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STUDIO RANKED: Walt Disney Animation Studios (Features)

Walt Disney Animation Studios, formerly Walt Disney Feature Animation, has definitely had its ups and downs over its 75 plus year history. Through it all, however, the studio has managed to stay at the top of its genre, telling captivating stories through stunning animation the likes of which no other company, especially early on, could pull off, all the while pioneering new and interesting ways to get the job done.

From Snow White's fearful run through a dark forest to Elsa's transformational creation of her ice castle and beyond, Disney is almost a century deep in celebrating animated magic, both within its films and in the making of them.

  • The Lion King

    1.The Lion King

    ★★★★★

  • Bambi

    2.Bambi

    ★★★★★

    On its surface, Bambi is an adorable story of animals in the forest. This is certainly true, but it goes much deeper than that. Disney's Bambi is the universal struggle of growth, learning, love and acceptance. Seasons pass and ultimately life turns to death, creating the natural cycle. With a mysteriously unseen villain that is a commentary all its own, Bambi might be one of the most serious films to come from Disney. And it's all set against some of the lushest, most beautiful background paintings to ever come from the studio. Its a truly endearing and important film.

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  • Sleeping Beauty

    3.Sleeping Beauty

    ★★★★★

    Sleeping Beauty is that rare occasion where everything and everyone working on a project just lines up perfectly to create a true piece of art and beauty. From the stylized characters and overpowering animation and voice acting, to the detailed backgrounds and the repurposed classical music, it's all splendid. The box office of the day did not realize exactly how splendid a film Sleeping Beauty is, but it easily goes down as one of the best animated films from Disney, or any other company for that matter.

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  • Fantasia

    4.Fantasia

    ★★★★★

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

    5.Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

    ★★★★★

    Disney's first feature length animated film was a technical wonder of the time, and it still holds up. The animation is top notch with attention to detail that far surpasses many of the animated films being put out today. Some of the company's most intricately expressive characters are on display here, and you can see all of the hard work put into the film by animators who were pushing their limits to make sure this risk of a project wasn't also a failure. While the story is saccharine and began to lay the groundwork for the company's movie reputation, it does still hold a darkness at a level at which some later Disney films could not attain. The Evil Queen's transformation scene in and of itself is a wonder to behold, but the list of great things about this movie can go on and on. Disney's Snow White is the one that started it all, and in many ways is still the fairest of them all too.

  • Pocahontas

    6.Pocahontas

    ★★★★½

    First and foremost, with a story that is loosely based, at best, on its real life counterparts, Pocahontas is NOT an example of a successful, historical docudrama. That being said, the film is a true work of art within the Disney canon. Its designs are both simple and robust and its color theory is probably the best Disney has ever achieved. Its music is top caliber. Its pacing is masterful, perfectly building to a high that pays off exactly as it should. Even seen through a magical Disney filter, Pocahontas' story is still more serious than anything else the company's feature animation department has done before or since. If the film as is had been original instead of a false retelling of a period in American history, it would probably be higher up on this list.

  • Beauty and the Beast

    7.Beauty and the Beast

    ★★★★½

    Animation is the perfect tool for telling a story such as the classic romance Beauty and the Beast. It allows for the whimsy and fantasy of such a story to be untethered and in this production, it all becomes so charming. Disney's version is one of the most well rounded films that they've done, story-wise, and holds some of the most memorable musical moments. It's no wonder that the film would make history, becoming the first animated movie ever to be nominated in the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards.

  • Aladdin

    8.Aladdin

    ★★★★½

    Disney is known for its magic, but Aladdin might quite literally be one of the most magical of the company's feature animations. It does feature a genie and sorcerer, after all. Its a perfect spectacle, but one held up strongly with substance. Gorgeously clean animation set in stark contrasting warm and cold tones, award winning music, a plot that seamlessly balances romance, action and comedy, stellar performances from the likes of Robin Williams and, of all people, Gilbert Gottfried, all help to cement Aladdin as one of Disney's top classics.

