Shermia enjoys writing about film, television, and politics.
Underrated Animated Disney Movies
The Walt Disney company ranked number three on Forbes' 2012 list of The World's 25 Most Reputable Companies. It seems that everyone—young and old—knows the name of Walt Disney and his 52 "Walt Disney Animated Classics" as of January 2013. Disney has made a lot of good animated movies, but some of them aren't as well known and even less well-appreciated. What is the first thing that comes to mind if someone were to ask you to name your favorite Disney feature film? Most answers wouldn't be Atlantis: The Lost Empire, The Great Mouse Detective, or The Black Cauldron.
So many Disney films don't get the chance at promotion that the more famous films get. It seems as if any Disney movie not in the "Disney Princess" franchise gets pushed to the back burner of the movie world. The merchandise, the commercials, and the discussions seem to be reserved for the most popular Disney animated movies like The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, and Snow White.
This is my list of twenty of the most underrated and under-appreciated Disney animated movies. If you agree or disagree, I welcome your comments. These are my personal favorites.
20. Disney's "Pocahontas"
On June 16, 1995, Walt Disney Pictures created their thirty-third animated feature film, named Pocahontas. Pocahontas is the epic tale of a Native American princess named Pocahontas who just wants to find her own path. She eventually meets an English explorer—John Smith—who goes out to explore the surrounding areas.
The movie's song, "Colors of the Wind," went on to win a Golden Globe Award, an Academy Award, and a Grammy Award. As a single, "Colors of the Wind" also reached #4 on the U.S. pop charts in 1995. The soundtrack also won the Academy Award for Best Musical or Comedy Score.
Pocahontas has a great story line with great musical scores.
Disney's Pocahontas: "Colors of the Wind"
Disney's Mulan is the story of a young Chinese woman coming of age in a land where women are treated as inferior to men. Wanting to prove her worth to her family, her country, and herself, she masquerades as a male soldier in the Chinese army sent to defeat the invading Huns. Along with Mushu, her guardian dragon, and Crikee, her good-luck cricket, Fa Mulan infiltrates the army and proves that indeed females are just as good as males.
The beautiful and talented Ming-Na Wen voices Fa Mulan while Eddie Murphy lends his voice acting skills to Mushu, Mulan's guardian dragon. Disney's Mulan is definitely in the running for top Disney underrated animated feature films.
Full of comedy, action, and life lessons, Disney's Mulan brings a breath of fresh air to the helpless women that Disney portrays in most of their animated movies. Even though Mulan has a sequel, it received much less promotion than some of the more famous Disney movies. With catchy and unforgettable musical scores, riveting action, hilarious comedy relief, and a wonderful story line, Mulan is a wonderful Disney classic to remember.
Disney's "Mulan" Theatrical Trailer
18. "Home on the Range"
Read More From Reelrundown
Home on the Range (named after the famous country song) is an animated musical Western feature film produced by Walt Disney Pictures in 2004. Even when Home on the Range was first released, the lackluster promotion of the Disney animated movie was astounding.
Originally entitled Sweatin' Bullets, the story line is set around a trio of dairy cows who become bounty hunters to save their farm from foreclosure. The touching tale was the last Disney animated film to be released on VHS.
Disney's Home on the Range seemed to be predestined by Disney to become a flop. Not only did Disney under-promote the animated movie at the time of its release, but since then has also failed to include it as part of the larger Disney world. Unfortunately, this Disney jewel has fallen into the ranks of underrated and unexposed Disney classics.
17. "The Three Caballeros"
The Three Caballeros is the seventh animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. It centers around Donald Duck and his two friends, José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles. The film consists of several segments connected by a common theme. Released in America in 1945 and again in 1977, The Three Caballeros is all-but-forgotten by Disney.
Seven segments make up this Disney animated classic. Each one is unique and engaging.
17A. The Cold-Blooded Penguin
"The Cold-Blooded Penguin" is a segment in Disney's The Three Caballeros about a penguin named Pablo who lives in the South Pole. Unable to get warm in his igloo, he decides to try a warmer climate. The moral of "The Cold-Blooded Penguin" is that you have to work with what you have and remember that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence.
17B. The Flying Gauchito
"The Flying Gauchito" follows a little boy from Uruguay and his flying winged donkey, Burrito. It's a short segment about friendship and having spirit. The moral of the story is that it doesn't pay to cheat.
Bahía is a musical segment in The Three Caballeros that takes the form of a pop-up book trip through Bahía, Brazil. Donald's friend, José, gives him a gift and asks Donald if he has ever been to Bahía. José shrinks Donald Duck and himself down so that they can enter the book. Donald and Jose meet up with several of the locals, who dance the samba with them. The stunningly beautiful scenes in the Bahía segment are visually invigorating.
