Walt Disney Pictures may have the most powerful and long-standing brand of any major film studio. Aside from subsidiaries such as Marvel and LucasFilm, Disney films are primarily linked in the public awareness with family themes, colorful graphics, and uplifting (though occasionally emotional) storylines. The amount of well-known masterpieces they’ve created is likewise astounding, ranging from 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through 2016’s Moana.
However, there have always been stumbles (and imagined stumbles) along the road. People enjoy discussing the worst of things, and terrible Disney movies are a popular topic, especially on the internet. Not every film deserves its poor rap, and it’s frequently good, if you have the resources and the inclination, to see a film and make your own judgment. Public consensus isn’t always reliable, and recollections of previous films that didn’t attain “classic” status quickly fade. So, here’s a list of Disney movies that you probably haven’t seen but should.
11Mars Needs Moms
At first look, 2011’s Mars Needs Moms may appear to be a bit perplexing. It is a Disney animated picture, however, it is not a Walt Disney Animated Feature. It’s really from ImageMovers, Robert Zemeckis’ production company, which previously worked on The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol. The latter picture, in which Jim Carrey plays the majority of the key characters, was likewise created in collaboration with Disney. Mars Needs Moms, which no one saw, effectively destroyed that collaboration.
Mars Needs Moms is a sci-fi story that becomes shockingly grim, based on a children’s book by cartoonist Berkeley Breathed. The entire plot revolves around a kid from Earth racing to save his mother from the Martians, who seek to take her memories and “mom-ness” for use in their robot nannies. A mature character admits to his mother that he did the same thing to her, but he was unable to save her from the deadly process. Even for children who have watched Bambi and Finding Nemo, the emphasis on maternal mortality in this film will most likely be too much.
Mars Needs Moms is recommended for older enthusiasts searching for a traditional sci-fi adventure with some unique new elements. Because the Martian figures’ faces are supposed to seem unnatural, the Zemeckis method of motion capture-based animation works considerably better. Whether you end up loving the picture or not, it is an attempt to do something new than anything Zemeckis or Disney has done in animation before, and that alone may be worth seeing.
10Winnie the Pooh
When Disney produced a new theatrical Winnie the Pooh film in 2011, it was easy to dismiss it as a cash grab from the past. After all, three Pooh movies had already been released since 2000: The Tigger Movie, Piglet’s Big Movie, and Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, none of which were particularly memorable. Many viewers were unaware that such films were produced by DisneyToon Studios, a subsidiary of Disney that specialized in direct-to-video sequels and movies based on TV series. The new Winnie the Pooh, on the other hand, was backed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and was a genuine attempt to make something good with these famous Disney characters.
Unlike most Pooh animation since 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, this new film draws inspiration from A.A. Milne’s Pooh stories, telling the story of Christopher Robin going missing and everyone in the Hundred Acre Wood panicking because a misunderstood note leads them to believe he’s been abducted by a monster. Pooh is continually trying to get his paws on honey, and Eeyore is on the lookout for his tail. It’s a very typical Winnie the Pooh narrative, and it’s also full of witty gags that will entertain both adults and children, without relying on pop culture allusions (which are completely gratuitous).
Furthermore, it is presently the final Walt Disney picture to utilize classic hand-drawn animation, and it is stunning from start to finish. Anyone who likes animation or Winnie the Pooh should definitely see it.
Perhaps the title of this film was Disney’s worst blunder. It was supposed to be John Carter of Mars, but following the failure of the aforementioned Mars Needs Moms, Disney reportedly thought that using the name “Mars” was a terrible idea. Unfortunately, anyone who wasn’t already a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ writings had no idea what the movie was about. “John Carter” isn’t a terribly intriguing name for an Earthling, let alone a Mars ruler. The film performed far better in other countries than it did in the United States, yet it was still considered a flop in the United States.
However, for those that see the film for what it is, it is a lot of fun. Based on Burroughs’ first John Carter novel, A Princess of Mars tells the narrative of the titular human who is transported to the red planet, where many separate races of Martians are at odds. Carter joins the four-armed Green Martians, falls in love with Red Martian Princess Deja Thoris, and eventually faces a battle against the cunning White Martians. There are monsters, massive action set pieces, flying cities, and essentially everything you could want from an old-fashioned sci-fi epic. Taylor Kitsch, who plays Carter, is at the center of it all. Although the film’s response certainly stopped him from becoming a big-time action star, seeing it should demonstrate that he has the abilities for the job.