  • Fantasia 2000

    9.Fantasia 2000

    ★★★★½

  • Tarzan

    10.Tarzan

    ★★★★½

    Unfortunately oft-overlooked, Disney's Tarzan tells the already well-known Edgar Rice Burroughs story with the fluid action that can only be accomplished through animation. Never before, and not really since, have you seen this character swinging from vines, battling majestic animals, or sliding across tree moss quite like this. It's Deep Canvas design, and overall styling, feels so organic, despite all the technology it has taken to make it happen. This creates a whole encompassing, lush world that allows the story to unfold and intensify in a new and natural way.

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  • Wreck-It Ralph

    11.Wreck-It Ralph

    ★★★★½

    Wreck-It Ralph is just great on so many levels. It's the perfect video game movie, with popular video game character cameos akin to the cartoon character cameos in Who Framed Roger Rabbit that will make any gamer geek out. More than that, though, its plot not only showcases various styles of gaming, spoofing some of the more popular video game titles, but ultimately plays out like a game itself, boss battle and all. It also turns the Disney film on its head, showing a "villainous" character in a new light with vast emotional impact. The lampshades may be pixelated and the soundtrack might have moments of midi, but these typical characters manage to become fully fleshed, with a few surprises along the way.

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  • Cinderella

    12.Cinderella

    ★★★★

    Disney is unmistakably known for its princesses. Although Snow White may be the first and Ariel is arguably the most popular, Cinderella's rags to riches story makes her the Disney princess icon. Cinderella is the character that most holds true the ideals of the Disney Princess, and her film is Disney romanticism at its finest, from its story of true love to its gorgeous 19th century design aesthetic. Said to be Walt Disney's personal favorite, this is the film where dreams do come true with a little helping of extraordinary magic, saving the company after wartime. And let's not forget Disney's shadiest villain of all, Lady Tremaine, expertly voiced by actress Eleanor Audley.

  • The Jungle Book

    13.The Jungle Book

    ★★★★

    Disney's 1967 version of The Jungle Book is a beautifully animated adventure with a truly great and comfortably hypnotic atmosphere. The studio was already into its Xerox phase by now, but the grittier texture of the film adds to its wildness, enhancing the look of the film and its characters. Sweet moments between Mowgli and his animal friends are showcased in scenes with incredibly moving character animation. In addition, the film's groovy songs, written by The Sherman Brothers, are definite highlights within the film and all of Disney's musical history. This was the first film released after Walt Disney's death, and the last on which he worked on himself. Luckily, it turned out to be a success, allowing the studio to continue its course.

  • Tangled

    14.Tangled

    ★★★★

  • The Little Mermaid

    15.The Little Mermaid

    ★★★★

    At the end of the 80’s, a rather rough period of Walt Disney animation, the tide ushered in this retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s take of a mermaid without a voice. This return to fairytales, with a simple and classic story rounded out with beautiful design, memorable music and iconic characters including a drag queen inspired villainess, was successful enough to completely re-establish Disney. The Little Mermaid brought with it Disney’s Renaissance that once again solidified the company at the top of the industry.

  • The Fox and the Hound

    16.The Fox and the Hound

    ★★★★

  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire

    17.Atlantis: The Lost Empire

    ★★★★

    At the decline of its 90's renaissance, Walt Disney Animation Studios decided to switch up their formula and create a couple of movies that specifically weren't fairytales and weren't musicals, instead falling more into the science fiction and action genres. The most underrated of these films is Atlantis, based on the lore of the famed lost city. Featuring wonderfully unique visual designs based on the style of comic book artist Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, and a diverse cast of characters including Disney's actual first black princess, Atlantis is a treasure that really stands out amongst the rest.

