Disney films have amazed the world for over eight decades now, with their heartwarming stories, and beautiful animated motion pictures. From musicals and comedies, to action and drama, there is surely a movie for you, whatever your taste might be. Disney movies always have one thing in common, and avid viewers definitely know this. They emphasize on having “moral lessons” that kids and adults will never forget. So aside from being timeless and having great entertainment value, here’s the top 20 Disney Movie Classics you should watch at least once.
#20. The Aristocats (1970)
The Aristocats is the 20th movie under Disney’s animated classics series, which features the voices of Eva Gabor, Phil Harris, Hermione Baddeley, Sterling Holloway, Dean Clark, Roddy Maude-Roxby, and Scatman Crothers. The film is based on the story made by Tom Rowe and Tom McGowan. The story is about a brood of aristocratic cats that are set to inherit great fortunes, and how a simple alley cat helped them get back home when a jealous butler kidnaps them.
The movie was actually released by Buena Vista Distribution in theaters originally on December 11, 1970. And it was supposed to be the last movie project that was approved by Walt Disney himself, since the latter died in 1966. It took 4 years to be released, after Disney’s death, with a budget of $4M.
Five out of nine of Disney’s talented core animators, or the Nine Old Men, worked on this film, which helped the movie become a definite box office success in 1970. The move was re-released in 1980 and 1987 in theaters, and came out on VHS in 1990 in Europe and in 1996 in North America. It was then released on DVD and Blu-Ray copies, in the year 2000 and 2012, respectively. The Aristocats is definitely a family movie you are going to love.
Moral of the Movie: There is nothing too little or too small that you can do for your friends.
#19. Fantasia (1940)
Fantasia is the third movie feature of Disney animations, which consists of 8 smaller segments. This “concert film” was directed by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer, with the supervision of Ben Sharpsteen. Seven out of the eight parts were carried out by the Philadelphia Orchestra, and were conducted by the famous Leopold Stokowski. The introduction to each segment were done by composer and music critic Deems Taylor, and also served as the film’s emcee.
It features the segments like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which features Mickey Mouse, The Rite of Spring, which tells about evolution, from single celled organisms to the dinosaur age, Dance of the Hours, a ballet performed by animals, and Ave Maria and Night on Bald Mountain, which tells the story of light versus dark forces.
It was first released on November, 1940 in theatrical roadshow engagements held in 13 U.S. cities, and garnered mixed reactions. Fantasia was also unable to earn much at the box office due to World War II. The film however was released multiple times, and as of 2012, it has a gross earnings of $76M domestically (adjusted for inflation). It was ranked 58th in the American Film Institute’s (or AFI) list of the greatest American films in 100 years.
Moral of the Movie: For the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment – Don’t mess with your bosses’ things since it will bite you in the end.
#18. 101 Dalmations (1961)
Another movie classic, One Hundred and One Dalmatians (more popularly known as 101 Dalmatians) is a favorite among kids of all ages. It was the 17th movie in the Disney animated classics, and based on the novel by Dodie Smith. It was produced by Walt Disney in 1961, but was originally released by Buena Vista Distribution.
The movie features Pongo (Rod Taylor) and Perdita, and their kidnapped puppies. The movie’s main antagonist is Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), who wanted to make fur coats out of the Dalmatian’s skin. The movie received good ratings from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, giving a 97% fresh score. Although, MSNBC’s Craig Berman ranked the movie as one of the worst kiddie movies of all time in 2011.
101 Dalmatians was re-released in cinemas in 1969, 1979, 1985, and 1991. Its 1991 re-released was the 20th highest grossing movie of that year, and have earned more than $200,000 domestically in its history. It came out in VHS copies in 1992 and in DVD copies in 1999. Most kids will now remember this movie with its 1996 live-action film, starring Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil. Due to the movie’s success, a sequel was released in 2000 named 102 Dalmatians.
Moral of the Movie: Good always wins versus Evil. Don’t be consumed with the materialistic world.