8Meet the Robinsons
Meet the Robinsons was released in 2007, just after Pixar’s John Lasseter took over Disney Animation, which drew a lot of attention to the film, which was supposedly heavily altered on Lasseter’s directions. That may have tainted the film at the time, and it appears to have been mostly forgotten in the years following. If you actually sit down and watch it, though, it’s a clever and zippy family sci-fi romp with heart, and its retro-futuristic aesthetic is a ton of fun.
The plot revolves around Lewis, a teenage science prodigy living in an orphanage. He encounters a kid from the future named Wilbur Robinson. Naturally, Lewis finds himself in the future as well, and they must save the day from a time-traveling baddie with world-conquering goals and a shockingly deadly hat, not to mention a hidden tie to Wilbur’s history. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the time travel narrative is how it comes full circle at the conclusion, which we won’t disclose here. Finally, as the title suggests, Meet the Robinsons is a film about family. That may not seem unusual for Disney, but the successful sci-fi trappings make this one stand out.
Sky High performed well at the box office in 2005, but it received little notice outside of its teen audience. It was released at a time when the present superhero craze was still in its infancy. The year was 2005, the same year as Batman Begins and the Jessica Alba/Michael Chiklis Fantastic Four film, and three years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe began. Superheroic clichés that are now common knowledge among moviegoers appeared at the time to be concepts leftover from The Incredibles.
Sky High is a wonderfully entertaining family comedy, regardless of its background. Its core narrative is similar to that of a superhero story, but it has the extra Disney feature of centering on a little boy who must develop confidence and learn to tell which friends he can trust. Will Stronghold is the son of a famous superhero, but he has yet to exhibit any superpowers, putting him at the bottom of the social ranks at Sky High, where all the children of superheroes and villains go. While attempting to negotiate all of this, he is also investigating a hidden villainous scheme that will eventually lead to the discovery of his own heroic talents.
Kurt Russell plays Will’s superhero father, the Commander, and former TV Wonder Woman Lynda Carter plays the school principal, which is a lovely touch. Sky High is a good choice if you enjoy superhero stories or if you’re searching for something entertaining for the whole family.
Disney significantly alters anything they adapt, but they generally do it beneath the surface, so you only notice the differences if you’re familiar with the original book or tale. Treasure Planet wore its uniqueness on its sleeve, reimagining Robert Louis Stevenson’s pirate adventure classic Treasure Island in a steampunk version of outer space. According to writer Rob Edwards, this was an attempt to make the narrative as thrilling for youngsters in 2002 as it was when the book was released. However, that gamble did not pay off, and Treasure Planet was a box office flop.
It’s a pity, because most of the film is based on Stevenson’s writing, and even the new material works well as a rollicking, thrilling adventure narrative with some themes about finding a family that holds up well. The complicated surrogate father/son connection that develops between protagonist Jack Hawkins and cyborg pirate villain John Silver is far more intriguing than the standard Disney hero/villain dynamic. Furthermore, the film is aesthetically stunning, mixing conventionally animated characters with CGI backdrops, as well as the aesthetics of towering sailing ships with its sci-fi scenario. It’s not typical Disney material, but it’s a truly terrific animated film.
5Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis, which was released the year before Treasure Planet, is another science fiction adventure picture that simply did not achieve what viewers expect animated Disney movies to do, and suffered as a result at the box office. Unfortunately, this means that Princess Kida of Atlantis was never able to join the Disney Princesses, where she would have been a unique and intriguing addition.
The plot revolves around Milo Thatch, a young researcher who discovers the path to the mythical undersea kingdom despite the fact that everyone around him mocks him for believing Atlantis is real. Milo joins a varied team of explorers on a trip to Atlantis with finance from an eccentric benefactor, where he finds romance with Kida even as treachery seemed imminent due to surface-world greed. Production designer Mike Mignola, well known as the creator of Hellboy, provides the picture a distinct aesthetic that differs from prior Disney films as well as earlier depictions of Atlantis. The voice cast is also very outstanding, highlighted by Michael J. Fox as Milo and Cree Summer as Kida.
Despite its notoriety, the narrative becomes a little complex at times, but it’s still a lot of fun to watch.
