The Five Most Under-appreciated Disney Animated Features


Since Disney movies pretty much wallpaper the memories of our childhood, we sometimes forget to take them seriously as adults. Personally, I’m a massive fan of pretty much every animated feature made by Walt Disney himself, as well as several that have been made since his death.

Even though I’m sure we could all rattle off a list of cherished Disney movies, and there are obviously some undisputed classics, the House of Mouse has a backlog big enough to mean not every film gets its due. This could be because they don’t fit the typical “Disney image,” or simply because good movies sometimes get overshadowed by great ones.

Whatever the reason, here are five Disney animated features that don’t get enough love these days.

Treasure Planet


There aren’t enough good old-fashioned adventure movies, but that’s not the fault of Treasure Planet. From what I understand, a lot of people prefer Atlantis, but that movie’s never quite worked for me (despite nerd-cred gained by names like Mike Mignola and Leonard Nimoy). Though both share a love of exploration and imagination, Atlantis simply doesn’t have any terribly memorable characters.

Treasure Planet, on the other hand, has its take on Long John Silver. Silver’s one of the great Disney villains the 2000’s; due to both the extremely cool design and animation of the character and a tremendous vocal performance from Brian Murray. Silver’s a great character, warm and conniving, sweet and scary. Take the super-cool sci-fi backdrop provided by the designers and animators (that spaceport!), and drop it in behind him? Now we’re cooking.

Yeah, the movie’s occasionally light on the drama, and sometimes feels a bit thin where the supporting cast and general plot are concerned. But darnit, Treasure Planet offers up earnest escapism, and that’s not something to take for granted.

The Rescuers


The Rescuers began a slightly strange ten-year period for Disney animation; a period marked by interesting filmmaking attempts that ultimately didn’t quite pan out into the classics they must have been imagined to be.*

This time period in general is where Disney’s process was a bit shoddy — you’ve likely seen the way they were reusing animation, plus there’s that whole sketchy look that came from “streamlining” the process. Nestled among all that, though, are a couple of gems defined by a willingness to simply keep their stories small. This movie is one of those.

It’s also really a strange little story. In comparison to 95% of Disney’s other output, it’s dark, quiet, and oddly somber. This despite a plot involving a couple of mice who fly in to rescue an orphan girl from a truly evil woman who owns two alligators.

The Rescuers underplays just about everything, from its emotional register to its sound design. This admittedly sounds terrible on paper — hey kids, wanna watch Disney’s most reserved feature film — but winds up working quite well in practice. It’s the very definition of good counter-programming.



Okay, I know it looks strange to call a movie this well-regarded “underrated.” But truthfully, I think every animated movie Walt Disney ever touched  was and remains underrated by general audiences to some degree (possible exception:  Snow White). In its way, the man’s vision simply eclipses anything that’s been done by an American filmmaker ever since, and yet his movies are constantly reduced to simple flights of fancy and/or wish fulfillment.

For instance, it seems that the two things people associate with Bambi are a) a completely harmless, relentlessly quaint depiction of pastoral beauty and b) one of the most devastating death scenes ever put in a children’s movie. And yes, both of those are present in the movie to some degree.

But jeez, folks, Bambi’s way more than a soft walk through nature. It’s a movie about the process of growing up. About losing guardians, finding love, facing danger and taking responsibility. Carrying the torch to the next generation. Its simplicity makes it an allegory, not a shallow lark.

Walt Disney packs the circle of life into just over an hour, taking a somewhat abstract tone that honestly feels more reminiscent of a super-long deleted scene from Fantasia than anything else.

Bambi may very well be my favorite coming-of-age film ever made.

Alice in Wonderland


This one’s admittedly less a case of not enough people liking a movie, than it is a case of not enough people really appreciating how smart the movie actually is. Fun fact: This is the only adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic book that actually works as an adaptation of that book. Despite the preposterous number of attempts we’ve seen lately to capture the novel’s whimsical magic, nobody else comes close to articulating what actually makes the book a masterpiece of the English language.

