Walt Disney Animation Studios Ranked: DrogeMiester's Top 15
Last year, following the release of Inside Out, I ranked all 15 Pixar films that were out at the time. I had so much fun with that post that I decided I wanted to give the same or similar treatment to the other major animation studios. Up this year I decided to take on Disney themselves! But not all of Disney. Specifically I'm ranking Walt Disney Animation Studios. Yes, Walt Disney Animation Studios is a different animation studio than Pixar and DisneyToon even though all three are owned by Disney, so don't expect anything like Toy Story or A Goofy Movie to show up here. After creating my initial ranking, I realized that this was such a daunting task that I needed to put on my critic glasses and watch these movies in order figure out how to sort these movies. The initial plan was to watch my favorite Disney movies and create a top 10 list. But once I started, I got addicted and I ended up watching all 55 movies and thus I have ranked them all! This post will detail my top 15 while 16-55 will be in the comments. And as always, remember that this is MY list. Not yours. MINE. The magic of Disney is that almost every Disney movie has a passionate fanbase, which means that this will be my most antagonizing list I've done. So please no hating. Let's just have fun with this. Once you read my list, I challenge you to give me your own! Let's begin! 15- Hercules
Greek mythology is an area that Hollywood loves to dive into because this area is so rich in story. Personally I'm no expert in Greek mythology, but Disney's attempt to dive into this genre has to be one of my favorite attempts. First off, let me just say right off the bat that I don't give a crap about accuracy to source material when it comes to Disney movies. Keep that in mind as I talk about this movie and others. For me, I've always had a blast watching Hercules go up against Hades and all the other characters from Greek mythology, including a giant version of Scar that I'm guessing could be Leo. And wouldn't it be great having the Muses narrate your life? However, this movie is more than just fun. It also has one of Disney's best romance stories. Disney is pretty good at the love-at-first-sight romance stories where it only takes a few hours or days to find true love. And while this technically belongs in that category as well, Hercules and Meg's relationship is much more complex than most of Disney's other romances mainly because Meg is a very interesting, complex character that is working for Hercules' enemy behind his back, even though she has fallen in love with him against her will really. And of course Hercules' own arc is great as he learns that sometimes what you've been searching for has been right in front of you the whole time.
There's a slight suspense of belief required for me when I watch Mulan. I just have a hard time believing that she would fool everyone in the army into believing that she was a guy, especially after a handful of them awkwardly run into her while she's bathing in the lake. At least it's not as awful as that She's the Man movie. But like I said, suspense of belief. When I forgive that, I find a rather beautiful and deep story that's one of Disney's more relevant movies. I don't know if it's accurate to call Disney ahead of the times with this as I'm sure gender roles was still a hot topic 18 years ago when this came out. But that's an especially hot topic today as we are in an age of equality and diversity and Mulan does a fantastic job of showing that a girl can definitely perform a job typically seen as a man's job. Sometimes girls can perform that even better, yet sometimes we don't give them a chance. The themes in this movie also remind me of Fiddler On the Roof as both of these stories talk a lot about tradition. Tradition is by no means a bad thing, but sometimes we do things just because of tradition and for no other reason. In those instances, it's okay to go against that. A live-action remake of Mulan is in the works and I think there's a great opportunity here. 13- Big Hero 6
Disney's superhero movie is no where close to as epic as Pixar's superhero movie, The Incredibles, but man was it a great idea for Disney to adapt a fairly unknown Marvel comic book into one of their animated movies. Not only was this very timely as we are in a huge superhero phase in Hollywood, but this also helped Disney continue their hot streak following Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen. In terms of superhero movies, this isn't the most well-written superhero story or the most well-developed superhero team as there is a lot of superhero cliches throughout the movie, but it is a lot of fun and it has a ton of Disney heart to it. I do realize that this was the umpteenth time that Disney pulled the death of a family member card in a movie, but it gets me just about every time. Especially here. This is a story about a guy who tragically loses his brother that was released the year after I tragically lost my own brother. So it kinda hit home for me. And by goodness does everyone need a Baymax. That's one of the best side characters Disney has ever written. This is obviously not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I don't think anyone would really complain if they showed up somehow since both are owned by Disney. At the very least, I'd be down for a sequel with this team. 12- Frozen
I'm honestly kind of angry that Frozen got extremely popular because now I find myself having to defend my enjoyment of the movie due to how many haters there are. Is Frozen a ground-breaking movie for Disney? No. Is it a fun movie with great music, good characters, and good themes? Absolutely. Personally I'd say it's the best Disney musical since Pocahontas, but that claim is kinda deceiving since Disney went away from the musical genre in the 2000's, so there's not a ton of competition. But I love the music in the movie. I also love both story arcs from Anna and Elsa. Anna is the ignorant one who thinks nothing in the world can go wrong while Elsa is the insecure one due to the fact that she is different than everyone else. Elsa learns to accept who she is and become her best self while Anna learns to be a little more realistic. On top of that, I love the self-aware theme from Disney that you can't marry a guy you just met because personally I believe that Disney created a lot of unbelievable romances over the years. I also think Olaf is hilarious. Frozen didn't make my top 10 favorite movies list from 2013 and I was cheering for The Croods to win the Oscar for best animated feature that year, but I still think Frozen is a good movie that has been unfairly criticized due to how popular it got. And yes, I think it's more entertaining and deeper than Tangled, but not by a ton.