  • Zootopia

    18.Zootopia

    ★★★★

    Anthropomorphized characters are nothing new to Disney. Nick Wilde is a clear progression from the company's own design of Robin Hood. And while the character designs and settings and animation here are all completely wonderful, there is nothing exactly spectacular about them. What pushes Zootopia to be new and refreshing is its story and subject, giving a real social commentary more blatantly than Disney has ever done before, and yet doing so in an enjoyable, encouraging way that anyone of any age can understand. Disney has made an important film here.

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  • The Princess and the Frog
  • Lady and the Tramp

    20.Lady and the Tramp

    ★★★★

    Lady and the Tramp is an overly romanticized look at small town America in the 1900s, similar to Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. or the small town in which Walt Disney himself grew up, but told here through the eyes of two dogs falling in love. Presented in CinemaScope, the first for an animated film, the art and animation is superbly breathtaking, with backgrounds that feel larger than life, having to fill more screen than ever before. The characters are truly endearing as they grow closer together through conflict and everything else that life simply throws at them. Featuring arguably the most romantic moment in Disney's canon, Lady and the Tramp is perfect viewing for a lovely Bella Notta.

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  • Alice in Wonderland

    21.Alice in Wonderland

    ★★★★

    Capturing the true zaniness of Lewis Carroll's original Alice books is a hard task. So much so that the best way to pull it off is most probably with animation. Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland has become the most memorable because of its fluid fall into nonsense, like cutting teacups in half while drinking or that disappearing / reappearing cat, that just simply isn't as easily conceived using live-action methods. The film is vibrant and extreme for its time in every way, perfectly nailing the feeling you get while reading the original books.

  • Peter Pan

    22.Peter Pan

    ★★★★

    Peter Pan is a larger than life story of new worlds, pirates, mermaids, fairies and all sorts of other magic, all centered around that idea of eternal youth that we all so cling to. But even with the many tellings of the Peter Pan story both before and after, Disney's interpretation remains to be the quintessentially known version, thanks to it's memorable characters and vivid animation. Though very much slapstick, the film never diminishes those little, important moments, letting these characters endure young and old.

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  • Frozen

    23.Frozen

    ★★★★

    Very loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's classic story The Snow Queen, Disney's Frozen breathes new life into the company's legacy of princess stories with a twist. Indeed, the strength of Frozen are its characters and their relationships and how they work, or don’t work, within the stereotypical Disney fairytale setting. There is a nice balance here of the cute and the emotional. It all helps to develop these characters and their situation, bringing with it show-stopping musical moments, stunning set pieces created in CG ice and snow and a whole new idea of what true love means within the Disney canon.

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  • Robin Hood

    24.Robin Hood

    ★★★★

    The legendary tale of Robin Hood, the heroic archer that stole from the rich to give to the poor, comes to animated life in Disney's swashbuckling rendition. The title character is one of Disney’s most charismatic and though many of the other characters may seem a bit familiar from previous films, and even animation cycles here have also been recycled from previous films, the entire movie is indeed very charming. Its a rather clever retelling with both moments of true tension and great comedy.

  • Dumbo

    25.Dumbo

    ★★★★

  • Moana

    26.Moana

    ★★★½

    Disney's Moana is a case where the film's title character is much stronger than the film itself. Don't get me wrong, Moana is quite entertaining with some beautiful designs and details and a wonderful look at Polynesian culture, but some moments and characters are so far reaching that they seem out of place within this particular story. But Moana herself carries the entire film on her shoulders without any of the typical Disney gender roles at play. She’s not tied to a love interest of any sort and she’s be the first one to correct you in calling her a princess. She’s a true hero, and proud of it.

  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

    27.The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

    ★★★½

    Long before jumping into feature films, Disney built its reputation for animated storytelling through short films. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh showcases Disney's prowess in both. Its segments were created as a series of Winnie the Pooh shorts that work well enough alone, but were combined to make a feature length film that flows endearingly through storybook pages. Skewing towards an even younger audience than usual for Disney, Winnie the Pooh is Disney in its simplest form, and delightfully cute because of it.

