Walt Disney Animation Studio has produced 60 films over the years, from their first full-length feature in 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to their stunning and newest film Encanto, which was just released this past November. As the studio grew, the number of movies produced in a year doubled overnight. With this influx of movies produced, it’s understandable that not every movie can be a record-breaking box office hit.
In fact, taking a look at the entire film list for Disney Animation Studios, it’s not surprising to not have seen all 60 films. The ever lovable Disney Princess films, such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid are among the most popular on the list. While they are visually compelling movies with a storybook ending, they are missing edge-of-your-seat action or even simply a different storyline. Live-action movies have also started remaking some Disney classics, but those too are missing some hidden gems of the Disney universe. Not every movie can take the crown as the best Disney animated film, but here are a few that are severely underrated and definitely worth watching next.
5 Treasure Planet (2002)
Treasure Planet is the most underrated movie on this list. Full of colorful animation, Treasure Planet follows the young Jim Hawkins on his quest to find the elusive Treasure Planet. Backed with an all-star cast of Joseph Gordon Levitt as Jim Hawkins, Emma Thompson as the daring Captain Amelia, Martin Short as the forgetful robot B.E.N, and David Hyde Pierce as the clumsy Doctor Doppler, Treasure Planet mixed action, comedy, and adventure together to make a perfect movie. Similar to most Disney movies, Treasure Planet is loosely based on the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. This film was truly innovative for its time as it introduced a process called Virtual Scenarios where a 360º environment was generated for the animated character to interact. With this process though, the film took 10 years to complete. Despite having technically flopped in theaters, Treasure Planet was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
4 The Black Cauldron (1985)
Known as the movie that almost killed Disney animation back in the 80s, The Black Cauldron is just a movie that was made in the wrong generation. The Black Cauldron follows the young Taran and his group of misfits who are on a quest to find the mystical black cauldron. Using a pig as his guide, Taran and his friends face dark magic to save the land. The Black Cauldron was a dark and scary movie and is said to have come directly from Walt Disney’s dark days, bringing an end to the large budget production ways for Disney Studios. With a new team and location for the studio, Disney pushed for faster results and cheaper production for their future movies—a move that has since proven worthwhile. Had The Black Cauldron been produced today, its dark nature and frightening scenes would be more accepted by parents and children who are now acustomed to darker scenes in movies. For a second, the movie was rumored to join the list of potential live-action remakes; however, if that happens, it won’t be for a while.
3 Meet the Robinsons (2007)
One of the few science fiction-based Disney films, Meet the Robinsons takes on topics of adoption, depression, and time travel in a lighthearted way. We know Disney is not afraid to kill off one or two of the main character’s parents, but in this film, the Disney team allowed viewers to see the character go through the hardships of adoption. Meet the Robinsons follows 12-year-old amateur inventor Lewis, a guy with a robotic bowler hat, and a kid named Wilbur who is from the future. Lewis and Wilbur team up together to spoil the Bowler hat guy’s scheme and save the future. Meet the Robinsons is a witty movie that is both funny and thought-provoking, both of which are characteristics of a well-made movie. The dry sense of humor character of Goob helps make the movie better too—who else doesn’t want to leave their bed most days!
2 Hercules (1997)
Hercules is on this list because it was one of the least well-known from the era of memorable princess movies. Hercules merges song and acting in this animated feature along with memorable characters and an introduction to basic Greek Mythology (with obvious deviations in Zeus). Backed with comedic one-liners from Danny DeVito and James Woods, Hercules is by far one of the funniest Disney movies to date. The film is loosely based on Hercules’ journey from his kidnap from Mt Olympus to finding his godhood restored and becoming a hero. This light-hearted film is both fun to watch and sing along to. Back in February 2021, it was rumored that the Russo brothers, best known from the Marvel universe, were remaking Hercules as a live-action film set to come out sometime in the future. At this point, no known date has been set, but it is still rumored that Danny DeVito might reprise his role as Philoctetes.
1 Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
Thanks to rumors of a possible Andrew Garfield live-action version, Atlantis: The Lost Empire reentered the topic of underrated Disney movies. Loosely based on the lost city of Atlantis, the film follows an unlikely crew joined together to discover the riches of the lost city. Following the nerdy historian, Milo, the team discovers Atlantis and then has to ban together to save it from some bad guys disguised in the group. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is full of action and adventure, history, and a comedic group worthy of being remembered as one of Disney’s best movies. While a live-action remake is not in the works now, the animated movie, as well as all the other ones on this list, can be enjoyed on Disney+.
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