Great Disney movies you should have watched by now

Great Disney movies you should have watched by now

Disney has built up a huge collection of classic movies over the decades, and it all started with the first-ever feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. All these years later, the House of Mouse still produces fantastic flicks that people of all ages can enjoy. Whether you grew up on a diet of Disney or are discovering these wonders as an adult, you’re bound to find something to love in Mickey and co.’s vast library.
We’ve rounded up a list of Disney movies you really should watch, if you haven't already, ranging from the early flicks like Dumbo to the modern essentials like Frozen and Moana. These are simply some great Disney movies.

By Total Film staff

30. Pocahontas

Disney had long toyed with the idea of making an animated Romeo and Juliet, so, when legendary director Mike Gabriel pitched Pocahontas, the movie was greenlit almost immediately. The story is loosely based on the life of a real Native American woman and her encounter with an English colonialist called John Smith. However, the adaptation received a mixed reception for its treatment of Powhatan culture. Some Native Americans claim Pocahontas distorts history, while others praise it for being one of the first instances where popular culture acknowledges the brutal intentions of English settlers wiping out indigenous tribes. 

Whatever your belief, there’s no denying that Pocahontas is stunning, with sharp animation and gorgeous sequences – who could forget the flowing chalk in "Colours of the Wind?" With iconic songs that won two Oscars and a story that started a conversation, Pocahontas is one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking Disney movies. 

29. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame brings Victor Hugo’s gothic novel to the silver screen, and doesn't scrimp on its treatment of infanticide, sexual violence, religious damnation, and genocide. Yet, somehow, despite being one of the darkest Disney movies ever made, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is also one of the most poignantly beautiful. 

When Esmerelda stares up at the face of the Virgin Mary in the church’s cavernous halls and sings, “Yes I know I’m just an outcast, I shouldn’t speak to you, still I see your face and wonder were you once an outcast too?” the movie highlights how hypocritical society can be. With careful direction by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the movie takes many risks in tone and storytelling, pointing a finger back at the audience and teaching us that those on their high horses aren’t always moral. 

28. Cinderella

Too many people underestimate Cinderella. Sure, she’s not as feisty and independent as the Belles and Mulans of this world, but she’s also kind-hearted and committed to her beliefs  – those are lessons that are just as valuable in today’s world. 

Cinderella is a film painted in soft, pastel hues and with a wistful spirit. It’s one that always feels so comforting to return to. Think of the tiny mice in their tiny dresses, scampering around with needles and thread, or the way soap bubbles might drift into the air and create kaleidoscopes of colour. And then there’s the best moment of all: when the Fairy Godmother magics up a gown that Cinderella can wear to the ball and it materialises out of stardust and wishes. Cinderella is one for the dreamers. 

27. Treasure Planet

Disney has a long history of putting innovative spins on classic literature. The Great Mouse Detective shrunk Sherlock Holmes down to size, while The Lion King brought Hamlet to the African savannah. Treasure Planet, meanwhile, sends Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island out into space – offering an adventurous, old-fashioned yarn with Emma Thompson as a slinky cat-lady-sea captain. 

The familiar elements of the original are all here. There’s the young protagonist, Jim Hawkins, voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who finds a treasure map that promises to lead to fame and fortune. There’s the shifty John Silver, though his peg leg here comes with cybernetic enhancements. The ships they use still look like 18th-century galleons, plucked out of the ocean and sent shooting across the stars. 

26. 101 Dalmatians

Considering how a single dog sneeze can generate 10,000 retweets, it’s perhaps surprising that the biggest star 101 Dalmatians isn't an adorable puppy – but a cigarette-puffing villain with bad eyeshadow. Cruella De Vil firmly cements herself as one of the most iconic criminals of all time, spotted at Halloween parties the world over. Her theme song remains an earworm, even while the movie’s actual story is a tad bland. 

101 Dalmatians is a triumph over adversity inside a Disney studio plagued by financial concerns. The animation team pinched the pursestrings by experimenting with a new process called xeroxgraphy, where their lines were essentially photocopied from one frame to the next, resulting in a scratchy-yet-elegant effect.

25. Big Hero Six

Everyone could do with a hug from a giant, inflatable robot. If only we all had our own Baymax – the six-foot, unfailingly attentive star of Big Hero 6. Whenever he hears an “ow” or any other sign of distress, he’ll waddle over and ask in a soothing, flat voice: “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your pain?” 

He becomes a kind of guardian to Hiro, a teenage tech wiz. He lives in San Fransokyo, a vibrant, Blade Runner-esque mix of San Francisco and Tokyo where the Golden Gate bridge is adorned with traditional Shinto gates. Like so many Disney films, Hiro is an orphan dealing with sudden loss. But Big Hero 6 manages to balance emotions both intimate and grand, from learning how to grieve to saving the world. It’s a Disney adaptation of a Marvel comic that somehow doesn’t involve Nick Fury turning up at the end with a proposition. 