17D. Las Posadas
"Las Posadas" is a segment in The Three Caballeros about a group of Mexican children who celebrated Christmas by re-enacting the journey of the parents of Jesus Christ - Mary and Joseph - as they are searching for a room at the inn. Upon finding a room at an inn, Mary and Joseph commences to have a fiesta. Donald Duck also joins in the festivities, breaking a piñata.
17E Mexico: Pátzcuaro, Veracruz and Acapulco
The Mexico segment of The Three Caballeros centers around Donald Duck and two of his amigos as they take a tour of Mexico on a flying sarape. Donald Duck is a "wolf" to the ladies again and hounds every single woman he sees.
17F. "You Belong to My Heart" and Donald's Surreal Reverie
"You Belong to my Heart" is a musical scene in The Three Caballeros. In Mexico, Donald Duck falls in love with a beautiful singing woman. Donald Duck swoons over the female singer for the entire segment. The lyrics of the song coincide with the action in the scene.
Almost as if in a drunken stupor, Donald Duck encounters a singing and dancing woman. Donald envisions flowers and flashing colors in his surreal love-sick state. The scene is interrupted when Donald's friends, Panchito and Jose, spice things up and Donald ends up battling a toy bull loaded with firecrackers and other explosives.
Upon its release in 1940 release, Fantasia surpassed every previous animated film in the high quality of its animation. Fantasia is the third feature film in the Disney animated features canon. The film consists of eight animated segments, each set to different classical scores. Due to Mickey Mouse's decreasing popularity at the time, Fantasia was designed as a comeback role for Mickey. Disney had also always wanted to create abstract animation.
As the movie drifted from a scene of dancing flowers to views of erupting volcanoes and plodding dinosaurs, the audience must have thought Walt Disney was off his rocker. No one scene appeared related to any other. Though it's a very unorthodox animated movie, Fantasia is a great movie to watch—if nothing more than to see Walt Disney's mind at work. And although Fantasia has a sort of sequel (Fantasia 2000) it isn't talked about much by Disney, despite being the third animated film Disney ever produced.
Disney's Original (1956) "Fantasia" Trailer
15. "Hunchback of Notre Dame"
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the 34th animated feature in the Disney Animated Classics series and was released in 1996. The animated movie is set in 1502 and centers around a disfigured man named Quasimodo. Ensnared by the evil Judge, Claude Frollo, Quasimodo is forced to live in a bell tower isolated from anyone and anything except his friends the gargoyles.
Judge Frollo pretends to be Quasimodo's friend and savior and uses this leverage to keep Quasimodo enslaved, despite the fact that twenty years earlier, Judge Frollo killed Quasimodo's mother as she tried to sneak into Paris. Quasimodo meets a gypsy named Esmeralda who he befriends and becomes intrigued with. With an impressive animation and even more impressive story line, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a classic to be remembered and loved. The heartfelt story line will pull at your heartstrings and make you want to watch it time and time again.
(1996) "Hunchback of Notre Dame" Theatrical Trailer
14. "Oliver and Company"
In 1988, Walt Disney released its twenty-seventh full-length animated feature film, Oliver and Company, inspired by the Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist. The movie is set in the 1980s and centers around the orphaned kitten, Oliver, who is looking for a home in the vast city of New York. Oliver joins a band of vagabond dogs led by a kindhearted homeless man named Fagin.
Fagin has taught his dogs how to steal, cheat, and con to survive. When one of his schemes goes awry, the little kitten gets taken in by a little girl named Jenny who names the kitten Oliver. Jenny already has a pampered pooch named Georgette at home who is jealous of the attention Jenny gives to Oliver. Georgette tries to get rid of Oliver so she can reclaim her spot as head pet.
It is such a touching and moving storyline about the power of friendship and finding a home, working with these themes better than any other one. With such a great storyline, it's a wonder that Oliver and Company isn't more famous. A definite must-see.
13. "The Rescuers Down Under"
The Rescuers Down Under is the 29th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics. It is the sequel (a first for an animated feature) to Disney's The Rescuers. Both The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under were based on the novels by Margery Sharp. The story line centers around two mice: the very classy Miss Bianca and the jittery janitor, Bernard.
Bianca and Bernard are part of a secret organization called "Rescue Aid Society" that helps children in need. The action starts when a boy named Cody is kidnapped by Percival C. McLeach, a notorious poacher who is in search of Marahute, a rare golden eagle. Throughout the story, we switch between Miss Bianca and Bernard's adventures and how Cody is faring with McLeach and her lackeys.