Nobody remembers Tarzan except for the fact that Phil Collins got numerous Oscars for a horribly sentimental song he composed for it, which wasn’t even a tenth as wonderful as the tunes Elton John and Tim Rice contributed to The Lion King. The song isn’t very memorable, and much of the music isn’t, but everything else in the film works fairly well. In reality, it was a critical and box office hit at the time, despite how it’s remembered (or not remembered) now.
Tarzan is a retelling of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novel about a man raised by apes who meets humans as an adult. His romance with Jane Porter, played by Minnie Driver, is a highlight of the film. There are some comedic relief animal sidekicks, which some may find irritating, but everything holds together quite nicely. For a film set in Africa, there is a notable paucity of black people among the film’s few human characters. On the other hand, it’s better than the way black people have been depicted in many prior Tarzan versions. All of this is to say that it has problems, but so do many cherished Disney masterpieces.
3The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo’s classic, was always an odd choice for an animated Disney picture. It’s a dark, dismal narrative with a strong sexual aspect and plenty of death. The Disney version obviously gave the story a pretty cheerful conclusion, but it kept a lot of gloom around the edges that caught some off guard when it was released in 1996. It was a box office failure, if not a flop.
That same sharpness that held it back as a family film may, however, make it a very intriguing film for mature audiences. It still includes entertaining melodies and funny talking gargoyles, but it also contains Frollo, one of the darkest Disney villains of all time. Nobody likes Frollo, unlike Scar, Ursula, or even Gaston. He’s pure evil, with a lusty fixation with Esmerelda, the Romani dancer who also attracts the attention of Quasimodo, the main character and protagonist. Frollo basically seeks to perpetrate genocide on the Romani people of Paris in order to seize control of Esmerelda, while Quasimodo and a brave soldier named Phoebus try to stop him. Frollo practically tries genocide against the Romani people of Paris in order to win control of Esmerelda, while Quasimodo and a brave soldier called Phoebus try to put a stop to his intentions. It’s not exactly Victor Hugo, but it’s a complicated and engaging story.
One thing that this film has in common with many of the others on this list is that it is not what people expect. Audiences frequently appear to be searching for something specific from Walt Disney, but the company has always been interested in pushing their own boundaries and attempting new things. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, you get missed treasures like these.
The concept of creating more Fantasia dates back to the original 1940 film, which Walt Disney planned to re-release on a regular basis with new portions replacing old pieces so that the picture would continually develop and evolve. Unfortunately, Fantasia lost money on its original release, and further plans were scrapped. However, the desire for more Fantasia was rekindled in the 1990s, and a sequel was completed just in time to welcome the new century (hence the title).
The inclusion of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from the original film in Fantasia 2000 appears to have led many spectators to believe that this is simply a reshuffling of that film, when in reality all of the other portions are original. Some of those portions, such as “Pines of Rome” with its flying whales, are more about style than content (though the same could be said of most of the original film), but when Fantasia 2000 hits, it truly strikes. “Rhapsody in Blue,” an expressive New York tale set to Gershwin and drawn in the style of cartoonist Al Hirschfeld, is the highlight piece. It’s unlike anything else in either picture, and it’s rather unusual among Disney items in general. That also makes it the ideal balance for “Pomp and Circumstance,” a sequence in which Donald Duck is tasked with assisting Noah in leading the animals to the ark.
1A Wrinkle in Time
With its spacetime distortions, alien environment, and shapeshifting aliens, Madeline L’Engle’s 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time was deemed essentially unfilmable for decades. Nothing is impossible in modern digital filmmaking, and Disney has recruited famed director Ava DuVernay to make A Wrinkle in Time for a 2018 release.
Unfortunately, A Wrinkle in Time proved to be too difficult — some might say confusing — for many viewers, and its blend of hard sci-fi and children’s fiction was an odd fit for a big-budget movie. The film was a flop, and it doesn’t appear like DuVernay’s adaptations of L’Engle’s other works will be released anytime soon. However, if you want to see something entertaining and spectacular on Disney Plus, you could do a lot worse than this film. Storm Reid is fantastic as the young heroine, and the three cosmic entities who change the path of her existence are brilliantly represented by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey. Also, remember those fantastic landscapes that were unattainable before the digital era? They function fairly well, and it’s a sight to behold.
Sid Philips is a father of two and a loving husband. He currently resides in Pennsylvania and has been a fan of Disney since his parents took him there in 1980! Sid has visited multiple Disney parks around the world and loves each one!
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