24. The Aristocats

Following in the wake of 101 Dalmatians, Aristocats – the last project Walt Disney worked on before his death midway through production – moulds that movie’s visual style into something dully sweet. Strong vocal performances by Phil Harris as Thomas O’Malley – who also voices Baloo in The Jungle Book – and Eva Gaboor as Duchess bring the script to life. 

Then there are the songs like "Everybody Wants To Be A Cat" that remain classics to this day. These were the last musical numbers to be penned by the legendary Sherman Brothers before departing the studio, saying the atmosphere had become too toxic following Disney’s death. This sense of unease manages to stay out of The Aristocats, however, which remains a charming Disney tale.

23. Mulan

Mulan is the story of a young girl who – to protect her ailing Father – cuts off her hair, strips away her female identity, and rides to war against the invading Hun army. Based on an ancient Chinese folktale, Mulan combines the very best of Eastern and Western culture for a movie that somehow never feels jarring. It’s a testament to Mulan’s incredible script that, when the hilarious "A Girl Worth Fighting For" musical number is interrupted mid-note by the brutal devastation of a burning town, the sudden shift from laughter to horror doesn’t give the audience whiplash. 

The Disney Holy Trinity of story, song, and setting is capped by stunning art: everything from a smoking battlefield to Mulan’s homely garden are brought to life with calligraphic curves unlike anything previously seen in a Disney movie. Mulan is a story that never gets old. 

22. Peter Pan

A story about a boy unwilling to grow up and who instead lives in a fantasy land – sounds like brilliant material for Disney. Walt’s brother Roy secured the rights to turn J.M. Barrie’s original play into an animated feature following the success of Snow White, and Peter Pan remains one of the studio’s most iconic projects. 

It brought magic and literal fairy dust to cinema, along with the idea that hidden just around the corner could lie an entirely new world. Neverland’s population is filled with fascinating characters – from scared lost boys to terrifying hooked pirates, themselves scared of crocodiles and ticking clocks. Such a large cast would be easy to lose track of, but Disney’s writing team handle the storytelling with ease. 

21. Robin Hood

There’s a certain rugged charm to robin Hood's animation. In the aftermath of Walt Disney’s death many of the creative leads scrambled to try and figure out what their former boss would have wanted to make, rather than reflecting on what new unique stories they could tell. The 1973 movie was thus rushed for time, and so it recycles sequences from Snow White, The Jungle Book, and the Aristocats. The result is a hodgepodge of ideas that. 

Yet, despite all this, Robin Hood is a successful “buddy movie”, offering us one of cinema's best portrayals of the iconic, endlessly reproduced tales. The eponymous fox is particularly entertaining, and perhaps why we happily laud his movies as a Disney cult classic. 

20. Zootropolis

Zootropolis may have ended up lost somewhere in all the Frozen mania, but it still deserves to be remembered as one of the stronger entries in Disney’s recent catalogue. Animation has often delivered hopeful visions of a world where all races and creeds can live in harmony, but Zootropolis sticks out from the pack. By portraying simmering tensions between mammalian predators and prey, former foes now living side-by-side, the film can dive straight into the complicated stuff. 

There’s an exploration of how those in charge use fear to stay in power, with concrete illustrations of how historical divisions still feed into today’s judgements and stereotypes. And all of that’s grounded in a clever, inventive world that features a diminutive rodent district, a sassy gazelle with the voice of Shakira, and a D.M.V. with the longest wait times imaginable – because it’s staffed entirely by sloths. 

19. Dumbo

Spanning just 64 minutes, Dumbo is shorter than some episodes of television – yet it packs more emotional punches than any single Game of Thrones episode. Remember when Dumbo’s Mum reaches her trunk through the bars? Or the single tear that rolls down her son’s face? 

While many of the studio’s senior animators were working on Bambi, the younger staff were ripping up the rulebook and experimenting with scenes like the nightmarish "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence. But the core story remains touching in its simplicity: a shy circus elephant bullied for the size of his ears turns them into a talent. Like Rudolph and his red nose, Dumbo teaches audiences that our differences make us stronger. 

18. Fantasia

Fantasia doesn’t have the most loyal of fanbases. No one’s desperately requesting The Sorcerer’s Apprentice at Disney Sing-Alongs or hoarding Primark t-shirts with pictures of slowly dying dinosaurs on them – oh yes, there’s a lot of dinosaur death in this. But Fantasia deserves its place as one of the great classics of the Disney canon. It’s bold and avant-garde, offering a musical education for young viewers by pairing classical pieces with short animated stories. 