The Rescuers Down Under is a Disney classic movie that certainly is very under-appreciated. With stellar animation, directing, and story, this movie is a pleasure to watch.
12. "The Black Cauldron"
The Black Cauldron was released in 1985. It's an American animated fantasy-adventure film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation. The Black Cauldron is Disney's attempt at a dark tale, and executed perfectly. The Black Cauldron was based on The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander, which is based om on Welsh mythology.
The movie is about the evil Horned King who is searching for the magical Black Cauldron, which will help him rule the world. A little farm boy named Taran, along with his magic pig, who can see where the Black Cauldron is located, is captured by The Horned King. While in the dungeon Taran and his magic pig encounter Princess Eilonwy, a tomboyish princess trying to escape the dungeon. The dark quality of the movie makes the animation in it seem more dramatic.
It seems as if Disney's The Black Cauldron went under the radar, even when it first came out. Right before the film was released in theaters, the Disney chairman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, decided to cut a lot of the movie due to its graphic nature and its length. In 2012 The Black Cauldron soundtrack was re-released to the public.
11. "The Rescuers"
The Rescuers was produced by Walt Disney in 1977 and is the 23rd film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. The movie is about an international mouse organization, the Rescue Aid Society, which is headquartered in New York and dedicated to helping abducted children around the world.
Two mice from the Rescue Aid Society, Bianca and Bernard, are on a mission to rescue an orphaned little girl named Penny who is being held prisoner by treasure hunters. We follow Bianca and Bernard on their adventure to rescue Penny from the treasure hunters who are trying to make Penny help them find the treasure they're seeking.
Despite the fact that The Rescuers was quite successful upon its original theatrical release, earning over $48 million in the box office, making it Disney's most successful film to that date, Disney hardly ever mentions it. It's a shame that for such a great adventure story to be shunted to the way-side.
The Rescuers Theatrical Trailer
10. "Brother Bear"
Produced in 2003 by Walt Disney Studios, Brother Bear is an animated feature film about three Inuit brothers who return to their tribe so that one of the brothers, Kenai, can receive his sacred totem. Kenai's totem is the bear of love, much to his disappointment because, "bears are thieves." When Kenai's oldest brother gets killed by a bear, Kenai goes after the bear and kills it. Once he kills the bear, its spirit punishes Kenai by turning him into a bear.
We follow Kenai as he searches for a way to turn back into a human, only to meet a bear cub named Koda who is adamant about tagging along with Kenai the bear. Kenai and Koda become friends after a while. To the dismay of Kenai, he learns that the bear he killed was Koda's mother, a revelation that devastates Koda.
The second Disney animation about Native Americans, this movie is an homage to the Inuit tribe. Brother Bear pulls you in and tugs at your heart strings, while also including enough comedy relief to keep it Disney. A great movie to watch with your whole family.
"Brother Bear" Theatrical Trailer
No You Shut Up Scene - "Brother Bear"
9. "The Great Mouse Detective"
Released in 1986, The Great Mouse Detective is Disney's 26th full-length, animated feature film. The Great Mouse Detective adapts the Basil of Baker Street series by Eve Titus. The lead protagonist and detective, Basil, is based on Sherlock Holmes.
When a toymaker is kidnapped, his daughter enlists Basil to help find her father. The movie's villain, Ratigan, kidnapped the little girl's father to force him into making a robot replica of the mouse queen in order to control the mouse community. This is quite a dark story, but it is a great movie to watch with the family.
"The Great Mouse Detective" Theatrical Trailer
8. "Meet the Robinsons"
Meet the Robinsons is a computer-animated feature film produced by the Walt Disney company. It is the 47th animated feature in Disney's Animated Classics collection. Loosely based on A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce, Meet the Robinsons is about an orphaned boy named Lewis who has a precocious talent for science and invention. Unable to remember his birth mother, Lewis tries to invent a machine that will help him remember what his mother looked like.
Lewis' memory scanner is sabotaged by a guy in a bowler hat, which subsequently makes Lewis give up on science and invention. When Lewis goes to the top of his orphanage to sulk, he finds a boy named Wilbur, who claims to be from the future. Lewis goes with Wilbur to the future where Lewis finds that Wilbur's family is quite unorthodox, but the love he feels is astounding. Lewis doesn't want to leave because he feels as if he's finally found his home, but when Wilbur drops the bomb to his family that Lewis is from the past, Wilbur's family decides that they no longer want to adopt him. We also learn that the guy in the bowler hat was the future version of Lewis' roommate in the orphanage, who went back into the past seeking revenge on Lewis, whose loud scientific experiments kept the roommate up at night.
