The Top Ten Most Underrated Disney Films

Amanda Doughty / Emertainment Monthly Editor
I’ve always been a massive Disney nerd. Considering I was born during the Disney renaissance (when “Disney’s best films” like The Lion King, Hercules, and Beauty and the Beast were released), that makes sense. I was raised in the best era of animation. However, my love of Disney never ended as I got older. In fact, it only grew stronger, to the point where I re-watched all 51 Disney animated films the summer before going to college. Some I fell in love with all over again, some I realized were actually quite terrible. Others, I realized, don’t get the credit they deserve. Some of Disney’s best films have flown a bit under the radar; and while I still believe the renaissance produced Disney’s best films, here are a few others that I think deserve more credit than they get.
10. The Black Cauldron
Now, I don’t actually like this film very much (it’s a bit too dark and slow for my liking), but when people think “lesser known Disney films,” this one always comes up. Therefore, I feel like it has to be included. My whole family loves Disney as much as I do; yet I’m the only one who has seen this movie. In fact, this movie is so unknown that it has it’s own meme, featuring the princess of the film wearing hipster glasses and saying, “I’m so hipster, you don’t even know who I am.” I understand why this film is so unknown: it is, after all, rated the darkest children’s movie of all time. I could even understand Disney wanting it to be more under-wraps because it’s so dark. However, I do think it’s a good enough film to get a little more attention than it does.
9. Bolt
When Disney announced that Miley Cyrus and John Travolta were starring in this film, many brushed it off and didn’t give it the time of day. I certainly was one of those people, and this was one of very few Disney films I hadn’t seen before my major re-watch. However, this film caught me completely by surprise. It has a clever concept, hilarious one-liners, and decent character development for all characters (something you almost never see in a Disney film). Are there better Disney films than this one? Absolutely. But this at least deserves to be watched, and not tossed aside for its cast.
8. The Rescuers
Most people have at least watched this one once or twice before, so I suppose it’s not as unknown as some of the others on this list, which is why it’s only eighth in the ranks. However, in light of other animated mouse adventures like An American Tale and The Secret of Nimh (both of which are not Disney), I feel like this one kind of gets lost in the mix. The concept of this movie is just adorable: little mice from all around the world being sent in to save children from poor homes, and the film carries that adorable spirit throughout its duration. On top of all that, it features truly lovable characters, and a relatively unpredictable, exciting plotline (on a Disney scale, anyway). Like I said, this movie doesn’t get much criticism, nor is it particularly well known, but I believe it’s more of a classic than people acknowledge.
7. Robin Hood
Maybe it’s because I didn’t like this movie as a child, or maybe it’s because a lot of the Disney blogs I follow frequently mention how this movie doesn’t get the credit it deserves, but I feel like this movie gets a lot of unnecessary flack. This is one of those movies that, when I re-watched it as an adult, I realized it’s actually quite good. It features music that is both fun and different from other Disney films, beautiful moments like when Robin tells a little boy that, “someday there will be happiness again,” and recurring voice actors that make you smile with nostalgia (because, let’s face it, Baloo from The Jungle Book and Little John are basically the same character). It may not be as exciting as The Little Mermaid, but it definitely holds a special place in my heart. I wish it could hold a special place in the hearts of more.
6. Brother Bear
The 2000s were, without a doubt, a rough period for Disney. Their Renaissance films proved hard to match, and they released several arguable flops (remember Home on the Range? How about Chicken Little? And let’s not even talk about Atlantis: The Lost Empire). Up until The Princess and the Frog in 2009, many people dismissed Disney films as being lesser than they once were, with the exception of Enchanted and Lilo and Stitch. Therefore, Brother Bear kind of flies under the radar, and even gets flack from some avid Disney fans. However, this movie is both heartfelt and quite funny. It makes you laugh at some parts, and cry at others. The characters, especially the hero Kenai, are complex and conflicted, which makes them more three-dimensional and interesting than characters in some other Disney films. And it features fantastic music from Phil Collins, on par with his predecessor Tarzan. This is one film from the 2000s that Disney can be proud of, and it deserves its moment in the spotlight.
5. Treasure Planet
This is another film that gets swept under the radar in an attempt to forget the 2000s ever happened. In addition, it strides away from the “cute and fuzzy” characters Disney is so known for. So it’s understandable why it’s relatively unknown. In fact, I just showed my fourteen-year-old cousin this film for the first time and she absolutely loved it. I don’t blame her, it’s a lovable film. The characters, especially Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins (the two protagonists), probably have the most depth and dimension of any Disney characters. Their struggles are relatable, and make them seem realistic in an unrealistic setting. It also provides a rare strong female character in Captain Amelia, as well as some great humor in Ben and Doctor Doppler. On top of all of that, the writing is absolutely fantastic (seriously, there’s a hidden Shakespeare in whoever wrote Captain Amelia’s dialogue). Though it is dark, and actually a bit frightening at times, this is a really fantastic movie; and, like Brother Bear, it deserves to come out of the shadows of the 2000s.
4. The Emperor’s New Groove
This film doesn’t necessarily get unfairly criticized, nor is it particularly unknown. The reason this one is on the list is because it’s not ranked among Disney’s best. To this day, I struggle to think of a film that makes me laugh harder than this one. Kronk is my favorite character in any Disney film. Sure, it doesn’t have the lavish musical numbers the films of the Disney renaissance did, and it’s not animated like a traditional Disney film (the heroes aren’t dashing and muscular and the women aren’t all stick thin and model-esque), but it still produces some of the funniest lines Disney’s ever come up with. After all, who could forget Kronk’s theme music?
3. Meet the Robinsons
Yet another victim of Disney’s attempt to forget the 2000s ever happened, and arguably the worst victim of it as well. In fact, most people don’t even realize this is a Disney movie. Since its animation style and story structure are much more reminiscent of a DreamWorks film, I see where they’re coming from. However, the heart of this film is strictly Disney. And, in my opinion, it’s one of the films with the most heart. It’s one of the only Disney films to truly value family (looking at you, various evil stepmothers), while also promoting the ideas of giving everyone a second chance and never giving up. Being totally honest, this one of very few Disney films that gets me to cry every time I watch it, and the only one to make me cry tears of joy. In addition, it also has a really unique plot of an orphan going into the future and meeting his future family without knowing it. On top of all that, it’s just plain funny. All the characters are so wacky and out there that you can’t help but love them, even the villain. Overall, this is just a really lovable film, and one that should be watched and appreciated by Disney lovers everywhere.
2. The Great Mouse Detective
When this was one of the first Disney movies to be put on Netflix, I was overjoyed. However, when I tried to share my excitement with my friends, I realized most of them hadn’t even heard of this movie. And it’s not just my group of friends, either. Sometimes, the Disney Facebook page will post a picture from this movie, and there will always be a bunch of comments asking what movie that picture is from. It’s arguably one of the least-known Disney films, and that’s quite sad. Based on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, it’s one of Disney’s smarter films: featuring legitimately surprising plot twists, witty dialogue, and attention-holding action sequences. In fact, it’s one of my favorite adaptions of Sherlock Holmes, second only to BBC’s Sherlock. Is it a bit darker and scarier than the traditional Disney film? Yes. Is it more appealing to adults than children, given its sometimes-confusing story? Most likely. Nonetheless, it’s one of Disney’s hidden treasures and deserves to come out from its hiding place.
1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Ironically enough, the one film from the Disney renaissance on this list is the one that takes the top spot. Much like The Black Cauldron, it’s considered one of Disney’s darkest films: dealing with topics like abuse, sexual temptation, corruption, etc. Therefore, it got a reputation as being “scary,” and therefore people kind of began to avoid it. It also steered away from the traditional Disney movie style in both storytelling and animation, so it also got a bit of criticism for that. However, in my opinion this is one of Disney’s most beautiful films. It features my favorite soundtrack of any Disney movie, trading the traditional happy tunes for heartfelt and heart-wrenching ballads like “Out There” and “God Help the Outcasts.” It promotes equality and kindness to all. Meanwhile, it also teaches people to stand up for what they believe in, even if it means turning their back on someone they care about. On top of all that, it gives us Esmeralda, whom I believe to be the strongest, most selfless female character Disney has ever produced (sorry, Mulan). She stands up for the unspoken, even at the risk of her own life; and when she prays, she prays for others, despite the fact that she lives in poverty. Overall, this is one of (if not the) most masterful film Disney’s ever released. You have no idea how many Disney Confessions I’ve read that were about re-watching this movie as an adult and realizing how truly amazing it is. Everyone should give this film a second chance. If they did, I think they would see that it deserves to be right up there with The Lion King and Snow White as one of Disney’s ultimate classics.
And the most Overrated Disney film…. Sleeping Beauty
Why this is considered one of Disney’s greatest is beyond me. The characters are all dull and uninteresting, the plot moves slower than almost any other Disney film, and the main character is only in the film for about fifteen minutes. Maybe everyone should stop glorifying films like this one and give one of the previously mentioned films their moment to shine.