#17. Pocahontas (1995)
One of the newer Disney animation classic, Pocahontas is a musical animation that features the romance/drama of a Native American woman and an English settler. The movie belongs to a Disney era called as the Disney Renaissance, which was from 1989 to 1999. Pocahontas is remembered to be the first animation from the movie outfit that was based on a real historical person.
The movie was directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg, and is often regarded as one of the hardest movie made by the studio, with its rich color schemes and the character’s angular faces and expressions. It took 5 years to be completed, but completely paid off since it is said to be one of Disney’s finest works made.
The story was based on a Native American folklore, although many criticize its historical accuracy. The movie revolves around the romance of Pocahontas and John Smith, and how it affected the people that surround them. It is one of those movies that don’t really have a happily-ever-after ending.
Pocahontas also became popular because of its soundtrack, more specifically “Colors of the Wind”. It won 2 Academy Awards, and even become Billboard 200’s number one song during the week of July 22, 1995. Sega Genesis/Mega Drive even released a video game based from the movie, which adults and kids enjoyed in 1996.
Moral of the Movie: Everyone has the right to exist in this world, no matter what your race is.
#16. Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same title, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the 34th animated film in the Disney Animated Classics series. It was released June of 1996, and tells about the story of Quasimodo, the bell ringer of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, and his struggles to be accepted in the society.
The movie was directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, and features the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Paul Kandel, Kevin Kline, Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander, Tony Jay, David Ogden Stiers, and Mary Wickes. Just like Pocahontas, it was produced during the time of Disney’s Renaissance era.
Hunchback of Notre Dame was considered as one of the darkest Disney animated movies because of its mature theme. The movie hit some production troubles as well, specifically between its creative team and studio since they had difficulties tackling its sensitive issue without much controversy.
Despite its risky theme, the film received positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave a 73 % rating, while Chicago Sun-Times’ famous film critic Roger Ebert gave it a 4-star rating. Box office was also a success, having earned more than $100M domestically, and $325M around the world, making Hunchback of Notre Dame the 5th highest grossing film of 1996.
Moral of the Movie: We must learn to accept and respect others – regardless of their beliefs, handicap or race.
15. Mulan (1998)
Just like Pocahontas, Mulan is a musical animated series, but more on action, comedy, and drama. Mulan is the 36th animated film in Disney’s Animated Classics that was directed by Barry Cook, and Tony Bancroft. Eddie Murphy, Ming-Na, Miguel Ferrer, and BD Wong gave life to the voices of the cast in the English version. In the Chinese version, it was Jackie Chan that lent his voice for the film. The movie was also part of the Disney Renaissance era.
Set around the Han Dynasty, it tells the story of Mulan, the daughter of the famous old warrior Fa Zhou, who has to impersonate a man, in order to replace her father in the army during the Hun invasion. The movie also features arrange marriages and family loyalty.
Mulan was definitely well-loved by critics and fans. Rotten Tomatoes gave an 86% rating, while film critic Robert Ebert gave a 3.5-star out of 4 rating for this movie. He mentioned that “Mulan is an impressive achievement…” and it was also described as “magnificently animated” by Dan Jardine. The movie was also a box office hit, with total earnings of $304M worldwide. It was the 7th overall highest grossing movie of 1998. The film also gathered several awards, including several Annie Awards, even bagging the Best Animated Feature of that year.
Moral of the Movie: Your spirit and your actions are the ones that define you, not what is told to you by the society.
#14. Dumbo (1941)
Dumbo is the 4th animated film in the Disney Animated Classics, and was based on the story written by Helen Aberson. Jumbo Jr. (Dumbo’s real name), is an elephant ridiculed for having big ears, which he uses as wings to fly. The movie also features his unusual friendship with Timothy – a mouse, which breaks the stereotype that mice and elephants hate each other.