Meet the Robinsons is a story about family, love, finding your way, and believing in yourself. The animation, story line, and characters make it a great movie to watch with or without your family. It's a comedy, but the moral is clear: always believe in yourself.
"Meet the Robinsons" Theatrical Trailer
"Meet the Robinsons" Funny Scenes
Disney's 1999 hit, Tarzan, was a breath of fresh air from the overdone princess/prince movies that Disney released in the 1990s, like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Tarzan is about an orphaned boy who is adopted by apes and grows up in the jungle.
Growing up with apes, Tarzan has never known about other humans like himself until a group of primatologists comes to the jungle in search of apes to study. Tarzan is smitten by the female primatologist, Jane.
Tarzan was the first Disney animated feature film to open at #1 at the box office since Pocahontas. It was the last major box office success of the Disney Renaissance. Though Disney's Tarzan did get a television series, a Broadway show, and a sequel, the animated film sadly isn't front and center in the Disney world—as it should be. The scenery is extravagant and the animation perfectly executed.
Tarzan Theatrical Trailer
6. "Robin Hood"
Disney's 1973 Robin Hood is the studio's 23rd animated feature film. Disney used anthropomorphic animals instead of people to relay their version of the famous Robin Hood tale. Robin Hood is an outlaw of sorts that steals from the rich and gives his plunder to the poor. Robin's love, Maid Marian, joins Robin Hood's band and he tries to overthrow King John who had taken over his brother's, King Richard, throne.
Robin Hood is a wonderfully executed Disney feature film. A great story line and masterful animation brings the characters to life and makes you feel for the characters in the story. Robin Hood is a story of overcoming the odds and also a great love story. It's a great film to watch with your family or friends.
"Robin Hood" Theatrical Trailer
Disney's Hercules was released in 1997 as the 37th full-length animated feature film in their Walt Disney Animated Classics series. The son of Zeus, the king of the Gods, Hercules is kidnapped when just a baby by his uncle, Hades. Because Hades' minions couldn't completely finish turning Hercules into a mortal to kill him, Hercules became a demigod. Growing up as a demigod, Hercules was ridiculed by other "normal" children his age for being clumsy and having abnormally powerful strength.
Once Hercules discovers that he is the son of a God, he goes on a quest to become a hero so that he too can become a fully fledged God again. On his journey he meets a trainer named Phil, who trains him into becoming a hero to help him realize his dream of becoming a God. As Phil trains Hercules, they run into a maiden by the name of Megara who is secretly working for Hades to get rid of Hercules.
Disney's Hercules is hands-down one of my definite favorite Disney animated feature films. Romance, action, mythology, comedy, wonderful animation, and the infamous Disney spark make this film a delight.
Hercules Theatrical Trailer
Disney "Hercules" Funny Moments
4. "The Brave Little Toaster"
In 1987, Disney released their animated film, The Brave Little Toaster. It's based on the Thomas Disch novel of the same name. The adventurous story focuses on five appliances—a toaster, a blanket, a desk lamp, a vacuum cleaner, and a tube radio—who go on a quest to find the owner who hasn't come back to get them.
Braving the outside world, the five appliances endure rain, mountains, a band of jealous new appliances, a junkyard magnet bent on crushing them, and more. This story centers around the concept that friendships are important. This is a great adventure story to share with the whole family.
The Brave Little Toaster Trailer
3. "Peter Pan"
Produced by Walt Disney and released in 1953, Peter Pan is Walt Disney's 14th animated feature film. The story is about Wendy Darling and her two brothers John and Michael, as they go on an adventure with Peter Pan. Peter Pan is a fairy tale character—a boy from an enchanted land who never ages.
As Peter Pan, Wendy, and her two brothers reach the enchanted land of Never Land, they face the antagonist of the story, the notorious Captain Hook. Peter, the lost boys, Wendy, and her two brothers fight against Captain Hook.
Peter Pan is one of my least favorite Disney movies, but it is a great story nonetheless with very good animation.
It seems as if Disney agrees with me because out of all the characters they could have chosen to highlight, only Tinkerbell has her own following and merchandise. Apart from the Tinkerbell franchise, Disney's Peter Pan has seemed to have fallen by the wayside.
Peter Pan Theatrical Trailer
2. "Treasure Planet"
Treasure Planet is Disney's 43rd full-length feature film. It uses a then-revolutionary animation technique of using 2D animation on top of 3D computer animation. The film is Disney's science fiction adaptation of the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
A teenage boy named Jim Hawkins receives a map of the legendary booty of Captain Nathaniel Flint from a dying pirate. Jim goes on a fantastic adventure across the universe as a cabin boy aboard a flying space boat. Befriending the ship's cyborg cook, John Silver, Jim grows under his guidance and learns how to be a good shipmate while also fighting black holes, supernovas, and enduring space storms. Jim soon discovers that John Silver is really a scheming pirate who is plotting a mutiny.
