Welcome to the first in a series of Top 10 posts covering the world of animated movies. When we first decided to do a top 10 animation list, it quickly became clear that with so many wonderful and varied movies to choose from, we were going to have a hard time in coming up a combined list of all our favourites. So, we decided to split our choices into 3 categories – traditional Disney, Pixar and then others. Even then, despite creating multiple spreadsheets and polls and debating the outcomes, there were still movies within those split categories where we just couldn’t agree on which was better, resulting in a couple of ties. As always, feel free to shout at us for overlooking your favourite, or for getting this list completely wrong!
10. Pocahontas (1995)
Matt: Pocahontas is hugely underrated and I think potentially the most important Disney film – not least because it was their first animated film based on a real person and historical events. I’m somewhat surprised that it wasn’t prioritised for a live-action remake, considering how perfectly it speaks to current issues surrounding the environment, such as deforestation and wars over natural resources – as well as racism and even arranged marriages! It would be a fantastic opportunity for more diversity and representation in cinema for Native American actors too. The film communicates its powerful message through some of the most beautiful songs ever written (listen to ‘Colours of the Wind’ and tell me I’m wrong!) and it’s also undeniably one of the most visually creative Disney animations in terms of colour, landscapes and its depiction of nature – I urge everyone to take another look!
9. Mulan (1998)
Mary: My husband and I recently re-watched this on our date night and had a ball, this is a genuinely funny film, thanks in large part to Eddie Murphy’s voice work. It can’t be denied that some of his most memorable work has been in animation. Mulan is a great mixture of all the best things Disney offer in their movies, a great story, one that shows us a place or culture likely unknown to us, great comedy, memorable characters, in this case another fantastic head strong female character, for the first time completely fighting her own battles (literally) and with the highest kill-count in Disney (including the villains) and great songs. I’ll Make a Man Out of You is in my top 3 Disney songs, knowing our mutual love of Mulan it was playing in the car on our first date, both singing along – it was obviously meant to be.
8. The Princess & The Frog (2009)
Clare: The Princess & The Frog will always have a really special place in my heart, as it was released when I was working at The Disney Store. It was my first big film release as a staff member, but also such a big moment as a return to classic Disney animation. I saw it twice in the cinema and cried at the sing Evangeline, which remains one of my favourite Disney songs. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s fun, charming and has amazing music. Dr Facilier has one of the best villain songs and almost every song on the soundtrack will have you tapping your foot.
7. Big Hero 6 (2014)
Lee: East meets West in this vibrant action story of robots and superheroes, set in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo. Loosely based on a Marvel comic, Big Hero 6 also manages to pack a heartwarming emotional punch, along with incredible visuals. Basically, all of the ingredients which seem to feature regularly in my animated favourites!
6. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Clare: So I’m willing to admit that technically The Little Mermaid is not the best Disney film ever, but it is my favourite Disney film of all time, and remains in my top movies ever made. Released the same year I was born, featuring a red head who felt her family didn’t get her and wanted to run away and live in a castle? It’s no wonder I tried to convince my parents to call me Ariel when I was 5 (they refused). There’s nothing I don’t adore about this film. Under the Sea, Kiss the Girl and of course Part of Your World are 3 of the all time Disney songs, and the water animation was equally beautiful for the time.
5. Moana (2016)
Lee: Moana was top of my Disney list, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Beautiful visuals, a strong female character and in my opinion, the best soundtrack of all Disney movies. It even includes a solo from Jemaine Clement! Every time I watch it, It makes me laugh and well up with emotion in equal measure, and is everything I want from a Disney movie.
Mary: I recently re-watched Moana and there is something very magical and tropical about it, the colour palette and the animation are so appealing I can’t help but enjoy it. Never really a Dwayne Johnson fan before, this performance definitely put me on the path to fandom. The songs are fab and cultural, I loved the diversity in this and the message that it gives young people, to be yourself and to fight for the right to follow your heart. What more can you want?
4. TIE: Tarzan (1999) / Snow White (1937)
Matt: Two words: Phil Collins. It’s hard not to talk about Tarzan from the perspective of what he specifically brought to the film because his music underscores every moment, every emotion, and brings the themes of family, identity and acceptance to life. ‘You’ll Be in My Heart’, ‘Strangers Like Me’, ‘Son of Man’, and ‘Two Worlds, One Family’ comprise one of the best Disney soundtracks, which perfectly concluded the Disney Renaissance in 1999. Tarzan features some of the most exhilarating action scenes ever drawn (perfectly complemented by Collins’ legendary drumming, which also transports us to the African jungle), and genuinely packs a lot of humour and heart too.
Mary: Snow White happens to be one of the first films I think I came into contact with, I have no memory of it but I have been told I would sit transfixed and when finished would insist that it was rewound (this was back in the good old VHS days) and immediately played again. I think in terms of aesthetics there is something about Snow White that cannot be matched by any of the other Disney classics. It is warm and cosy and reminds me of delightful pictures in old children’s books. This is definitely a piece of art, and to think this was 1937 and the first of its kind, talk about starting with a home run. This one will always be very dear to my heart.
3. Tangled (2010)
Clare: I honestly believe Tangled is the best Disney film to be released since The Lion King and it still holds that title for me. The storyline is perfectly paced, the characters are amazing. Mother Gothel is terrifying without ever really doing too much, Pascal is a top animal sidekick and Flynn Rider is hilarious. Rapunzel herself is a perfect Disney princess and her hair seals the deal with the stunning animation. Add in a brilliant soundtrack, a courageous horse and despite it being one of the most expensive movies ever made, it’s worth every penny. (Highly recommend the made for TV sequel and TV series for big fans, they’re great!)
