a notoriously low point for the studio, the film has its merits: great songs, adorable character design for Toulouse, Berlioz, and Maire, and an infectious tune that carries the film. On the negative side; the villain is laughable, and nothing that happens in the film feels entirely unique or original.
24. Big Hero 6 (2014)The most recently released film on this list, Big Hero 6 is based on the comic book of the same name. A young boy forms a team of superheroes along with an inflatable robot named Baymax. The film not only offers stunning visuals, but a fresh take on the done-to-death superhero genre. Most of the action scenes are done at an excitingly fast pace, and the audience does genuinely care about the characters by the end of the film.
23. Sleeping Beauty (1959)Another entry in the Disney Princess series, Sleeping Beauty is one on this list that tends to get a tad more credit than the film actually warrants. Princess Aurora may now be ionic, but she doesn't do very much at all in the film, and has zero lines of dialogue after the first half of the film. Prince Phillip is a little better (at least a has a name, unlike Snow White and Cinderella's princes!), but not by much. He can't even kill (the terrifying) Maleficent on his own, he needs help from the three fairies. Aurora and Phillip don't even decide to marry on their own, that was decided by their parents when they were babies. Despite these paper thin main characters, the animation is done in such a distinct style, the film truly looks like no other film on this list.
22. Winnie the Pooh (2011)This sequel to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh follows the same format as its predecessor, but more detailed animated sequences and wonderful songs give this entry the edge.
21. The Rescuers (1977)
The set up of this 1977 film is great; Bob Newhart as a mouse janitor-turned-agent and Eva Gabor as a sophisticated mouse agent are partnered together for a globe-trotting adventure. The adventure that they actually go on, to rescue a missing little girl, is often formulaic, and the villain is less than inspired ("Madame Medusa", really?). Nevertheless the film finds humor and heart in the two lead characters, and while the story becomes increasingly dark, comic relief in the form of an albatross named Orville is never far behind.
20. The Jungle Book (1967)Inspired by Rudyard Kipling's book, The Jungle Book revolves around a jungle boy named Mowgli and his animal friends (and foes). Notable for being the last film produced by Walt Disney himself before his death, the film is lively and upbeat. The songs are terrific, except for "The Bare Necessities" which borders on tedious (the song sung by the monkeys is far superior). A thoroughly delightful 78 minutes, nothing more, nothing less.
19. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)Based on the Victor Hugo novel, this musical film from 1996 centers of Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bell ringer of Notre Dame and his attempts to be accepted by society. Full of adult themes (genocide, infanticide, lust, just to name a few), this film gets really, really dark. But the animation matches the tone perfectly, as do the songs. A great example of how skilled the filmmakers are at creating atmosphere, this eventually uplifting tale suffers from annoying gargoyles who specialize in stating the obvious, and adult overtones that were off-putting to many when they movie first premiered.
18. Peter Pan (1953)Imagination abound in this 1953 film, based on JM Barrie's tale of a boy that never grows up. Some of the parts about the different areas of Neverland feel disjointed from the rest of the film, and both Peter Pan and Tinkerbell are jerks, but otherwise this is a wholly enjoyable film. Probably the film from this era that feels most like it is just for children, Peter Pan definitely succeeds in making an impression.
17. Tarzan (1999)Usually regarded as the last official film of the Renaissance era, Tarzan is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' stories about a man raised by apes. Featuring incredible visuals of the jungle and impressive voice work from Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, and Glenn Close, the film is an enthralling adventure, even if the songs by Phil Collins are hit or miss.
16. Mulan (1998)Based on a Chinese legend about a woman who impersonates a man and joins the military, Mulan combines solid storytelling with visuals to create a lush, expansive world for the characters to inhabit. Dealing with themes such as honor and gender roles, the film immerses itself in the culture of its characters, and makes their emotions more visible than most animated films.
15. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
After Cruela de Vil kidnaps a bunch of puppies, it's up to the pups' parents to get them back. That's the premise of this film, who's innovative, yet cost effective animation techniques for the dogs made the film a smash hit in 1961. It holds up pretty well, too, as a heartfelt and often hilarious adventure. Also Curela de Vil is one of the most perplexing villain in any film; not ostensibly scary, but still creepy enough to make you feel uneasy.
13. Tangled (2010)The first computer animated fairy tale made by the studio, Tangled is a take on the Rapunzel tale, this time with Rapunzel going on an adventure with charming bandit Flynn Ryder. A return to the genre that had been so successful for the studio in the past, plus the latest technology make this film feel like the best Disney effort in years. Snappy dialogue, a brisk pace, and songs that wouldn't feel out of place on Broadway, can all be found on full display in Tangled.
13. Pocahontas (1995)Pocahontas may not be historically accurate, but it is still a great film. The animators use such an expressive array of colors, it feels as though the audience is watching a painting being painted. The songs, especially "Colors of the Wind" are terrific and sequences move along at a pace fast enough to keep the energy alive.
12. Aladdin (1992)Probably best remembered for Robin William's Genie, this exciting tale features a tiger, a monkey, a very annoying parrot, a flying carpet, among other things. While it does not quite live up to the two films that preceded it, Aladdin is a very well made film with a very cute love story at its center.
11. Frozen (2013)
When this musical fairy tale, about the relationship between two sisters (one with magical powers) was first released in late 2013, people went crazy for it. Box office smash, rave reviews, repeated shortages of Frozen merchandise, etc. And it's a wildly entertaining film. Idina Menzel is perfect as Elsa, the Snow Queen, and her big song "Let It Go" was ubiquitous for months after the film's release. Will it have the same kind of staying power the films of the Renaissance era have enjoyed? Time will tell for sure, but I have a feeling people won't be letting this one go anytime soon.
10. Fantasia (1940)This much acclaimed film from 1940 presents several animated sequences set to classical music. The most famous is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", but all the segments have become very influential. Kids may be bored at times, but this brilliant marriage of animation and music is not to be missed.
9. Lilo & Stitch (2002)Family is the central theme of this 2002 film, about a little girl and an alien named Stitch. The visuals artfully reflect the Hawaiian setting, and the alien action is exciting, but it's the family aspect that gives the film its heart.
8. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Little Mermaid is the film that kicked off the Disney Renaissance, and introduced audiences to Ariel, the mermaid who wanted to be human. With gorgeous songs including "Part of Your World", "Under the Sea", and "Kiss the Girl", this film works not just as a great piece of animation, but as a great musical, too. This would be the film to show people how important music is to a film like this, and set the stage for a decade or so of great films to come.
7. Lady and the Tramp (1955)Very close to a flawless film, Lady and the Tramp centers on the relationship between Lady, a refined house dog, and the Tramp, a stray mutt. Impossibly sweet and incredibly romantic, the spaghetti scene may be what this movie is best remembered for, but from start to finish the naturalism of the animation and the way the dogs move is something to be marveled at.
6. Cinderella (1950)The first truly great postwar film made by Disney, Cinderella is a wonderfully detailed portrait of the classic tale. With its vibrant characters and saccharine songs, nearly everything in this movie is instantly identifiable.
5. Bambi (1942)No, Bambi, doesn't have an incredibly complex plot, but it takes a movie like this to prove that plot isn't all that necessary. We do not need scene after scene of Bambi with his mother to know that when his mother dies, it's an intensely sad and profound moment for the young deer. It's masterful storytelling, and exquisite animation, in particular the rain scene.
4.The Lion King (1994)
The Lion King, inspired by Hamlet, features the second saddest parent death in one of these movies (for the first, see above), but it's one of the only films on this list whose arc is so well defined, and so beautifully executed. The Lion King is without a doubt one of the most emotionally resonant films ever produced by Disney.