40. “The Black Cauldron” (1985)
The mega-success of “Star Wars” saw fantasy movies become all the rage in the 1980s, with “Labyrinth,” “Legend” et al, but Disney’s attempt to cash in, and find a new identity in the aftermath of the departure of the Nine Old Men, was such a flop that it nearly brought an end to the animation studio. Based on Lloyd Alexander’s books, based on Welsh mythology, it sees a pig herder, a princess, a bard and a dog-like creature attempt to take on an evil king. It’s was refreshing to see the studio try something relatively new, but it’s a little charmless, and feels a bit generic-fantasy in its execution rather than something more specific
39. “Saludos Amigos” (1942)
The first and briskest of the package films at barely 40 minutes, “Saludos Amigos” is undeniably slight, but also sort of fascinating — in large part because of the story behind it. The film was commissioned by the State Department and Nelson Rockefeller as part of a goodwill tour, intended to help ties with Latin America and sway certain nations away from alliances with Nazi Germany, and the film features some rather fascinating live-action documentary segments following the animators on tour to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. The film arguably peaks with those, but most of the four animated segments are charming and beautiful too.
38. “The Sword In The Stone” (1963)
An unusual oddity in a run of 1960s Disney classics, “The Sword In The Stone” (loosely adapted from T.H White’s Arthurian saga “The Once And Future King”) is in some ways overlooked now. Perhaps because it was the last film released in Walt Disney’s lifetime, or perhaps because it has an odd, episodic structure, and a much more comic, low-stakes tone than most Arthur and Merlin stories. It doesn’t entirely satisfy, but it charms deeply, and its big, bold, almost modernist colors makes it entirely gorgeous too.
37. “Tarzan” (1999)
Arguably the last film in the Disney renaissance run of the 90s, made in the mold of “The Little Mermaid” et al, “Tarzan” is a film which doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts. It looks beautiful, it has some thrilling action, a big heart and proves a faithful adaptation of the character in many respects. And yet it doesn’t quite gel as a successful whole — it’s darker than most of its contemporaries, the comic elements don’t quite work, and the story feels like it’s going over old ground. Or maybe it’s just the pretty dreadful Phil Collins songs that put us off…
36. “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” (1977)
Essentially Disney’s first package movie since the 1940s, and the first of two theatrical features to star A.A. Milne’s beloved bear of little brain, this film collects three earlier short films — “Winnie The Pooh And The Honey Tree” from 1966, “Winnie The Pooh And The Blustery Day” from 1968 and “Winnie The Pooh And Tigger Too” from 1974 — and links them up with some additional material. As such, the slightly haphazard nature of the story makes it feel a little less than the follow-up that would come out 35 years later, but it’s nevertheless a real charmer that stays very close to the spirit of Milne while finding a particular American folksiness in the characters too.
35. “The Adventures Of Ichabod & Mr. Toad” (1949)
The last of the 1940s package films was also by some ways the best, largely because it focuses just on two stories, both fairly well-tested ones at that. A double-bill of a (at once loose and faithful) take on “The Wind In The Willows” with a Bing Crosby-narrated version of Washington Irving’s “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” is a rather random pairing, but both are charming and characterful versions, particularly the Irving adaptation, which has some gorgeous character designs and is arguably the spookiest and most daring thing the studio had done up to that point.
34. “Big Hero 6” (2014)
Disney Animation’s first Marvel-derived movie (though they hid the connection away, it’s based on an obscure Marvel comic) continued the immense run of recent success, but we’d argue that it’s the least of the true post-Lasseter Disney Renaissance movies. Its near-future superhero tale has some dazzling action sequences, a solid heart and one instantly beloved character in inflatable protecto-bot Baymax (Scott Adsit), but the central story is mostly a bit generic, and Baymax aside, the cast are kind of bland and forgettable.
33. “The Rescuers” (1977)
Despite not being based on well-known material as many of the other films around the time were, “The Rescuers” proved to be Disney’s biggest-ever film up to that point (hence getting a sequel a little over a decade later). And while it’s a touch formulaic in places (Geraldine Page’s villain in particular is a bit recycled), you can sort of see why: its story of two secret-agent mice trying to rescue a kidnapped child is stuffed with lovable characters (particularly Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor’s Nick-and-Nora-ish heroes), genuine tension and a truly atmospheric Louisiana setting.
32. “Frozen” (2013)
We imagine that seeing the most beloved Disney movie of recent years, and the most successful in the company’s history (it was the first to cross the billion-dollar mark, and remains the biggest animation of all time worldwide) around the midpoint of this list will get some people chattering. But look, “Frozen” is fine in many respects — it’s got some good songs, a lovable comic sidekick, and a sweet, convention-upending message underneath it. But it doesn’t entirely work as a whole, either — its story a little choppy, its character design a little conventional and bland, its snowman a little Josh Gad-y. It’s inarguable that kids adore it, but we suspect that they’ll grow up to enjoy a few of its contemporaries a little more.
31. “The Aristocats” (1970)
Disney are certainly unafraid of formula, and found a doozy in the 1950s-’70s with their cute-animals-and-also-baby-animals-and-a-colorful-villain vibes, pioneered with “Lady And The Tramp” and continued with “101 Dalmatians” and “The Rescuers,” among others. “The Aristocats” suffers a bit because it feels so close to formula — it’s essentially the exact midpoint of “Lady And The Tramp” and “101 Dalmatians,” but without as good as villain as either. Still, it’s as entertaining as it is familiar, and in Phil Harris’ jazzy “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat,” has one of the best Disney songs ever.