11- Lilo & Stitch
"Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind -- or forgotten." Talk about a movie that exudes emotion. Once again, nothing ground-breaking or unique with this movie. But if you pull the right punches, you can deliver a knock-out hit regardless of whether or not you did something different. This is the story of the ugly duckling, who feels lost and alone until he finds his right family. Disney has done the ugly duckling themes several times, but in this one they actually have the ugly duckling book, which Stitch develops an immediate attachment to because he relates to it. And do you know what? Stitch isn't the only one that can relate to the ugly duckling. How many of us have felt lost and alone in life? How many of us have cried ourselves to sleep at night because of it? How many of us feel like a little blue alien on a foreign planet where everyone else seems to have figured things out except for us? Exactly. Stitch is a very relatable character that I really love. I even remember walking out of the theater claiming they stole my voice for Stitch. I'm not good mimicking voices, but Stitch's voice I can mimic quite well and it's been that way since day one. Yes, I do like Lilo and her older sister as well, but this movie is all about Stitch for me. 10- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
I will admit that I do have a special place in my heart for the movie that started it all. Disney's very first feature-length animated movie. And the time and effort that had to have gone into making this in the 1930's is impressive, especially since this movie still holds up very well to current hand-drawn animation. In terms of story, this is easily Disney's worst example of "you can't marry a guy you just met." I mean, Snow White and her prince literally meet for just a few seconds at the beginning before they are madly in love and he comes out of nowhere at the end to kiss her back to life. I suppose you can say this is simply metaphorical, but I like my romances to be more than just metaphorical. Despite this, the story is actually quite strong and that's because of the dwarfs. They are just adorable and hilarious to watch. Their chemistry with Snow White is incredible and their reaction to Snow White getting poisoned is tragic, especially because they think she's gone for good. Speaking of Snow White getting poisoned, this is also a really intense movie with that evil Queen. Snow White running through the woods for the first time? That was too much for me as a child and still creeps me out today. But overall I love it because it adds a great balance to the movie. Disney really hit a grand slam with their first attempt. 9- Wreck-It Ralph
Okay, I will straight up admit that there's a huge bias for me with Wreck-It Ralph. It didn't take years and years of watching this for the nostalgia to get to me. I was punched in the face with nostalgia from day one and I loved it. This is Toy Story with arcade games! I don't call myself a gamer today, but I absolutely love the old 80's and 90's video games. I would much rather sit and play the Super Nintendo all day than the PS4 or X-Box One. No if's, and's, or but's about it. I don't care how cool your modern games are. Nothing beats those old games. Nothing. The fact that Wreck-It Ralph was jammed packed with them for the whole movie had me in heaven. Even the fictional characters had the same feel as the actual characters. The fact that the movie had an adorable story with a little girl that just melts your heart made it even better. The frosting on the cake was the nice Disney message of loving who you are and not buying into awful stereotypes. I'm still mad that this lost the Oscar for best animated feature to Brave. Speaking of which, I also find it funny that Disney and Pixar had reversed roles that year. Wreck-It Ralph totally felt like a Pixar movie while Brave felt like a Disney movie. Disney even officially adopted Merida into the Disney princess club, which amuses me. 8- Zootopia
I totally wasn't planning on including this one in this list. Based on trailers, this looked like a cute animated movie with a fox and a rabbit. I told myself that I would "give this movie a chance" despite being positive that it wasn't going to make my list. But holy freaking cow! This movie shocked me by how good it was. I suppose I won't dive super deep into my reasons for loving the movie because it's still in theaters as of this moment and not everyone that will read this lists sees every movie in the theaters. But talk about a relevant, applicable film. While still being a cute movie that kids will love, the themes in this are so strong that adults should like this more than kids. Racism and diversity are strong themes in this and not in an annoying, politically correct sort of way. In a real way. We also dive into this thing called adulting pretty seriously. I mean, how many of us thought as kids that adulting would be amazing only to realize it's a whole different ball game when we get to it? The final half of the movie is an all-out intense crime drama with a few jump scares and the final act of the movie beats you over the head with a baseball bat, emotionally speaking. And I mean that in a very positive way. If this movie gets the Frozen treatment and starts being hated six months later because of how much money it made, so help me I will find every one of you haters and slap you in the face. 7- Fantasia
