Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
As I write this article I am enjoying what every kid waits for in winter – a snow day. It’s icing. It’s snowing. It’s a real mess, and it’s the second one we’ve had this week. We’re having one of those winters here in New York, as are quite a few other regions of the country. If it’s too nasty to go out sledding, which it has been, then one has to think about what to do with the kids all day. How about a movie? But which one? Our collection is quite extensive. So why is it that we always seem to watch the same ones?
Here’s a thought, kids. How about a movie other than one of the Toy Story movies? How about not watching Monster’s Inc. again or any of the dozen or so movies that my sons instantly gravitate towards? Maybe a snow day is just the perfect time to watch one of those other Disney movies that seem to get forgotten and brushed aside for the biggies like The Lion King, Aladdin or The Incredibles. The Disney catalog of animated films is so extensive and yet, even with their father being who he is, my sons haven’t seen a whole bunch of them. And they’re not alone.
There are quite a few Disney animated films that have seemingly dropped off of the radar and that’s a crime because there are treasures out there that shamefully get ignored. The public isn’t the only guilty culprit involved in this imposed exile. The Walt Disney Company themselves seem to have forgotten about a lot of the films in their library. They don’t get promoted in the parks. They don’t get toys and merchandise produced for them anymore and they don’t get highly touted rereleases like so many of the other Disney classics.
So with unexpected time to kill on these cold, blustery days at home, I started to look through the DVD shelves for my Top 5 Underrated and Under-appreciated Disney Animated Films. It’s time that they got to see the light of day again and it’s time for the young Barry boys to see just what they’ve been missing.
5 – Robin Hood
In this writer’s opinion, Disney’s twenty-first animated release gets quite a bum rap from the Disney faithful. This is no doubt due to its reuse of animation and nearly identical characters to its more popular predecessor, Jungle Book. Yes, Little John is pretty much Baloo, down to the same voice actor, the great Phil Harris. Sir Hiss the snake does that same hypnosis thing as Kaa from Jungle Book and there are other bits of animation that are strikingly similar to other Disney films. We have our beloved Walt Disney World to thank for this. The story goes that thanks to the Florida Project’s burgeoning costs, Robin Hood’s budget was cut and the animators had to make do.
Still, I can absolutely look past these supposed shortcomings and enjoy Robin Hood for what it is, a wonderful, entertaining Disney classic. I clearly remember seeing this at the drive-in and it always brings me back to my childhood, like any good Disney movie should. Robin Hood himself is one of my all-time favorite Disney characters. He’s got a certain swagger about him, which I attribute to his casting as a cool, sly fox. I haven’t seen him out and about in the Magic Kingdom for quite some time, but my daughter and I were always equally thrilled to meet him and take a photo with him. In my opinion, the company ignores the Robin Hood characters. Friar Tuck and Prince John do make appearances in the parade, but I think it’s a shame that more people don’t appreciate this film and put it up there with the classics in the Disney canon.
4 – Atlantis: The Lost Empire
I was a fan of this film from the very start. Definitely a departure from the typical Disney style of animated movies, Atlantis: The Lost Empire was considered quite a financial disappointment after it was released in 2001. The things that some critics didn’t like about this film – that for a Disney movie it was lacking songs, cute animals and children – is exactly what I like most about it. It’s science fiction, not princesses and singing animals. I wish more people had embraced this departure from the norm. Watch this film and enjoy the unique and wonderful animation, the good humor, the action sequences, potent message and the voiceover cast provided by TV royalty like Michael J. Fox, James Garner and Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy. If you’re looking for something different in the Disney library, look no further than the lost city of Atlantis.
3 – The Emperor’s New Groove
Despite the direct-to-video sequel, Kronk’s New Groove and a spin-off animated series, The Emperor’s New School, Kuzco, Pacha, Yzma and Kronk have pretty much vanished from the Disney radar. Personally, I think this is one of Disney’s funniest films. The four stars, David Spade as Emperor Kuzco, John Goodman as Pacha, Patrick Warburton as Kronk and the unforgettable Eartha Kitt as the wicked Yzma are spot on perfect and infuse the film with four totally unique and memorable characters. The pairing of Yzma and Kronk as the classic evildoer and henchman is particularly hysterical at times. New Groove is a forgotten gem and deserves much more attention than it currently receives. Watch it and try not to laugh.
2 – Brother Bear
Critics consistently slammed this film. I’ve heard it called bland, dull and formulaic. Honestly, I can’t disagree more. To me, this is a simple, funny, moving, beautifully animated entry in the Disney lineup. I love classic 2-D animation and was thrilled to see this film put out when so many other companies were pushing mediocre bits of CGI that had no story, lame characters, no heart and poorly executed digital animation. Brother Bear shined to me at that moment and it still resonates with me today. I’m a Disney fan. I’m sorry if I sometimes unabashedly like sap. I saw this in the theater with my then five-year-old daughter and it was the perfect film for us to see and enjoy together. I think it’s an unheralded pleasure and aside from the occasional Kenai sighting in Epcot’s Canada pavilion, it’s another Disney great that has pretty much been forgotten.
1 – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
When I sat down to compose this list I approached my 15-year-old daughter to discuss placement and which films should and shouldn’t make the cut. We were unanimous on placing Disney’s 34th animated masterpiece, The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the 1st place slot. This is an absolutely stunning film featuring well-developed characters, Broadway caliber music, breathtaking animation, a wickedly evil villain and a strong willed and non princess-like heroine all wrapped up in one of Disney’s best-produced packages. And yet, as I have mentioned with just about each of my entries on this list, Hunchback has essentially been forgotten in the Disney universe. When my aforementioned daughter arrived in Walt Disney World at the mature age of 4, the character she wanted to meet most was Esmeralda. She was nowhere to be found and still isn’t.
Perhaps it’s the dark themes explored in this film. Persecution, abandonment, cruelty, discrimination and lust are all pretty heavy themes for a Disney movie. Let’s not forget that the main character isn’t a handsome prince and he, in fact, doesn’t get the girl in the end. This movie broke the Disney mold and it should be praised as such. Instead, it seems like this is yet another forgotten Disney classic, one that should be applauded for all of its unique attributes. If you haven’t watched this in a while, dust it off and see for yourself just how great this film is. I have it on in the background as I'm finishing this article and it really is brilliant.
This was a tough list for sure. I could have waxed eloquently on several other lost Disney classics. How many of you loved Treasure Planet as much as I did, a few, maybe? How about The Black Cauldron or The Great Mouse Detective? Am I one of the only ones who gets all choked up and adores The Fox and the Hound? Yet, all of these movies I listed here just don’t seem to register on the “Disney Biggies Scale.” I suppose when you have a library of films like The Lion King, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, and so many others, there’s going to be a hierarchy.
But as Disney fans, we can support these so called second tier Disney classics, can’t we? As a writer for a website like this one, it’s my duty to tout these films as the hidden masterpieces that they are. I don’t think this article will get Esmeralda out of retirement anytime soon, and it’s certainly too late for that Atlantis themed submarine ride in Tomorrowland.
But maybe there are a few of you out there that share my feelings for these lesser-known Disney gems. Maybe if we talk about them more and write about them more, they’ll see a bit of resurgence in their popularity.
Or maybe, they won’t and the die-hard fans out there who know what we know will just have to keep on loving these films on their own and waiting for snow days or long rides in the car to break them out of their old cases and show them to their kids hoping that they’ll love them too.
As always, thanks for reading. Let me know what you think of my list or let me hear your own list by clicking on the link below and I’ll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.