Dumbo was made in order to gain what they’ve lost from releasing Pinocchio and Fantasia due to the ongoing war in Europe. You’ll see the lack of lavish details in this movie compared to its predecessors, since the main focus is to keep it simple and less expensive. It was even the shortest film made by them, too. The plan worked since it was said the most successful film from Disney in the 1940s with a total earning of around $1.6M on its original release.
Reviews are generally positive for this film. Cecilia Ager, from PM, said that it was the “nicest, kindest Disney” film yet. Dumbo holds a 97% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and was named as one of TIME’s Best Animated Film of all-time.
Moral of the Movie: Bullies will eventually get their comeuppance. Believe in yourself, and anything can be achieved.
#13. The Jungle Book (1967)
The 19th animated movie in the Disney classic series, The Jungle Book is based from Rudyard Kipling’s novel of the same title. It was directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, and was the last movie produced by Walt Disney, since he died when it was being made. The film stars Bruce Reitherman, Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima, and George Sanders.
It follows the story of Mowgli, a child raised by wolves in the Indian jungle, and his animal friends Bagheera and Baloo. Together, they form an unlikely family, having the animals act as surrogate parents to Mowgli.
The Jungle Book proved to be a box office success, and became the 4th highest grossing film of 1967. It was re-released a few more times, and earned more than $205M worldwide, and $141M domestically. The movie came out on VHS in 1991 and on DVD in 1999. Last February, it was released on Blu-Ray as part the Diamond Line of Disney.
The Jungle Book was also a winner in reviews, with the public glowing with positive feedback. The New York Times said it was a “perfectly dandy cartoon…”, and Life magazine called it as “the best” since Dumbo.
Moral of the Movie: What’s right doesn’t always mean it’s easy.
#12. Peter Pan (1953)
Peter Pan is the 14th film in the animated classic series of Walt Disney, and was released originally on February 1953. The movie was based on J.M. Barrie’s play The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. It is known to be the movie where Disney’s 9 Old Men have worked together. The movie includes the voices of Barry Driscoll, Heather Angel, Kathryn Beaumont, and Bill Thompson.
The film is about Peter Pan, a boy who never grows up, and the Darling siblings, Wendy, John and Michael. The siblings received a visit from Peter and were taken to the magical world to Never Land. It is here that they meet the Lost Boys, Captain Hook, Tiger Lily, and Tinkerbell. Here, Wendy and her siblings experienced great adventures before finally returning to their home.
The movie Peter Pan was well accepted by critics on its initial release. As of 2013, Rotten Tomatoes rated it with 75% fresh rating. Time Magazine also gave a favorable review, as well as the New York Times, although the latter also said that the movie is far from the original play. It was also nominated as the Best Animated Film in AFI’s list of the best film under the animation genre.
Moral of the Movie: You have to grow up, and accept the consequences of your actions.
#11. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Who wouldn’t forget the lines, “Off with their heads,” Of course, those lines belong to the movie, Alice in Wonderland, which is the 13th movie in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. It is an animated fantasy-adventure movie that was based on Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It features Kathryn Beaumont as Alice and Ed Wynn as the voice of the Mad Hatter.
The story started when Alice fell into a rabbit hole one afternoon, when she was following a White Rabbit. She soon discovered the world of Wonderland, and the weird creatures that lived there. The highlight of the story was when Alice met the Queen of Hearts and her army of cards.
The movie was initially not received well by audiences, specifically literary critics. They said that it was too “Americanized” from being an original English novel. However, it was re-released in 1974 and became a box-office success. It was even nominated as one of the Best Animated Film, in the American Film Institute, and earned a 77% rating from Rotten Tomatoes. It was also nominated for the Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, in the Academy Awards, but lost the award to An American in Paris.
Moral of the Movie: Determination will take you far in life.
#10. Bambi (1942)
Bambi is based on the novel of the Austrian author Felix Salten, Bambi, A Life in the Woods, and the 5th film in the Disney Animated Classics series. It was directed by David Hand, and features the voices of Donnie Dunagan, Hardie Albright, and Paula Winslowe.