Although Mickey’s panicky appearance, which sees him herd an army of sentient brooms, will always be the stand-out, anyone who grew up with Fantasia will almost certainly remember the nightmarish Night on Bald Mountain sequence – is any Disney villain scarier than Chernabog? 

17. Lilo & Sitch

The early 2000s were definitely a mixed bag for Disney’s animation unit – is anyone surprised Dinosaur and Chicken Little didn’t make the list? So it doesn’t really feel right that Lilo & Stitch should get lumped in with what some have called “The Second Dark Age”. It’s a delight and one of the most grounded Disney movies out there. Look past the spaceships, the blasters, and the slobbering blue alien-pup and – at its centre – there’s a heartfelt examination of sibling relationships and parental loss. 

Lilo & Stich reminds us that all families are valid and can thrive, no matter what they look like. People aren’t defined by blood, but by those who love and support them. Or, as Stitch sweetly describes his own adoptive family: “It's little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.” 

16. The Nightmare Before Christmas

It’s the film that’s come to define teen goth aesthetics. But The Nightmare Before Christmas offers much more than an endless bounty of Hot Topic merchandise. Dreamed up by Tim Burton and brought to screen by Henry Selick, it mixes childlike wonderment and ghoulish sensibilities with ease. The use of stop-motion animation makes it all the more charming, like an old fairytale slowly creaking to life. The songs, written by Danny Elfman, are catchy but off-kilter. 

It’s strange to look back at its original release, when Disney deemed it too dark for children and buried it under their Touchstone Pictures label. Now, it’s a perennial double-holiday favourite, as Jack Skellington, the king of Halloweentown, stumbles through a strange portal and crash-lands in Christmastown. 

15. Hercules

Despite being released slap-bang in the middle of the '90s Disney Renaissance, Hercules is often passed over in favour of the decade's other movies. That’s a huge shame because the story Zeus’s son's search for his true family is full of comedy, emotion, and some subtle unpicking of outdated tropes – like Meg’s refusal to be a damsel in distress. 

Before Disney bought Marvel, its writers had already penned a superhero origins story that also includes more than a few biting commentaries on obsessive celebrity culture. Hercules is clever and creative – and let’s not forget that incredible score that meshes R&B beats with gospel. Bless my soul, Herc was truly on a roll.  

14. Tangled

It says a lot about Tangled’s development hell that one of the brilliant minds behind characters like Aladdin, Ariel, Beast, and Tarzan – Glen Keane – had a heart attack midway through production. The stress of the project was too much and spanned years, spiralling the budget until it became the most expensive animated movie of all time, costing $260 million. But, despite all of that drama, the end product is excellent. 

Tangled brings the traditional story of Rapunzel into the modern era while still respecting the classic hallmarks of a princess movie. Sidekick characters like the adorable Pascal and hilarious Maximus create some standout moments (watching a sword-wielding horse dual a man with a frying pan never gets old) and the climatic love song under thousands of coloured lanterns is breathtaking. And speaking of taking breaths, Glen Keane is fine. In case you were wondering. 

13. Frozen

Even if you’ve never seen Frozen, you’ve probably heard its trademark song "Let it Go". Elsa’s face has quickly become a mainstay on children's’ lunch boxes everywhere. Walt Disney himself toyed with an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen but was never able to pool his ideas into a single script. Seventy years later, Frozen for upended the classic Disney Princess narrative by gently mocking Ana and Hans’ lightning-quick engagement. 

However, Frozen isn’t quite the bastion of modernity it would have you believe; Ana ends up tying the knot with Kristoff at the end of the movie – a man who she has literally known for two days. Still, the focus on sisterhood, with the trappings of a Disney classic, is enough to thaw most frozen hearts.

12. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

Released in 1937, Snow White was Disney’s first-ever feature-length animated movie, and a huge gamble at the time. The production costs were astronomical and required years of planning – much sweat was flicked from Disney's brow when it released to wild critical and commercial success. The quality of Snow’s animation, colour, music, and design had never been seen on screen before, and its story packed an emotional punch. Cartoons at the time were short and simplistic, but Snow White proved they could be complex and cemented Walt Disney as a true visionary. 

Sure, when we watch Snow White today the story’s pacing lags and Snow’s character belongs firmly in the '30s. But you’ve got to remember that Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was the movie that carved a path for every Disney movie coming after it, and therefore stands firmly as one of the most important.

11. Moana

Moana is the story of a girl from a Polynesian village who sets out onto the open ocean to return a mystical relic to a goddess. Teaming up with another god, the tale invites audiences to embrace their roots, families and communities – and the production team made great pains to ensure their portrayal of Polynesian culture was accurate. 