  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

    28.The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

    ★★★½

    The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is another title from the short period of anthology films, putting a couple of shorts together to make a feature. Neither of these stories really connect to one another other than that they both feature characters from American literature and both create an aura of foreboding. Mr. Toad is a nostalgic tale, full of manic and whimsy, even with its dark moments. More memorable, still, is the story of Sleepy Hollow, pitting schoolmaster Ichabod Crane against the ghastly Headless Horseman in a frightening climax that goes down as an iconic segment of horror animation. In fact, this may have been Disney Feature Animation’s first and certainly one of its strongest forays into the horror genre.

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  • The Black Cauldron
  • The Rescuers

    30.The Rescuers

    ★★★½

  • The Sword in the Stone

    31.The Sword in the Stone

    ★★★½

  • Big Hero 6

    32.Big Hero 6

    ★★★½

    Borrowing characters and a story from Disney’s recent acquisition, Marvel, Big Hero 6 is Disney animation proper’s first feature-length outing into the world of superheroes. But, while pretty in its design and high energy in its action, a predictable story and a misdirected focus seem to mostly hinder the movie. There's a whole team of superheroes here with incredible powers and ingenuity that are fun to watch...when they finally get to show off. Instead, Big Hero 6 leaves the cuteness of Baymax and his relationship with young Hiro to pull the plot along, often trying too hard to pull on the heartstrings as well.

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  • The Rescuers Down Under

    33.The Rescuers Down Under

    ★★★½

  • Winnie the Pooh

    34.Winnie the Pooh

    ★★★

    Though it had grounded itself into 3D animation well before, Winnie the Pooh marks Disney's final attempt at a 2D animated movie before leaving that specific process altogether. It's a good-looking foray, revisiting the classic 100 Acre Woods and its inhabitants that have become synonymous with the company. But as these characters have a younger audience without the same attention span as with the realest of the original film, this entry feels more like a quick television special than a full movie.

  • Meet the Robinsons

    35.Meet the Robinsons

    ★★★

    While Meet the Robinsons does have a lot of heart, and a great villain, it unfortunately suffers from trying to do too much in too little time. The film's time hopping, legion of zany characters and plethora of gags would be better suited to a television series where you're given less to take in at a time, and the story could be handled in a way that lets the heart it has really shine through instead of being swallowed up by nonsense. As it stands, and coming at a low point in the studio’s history as it turned fully to CG animation, this Disney feature amounts to not much more than a spastic array of colors.

  • Bolt

    36.Bolt

    ★★★

    Bolt is seemingly the product of Disney taking a little subplot out of one of their previous direct-to-DVD animated sequels, twisting it around a bit and deciding to give it a budget big enough to put it on the big screen. The animal characters, initially designed by the stylistic Chris Sanders before he left the project, are furry and adorable and the animation is solid, with Disney finally getting its footing right in CG animation here. But its perfectly placed shots and beautiful rendering doesn't save the film from feeling like a struggle and a rush job from a downtime at the studio.

  • Home on the Range

    37.Home on the Range

    ★★½

  • Chicken Little

    38.Chicken Little

    ★★½

  • Ralph Breaks the Internet

    39.Ralph Breaks the Internet

    ★★½

    With the exception of only a couple of movies, most of the Walt Disney Feature Animation legacy has focused on creating new films instead of retreading territory. Disney itself was the franchise, but not the stories they told. There was no need to revisit the same world to see what the characters are up to now. This helped to keep their animated outings fresh and invigorating. This helped to keep Disney from making a film like Ralph Breaks the Internet, which is nothing but an absolute rehash of the first film, only replacing the nostalgic video game cameos with corporate product placement. If this film wants to represent the internet, a wonderful facade that works to show its audience the best of their world in a bubble while actually being devoid of much substance beneath the surface, it is at least succcessful in that, but nothing else.