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  1. Completely agree about Hunchback! Emperor’s New Groove is highly entertaining, too, and Yzma and Kronk are two of my favorite Disney characters. But I definitely think Sleeping Beauty deserves it’s praise: It’s really an “art movie”, much like Fantasia, and features some of the most stunning visuals ever in a Disney film. Many regard Maleficent as the best villain of all time, the Fairies are iconic, and (truth be told) Prince Phillip is one of only three Disney princes who actually kills their villain (the others being Eric and, if you count it, Flynn, though Pascal does the heavy lifting). But maybe I’m just biased because it’s one of my personal favorites…!

  2. Brother Bear was definitely great.
    No Oliver and Company? That’s my favorite underrated Disney movie. Love the soundtrack too.

  3. I definitely agree on Hunchback and Mouse Detective but not so much on the others. Some of them I haven’t seen but Robin Hood and Black Cauldron never really did anything for me.
    Cauldron would be roughly on par with Hunchback IMO if Tarran wasn’t so annoying. Everything from his voice to his constant boasting just really grates on me. I get that the writers were trying to build him up as a naive guy that was full of himself but eventually learned some humility but since that doesn’t happen until the tail end of the movie it’s too little too late for me. Gurgy is pretty fun though.
    Robin Hood is just OK in my opinion. Prince John is a fun but ultimately underwhelming villain that comes across more as a comedic villain sidekick like the hyenas from The Lion King instead of the movie’s big bad. What really kills the movie for me is the songs though. Oodaly, Phoney King of England,and Not in Nottingham are all forgettable and rather pointless since they don’t advance the story and I hated the song Love even when I was a kid. I’m a huge fan of Disney love songs but that song is positively vomit inducing.
    I wouldn’t call any of them awful like Pocahontas or *shudder* Hunchback 2 but none of them are great either.

  4. Brother bear was a great movie. Disney in the early 200’s to me wasn’t that bad it wasn’t until the mids it turned crappy.

  5. OMG I totally agree! I have to admit to being quite the disnerd myself, and while I’ve watched movies like the little mermaid and all those, I never found that they had as much depth, meaning, or interest than the lesser-known movies. Treasure planet is my absaloute favorite, and I only just discovered it through netflix a few months ago ;-;

  6. You forgot THE LOST ATLANTIS! Hands down one of the best and most underrated Disney movies!
    (Let’s pretend the sequel never happened though)

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