In creating this list, I tried my absolute best to not let a movie get on this list for childhood nostalgia alone. I tried to put on my critic glasses and find real, concrete reasons as to why these movies on this list are the best instead of just "I loved it as a kid." If you are one of my siblings reading this list, you will see my top five and laugh at that statement because my entire top are movies that I loved and re-watched a ton growing up. However, this entry is my attempt to prove that I am not crazy with that statement because I hadn't seen all of Fantasia until like a month ago when I started my Disney binge. So there's no nostalgic bias here at all. I just sat down and was blown away. Usually when you make a movie, you write your script and even sometimes film the movie before writing or adding your music. With Fantasia, Disney did things the exact opposite way. They selected a handful of classical pieces and then created an animated segment for each piece that fit the song. And it's incredible. It's by far Disney's longest movie, but it didn't feel like it at all. I was totally blown away by every second of this. Disney had so much success with this that they tried to use the same idea multiple times throughout the 40's and for the most part those other movies didn't quite work out for me. 6- The Lion King
The Lion King did not make my top five. And I'm more surprised than any of you. Before I started officially ranking, I was sure that The Lion King would be at least a top three movie for me and possible the number one. However, as I took time to analyze each one of these movies, I came across a few elements of the story that didn't quite hold up for me. I also wasn't as emotionally affected as some of the other movies that I ended up putting higher. But as this is a list of my top Disney movies that I am supposed to be praising, I will not dive into my nit-picks. This easily has the most epic Disney intro and just might be my favorite Disney musical. I'm not making that official decision in this post, though. We also have a whole slew of amazing characters. In fact, everyone from our main characters to our side characters to our villains are absolutely fantastic. At its core, this is a story about how people handle grief or other problems in life, which adds some true emotion. Do you run from your problems and try to completely forget everything in your past or do you learn from your mistakes and face your challenges head on? Overall, let's just conclude that an African animal kingdom adaptation of Hamlet with a Disneyfied ending was a fantastic idea. It's also the first movie I remember seeing in theaters. 5- The Emperor's New Groove
There was a point in life where I declared The Emperor's New Groove as my favorite animated movie of all time. But that was declared prematurely without much serious thought on the matter. In seriously pondering this list, that was one of the first questions that I asked myself. Is The Emperor's New Groove my favorite Disney movie? The honest answer was no. But there are a few titles that I will give this movie. This is Disney's funniest movie. It's their most re-watchable movie. It's their most quotable movie. Following it's financial failure as it was a part of Disney's dark days in the 2000's, this gained a huge cult following and for good reason. It's a gag-filled movie from start to finish that doesn't let up one bit and because of that it has me busting up laughing for the entire run time. And it's not just Yzma and Kronk, although those two are fantastic. It's the whole freaking cast. They're all hilarious in their own way. David Spade and John Goodman as Kuzco and Pacha especially have amazing chemistry in this both on a comedic level as well as an emotional level. Sure, you can see the plot coming from a mile away as it doesn't go super deep and it's extremely predictable. But this is a unique instance where that really doesn't matter for me. Kuzco's arc of going from prideful to humble is good enough for me because it's the humor that's the star of the show here. 4- Bambi