Disney’s stroke of genius was to take the animation medium and twist it around in the same way Carroll twisted the written word. Where the book Alice is packed with all kinds of weird wordplay and typography tricks (e.g. writing a “tale” in the shape of a “tail”), the movie version subs in visual puns. Cue the bird shaped like a birdcage, or the knot that comes out of the Caterpillar’s mouth when he says “not.”

With this genius approach, Disney retains the profundity of the source text. Sadly, like Bambi, Alice has found itself horribly reduced to some sort of vague, trippy ride through a world where nonsense is the order of the day. While the story is obviously bizarre, the entire point of Carroll’s writing is that it does make a weird kind of sense. Carroll was satirizing logic, not throwing it out completely.

The story of Alice’s adventure wreaks havoc with the very fabric of storytelling itself, but it does so with a supreme degree of purpose (and that purpose isn’t just to screw with its audience). Disney stands alone on the hill of people who managed to capture Carroll’s methodical madness onscreen.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame


It crushes me to think how poorly this movie did. For one, the failure of this piece seems to be a large part of the timeline leading Disney to produce the shallower, less insightful fare they put out for the ten/fifteen years following its release.

But two, and more importantly, it’s freakin’ GOOD. Not like, “oh, this movie is a fun diversion” good, but “all-time favorites” good. The tepid reception of this movie means that the mainstream essentially rejected one of the most thoughtful, complex evaluations of morality that I’ve ever seen from Disney. Its villains and heroes aren’t over-the-top caricatures like the Genie or Ursula. In fact, Frollo is terrifying in large part because he actually has a motive beyond evil or simple greed for his actions.

While we’re on THAT subject, Hunchback should also get a medal for actually managing to address religion and piety in a way that’s both fair and honest; it remembers that corruption is a trait found wherever humanity is. The way people missed the nuance here, along with the “Quasimodo didn’t get the girl!” complaint, are two of the most frustrating misreads of a movie that I can remember.

Surprisingly thoughtful story aside, this movie is GORGEOUS. You have the great voice acting, stunning animation, and Disney superstar Alan Menken at the top of his game; every song (almost**) is incredible. The Hunchback of Notre Dame isn’t just a great movie, it’s a high-watermark of Disney filmmaking.***

What about you? Know of a Disney movie that needs some love? Give it some in the comments.


*Though The Fox & the Hound ain’t too shabby.

** “A Guy Like You” is a bit “Disney,” if you know what I mean.

*** Accompanied by Fantasia, and possibly Alice in Wonderland.


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  1. I’d also throw in Lilo & Stitch and Emperor’s New Groove. Those surprisingly were great movies that when I mention them to friends that they typically haven’t seen them. (they know of Stitch the character but never really watched the movie)

    I completely agree about Hunchback too – that was a marvel of a movie from Disney. Completely so well written, animated and acted. Top Notch in my book.

  2. Couldn’t find five non-classics in their entire library to pimp, eh? That’s a studio where the word “under-appreciated” can’t possibly apply. Putting Bambi or Alice on here is like saying Johnny Depp is underrated. Sure most people like him and think he’s amazing and will go to see anything with his name on it, but they only love him, they don’t LOVE him!

    1. Oh, man, if only I had addressed this somewhere in the section about Bambi…

      Anyway, the thing I hear most commonly about Johnny Depp is that he’s weird, which does actually underrate his acting skills. I heard a ridiculous amount of people say that Tonto and Jack Sparrow were the same character, which isn’t the case despite some cosmetic similarities. In a similar way, I most commonly hear Alice spoken of in a drug context, which is just sad.

      Also, specifically labeling these as under-appreciated Disney movies is meant to indicate a relative evaluation. No, Bambi isn’t underrated in comparison to, say, Monster House, but in comparison to The Lion King? Absolutely.

