I love me my underrated Disney movies. In some ways, a lot of these have found their way to the top of my personal list. But I guess before I delve into my list of underrated Disney movies, what exactly constitutes one?
Well first off, an underrated movie doesn’t make the entire world go see it. You won’t see any Frozen or Lion King on this list. These are movies that are extremely good but maybe didn’t do too well at the Box office. They might have still made a profit (or maybe they didn’t). These are movies that have gotten pushed to the wayside for differing reasons. They’re the movies that when you say them, people go “wait, what movie now? Disney did that?” or maybe people know about them, but thought they’d be bad, so they never went to go see them.
These are movies that I think are gems. They are movies that might teach a unique lesson. I actually LIKE the fact that half of these movies never garnered a huge audience and got hugely popular. These movies I think are deeper than your typical Disney flare: they have something about them that makes them incredibly special that maybe not everyone saw.
Some of these movies were easy to come up with, and others weren’t. t do have to say that a lot of these are prone to ME thinking they’re underrated. Especially the newer ones on the list. It’s possible I didn’t see them as popular as they really were at the time. Some of the newer ones are ones I believe will possibly fall to the wayside in years to come. If they have a question mark (?) by their entry, I was hesitant in adding them but will try my hardest to explain why I think they are underrated.
You will also notice this is not a “Disney movies people forget exist” list. I didn’t include The rescuers, Oliver & Co, or even The Sword and the Stone. While these are good movies, they don’t have that special something that I think these other movies have.
These are in chronological order…. not in any other type of order…
1. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
I think everyone in the world should watch this movie right now. It teaches tolerance in a way kids can understand. It’s from Disney’s “Dark Ages” but it really is a gem. It preaches its lesson by not preaching, but instead getting viewers to fall in love with two adorable characters and then watch them grow up and we see the first hand effect on what cultural norms can do to change a person (or in this case, animal). It has some incredibly memorable moments, action, adventure, and laughs. I’m not going to justify why this is underrated. It just is because movies that can teach the lesson that it does in the way that it does are few and far between. And I bet the only people who really love this movie and know about it nowadays are the people who were a) kids when it came out, or b) kids when it came out on VHS for the first time. I’m the latter.
2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
My personal favorite Disney movie is also one that people (and the studio – where’s my blu-ray diamond edition special release??) not only forget about, but don’t seem to want to watch. It’s “too dark” or “too adult” for kids. I’m sorry, but this movie came out when I was a kid (11 years old to be exact), and I’m here to tell you it has always been a favorite of mine. It takes a hard story and makes it reachable for kids to understand. It takes incredibly complex ideas such as hatred and damnation and lusts and intolerance and somehow spells it out so that kids understand. It doesn’t patronize them. Instead, it admits that kids CAN understand this stuff, and should. It treats its viewers like adults. It has amazing music, animation, and characters that are some of the best (minus the gargoyles…).
3. Treasure Planet (2002)
You can blame the advertising and styling for this one. No one saw it because it was “different” for Disney. And it is, and you know what, I think you do have to just kinda go with the flow a bit with this movie and say “ok, that’s an anthropomorphic cat-human-thing.” But this movie is superb and way underrated because it’s a) the best adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and b) We get some of the best relationships in a disney movie EVER in this one between Jim and Silver. Plus, it’s a Disney movie where the bad guy turns out good(ish). Whether you like it or not is up to you, but it’s on my list because I would watch it over and over just to see the characters.
4. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Ok, this might be my first stretch. Because I know there was a TV show and direct to movie sequels, but I still didn’t feel like people went to see this movie. I feel like no one ever talks about it except to say how cute Stitch is. If that’s all they took away from this movie, those people need to watch it again. I was in High school when this came out, so maybe that’s why I get the feeling this wasn’t a huge movie for Disney. I wasn’t the age when all my friends might have been obsessed with it. (although I did have huge Disney fan friends…).
Again this movie suffered from what I’m going to call the “strangeness” factor. It has Aliens and Hawaii. Not typical fanfare for Disney. But this movie is SO much more. It’s about belonging and family and what constitutes a family and that family is important and you’d do anything for them. It’s letting kids know that ALL types of families are good, and we have almost REAL people and REAL situations (except the alien part). Sister trying to scramble and provide and grow up after parents die? Check. Messed up little girl suffering from something after her parents die? check. realistic sister relationship? check. This movie has so much heart. It just chose to explore it in a strange way.
5. Brother Bear (2003)
I know a LOT of people that don’t like this movie, and i know I’m in the minority of people that actually might possibly call it a favorite. BUT… let me explain why it’s here on the list (it’s not because it’s strictly a favorite, I promise!!)
Yes, it’s a body swapping story. Yes, there are lessons that come along with that. Disney had never done an animated story like this before, and this one gets deeper than you think. Not only does our main character Kenai learn that bears aren’t the horrible monsters he thinks they are, but he learns that his past actions have affected someone he genuinely cares about. Coming to terms with that and telling the truth about it is why I have this on my underrated list. That’s deep for Disney. It’s about learning that what you used to believe actually hurt someone you love and dealing with the outcomes. You can’t take back your choices. You’re stuck with what you did and what you thought in the past. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change and be a better person (er, bear) and make up for in in the future.
6. Meet the Robinsons (2007)
If you had told me 10 years ago I was going to put this on this list I would have laughed at you. Because the trailer looked ridiculous. Because this movie seemed ridiculous. And in a lot of ways, it is. In a lot of ways, it’s messy, and weird, and disjointed. But if you look past all that and get to the heart of this movie, you’re left going “whoa.” I talk about it in my review, but the lesson in this movie of not dwelling on the past and to “keep moving forward” is unique in a Disney movie. That’s why it’s on this list. The idea is so great, and in some ways it’s done well. Lewis is great as is our villain (with regards to the lesson). They don’t bash it over people’s heads, but it’s not super subtle either. This movie COULD be better, but it’s underrated in my mind because I think this is a movie no one went to see. And they really should just give it a chance.
7. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Ok this one IS selfish. And it’s different than the others on here. But this movie SHOULD HAVE BEEN bigger than it was. It SHOULD HAVE BEEN Disney’s rise back into the Revival. Because it’s good. It has everything that is so “classic” Disney and so much more. It has an amazing protagonist. Great side characters. A good Villain. Good songs. But did it get much mention? no! Ugh. I wish this movie had done better. Because it’s awesome and does not deserve to get forgotten (which I feel like it already has!). It teaches that hard work and perseverance are good, and you need them to get ahead in life, but they aren’t everything. You need to strike a balance between work and play and love.
I was going to add Tarzan (1999) and Mulan (1998), because I think they’ve fallen to the wayside now, but eh, I can’t bring myself to do it. I think they were somewhat popular when they came out. But I do think they are movies that everyone should see for differing reasons (see my reviews for more info)
So there you have it. 6 movies I think everyone who is a true Disney fan shouldn’t skip. Movies I think that deserve more credit than they got, even if just a little. Movies that make me think or might have a profound effect on a child’s thinking. Or an adult’s for that matter.
Next up: Enchanted, then on to Pixar!