The story revolves on the life of a white-tailed deer named Bambi and his friends in the forest. Bambi must quickly adapt to changes, especially when his mother was shot by hunters. As the prince of the forest, he must lead the rescue of the other animals from the hunters that are coming.
The movie was released in 1945, at the same time of the World War II. Because of that, Bambi lost significantly in the box office. It was re-released after the war several times. Reception by the public and critics that time was mixed, but most didn’t love the film. Even Disney’s daughter wasn’t happy about that Bambi’s mother died, but Walt Disney claimed he wanted to stay true to the book.
However, today, the movie holds a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and film critics Marsha Porter and Mick Martin cited that Bambi was the crowning achievement of the studio. In 2008, AFI named the movie as the 3rd best movie in the animation genre.
Moral of the Movie: Respect the world we are living in.
#9. Cinderella (1950)
This happily-ever-after movie is based on Charles Perrault’s fairytale, Cendrillon. Cinderella is the 12th movie in the Disney Animated Classics series, and directed by Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson, and Clyde Geronimi. This classic features the voices of Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audley, and William Phipps.
The film tells about the story of Cinderella and the hardships she experienced working for her stepmother and stepsisters. One day, they received an invite to the Royal Ball, but her vile stepmother prevented her from making it to the ball. With the help of her mice, Gus and Jaq, plus her fairy godmother, Cinderella was then able to attend the ball, and win the Prince’s heart.
Just like the other Disney Princesses, Cinderella is well loved by many, including critics. It has a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and received 3 Academy Award nominations, under the categories of Best Song, Best Score, and Original Music Score. The American Institute of Film regarded Cinderella as the 9th Best Animated Film in 2008. With its success, Cinderella will now have a live-action movie to be released in 2015, starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Holliday Grainger, and Sophie McShera.
Moral of the Movie: Stay positive, even if things don’t always go on your way, and don’t lose hope.
#8. Pinocchio (1940)
Pinocchio is the 2nd film under Disney Animated Classics series, and was based on the children’s classic The Adventures of Pinocchio written by Carlo Collodi. Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, and Bill Roberts directed the film’s sequences, and voice actors Dickie Jones, Cliff Edwards, and Christian Rub gave life to the characters in the story.
The story is about a woodcarver named Geppetto, who made a puppet he called Pinocchio. The puppet came to life by the blue fairy, and promised to make him a real human, if he proved to be honest, brave, and unselfish.
The public and critics gave favorable reviews to the movie. The film even won 2 Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song. It was the first Disney movie to ever win this award. And in 2008, the American Institute of Film named it as the 2nd best movie in the animation category.
Despite glowing reviews, it was not financially a success though. Since Snow White was a huge success, Pinocchio’s earning was significantly below what the studio was expecting. Reissues after its initial release proved to be much more successful for the movie.
Moral of the Movie: Nothing can be achieved without hard work and perseverance. And lying is always a bad thing.
#7. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Being the very first Disney Animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the movie that started it all. It was produced by Walt Disney but was released originally by RKO Radio Pictures. The film was based on the fairy tale written by the Brothers Grimm.
It tells about the story of a beautiful girl, named Snow White, who escaped from her wicked stepmother, the Queen. She hid in the house of the seven dwarfs, who had learned to love her. They tried to protect Snow White, but failed to do so, since the Queen was able to poison Snow White when the dwarfs are away to work. Only a true love’s kiss can revive the beautiful Snow White.
This film was Disney’s first full length feature that was released in 1937. It was received well by viewers and critics, and even got a standing ovation after its showing. It earned $3.5M domestically, and $6.5M internationally in its original release, making it the most successful movie of that time.
Disney won an honorary award from the 11th Academy Awards for being a pioneer in this new kind of entertainment. In 1989, it was even added to the National Film Registry of the United States. And to top it all, the American Film Institute recognized Snow White as the number 1 animated film in their list of 100 great movies in 2008.