A movie with such an awesome story line and such stellar animation certainly belongs on this list. Disney outdid itself by adding a celestial touch to the classic children's novel. Even though Treasure Planet was a major flop at the box office, it is a great animated movie nonetheless; its poor box office was likely due to Disneys failure to actively promote it.
Treasure Planet Theatrical Trailer
Disney's Treasure Planet Funny Moments
1. "Atlantis: The Lost Empire"
Topping the list of Disney's most underrated animated feature films is Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Atlantis is Disney's 41st animated feature film. Atlantis is set around Milo Thatch, a linguist and cartographer at the Smithsonian Institution, who believes that he has found The Shepard's Journal, an ancient manuscript that reveals the location of the long-lost island of Atlantis. Milo meets a millionaire named Preston B. Whitmore who is bent on finding Atlantis. Mr. Whitmore recruits Milo to lead an expedition to find Atlantis with a group of skillful misfits.
Once Milo and his expedition crew find Atlantis, Milo's crew turns on him to try to strike it rich by selling artifacts from Atlantis and kidnapping Atlantis' princess. Milo tries to save the Atlantian princess and eventually regains the loyalty of his crew. Milo's crew does become rich, but Milo decides to stay in Atlantis with the princess of Atlantis, Kida.
I must say, I am quite surprised that Disney really doesn't talk about its first science fiction animated feature film. The execution of Atlantis: The Lost Empire makes it the best-known underrated Disney animated feature film to date. It's a hilarious, well-executed science fiction adventure that deserves more publicity than it's gotten. A definite must-see for anyone, young and old.
There are so many wonderful animations that Disney has just thrown to the wayside to promote their Disney Princess and Disney Fairies franchises. The Disney movies mentioned above are just a few examples of Disney's greatness that somehow haven't become as popular as some of the other movies. Do you have more to add? Don't agree with some of the movies' spot on the list? Let me know in the comments.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Shermia Trueheart
Boby Staples on June 07, 2017:
What is interesting about the majority of these movies is that although they may have been somewhat unsuccessful upon their release, people still love them once they discover them. Seeing the fan base some of these movies now have, I think Disney could have had great success had they put a little more effort into promotion.
PS. That voting list is incomplete. My favourite Disney movies happens to be Atlantis: The Lost Empire, which is not offered.
Shermia Trueheart (author) from Texas, USA on February 05, 2017:
Honestly, Disney does "borrow" story lines from other movies/books/media, renames it and put their spin on it, so it wouldn't surprise me none if it's true.
Naomi Starlight from Illinois on January 23, 2017:
The Black Cauldron looks like a ripoff of the Rankin/Bass animated Lord of the Rings films, maybe that's why nobody really cared for it when it came out. (I haven't seen it, I just mean based on that trailer.)
Shermia Trueheart (author) from Texas, USA on February 13, 2015:
Thank you so much, Miran. Hercules and Mulan are two of my favorite Disney movies, along with Atlantis. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.
Jacobb9205 on February 12, 2015:
Great list! Thank you for adding the videos to it makes it so much easier rather than going to YouTube and searching it up
Miran Shuleta on January 30, 2015:
This hub is very good, Mulan and Hercules are extremely underrated in my opinion
Patrick Rijnders from The Netherlands on November 26, 2014:
Cool list. I'm not sure if Tarzan is really underrated, but kudos for numbers one and two on your list. I especially love Treasure Planet, what a fantastic movie and such a shame that it bombed so badly.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on September 23, 2014:
i hate atlantis, i love brother bear, shows the brotherhood
Posetta Brown from Charleston S.C. on September 05, 2014:
Nice check out My Disney hub as well, this one is still one of my favorite's
Treasures By Brenda from Canada on August 19, 2014:
My children loved The Brave Little Toaster when they were little. It was a nice movie.
Posetta Brown from Charleston S.C. on November 10, 2013:
Eloise Lesley on November 07, 2013:
You forgot Quest for Camelot :) A bloody good watch for anyone craving Classic Disney, but isn't in the mood for a Disney Princess film.
I disagree on the choices of Pocahontas and Mulan in here though, I think a lot of people remember those two films very well, even in they aren't included in the "original princess set".
Amanda from Michigan, United States on February 03, 2013:
Wow, what a comprehensive hub! I love so many of these Disney movies. I think Mulan is my favorite thought.