      1. .To be fair, The Lion King didn’t inspire generations of animal rights terrorism, although Bambi might get bonus points for being arguably the least racist thing Disney ever did. It’s merely misanthropic, which is perfectly acceptable because people are dicks regardless of racial stereotypes. Fun fact: Johnny Depp is underrated in comparison to Jesus.

        1. Nick, the way you wrote both of your responses truly lacked flow of logic. I do not know of any racial tones in The Lion King as you mentioned. Sure the enemies are darker, but that is because evil is portrayed as darkness, not a race. Humans have longed feared the dark, which inspired stories of evil. I understand what you were trying to say with the comparison of The Lion King is to Bambi as Johnny Depp is to Jesus, but you absolutely failed with that comparison. I do not believe Johnny Depp is even underrated. I would compare him to The Lion King actually. Also, only reason The Lion King did not “inspire generations of animal rights terrorism” (which I do not see Bambi doing this either) because it did not have ANY human element. The enemy was other animals.

  3. Ahh, I understand now. That is one thing I hate about social networking, as there is absolutely no tone. Even if there is, it can be taken either way depending on the reader. Sure, The Lion King has political tones, but not racial, I believe. Lets take a look at all the possible racial themes. Mufasa was voiced by a minority as well, and he was king. It could be seen as racists toward whites, that is if the voice has any influence on how we see the character’s intended race. Zazu was Mufasa’s servant, who was voiced by a white actor, so perhaps another racial undertone? But this was all inspired by African culture and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. You have to remember, this took place in Africa, so it inherited many aspects African culture. Along with Rafiki, Sarabi, others who were voiced African actors . Also, I thought all 3 hyenas were African American voice actors as you did, or at least minorities, but it appears only 1 was. As far as the human aspect missing, I think it would have been weird to introduce humans to the story, as the animals were already human-like. I sorta wish Lion King 2 was never made, as the first was a classic, and should had been left alone.2 was ok, I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t reach my emotions as 1 did ( I was 5 when it came out), so perhaps my older age when 2 was released is the reason for me not feeling as connected when I watch today. 1 1/2 was just fun, parody even, so if 2 had to be made, I don’t mind 1 1/2.

    1. Cheech and Chong voiced two hyenas, which is pretty eyebrow-raising when you consider the immigration aspect. How often does Disney cast a Mexican in anything at all? This stuff isn’t a dealbreaker; it’s still a fine movie, as are all of Disney’s classics, but I still think it’s important that people be aware of the multitude of questionable values that are present in these films.

      1. Acctually Jim Cummins voiced the other. Idk who Chong is. Apparently Cheech and Chong were a comedy pair, but Chong could not do it. Basically you have an African American, Mexican, and European(American) playing the hyenas, pretty diverse. Anyway, kinda irrelevant at this point. Before I just browsed The Lion King’s cast and saw photos. Racial undertones? These days every movie has some sort of undertone, some are more obvious than others. Look at Happy Feet, they are basically screaming environmental destruction with the scars on the whales, trash in the sea, large ships, etc. The Lion King, it is usually harder to see, BUT if you compare it to other Disney movies, its always about a dominant Male character saving the day, or a helpless female character searching for he dominant male character to save the day. Lion Kings entire cast (both good and bad) is pretty diverse racially so, IDK. In Lion King 2 (despite it being based off of another, even more well known Shakespeare play, do I need to even say it?) it could be seen s racial I suppose. 2 groups of physically different lions hate each other, leading to death and fighting.

  4. Just thought of Oliver and Company, and Dinosaur as being underrate. It seems like after Lilo and Stich, the newer movies lost the classic Disney feel to them. I have not seen a single recent movie that spoke to me like the classics did.

  5. Also, re Alice – am I alone in getting fed up with the constant attempts to make Alice in Wonderland into some sorrt of DARK AND EDGY crap? It happens far more often than is necessary.

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