Moral of the Movie: Don’t let your vanity and outside appearances rule your life, and don’t ever, ever trust strangers.
#6. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Sleeping Beauty is another movie made by Disney that based on the fairy tale of the Brothers Grimm called Little Briar Rose. The film is the 16th in the series of Disney’s Animated Classics, and was the last fairy tale adaptation (before 1989), due to years of disappointing box office earnings. It was directed by Eric Larson, Les Clark, and Wolfgang Reitherman, with Clyde Geronimi as the supervising director.
The story is about Aurora, who was cursed to die, by pricking her finger on the needle of a spinning wheel, on her 16th birthday by the evil witch Maleficent. In order to stop the king sent Aurora in hiding, with three good, but not bright fairies. The cursed happened, and only true love’s kiss is the way to wake her up from her deep slumber.
Sleeping Beauty approximately earned $5.3M in box office, which was a loss to the production since it took $6M to produce the film. It was the most expensive film that time, and due to the loss, the company had massive layoffs in the animation department that year. However, it was re-released several times, which were far more successful that the original screening.
In its original released, the film received mixed reviews from the critics, saying that the movie is slow-paced, and has a little character development. Today, due to the movie’s strong following, it is hailed as one of the best animated movies made. Rotten Tomatoes even gave a high rating of 91%, and Common Sense Media’s Carrie R. Wheadon gave it 5/5 stars.
Moral of the Movie: Never lose hope. Even if it means waiting for a hundred years. LOL
#5. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
The movie that first used the CinemaScope widescreen film process, Lady and the Tramp is the 15th Disney Animated Classics. It is a romantic comedy movie, which was based on the short story Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog written by Ward Greene. It was directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske, and featured the voices of Barbara Luddy as Lady, and Larry Roberts as Tramp.
Lady and the Tramp is a romantic tale of a refined, uptown Cocker Spaniel named Lady, and a stray downtown mutt named Tramp. Lady has a perfect life, until her owner had a baby. It is here that her life started to change, with the help of her new friend Tramp. The movie is well remembered due to its famous sequence when Lady and Tramp shared a plate of spaghetti that ended up with a kiss.
The movie received positive reviews from several critics and review websites. Reviewers from the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb, gave it a score of 7.4/10, and Common Sense Media, or CSM, gave a perfect score of 5/5 for being a good family film. Rotten Tomatoes also gave a good score, giving a rating of 89%. It was also hailed as one of the greatest love stories of all time, according to the American Film Institute, along with another Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast.
Moral of the Movie: Don’t judge someone based on their appearance.
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#4. Little Mermaid (1989)
A definite Disney favorite, the Little Mermaid is 28th film in the Disney Animated Classics, which was based on the Danish children's story of the same title written by Hans Christian Andersen. The film was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, and starred the voices of Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Samuel E. Wright, Jason Marin, Pat Carroll, Buddy Hackett, Rene Auberjonois, and Kenneth Mars.
Princess Ariel, the Little Mermaid in the story, dreams to become human, and experience life on land. In order to have legs, she made a bargain with an evil sea witch, and lost her voice in exchange. She fell in love with a human prince, but the evil sea witch followed Ariel on land in order to stop her from winning over their agreement.
The film earned almost $85M in North America, and over $99M internationally. It proved to be a success, even though it was expected to make less money than Oliver & Company. It was also well received by critics and viewers since it gained an overall approval rating of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yahoo! readers also voted The Little Mermaid as the 20th best animated films of all time out of 30 on their list. Fans will never forget the movie’s theme song Under the Sea, which even won Best Song in the Golden Globes.
Moral of the Movie: Never make a deal that you are not positive you can get out of.
