Here’s the most basic subject possible: my favorites. Plain and simple. These vary from classic to new, and have become timeless in my life. This excludes Pixar, Logan will have a separate list for that. In my eyes, Disney and Pixar are two very different companies. They’re both amazing, as far as I’m concerned, but I don’t feel like they belong in the same list together. So, let’s get started.
10. Lilo and Stitch (2002)
When I sat down and started listing movies off the top of my head, I never would have guessed Lilo and Stitch would make it to the top ten. This movie is unique, to say the least. It’s a mixture of both sci-fi and family lessons, with a soul-crushingly depressing plot, and masks it all with a cute and fuzzy main character that you can’t help but fall in love with. Stitch is an alien, the product of illegal genetic experimentation, that arrives to earth after escaping the Galactic Council. He meets Lilo and Nani, two Hawaiian sisters that have recently lost their parents in a car crash and face separation by a social worker. Lilo, who desperately wants a friend, believes that Stitch is an angel sent from God (that seems to be implied, though they never come out and say it).
There is some sad shit in this movie. Little hints about why Lilo acts the way she does is dropped even in the first five minutes. For example, she turns up to her hula dance lesson late and wet because she was feeding a fish named Pudge a sandwich as a peace offering because he ‘controls the weather’. At first, this just seems to be a humor device, until you realize why she’s so obsessed with the weather. Stitch finds a picture of Lilo’s parents and she says “It was raining one night, and they went for a drive.”
Oh, Disney, you always make me feel so happy inside. Then there’s this pleasant little scene.
Honestly, this is one of the reasons I love Lilo and Stitch so much. The movie is so emotional and raw, and it’s entirely relateable. It’s different from most Disney movies in the sense that things like when Lilo and Nani go through can (and do) happen all the time. At the core, they’re still sisters – Nani may be an adult, but they still argue and fight. Their interactions between each other is very realistic. It doesn’t rely on heart-wrenching death scenes or a constant stream of happiness to put strong emotional ties to the characters; it just takes an issue very much real to society today and adds a sci-fi twist to it. That’s what makes Lilo and Stitch such a memorable movie.
9. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
A more modern entry, but still an amazing movie nonetheless, The Princess and the Frog proved to me beyond a reasonable doubt that Disney still has a bit of that magic left. The last full traditionally drawn movie from Disney we saw before this gem was Home on the Range, in 2004 (and, let’s face it – Home on the Range wasn’t exactly great). That’s a five year gap where we had nothing from Disney, and everything from Disney-Pixar. While I like Pixar, it simply can’t compare to movies like this. This was a return to basics, and boy, did Disney deliver. The Princess and the Frog is a modern-day spin on the fairytale, only with a twist. It takes place in New Orleans, and a young woman named Tiana is trying to find the money to open a gumbo shop in honor of her deceased father. Prince Naveen, from the land of Nardonia, is a reject from his family and has a curse placed on him by a voodoo priest, turning him into a frog. Upon kissing him, Tiana also turns into a frog. From there commences an adventure as they both try to find a way to become human again.
This movie is very dark, actually. In case you didn’t notice what I said earlier, the villain, Dr. Facilier, is a voodoo priest. In a Disney movie. Also, he’s got one of the catchiest villain songs ever. *Spoiler* Oh, and when he dies, he gets fucking dragged into the depths of hell by an army of zombie voodoo dolls.
This is by far my favorite princess movie. I’ll be honest: I never liked them much. Apart from Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Tangled, I find all of them intolerable. This one, however, is a work of art. It’s beautiful, dark, imaginative, has great music, emotion, and basically anything that makes a Disney movie great. The Princess and the Frog may be only a few years old, but it has all the makings of a Disney classic.
I’ll just start by saying this: Brother Bear is one of the most underrated animated Disney films of all time. It takes place in some unnamed arctic region, where there is a tribe of Eskimo-like humans. A young man named Kenai lives with his older brothers, Sitka and Denahi. After watching Sitka sacrifice himself to save his brothers from a bear, Kenai tracks down and kills said bear in cold blood. This greatly upsets the Spirits the tribe worships, who had recently told Kenai that his actions needed to be guided by love. As punishment, Sitka’s spirit transforms Kenai into a Kodiak bear. Soon after, he meets a cub named Koda, who, much to Kenai’s annoyance, knows how to get to a mountain where he can be changed back. So begins their adventure.
There is so much about Brother Bear I can praise. The music: Phil Collins provides the vocals for all the songs. That in itself guarantees a beautiful soundtrack, but it doesn’t stop there. The scene where Kenai turns into a bear has an astounding score that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it, and it is visually gorgeous.