Lee: This is another one that featured very highly on my list. I took my daughter to see Tangled at the cinema and we both had a great time. Once again, Disney take a familiar story and make it fresh and exciting. The visuals are incredible, as are the characters. Basically, everything I loved about Moana.
Mary: This was a real welcome surprise for me, I’d gone a number of years without watching Disney’s animated features before Tangled and this I felt was a real return to form. It is humorous, still has the old-world fairy tale feel but it also feels really modern and fresh. I think I’ve just talked myself into a re-watch!
2. Aladdin (1992)
Mary: Aladdin always reminds me of the 90’s and the great renaissance period at Disney which produced a handful of the most successful and arguably greatest films in the Disney canon. Not only that but it was one of the movies, possibly THE movie that changed the idea for casting in Disney voice work. Where before mostly unknown character actors were used, here Robin Williams was cast as the Genie; without a doubt the greatest Disney animated performance and arguably character, of all time. There was no denying who this was, it was big and bold and hilariously funny, he stole the show, and ever since it has been par for the course to hire the biggest and brightest in Hollywood working at the time. Also in its favour is another fantastic soundtrack, A Whole New World is fabulous and one I cannot help but join in with as soon as it plays.
Clare: Whilst The Little Mermaid is my favourite film on the list, Aladdin is probably my most watched and had second place in my list. I adored this film growing up, from the whimsical magic carpet, to the beautiful music, to Princess Jasmine’s entire existence. Plus, Rajah was always animal sidekick goals for me. Robin Williams Genie is quite rightly the best thing about the film, but even without his performance, there’s so much to love and it’s a practically perfect film.
Lee: Aladdin was my favourite Disney movie for a very long time, but only featured 5th on my top 10 list, being beaten by four fresh-faced movies from the 2010s. I loved it for all the reasons Mary and Clare have already mentioned and although I haven’t seen it for many years, it still remains a firm favourite.
1. TIE: The Lion King (1994) / Beauty & The Beast (1991)
Matt: I think it’s undeniable that The Lion King is THE quintessential Disney film, and it is no surprise whatsoever that it tops so many people’s lists. It really has got everything going for it: the perfect story (thanks, Mr. Shakespeare!), iconic characters, a legendary voice cast, stunning visuals, (many) memorable songs, a phenomenal score, and for us ‘90s kids it really did define our childhoods! The Lion King absolutely deserves the crown on this list, it’s a true masterpiece.
Mary: Funnily enough growing up The Lion King was my favourite Disney film of all time, but as I grew into adulthood Beauty and the Beast rushed up and claimed the top spot and remains there to this day. I think it might be because I relate so much to Belle’s nature and I definitely share her love of books (that is no understatement). Though there is a reason it was the first, and remains one of the few animated films nominated for Best Picture. It is in short very close to perfect in my opinion, it is the best type of fairy tale, happily ever after story with a fantastic love to hate villain and headstrong almost feminist (definitely in the live action remake) heroine and a superb score and soundtrack which is moving, joyous and unforgettable. It must be said that most of these descriptions can also be said of The Lion King which is why I wholeheartedly agree with this result.
Clare: Both of these films regularly swap in third place for me on my Disney list, but even I admit they are probably the technically best Disney films ever made. I still remember sitting in the cinema watching The Lion King, and being aghast at Mufasa’s fate. Disney is known for it’s parental deaths, but I don’t think one had ever been quite so brutal before. Scar is a perfect villain (as Mary mentioned, thank you Mr Shakespeare) but every character is a genius addition. It’s no wonder my childhood bedroom was filled with lion figurines. And I know I keep saying it, but what a soundtrack! I just rewatched Beauty and the Beast a week or so ago, and it holds up. Of any film on the list, I think it captures that Disney magic more than any. It’s literally magical. No matter how far animation comes, the ballroom scene will always be the most beautiful animation sequence ever made.
Lee: As Matt already stated, The Lion King is always going to be the one to beat in a Disney list. It spawned a musical which has been going strong almost as long as the movie has and a “live action” version in 2019 that was probably the most controversial of all of the remakes so far. Surprisingly, Beauty and the Beast didn’t feature in my top 10, which just goes to show how highly regarded it is by the rest of the team. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it though and it’s a worthy winner.
Mary: You can clearly tell the age of the majority of us at CineChat as seven of the films in the list are from the 90’s renaissance period. They are the films that give us that lovely nostalgic feeling to look back on, my childhood consisted very happily of endless Disney features. I am very surprised that a number of the classics didn’t feature higher, the likes of The Jungle Book and Pinocchio are missing entirely. The problem with Disney is they have too many amazing movies, there just isn’t nearly enough room to mention all the ones you want!
Clare: As a 90s kid, it’s very clear why I picked my ones, but I have realised I also lean heavily towards the music in the film. I guess that accounts for a lot of the earlier films being missing from my personal list. 7 of my 10 feature in our combined list, so I’m pretty confident in my Disney opinions. As the only member of the team to have graduated from Disney University (true fact), I guess I shouldn’t have been worried.
Lee: I’m ‘slightly’ older than the rest of the team so I guess the 90s period that Mary and Clare are referring to didn’t have quite the same impact on me. I am certainly a fan of that period, but it’s interesting looking back on my personal top 10 just how many Disney movies from the 2010s ended up making their way into my top 5. I think it’s a combination of having kids that I could take to enjoy them on the big screen with, along with the incredible advances in technical production, voice cast and soundtracks. Either way, it just goes to show that Disney is perfectly capable of continually refining and adapting it’s output, while staying at the very top of their game.