One of the great gifts that Disney+ has given us (besides confirmation that there can, in fact, be too much Baby Yoda) is the ability to watch almost every single Walt Disney Animation Studio film in order. It’s not a job for the weak, as there are 61 films in total, but many noble souls have undertaken this daunting task. As a huge Disney fan, I’ve watched many videos and read many articles ranking all 61 films, so in 2022, I took this challenge myself.
Upon completion, however, I discovered that these movies are simply impossible to rank. How can you reasonably compare Snow White to The Little Mermaid? Both are unprecedented works of art, made in two completely different time periods, and with different sensibilities.
Many dismiss the classic films for having outdated notions or a weaker, episodic story. Even soundtracks that don’t quite slap as hard. But that is simply not fair. Most don’t know that Beauty and the Beast was the first Disney movie to even have a screenplay. The first!! Sensibilities have changed, music has changed, and storytelling has changed in the 85 years since Snow White hit the big screen. It’s only fair to rank these films against other films of the same era.
*Note: Make Mine Music has been excluded from this list, as it is unavailable on Disney+ or for rent online
Golden Age (1937-1942)
#1 – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
As the first full length animated film ever produced, Snow White is a cinematic marvel, but also a storytelling one. The pacing is so tight—the movie wastes no time with fluff. The evil queen is a fantastic, terrifying villain and the dwarves make a fun cast of characters.
Best song: “Whistle While You Work”
#2 – Dumbo
This movie is the definition of “short and sweet.” With only an hour runtime, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Dumbo is the cutest Disney character I’ve ever seen, and the scenes between him and his mother melt my heart. The elephant betties are also savage.
Best song: “When I See an Elephant Fly”
#3 – Pinocchio
Now, I’ve always been biased against this movie, because it terrified me as a child. Like, scarred me for life. But upon rewatch, I see its merits. The Pleasure Island scene is masterfully done and still gives me chills. The scene where you see Lampwick turn into a donkey in silhouette is inspired. It’s worth the watch for that scene alone.
Best song: “When You Wish Upon a Star”
#4 – Fantasia
If I was more cultured, I would probably enjoy this film more. The art is wonderful and I love seeing the creativity. Some of the segments, like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Night on Bald Mountain,” are stunning, but overall, the lack of dialogue made it hard for me to focus.
#5 – Bambi
You would think that I would give this movie cute points as well, but it just doesn’t tug on my heartstrings the same way that Dumbo does. Ultimately, although nice to look at, this movie puts me to sleep.
Best song: “Little April Showers”
Packaged Films (1943-1950)
#1 – The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Both 30 minute shorts in this film are winners. While “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” gets more love for the spine tingling Headless Horseman segment, Mr. Toad is such a delightful character and I loved watching his shenanigans.
#2 – Fun & Fancy Free
Unlike Ichabod and Mr. Toad, this film only has one great short instead of two. Bongo the bear is cute, but pretty dull. “Mickey and the Beanstalk,” however, is a delight, and makes this movie one of the best packaged films.
#3 – Saludos Amigos
The shortest Disney movie at 42 minutes, Saludos Amigos doesn’t overstay its welcome. We get lots of great Donald moments, along with the story of Pedro, the adorable little airplane.
#4 – Melody Time
I remember literally nothing about this film.
#5 – The Three Caballeros
This film is mostly Donald being horny for human women (what even??) and colorful acid trips that put “Pink Elephants on Parade” to shame. No thank you.
Silver Age (1950-1967)
#1 – Peter Pan
This film is pure Disney magic. It’s got pirates, mermaids, and a stunning flying sequence that still gives me chills. Captain Hook is one of the greatest villains in the Disney cannon—a perfect blend of scary and ridiculous. But despite all the fantastical elements present, the movie also features such a grounded and strong heroine in Wendy. She’s the inspiration that little girls should look up to. Bravo!
Best song: “Second Star to the Right”
#2 – Cinderella
Cinderella is much more fierce than most people give her credit for. Her eye rolls—legendary. But this film is packed with great characters. The mice ooze charm. Lucifer is hilarious. The Wicked Stepmother shines as a villain who, despite not having any powers, still makes you feel her threat. This classic fairytale romance whisks you away and it works on every level.
Best song: “The Work Song”
#3 – 101 Dalmatians
Three words: Cruella de Vil. She dominates every scene she appears in and provides so much entertainment (Have you picked up on the running theme here, yet? I love villains). The unique art style of this film is so charming. While some people dislike the sketchy look, I find that it gives the movie so much personality. I love the opening scene where Pongo coerces his owner into taking a walk and they pass all the owners who look just like their dogs. Anita and Roger have the perfect meet cute and I will ship them for forever and ever, amen.
