Disney animation’s history goes back nearly 90 years. Much of it can be viewed on Disney+, alongside work from other Disney-owned animation studios, including Pixar. Here are 10 of the best animated movies to stream on Disney+.
Update, 1/11/23: We’ve reviewed our guide and are still confident these are the best animated movies you’ll find on the Disney+ platform.
Robin Williams steals the show as the voice of the Genie in Aladdin, and his appearance set the stage for more and more celebrity voices in future Disney animated movies. But Williams’ manic performance is just one of the entertaining aspects of this movie. Aladdin also features great songs (including the massive hit “A Whole New World”), a memorable villain in evil wizard Jafar, and a sweet central romance between roguish thief Aladdin and pampered Princess Jasmine.
Considered an anomaly for Disney at the time it was released in 2000, The Emperor’s New Groove had a troubled production history and underwent numerous changes over the course of its lengthy development. The result is a madcap, hilarious comedy that represents the filmmakers cutting loose and throwing in any crazy ideas they could think of. The story of a vain emperor who turns into a llama is closer to a Looney Tunes cartoon than typical Disney fare, but its zany energy makes it a blast to watch, and it has become a cult classic since.
In the earliest days of Disney animation, 1940’s Fantasia proved that Walt Disney and his team weren’t just interested in creating fairy tale cartoons for kids. The anthology film features segments set to pieces of classical music, many of them abstract and experimental. It also features Mickey Mouse in the famous The Sorceror’s Apprentice sequence, offering silly cartoon antics as a counterpoint to some of the more grandiose segments. It’s a testament to the artistic power of animation.
Disney’s princess musicals reached another level with the 2013 megahit Frozen, which reestablished the classic Disney style as a pop-culture juggernaut while also forging its own path. There are two princesses here, sisters Elsa and Anna, and the story is about their sisterly bond rather than a romance with a handsome prince. When Elsa’s ice powers get out of hand, Anna must renew that emotional connection to save their land from eternal winter. It’s a sweeping story of family legacy with fantastic songs (including the Oscar-winning “Let It Go”).
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Thanks to Disney’s ownership of Marvel, Disney+ is full of big-budget superhero movies, but Pixar’s The Incredibles takes a different approach to the superhero story. Writer-director Brad Bird focuses on a world where superpowers have been outlawed, and how one family of heroes (the Incredibles) must prove that having special powers can be a good thing. It’s a family comedy and an action spectacle all in one, with memorable characters in a distinctive, creatively designed setting.
Forget the bland live-action remake that helped launch Disney+, and look back to the original 1955 Lady and the Tramp instead, with its simple story of two dogs from opposite social classes falling in love. The pampered Lady and the free-spirited Tramp make for an unlikely pair, but their connection is immediate and undeniable. The two dogs explore their lovely early 20th-century town in a lyrical and leisurely-paced film with beautiful animation. The narrative stakes are low, but the characters and the setting are indelible.
The so-called “Disney Renaissance” kicked off with 1989’s The Little Mermaid, which brought Disney animation back to prominence after years of poorly received movies. It’s easy to see why this movie has become a classic, with its brilliant songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, its larger-than-life villain Ursula the sea witch, and its appealing heroine Ariel. The story of the mermaid who gives up her voice so that she can find true love is an enduring favorite that still reaches kids 30-plus years after its release.
Upstart animation studio Locksmith Animation makes a promising debut with Ron’s Gone Wrong. Zach Galifianakis voices the title character, a malfunctioning robot companion for outcast kid Barney Pudowski (Jack Dylan Grazer). All of Barney’s peers have the trendy “B-bots,” but Barney is stuck with Ron, whose oddball personality gets Barney into trouble but also breaks through the conformity and disconnection encouraged by modern technology. Galifianakis is funny and offbeat, and the movie’s quirky sense of humor balances out its gentle messages about friendship and acceptance.
Released exclusively to Disney+ in the U.S., Pixar’s Soul is another emotionally rich film from the studio’s most sensitive auteur, Pete Docter (who also directed Up and Inside Out). It follows the journey of jazz musician Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) as he ventures into the afterlife, teams up with a not-yet-born soul (voiced by Tina Fey), and learns to appreciate every moment that he spends alive. It’s a gorgeously animated story with affecting meditations on regret and maturity.
The whole Toy Story franchise, which launched the Pixar animation empire, is great, but the second installment is easily the highlight. Toy Story 2 features the fun, goofy antics of toys that come to life when humans aren’t around, led by cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and astronaut Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen). It also features the series’ poignant themes about cherished childhood possessions being left behind as children grow older. It’s as emotionally rich as it is vibrantly entertaining.
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