#3. Aladdin (1992)
Aladdin is the 31st movie in the Disney Animated Classics series, and came out during the Disney era called the Disney Renaissance. The movie was based from the Arab folktale, One Thousand and One and wasdirected by Ron Clements and John Huske. The character’s voices were contributed by actors Robin Williams, Scott Weinger, Jonathan Freeman, Linda Larkin, Douglas Seale, Frank Welker, and Gilbert Gottfried.
The story is about a thief named Aladdin, and his loyal friend monkey Abu. He meets Princess Jasmine, accidentally, when she was sneaking out to the marketplace. Aladdin was then tasked by Jafar, the evil sultan’s advisor, to retrieve the magical lamp from the Cave of Wonders, in order for the dark Vizier to rule the kingdom. It is when that Aladdin got caught up with an adventure he surely wasn’t expecting.
Aladdin holds the 30th spot as the highest grossing animated film in the world, and the 3rd highest traditional animated film, after The Simpsons Movie and The Lion King. It was also highly regarded by film critics. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film 92% approval rating, and praises were given to Robin William as Genie. Aladdin is also a proud winner of 2 Academy Awards. One for the Best Original Song (A Whole New World), and the other for Best Original Score. It even won 2 Golden Globes awards for the same categories.
Moral of the Movie: Be true to who you really are.
#2. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Another movie from the Disney Renaissance era, Beauty and the Beast is came from the French fairy tale with the same title by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, and was the 30th movie in the Animated Classics series from the studio. The movie was directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, and features he voices of Robby Benson, Paige O’Hara, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury, and Ogden Stiers.
The film is about the story of Belle, a young bookworm who took the place of her father, when the latter was detained at the Beast’s castle. In here, Belle and the Beast started to fall in love. However, when Belle returned home to see her father, she was locked in their basement by Gaston, her egotistical suitor, once he saw that she’s in love with the Beast. They tried to kill the Beast, but the Beast was able to fight back once he saw Belle, who had escaped from the basement, returned to the castle. The Beast was stabbed by Gaston, and died. Belle was able to profess her love to the Beast though, and the Beast was revived back to his human form.
The movie was critically acclaimed. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 93%, and was even named by IGN as the greatest animated film of all time, ahead of The Incredibles, WALL-E, The Iron Giant, and Toy Story 2. Beauty and the Beast is also a blockbuster, having total gross earnings of more than $218M in North America, and almost $425M worldwide.
Moral of the Movie: Look past on what the eye can see, since outside appearances can be deceiving.
#1. Lion King (1994)
Hailed as the greatest Disney Classic movie of all, The Lion King is the 32nd animated film in Disney’s Animated Classics series. It was heavily influenced by the play Hamlet by Shakespeare, and the biblical stories of Moses and Joseph. The movie was directed by Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers, and has the voice cast led by actors Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, and Robert Guillaume.
The Lion King is about the story of Simba, a young cub who is to inherit the throne of his father, Mufasa as the king of the pride. However, his uncle Scar murdered his father, and Simba was made to think he was responsible and fled into exile due to shame. When he grew up, he was given valuable advice from his friend Nala and Rafiki, and decided to return to his pride to end Scar’s rule.
The movie earned over $987M worldwide, and almost $423M in North America, making it the 3rd highest grossing animated movie and 19th top earning films of all-time worldwide. It was the highest earning Disney film for a long time, until Frozen. Critics gave positive reviews all throughout. Rotten Tomatoes has given 90% approval rating, and Metacritic gave 83/100 average score.
The Lion King received several awards, including 2 Golden Globes and 2 Academy Awards. The film also has won Best Animated Feature, Best Individual Achievement for Story Contribution in the Field of Animation and Best Achievement in Voice Acting at the Annie Awards. At the 1995 Kid’s Choice Awards, it won as the Favorite Movie. Time magazine ranked it as one of the best animated feature of all-time, and it came 4th in AFI’s best animated film list. It's definitely the all-time most successful Disney Animated Classic movie.
Moral of the Movie: You can’t run away from your demons forever. You have to face them, and win your battles.
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