Best song: “Cruella de Vil”
#4 – Sleeping Beauty
Sadly, this movie suffers from a dull protagonist. Aurora barely talks at all, and when she does, it’s all about boys. While Snow White and Cinderella don’t quite fit the classic “Disney princess” stereotype, Aurora totally does. Thankfully, the rest of the characters partially make up for it. The fairies provide endless fun, the kings are a hoot, and Prince Philip is a Disney prince with an actual personality. Hooray for progress!
Best song: “Once Upon a Dream”
#5 – The Sword in the Stone
This film is a prime example of episodic storytelling. We meet the main characters, then follow them through several different stories that are only loosely tied together. But each little story is so fun! I love watching Merlin and Arthur getting chased by zealous girl squirrels, and the wizard duel is legendary.
#6 – The Jungle Book
This film also falls prey to episodic storytelling, but the episodes are charming, full of fun characters. The elephant segment is a personal favorite—does it get cuter than baby elephants?? Bagheera and Baloo act as the odd couple we all needed. Sheer Khan terrifies me. Still, I give Sword in the Stone a bit of a leg up, because, well, Merlin.
Best song: “I Wanna Be Like You”
#7 – Alice in Wonderland
My boyfriend had never seen this movie as a kid, and just a few minutes in, he said, “this movie is so random,” and it is. It’s literally a wild dream. Very little connective tissue holds this movie together. Alice makes no emotional connection with any of the characters she meets, which makes the story feel cold. Still, the sequences are rich and imaginative enough to set your own imagination on fire, if you’re prone to that sort of thing.
Best song (and scene): “The Mad Tea Party”
#8 – Lady & the Tramp
I was shocked upon rewatch at how boring this movie is. Don’t get me wrong, the main characters are so cute. But unfortunately, not much happens in this movie. The spaghetti scene is iconic and lives up to the hype, but that’s about it.
Best song: “Bella Notte”
Dark Age (1970-1988)
#1 – Robin Hood
This movie is such a motley combination of factors—recycled animation, country-style music, and a quaint English village. Yet somehow it all works for me. From start to finish, I’m laughing. I love the sweet bromance between Robin and Little John. Sir Hiss and Prince John are first class villains with high quality banter. Overall, a 10/10.
Best song: “Not in Nottingham”
Catchiest song: “Whistle-Stop” (it’s been stuck in my head for six months)
#2 – The Rescuers
Unlike most of the other films of this era, this one isn’t episodic. Instead, it tells one cohesive story of two sweet mice and one adorable little girl. The mouse world is so creative and well crafted, while the Bayou is a wonderfully creepy setting. Medusa, although somewhat an off-brand Cruella, is still a scary villain. This movie also just melts my heart.
Best song: “Someone’s Waiting for You”
#3 – The Fox & the Hound
This movie knows how to raise my heart rate. The first scene had me on the edge of my seat. It opens to complete silence, and then we hear the wind blowing, and then faintly, dogs barking. The tension slowly builds for several minutes. Honestly, it’s so impressive. I rarely watch this film because it is so sad, but it’s masterfully made: the tension, the sweet friendship, and the tragedy.
Best song: “Best of Friends”
#4 – Oliver & Company
Oliver Twist… with dogs! Genius! Seriously, all the dogs in this movie are hilarious, especially Tito and Einstein. The art style and the way New York is drawn gives it a feel that is both classic and contemporary at the same time. And “Why Should I Worry” is such a bop.
Best song: “Why Should I Worry”
#5 – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
How can you not love Winnie the Pooh?? This move is pure charm. I was also pleasantly surprised by how meta this movie is. The characters walk on the print and talk to the narrator. Very ahead of its time. This movie boasts classic stories like when Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit’s front door or Tigger gets stuck up a tree…I see a theme here.
Best song: “Winnie the Pooh”
#6 – The Black Cauldron
This film reeks of missed potential. I grew up reading the book series that it was based on. I can easily visualize a fun fantasy adventure that still has heart and meaning behind it. Disney really bit off more than they could chew, however, by trying to smash the plots of multiple novels into one. This leaves us with a story that doesn’t always make sense and characters who fall flat. The film boasts stunning visuals, however. The Horned King might be the coolest, scariest villain that the studio has ever made. There’s a lot to love here—most people don’t give this fantasy romp enough credit—but it still leaves me wanting a better movie.
#7 – The Aristocats
As a kid, I adored this movie. I thought the dogs and geese were so funny and the kittens were the cutest. I still believe all that to be true, but after diving deep into all the greatness that Disney has to offer, I see that the story is pretty weak and while the characters are great, they’re not quite great enough. Still, it’s worth the watch just for the “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” sequence.
