In the 1920s and 1930s, the Disney studio was known for its animated short subjects, featuring characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and others. However, Walt Disney decided in 1937 to take a risk and release a feature-length animated film. The result was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the movie world would never be the same again. Now, anyone can see the huge legacy of those films by watching the best Disney Plus animated movies on the recently launched streaming service.
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While animation styles may have changed over the past 80 years or so, the best of Disney’s films in this genre are still highly entertaining for the whole family. That makes this list harder to make than others as there are so many terrific films to choose from. However, we are going to do our best. Here are our picks for the best Disney Plus animated movies. By the way, we have put all of the movies made by Disney’s Pixar division in their own separate list. You can sign up for the service at the link below.
Best Disney Plus animated movies
Editor’s note: We will be updating this list as more Disney Plus animated movies are added to the service.
1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Walt Disney took a huge risk with this 1937 film. No one but the animation pioneer thought people would sit in a theater and watch a feature-length animated movie. However, Walt proved the doubters wrong. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was, and still is, an incredible artistic achievement. The cel animation artwork is still excellent. It also doesn’t try to be pretty all the time. This film can get really dark at times as the evil Queen tries to take down Snow White. This film set the formula for so many Disney animated films to come, and it still works as well as it did over 80 years ago.
Three years after Snow White, Walt Disney took another huge risk with Fantasia in 1940. The idea was to introduce young people to classical music by creating a series of animated short subjects. Each segment of Fantasia was inspired by music by classic greats like Bach, Beethoven, and Stravinsky. The most famous segment is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It featured Mickey Mouse who has his simple magic spell get way out of control. The final result got mixed reviews when it was first released, but has since been acknowledged as a true movie masterpiece. It features images and animation that had even been attempted before.
We will warn parents there is some pretty dark content in Fantasia. That includes the final segment, Night on Bald Mountain, which depicts devils and evil spirits. Be sure to also check out Fantasia 2000, which features mostly new animated segments inspired by more classical music.
Cinderella was the first major Disney animated movie to come after the end of World War II. The studio needed a major box office hit, and went back to its Snow White roots for this 1950 release. The story of a girl who was oppressed by her step-family, and then becomes a princess, was perfect for Disney’s animation team. The result was a highly entertaining movie, and more importantly for the studio, was a huge box office hit.
There were sad moments in previous Disney films, but none of them were as emotional as the event at the heart of this 1942 film. If you have never seen it, be prepared to wipe away some tears. Bambi may start out as a gentle-looking tale of a young deer in the forest, but it soon gets very serious indeed. However, the punch that Bambi has on an audience even today makes it one of the best Disney Plus animated movies.
5. Sleeping Beauty
There were plenty of good Disney animated films released in the 1950s but this 1959 film tops them all. Ironically, this movie about a princess named Aurora who is put to sleep by an evil witch, was not a big success. Indeed, this would be Disney’s last “fairy tale” animated movie for 30 years. Yet, the story and visuals, especially at the end when the witch Maleficent goes all in to stop the prince from rescuing Aurora. It still contains some of the best animations ever made.
6. The Little Mermaid
After a couple of decades of medicore to poor movies, Disney animation came back with this 1989 release. It went back to basics in some ways; another retelling of a fairy tale about a mermaid who wants to learn about the surface world. The formula still works, and its helped by some great songs and a musical score as well.
7. Beauty and the Beast
Two years after The Little Mermaid, we have yet another great fairy tale animated musical. The 1991 film had a bit of a darker edge, however, with some extra dimension to the male lead of the “Beast” who wishes he were human again. This film also has the distinction of being the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award in the Best Picture category.
Forget that new 2019 live-action remake. This 1992 animated version is the one you want to watch. The tale of a thief who wants to marry a princess has a terrific score, excellent visuals, and a one-of-a-kind (for Disney) voice performance by the late Robin Williams as the Genie. It’s still highly entertaining just for his work.
9. The Lion King
In 1994, Disney released what many consider to be its best cel-animated film ever. It tells the story of a lion cub and his growth into the leader of an animal kingdom in Africa. There are so many sequences that stand out in The Lion King. The introduction of Simba to his subjects is terrific. The first meeting of Simba with his pals Timon and Pumbaa is funny. Scar’s act of betrayal gives us chills every time. The songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are also excellent. The Lion King may be as perfect as an animated film as you can get and easily one of the best Disney Plus animated movies. Be sure you watch it before you watch the 2019 CGI version of The Lion King.
Yep, you and your kids won’t be able to get “Let it Go” out of your head for months after watching this 2015 CGI animated film. That’s ok as this movie has a lot of dark themes combined with some funny sequences and supporting characters. There’s even a nice twist near the end that many of you might not see coming.
Best Disney Plus animated movies: Honorable mentions
There are so many great Disney Plus animated movies on the service, there’s no way we could not mention a few more as honorable mentions.
- The Jungle Book – A different location and some great voice acting and singing makes this movie fun to watch.
- Mulan – Before you watch the recent live-action version, watch the original about a girl who assumes the role of a man in feudal China.
- Moana – This CGI movie about a young girl and her adventures in Polynesia includes a stand-out performance from Dwayne Johnson as the demi-god Maui.
That’s our picks for the best Disney Plus animated movies. We will update this list when more movies are added to the service.
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