Yes, I watched Bambi plenty of times growing up. I've always thought it was a cute movie, but all that really stuck out to me were a few good lines from Thumper and the sad death of Bambi's mother. A top five Disney movie? Ha! I had this in the mid-30's initially. Until I re-watched it and was completely blown away. The best way to accurately describe Bambi is that it is a complete film. You get plenty of cute scenes. You have a lot of good quotes. There's plenty of humor. There's a lot of fun to be had. But it's also a really intense movie at times. It gets tear-jerkingly sad in the middle. There's a touch of politics thrown in there that causes you to ponder without bashing you over the head. It also gets quite romantic after our characters are grown. And finally it's wrapped in a nice Disney bow with a feel-good ending. This has it all. The storyline is simple, but yet everything is very cohesive as every scene has a purpose. Holding it all together is possibly Disney's best score. In fact, the score is so good that the most comparable Disney movie in my mind is Fantasia, which came just two years earlier. The score is so amazing that it's almost as if the score came first then they created a beautiful story about deer and rabbits in the forest that followed that score. I've done no research on this. That's just what it feels like to me. 3- Aladdin
I've always been attracted to the diamond in the rough storyline in Aladdin. I think that's a great story arc that makes Aladdin one of the greatest and most relatable Disney male protagonists. This man is an absolute gem of a character who deserves all the good things in life. But he doesn't see himself that way. He's rough around the edges because he feels he needs to hide who he truly is in order to get what he wants. He spends much of his life lying, cheating, and stealing his way through life. But proving that he is an amazing person, when he does get what he wants, he actually feels depressed because deep down his moral character is very strong and that's what wins out. Luckily Jasmine is able to see him for who he truly is and the two finally get married in the third movie, which is a surprisingly good movie for a DisneyToon sequel. This is also propelled even further by a host of amazing songs such as "A Whole New World," "Friend Like Me," and "Prince Ali." But I also want to point out a whole new dimension to this movie that has recently been added. Have you watched this movie since Robin Willaims' death? If you haven't, go do so! I kid you not, the character of Genie voiced by Robin Williams parallels Robin Williams' life almost perfectly. It's almost like a metaphorical biopic of Robin Williams. It's beautiful. The "I'm Free" sequence at the end makes my practically bawl now. Rest in peace Robin Williams. We all miss you. 2- Pocahontas
Pocahontas is across the board one of the most disliked Disney movies and I don't understand it. I dug deep into the reasons behind this. I pondered it. Then I watched it again trying to see what all the Pocahontas haters are seeing and I just don't see it. In fact, for me it's even better watching it as an adult because I found this to be one of the most relevant and poignant Disney movies ever made. Racism and tolerance are very hot topics in today's society and Pocahontas hits a home run with these ideas that really make you stand back and think about everything going on around you. "They're different from us, which means they can't be trusted," is the ideology believed by both of these clashing cultures in this movie. John Smith goes on about culture and tradition when trying to explain to Pocahontas why he is calling her a savage and then she goes on and sings what might be my all time favorite Disney song in "Colors of the Wind" that is so powerful and helps John Smith realize that he's been wrong in judging these people. This is so applicable in today's society. Think of how many times we have unfairly judged someone or a whole race of people just because they are different from us. "But Adam, this isn't the true story of Pocahontas!" Oh really? Please tell me more about how you wanted DISNEY to tell the TRUE story of Pocahontas. That's not a kid's story. Like I started off with, I don't give a crap about Disney accurately adapting source material. 1- Beauty and the Beast
"Tale as old as time. Tune as old as song. Bittersweet and strange. Finding you can change. Learning you were wrong." Very few movies have affected me the same way that Beauty and the Beast has. While I did love this movie as a kid, I remember a moment about five years or so ago when I watched this for the first time in a long while and emotionally the movie just hit me like a ton of bricks. The Beast had all he wanted, but ultimately he became a victim of pride and nearly lost everything. He was cursed and was given a time frame to learn how to truly love or he would stay cursed forever. Insert Belle. She came into his life and was able to see him for who he really was. Because of her, he was able to change and learn how to truly love. Not some sappy, romantic love. Love strong enough to put his own needs aside and let her go. Obviously you know how it ends, so I don't need to spell it out for you, but this movie is deep. There's a lot of profound spiritual metaphors that are incredible. But this also speaks to me on a very personal level that practically makes me an emotional wreck every time I watch it. It's pretty much a perfect movie and one of my all-time favorites. Disney's live-action remake of this is coming next year. No pressure, Disney.