Best song: “Everybody Wants to be a Cat”
#8 – The Great Mouse Detective
This movie is… fine. Just fine. It’s fun to see Disney’s take on Sherlock and I thought Basil was quite funny. The villain is also seriously underrated—he’s delightful. But ultimately, I felt no emotional connection and so it fell flat for me.
Best song: “Goodbye So Soon”
#1 – Beauty & the Beast
Now, I might be a little biased here, because this is my personal favorite Disney movie. But everything works here. Belle and the Beast are both fully developed characters with great arcs. There’s not a bad song on the soundtrack. And Gaston is such an outlandish villain who also manages to deliver subtle commentary on toxic masculinity and the mob mentality that can be present in a small town. This film engages and dazzles you from start to finish, but leaves you thinking for weeks afterwards.
Best song: “Belle”
#2 – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Out of the gate, some parts of this movie don’t work (the gargoyles—I’m just talking about the gargoyles). But everything that works works so well. Frollo is, without a doubt, the most disturbing villain in the Disney catalog. The film tackles lust and religious hypocrisy in a subtle, but intelligent way. Stephen Schwartz also brings his A game with the music. “The Bells of Notre Dame” is a great opener, delivering tons of exposition in an engaging, spine chilling way. “Out There” is a perfect “I Want” song that makes us fall for Quasi immediately. We don’t talk about “A Guy Like You.”
Best song: “God Help the Outcasts”
#3 – The Little Mermaid
This was the first movie to integrate the Broadway musical story structure into an animated film, and it does it perfectly the first time. Some Disney songs are overhyped, but “Part of Your World” really is that good. It still gives me chills after watching it a thousand times. I loved it as a kid, and frankly, 3 year old Abby had great taste.
Best song: “Part of Your World”
#4 – Aladdin
The Genie looms large over this movie, and for good reason. Robin Williams is unmatched in this comedic genius. However, I’m most touched by the love story between Aladdin and Jasmine. I love Aladdin’s journey and how he learns to become selfless. Also, this soundtrack slaps.
Best song: “Prince Ali”
#5 – Rescuers Down Under
This might be one case where the sequel is better than the original. It’s so fun to see the mouse world extended as the characters travel to Australia. This movie feels like a Disney version of Indiana Jones, with a whole new cast of quirky side characters. The villain feels menacing and his sidekick might be my all time favorite villain sidekick. The ending is pretty rushed and unsatisfying. But other than that, it’s wonderful.
#6 – The Lion King
It may seem strange that this film is so low on my list. Technically, this film is a masterpiece. So well-plotted, with strong characters and an even stronger villain. “Be Prepared” is an all-time best villain song. The score will knock your socks off. Hans Zimmer brought his A game. Even though I can appreciate all of these good qualities, I simply just don’t enjoy this movie as much as others do. It doesn’t connect with me on a personal level, and I rarely choose to put it on.
Best song: “Be Prepared”
#7 – Hercules
This movie delivers the laughs, no doubt about it. It’s an A+ comedy in my book. The art style is so distinctive and fun, stylized in a way that sets it apart from any other Disney movie. I admire Megara, a truly unique Disney heroine with unmatched sass. Unfortunately, this movie misses the heart that my favorite Disney films deliver.
Best song: “Go the Distance”
#8 – Tarzan
Two words: Phil Collins. Thanks to him, every song in this movie rules. As a musicals lover, I should hate that this movie isn’t a musical, and I still wish it was, but I can’t complain when I love the songs this much. This film is also a lot funnier than I remember, a lovely surprise. Because he can’t talk, Tarzan’s character leans into the physical comedy aspect. Jane shines as a clumsy, wonderfully relatable protagonist. The villain is pretty lame, but that’s the movie’s greatest sin.
Best song: “Strangers Like Me”
#9 – Mulan
Mulan is a badass main character, no doubt about it. I love how she doesn’t become a hero by being as strong as a man, but by using her naturally female traits instead. Mushu is hysterical, although he can be a bit much. The songs are all bangers, but sadly, the movie forgets that it is a musical about halfway through, which makes it lose major points. It’s a good movie, but falls a little short from being a great movie.
Best song: “I’ll Make a Man Out if You” (duh)
#10 – Pocahontas
This film has a more serious, adult film like Hunchback, but it falls flat because, unlike Hunchback, it doesn’t seem to have much to say. It sells itself as an “epic romance,” but I don’t feel any butterflies. It’s worth noting that this film was made primarily to be Oscar bait—and it shows. It has some fantastic animation and great songs, but it’s pretty boring.
