Disney has been making feature films for over 90 years, and if you ask anyone what their favourite movie is, you’ll most likely get answers like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast or The Lion King. You know, the classics.
But today we’re not here to talk about those movies that you can recite off by heart, or those with lyrics you still sing in the shower – cue Aladdin’s ‘A Whole New World’ – today we’re talking about the hidden gems that are buried deep in the Disney archives, yet deserve so much more recognition that what they’ve received.
From Brother Bear and Brave to Treasure Planet and Pocahontas, without further ado, here are 12 of the most underrated Disney films that you need to add to your watch list, like, right now.
The Sword in the Stone
Disney’s adaptation of the classic fable chronicles King Arthur’s Humble Beginnings, the movie follows a young orphan named Wart (aka little King Arthur) who wants to help his big brother train to become a knight. Wart stumbles across the cabin of the world’s most famous wizard, Merlin, who then convinces the boy that he is destined for greater things in life. The Sword in The Stone’s message is a pretty clear and solid one too: Anyone and everyone is destined for greatness. Expect laughs, great songs and an epic sword pulling scene.
The Emperor’s New Groove
What happens to the narcissistic and cocky Emperor Kuzco when he decides to build a waterpark park just for himself for his birthday, even if it means destroying a whole village? He’s turned into a llama by his devious ex-advisor, Yzma, in a botched attempt to kill him courtesy of her henchman Kronk. But with the help of Pacha, a humble llama herder whose home is ground zero for the waterpark, Kuzco turns back into human and regains his throne. Boom, baby!
Arguably one of the most criminally underrated films, the main character isn’t likeable at all (which is refreshing) but hilariously relatable, and every scene will have you crying with laughter. Wait until you see evil Yzma as a tiny wittle kitty.
This movie has a killer soundtrack, smart jokes, well-rounded characters, a sassy ‘damsel in distress’ and a dreamy demigod with a heart of gold named Hercules. It’s a must-watch, people!
Fox and the Hound
For those who have no clue about this story, here’s the gist: an orphaned fox cub and a puppy hound in training become best buddies – it’s seriously the cutest bromance in history. They spend everyday together playing until the hound has to leave for the winter but returns in spring as a fully grown, full blown hunting dog and apparently dogs and foxes aren’t supposed to get along.
Warning: Disney decided to dish out a cold, hard plate of reality so expect this film to be major sob-fest.
The Lost City: Atlantis
An action-adventure saga with an incredible and distinctive visual style, Atlantis allows viewers to live vicariously through the brilliant Milo James Thatch, who discovers the lost city. Possibly the most mature animated films ever made, there’s a lot of smoking, blood, heavy machinery, realistic weaponry, no songs and a much more complex story, plus a ton of death. The star of the film though? Badass (and nonofficial) Disney Princess Kida – she also has a mysterious connection with crystals.
Most films portray space as a cold and lifeless place, but in this universe it’s sunny and beautiful. Jim Hawkins is a disillusioned teenager who stumbles upon a map that leads him to the greatest pirate treasure trove like, ever. Treasure Planet is a journey through a parallel universe through space, supernovas and black holes. The core of the movie? It centres around hope and forgiveness.
A Bug’s Life
Inspired by the fable The Ant and the Grasshopper, A Bug’s Life is about a misfit ant named Flick who tries to save his colony of ants from greedy grasshoppers stealing all their food, all with the help of his friends; a troupe of weird (and slightly inept) circus bugs. It’s a movie filled with small creatures, but packed with big life lessons.
Oliver & Company
Inspired by the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, the story follows Oliver (a homeless tabby kitten), who joins a gang of law-breaking dogs in order to survive on the rough New York streets. When Oliver is adopted by the wealthy Jenny, the gang of street dogs are convinced that Oliver has been kidnapped and try their best to bust him out; while their owner (a loan shark named Sykes), hatches a scheme to tap into Jenny’s fortune. Upbeat, fun and well worth the full 74 minutes.
The Great Mouse Detective
Basil is a mouse detective who resides at 221 ½ Baker Street (right underneath his human neighbour counterpart, Sherlock Holmes), solves criminal cases and also plays the violin. The film explores the tension between two brilliant rodents who are both equally obsessed with their rivalry. The dialogue is delightfully OTT and the teeny tiny outfits and umbrellas are just too cute! Sherlock, you’ve met your mouse match.
Main character Kenai is a young Indian brave who is devastated when his brother, Sikta, is killed by a bear. In an act of revenge, Kenai hunts and kills the bear only to be magically transformed into a bear himself. He then crosses paths with an orphaned bear cub named Koda, and discovers a horrible revelation. The movie highlights the importance of cherishing family, not necessarily the ones you are related to, but those you pick for yourself. Get ready for the emotional boat to be rocked hard.
A story of love, bravery and loyalty with a hefty dose of culture and peace over issues of colonisation. This movie centres on a fearless Indian princess named Pocahontas (she has amazing hair, FYI), who falls in love with English soldier, John Smith, but unfortunately her father disapproves and wants her to marry native warrior instead. While it’s impossible to watch Mufasa dying without sobbing, Pocahontas has a bearable amount of heartbreak that won’t result in you turning into a shaky mess.
Merida refuses to conform to the stereotypical princess mould (yaaas, girl!), and would much rather live a life of adventure, archery and horseback-riding. Her mother, Queen Elinor, only wants the best for her and tries to make her a ‘proper princess’, which causes tension between them. Stubborn Merida is determined not to let anyone stop her from embracing her passions, and is granted an ill-fated wish at her mother’s expense. This touching and heartfelt film is guaranteed to make you want to bear-hug your mother after watching.