The ending to Brother Bear is bittersweet. I won’t spoil the ending to anyone who hasn’t seen this movie (and if you haven’t, I demand you go watch it at once), but I can guarantee it will give you goosebumps. It’s one of my favorite ending to any Disney movie.
7. Tarzan (1999)
Yet another extremely underrated movie, Tarzan has received a generally neutral or negative reaction from most people. Personally, I love this masterpiece. Tarzan is based on the story of a man, orphaned as a child, that is found and raised by gorillas on a tropical island, completely isolated from humanity. He grows up not understanding why or how he looks so different. He’s generally shunned by most of the gorillas, especially his adoptive father, Kerchak, who is unable to get over the loss of his biological child that was killed early in the film. As a result, he hates Tarzan. Tarzan grow up with only friends being his mother, Kala, a female gorilla named Terk, and an elephant named Tantor. Eventually, a group of human biologists studying the gorillas turn up on the island, including Jane, who Tarzan slowly falls in love with, her father and a hunter named Clayton.
Like Brother Bear, I can describe the music in Tarzan with two words: Phil Collins. My god, this man has an amazing voice. I actually think Tarzan has one of the best soundtracks out of any movie, animated or not.
This man is a musical god.
Obviously, I think a few are a bit better, but it’s definitely up there. And, as is a theme in this list so far, Tarzan has it’s share of dark moments (yay for darkness). After Tarzan finally shows Jane where the gorillas live, Tarzan effectively betrays his entire family by attacking Kerchak to save the humans. After that, Clayton reveals his true motives: to capture and sell all the gorillas. The film’s climax involves Clayton chasing Tarzan through the trees. Eventually, he gets himself tangled in vines and hangs himself. He’s got a fairly disturbing death, actually. You can see his corpse hanging from the tree. Yeah, I’m not kidding. Watch when Tarzan jumps to the ground and the lightening flashes. You can see his shadow.
And with that image you will never unsee, we shall move on.
6. Mulan (1998)
Mulan is one of my favorites for a huge amount of reasons. The music, story, message presented, humor, characters, and the fact that it’s loosely based on a true story makes this one amazing Disney film that has more than stood the test of time. Mulan as messaged before, is based on the legend of a woman named Mulan (call me Captain Obvious), from ancient China. In the Disney version, Huns have invaded China and a man from each family is required to serve in the Imperial Army. Mulan’s family has no son, and her father is elderly and hurt, so she runs away to join the army in his place.
Now, everyone knows that Mulan is ranked among the best Disney movies ever, as far as music is concerned. “Honor To Us All”, “Reflection”, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For” are all in my top forty Disney songs of all time, my favorite being “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (it’s actually in the top ten, along with “Reflection”).
I’ve barely scratched the surface. As a feminist (yeah, and I’ll admit that), I am automatically attracted to this movie. Mulan breaks the mold of what a woman in her time was expected to do, and this theme is prevalent throughout the entire movie. In the beginning, Mulan is declared a disgrace to her family, due to her inability to be a “perfect bride”. When she joins the army, she gains everyone’s respect, but once her General, Shang, discovers her identity, she is nothing more than an ignored woman again (Shang even seems to forget that Mulan saved his live while posing as a soldier after they return to the Imperial City).
In my opinion, Mulan is the second funniest traditional Disney movie ever. Eddie Murphy voices the comic relief character in the movie, Mushu, a small red dragon that serves Mulan’s ancestors, but is pretty thoroughly hated by them all. He has lines throughout the entire movie that are easy to miss if you’re a kid, but are fucking hilarious if you’re my age. For example, when he breaks the stone dragon at Mulan’s house, he starts pouting and says “it’s all because Ms. MAN decided to take her drag show out on the road.”
Then there’s this scene, which is one of the funniest moments in any animated movie, ever.
5. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
Now we’ve reached the only live-action entry on this list. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is a very loose adaptation of a story called The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. However, this is one case where I can say without a doubt that the movie is far better than the book. It stars three pets, Shadow, an elderly, wise and loyal golden retriever, a cocky and foolish American bulldog pup named Chance, and a Himalayan cat with an attitude that matches her name, Sassy. After their owners leave them at a relative’s ranch while on a business trip, the pets begin to worry that something has happened to them. Led by Shadow, the trio sets out, crossing a deadly wildness to make it home.
Now, this is a highly unknown movie, but anyone who’s seen it knows what I mean when I say it will make you cry. And you will cry hard. In fact, I’ve seen this movie at least one-hundred times (no, that’s not an over-estimation) in my life, and I can honestly say that it never fails to bring a tear to my eye. With this one, I’m going to take a somewhat different approach and include massive spoilers, so beware, and that is largely because the ending is nothing but raw emotion and is the reason I love this film as much as I do. There are several gut-wrenching scenes in Homeward Bound, like in the beginning when the pets are left behind, when Sassy falls down a waterfall, when she finally reunites with Shadow and Chance after being nursed back to health by an elderly man living in the forest… but the ending tops them all.