The result is a stunning adventure following a selfless and heroic heroine (and a clucking chicken voiced by Alan Tudyk) that isn’t bogged down by romantic cliches. If that isn’t enough for you, then watch Moana simply for the water. Seriously, those effects will make your eyebrows rapidly ascend into your hairline. 

10. Sleeping Beauty

There’s a reason Sleeping Beauty’s castle is the centrepiece of the original Disneyland theme park. The sheer ambition of this animated movie dwarfed all other projects at the time, with animators painting on pieces of paper as big as bedsheets to match the movie’s anamorphic widescreen 70mm format. 

The result is an eye-popping, stunning princess movie packed with vibrant colour combined in unusual ways. Lead artist Eyvind Earle – who’d worked on Peter Pan – played with violet, green, ochre, indigo, and fuchsia to create a palette never before seen on screen. With a rousing score based on the Tchaikovsky ballet and an iconic villain in the form of Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty remains one of the cornerstones of the Disney catalogue and easily makes it into our list of the best Disney movies.  

9. The Jungle Book

It’s fair to say that "Hakuna Matata" owes a fair bit to "Bare Necessities." The Jungle Book’s songs laid the foundations for rhythms, tunes, and themes that would crop up in later Disney movies in years to come. What’s interesting about the 1967 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's story is how upbeat the score is compared to the underlying dark themes of the story. 

A tale of a lost orphan boy raised by wolves and hunted by a man-eating tiger could have been tonally grim, but stick a singing orangutan in there and you have yourself an emotional key change. Risky casting decisions like wise-cracking comedian Phil Harris as Baloo (who improvised most of his lines) helped bring the tale to life and propel The Jungle Book into classic status.  

8. Pinocchio

You know the opening slate of every Disney movie? When the shooting star flies over Sleeping Beauty’s castle? There’s a reason Pinocchio’s "When You Wish Upon a Star" was chosen to play at that moment. The second feature-length animated movie Disney ever made, Pinocchio is widely held as the apex of Disney talent. It’s hard to believe that the animators working on this story of a little puppet who wants to be a real boy were still learning their craft. 

From the homely chaos of the workshop to the nightmarish horror of that donkey scene, Pinocchio created a world that still holds up today. It reached cinemas in 1940 to critical applause but slumped at the box office due to the outbreak of World War 2. Thankfully, it was re-released a few years later and skyrocketed to pop culture stardom, prompting children the world over to gingerly check their noses whenever they told a lie.

7. Alice in Wonderland

The definitive adaptation of Lewis Carroll's trippy fairy tale, Disney's version of Alice is surprisingly true to the source material, what with its creepy Cheshire Cat and the authentically barmy tea party – one that's pleasingly bizarre, as is the parade of playing cards. Throw in Disney's trademark visuals and this is certainly a magical trip you want to take. 

Alive and Wonderland was, though, a disappointment at the box office. Part of the problem was that Alduous Huxley, the penman behind Brave New World, was hired to flesh out the script but then swiftly departed the project after feeling his voice was being ignored. However, with some psychedelic colours and wonderful songs, Alice in Wonderland has become a cult favourite.

4. Mary Poppins

Who doesn’t love Mary Poppins? Well, apart from the late P.L. Travers, who wrote the source books and was incredibly peeved to discover Walt Disney had dropped winsome songs and dancing penguins into the mix. History has shown it was for the better: its tale of a magical nanny who flies in with her carpetbag and talking umbrella to help families in need feels quintessentially English, despite having been dreamed up in a studio in sunny California. 

It’s sharp, witty, and whimsical where it counts, as we watch Mary and Bert jump into chalk paintings and host tea parties on the ceiling. Mary Poppins has always captured how limitless the world felt as a child. Then there’s the irreproachable Julie Andrews – a woman we all wish would snap her fingers and instantly solve the mess of our adult lives. 

1. The Lion King

"Naaaaaaaaaants ingonyamaaaaaaaaa bagithi baba, sithi uhm ingonyama." That opening song – "The Circle of Life," performed by Lebo M – sets the scene perfectly; an epic, grandiose song that immediately transports you to the African savannah. The Lion King is a Shakespearean tragedy that's ultimeately about growing up, parenthood, and how our perception of the world (and our role within it) changes in response to trauma and love. 

Despite Simba’s story being one of privilege, its beating heart of shaken identity is deeply familiar to many. The musical talents of the legendary Elton John and virtuoso Hans Zimmer (who went on to score Gladiator and Inception) are the cherries on top of this masterpiece. The Lion King is our pick for the best Disney movie of all time. 


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