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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.

There are 18 adventure films in this list.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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  • 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.

  • 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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  • 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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  • 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 Black Cauldron
  • The Rescuers

    30.The Rescuers

    ★★★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

  • 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.

  • 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.