After all they’ve been through, all the lessons Shadow’s taught them, right when they are on the threshold of returning home, Shadow falls through a hole under some weak boards. In the process, he seemingly breaks his leg, and the scene following it is completely heartbreaking. And then the ending. That damn ending.
Let me explain: in the scene directly befor this, we’re left to assume that Shadow died. At the core, this has been Shadow’s story; it was Shadow that was heartbroken when his master Peter left him, it was Shadow that led them home, it was Shadow that risked his life to save Sassy, it was Shadow that outsmarted a mountain lion and it was Shadow that we’re left to believe died, mere miles from his ultimate goal. Yeah, when Chance and Sassy make it home, it’s emotional, but what really starts my waterworks is when we slowly see Shadow limping up the hill leading home, and that music starts to swell.
If you don’t cry at this part, you’ve clearly never owned a pet.
4. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
Yeah, this one is a classic, famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it), for its powerful message about the strength of friendship, told in an extremely dark and depressing manner. The Fox and the Hound is about an orphaned fox named Todd who is raised on a farm, and his best friend, a hunting hound in training, Copper, who form an unlikely bond, despite Todd’s bird friends warning him about the dangers of hunting dogs.
So, what’s so special about The Fox and the Hound? From start to finish, this movie is depressing, dark and even the ending is bittersweet at best. There isn’t much of a standout anywhere in anything, except the story line and emotional way its presented. You see, it turns out Big Mama the owl was right about hounds. After Copper returns from a winter-long hunting trip, he promptly informs Todd that they can no longer be friends, and tells him he’ll let him go “this one time” when his fellow hound Chief and his master give chase. Long story short, Todd causes Chief to be severely injured and Copper vows to kill Todd. To protect him, Todd’s owner leaves him in a nature preserve (which, by the way, the the saddest Disney moment of them all. Mufasa’s death doesn’t have shit on this).
After that, Copper and his master come after Todd and his new girlfriend. After a long chase, Copper is nearly killed by a bear, and Todd saves him, unable to forget that they had once been best friends. In turn, Copper then stands in front of Todd to protect him from his master, they give each other one last smile, and the friends depart forever. As the ending credits roll, Todd sits on a hill overlooking Coppers’ farm, as the voices from their childhood echo:
“Copper, you’re my very best friend.”
“And you’re mine too, Todd.”
“And we’ll always be friends forever, right?”
See, a movie doesn’t need exceptional music or entirely lovable characters to be great. Sometimes, when you take a great idea and just run with it, classics can be born.
3. The Lion King/The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1994, 1998)
Oh my fucking shit, this list just got controversial. Yeah, I have the balls to sit here and say that The Lion King and it’s sequel, Simba’s Pride, while two of my favorite movies of all time, are not my favorite Disney movies. No, I don’t think that The Lion King is the undisputed God of Disney and animation in general (that honor goes to a movie that isn’t even Disney). Is it an exceptionally good movie? Yes. That’s not even debatable. Is Simba’s Pride just as good, if not better? Yes. Are the the best? No.
Anyway, I’m going to try my hardest to condense why I like them both so much. To be honest, I prefer the sequel over the original, but here’s the gist of both:
A lion cub named Simba is born into lion royalty, and shares a very close bond with his father, King Mufasa. After his father is murdered by his uncle Scar, Simba flees his homeland, the Pride Lands, and soon meets Timon and Pumba, a meerkat and warthog, who teaches him the carefree lifestyle of Hakuna Matata. You know this one, feel free to sing along.
Eventually, his childhood friend Nala, with help from his father, help convince him to return home. Scar is defeated, and Simba takes his place as king. In the sequel, Simba becomes a father to a rebellious daughter named Kiara. Simba’s pride is divided between the Pridelanders, those who were loyal to Mufasa and Simba, and the Outlanders, the lions that followed Scar and were promptly exiled. Among the Outlanders are Zira, a revenge-driven lioness and her son Kovu, Scar’s heir. Kovu intends to use Kiara to kill Simba, but his plan is complicated when he falls in love Kiara, and the two have to unite their pride.
What do I need to say about these movies, honestly? They’re classics. The music is as good as it gets, the characters are some of the most memorable to have ever existed, they’re emotional, dark at times… Hell, to most people, these movies embody everything Disney is (or, once was, and they use that memory to mope in their own depression of what Disney has become). I don’t feel that I need to justify why these movies are so high on my list. So, I’m not going to. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said five million times, the world over.
2. Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure (2001)
No, this isn’t a typo, and this isn’t some kind of sick joke. Lady and the Tramp II, in my opinion, not only beats out its predecessor, but also both Lion King titles, and up until very recently, was my favorite Disney movie of all time. It follows the story of Scamp, Tramp’s only son, who dreams of being a wild dog and living on the streets. One day he gets his chance, joins up with the Junkyard Dogs, and meets a new friend, a puppy named Angel. Angel dreams of having a family, and Scamp is soon conflicted and has to choose between a life on the street or a home with his family.
This movie is, without a doubt, not only the best Disney sequel out there, but one of the best Disney movies ever made, period. You can disagree with me all you want, but this movie is timeless in my eyes. So, what’s so good about it? Some could argue that the plot is very uncreative because, much like The Little Mermaid II, Scamp dreams of leading a life the complete opposite of what one of this parents once did. However, unlike most movies that follow that theme, it is handled flawlessly and I feel that is largely due to Angel.
Angel dreams of nothing more than to have a family, and cannot understand Scamp’s reasoning for hating his home life so much. Through the whole adventure, she’s always there, supporting Scamp, but hates the decision he’s making. When Tramp finally finds Scamp, after he’s joined up with his former friend Buster, Tramp completely breaks the mold of an angry Disney parent and allows Scamp to continue living on the streets, stating that it was a lesson he’d have to learn on his own.
The music in this movie is fairly decent. While I won’t say it’s the best, I can definitely count Scamp’s Adventure in my top fifteen Disney soundtracks. The highlight of it, without a doubt, is “Always There”, where Scamp, Angel, Lady and Tramp all mourn the importance of a family.
It pretty much sums up the message the entire movie aims to tell: family and love is the most important thing in life, and shouldn’t be taken for granted. And now that I’ve went all My Little Pony with my cheesy family monologue, let’s move on to number one.
1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Now we take a break from humor and focus on what is, without a doubt, the darkest (and my favorite) Disney movie of all time. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a movie made of murder crime, sex, lust, religious persecution, prejudice, rejection… Hell, the only thing that could possibly make it darker and more controversial was if Frollo tried to rape Esmeralda. And for this reason, I love this movie. I really don’t have any specific reason I come back to watching this gem time after time after time again. It’s just so different compared to other Disney films. Sure, most have dark and disturbing moments. Bambi’s mother gets murdered, Simba’s uncle is a manipulative asshole, Pleasure Island is one of the most mentally scarring things I’ve ever seen, the Pink Elephants are just a fucking acid trip, The Fox and the Hound is depressing as hell, but this entire movie is dark, from start to finish. Here’s a real quick summary:
In the beginning, a gypsy is murdered by a minister of Notre Dame cathedral. Her son is hunchbacked and deformed, and it’s only through being guilted by the Archdeacon that Frollo spares the baby. He names him Quasimodo, and raises him in the bell tower, hidden away from society. Quasimodo is brought up by Frollo being taught that he’s an ugly, unholy abomination that everyone else would hurt and hate. When Quasimodo finally gains the courage to join in a gypsy festival, he’s tormented by the crowd. A gypsy named Esmeralda puts an end to it, and Quasimodo falls in love with her. However, at the same time, Frollo also starts lusting for her, and decides that if she doesn’t love him, he’ll just have her executed. Frollo is quite vocal about how he wishes to “eradicate” every gypsy in the city. This leads to the greatest villain song of all time, “Hellfire”. Yeah, let that sink in. There’s a song called “Hellfire” in a Disney movie. And it’s fucking awesome.
Frollo is my favorite villain for a very good reason: he’s real. Frollos exist. This is one of the reasons I’m glad I don’t consider myself tied to any specific religion. Frollo believes he is a man of God, and he justifies his actions entirely, claiming they are the will of God. He sees the gypsies as unholy, as well as everyone else who associates with them. Of course, that doesn’t explain why he is willing to murder innocent families to find Esmeralda. My interpretation is that he just loses his grasp on reality, too driven by his lust. Oh, and his death is one of the most symbolic of all time.
I could go on and on interpreting this scene, but I think it speaks for himself. He’s violated the sanctity of the Church and Christianity as a whole, as is damned for it.
Now, one of my driving factors in all these others movies was music, and, I’ll be honest: The Hunchback of Notre Dame isn’t really a standout in terms of music. I know I said “Hellfire” was one of my favorites, but apart from that one and “God Help The Outcasts”, nothing is very memorable. Compared to movies like The Lion King, where every song is one of the best, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is average. However, where this movies lacks in music, it makes up for in everything else. Great story, dark tones, controversy, loveable characters, an awesome and frightening villain… The Hunchback of Notre Dame is Disney at it’s best, and for this reason, it’s my favorite.