Best song: “Just Around the Riverbend”
Experimental Age (2000-2008)
#1 – Brother Bear
I love Brother Bear because it is a movie about bears that is so human. You see the burden of protecting family, the joys and laughter of new friends exploring the world, and the fire that drives vengeance. The world the movie builds is entrancing and makes me want to live in Alaska. The opening montage where the brothers are kayaking around glaciers, hopping around rocks, and just joking around shows what Brother Bear is about after all. Brothers. Duh. (And bears, that too). Brotherhood is about helping each other grow. It’s not easy when pride is abundant; often you don’t understand your brothers, especially if they’re bears, but when Kenai turned into a bear, he saw brotherhood is not different when you’re a bear.
P.S. Phil Collins slaps quite hard.
Best song: “On My Way”
#2 – Treasure Planet
Of all the classic children’s novels you could set in space, this was a great choice. It’s so seamlessly adapted into the sci-fi genre, with so many clever, creative choices made. In addition to a rip-roaring adventure, it also portrays teenage boy angst so accurately. It’s a beautiful masterpiece and I’m so thankful that I finally got to see it.
Best song: “I’m Still Here”
#3 – Emperor’s New Groove
How could you not love this movie?? That’s a genuine question. My face hurts from smiling every time I watch. Each character is so good, they could star in their own movie or Disney+ original series (Give us a Kronk show, you cowards!). It’s eminently quotable (“Oh yeah, it’s all coming together”). If nothing else, Kronk will make you laugh. Beneath all the laughs, however, the movie still offers a good message about overcoming selfishness, and that elevates it even higher.
#4 – Meet the Robinsons
Where has this film been all of my life? Meet the Robinsons was new to me, but boy was I invested from beginning to end. Not only does it have a rich world filled with quirky characters, but this movie does not hold back on heart. As soon as the ending montage started, I was getting teary, and the Walt Disney quote at the end brought full on sobs.
Best song: “Little Wonders”
#5 – Lilo & Stitch
I have always written off this movie as overhyped. For the record, I still think that. But when I watched it this year, the first time doing so since I was little, it deeply moved me. Lilo is a difficult little kid, but she is also so human. The relationship she has with her sister and the struggles they face fill me with so much empathy. They are the heart of the movie, although Stitch is also hilarious. (“I like fluffy!!”)
Best song: “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride”
#6 – Fantasia 2000
I struggle with this film for the same reason I struggle with the original Fantasia. Due to the lack of dialogue, it’s hard for me to pay attention. This film does a better job due to the shorter runtime, however. The “Rhapsody in Blue” segment is particularly astounding.
#7 – Atlantis: The Lost Empire
For a certain group of people, this movie will be their jam. It’s got action, it’s got an epic quest, it’s got awesome drills and futuristic ships. My brother loves it because of that. I appreciate some aspects of the film as well, particularly the cast of diverse, well developed characters. Milo’s nerdiness melts my heart. Overall, though, the film focuses more on action, so it loses me. I also wish that the film spent more time exploring the wonders of Atlantis itself. That would’ve really bumped it up in my book.
#8 – Bolt
I would describe this movie as painfully average. Plot wise, it’s nearly identical to Toy Story, but much less compelling. I love the opening sequence of Bolt as an action hero, and honestly, I wish that had been the whole movie. The actual emotional journey that Bolt goes on leaves me feeling nothing. The film benefits from a few funny side characters, and honestly, it’s fine. But it’s nothing more than fine.
#9 – Chicken Little
I expected this movie to be worse, so it left me pleasantly surprised. Maybe that is how you enjoy this movie: by keeping your expectations low. I really enjoyed the opening sequence and the first half of the movie overall. Once the aliens show up, it quickly goes downhill. But there are worse Disney movies (hint: The next two on this list).
Best song: “One Little Slip”
#10 – Dinosaur
Gosh, this movie looks awful. The CGI might have appeared stunning in 2000 when the film came out, but it has aged poorly. Unfortunately, the story and characters are so basic that it hurts. The jokes fall flat. No character has a personality that sets them apart. Watching this film gave me nothing but an hour and a half of pain and misery.
#11 – Home on the Range
I actually fell asleep during this one. It was that bad. I could not care less about our leads, three boring, painfully unfunny cows. The villain was bonkers, and his song was the only part of the film that I enjoyed.
Revival Era (2009-Present)
#1 – Tangled
This film is far and away my favorite Disney love story. Love interests tend to fall in love quickly because the short run time demands it. But Tangled really took its time, showing scene after scene of Rapunzel and Flynn getting to know each other. My favorite scene is when Flynn sets aside his exuberant facade and shares his deep childhood wounds. He teaches her to get out of her shell, while she teaches him to be a good person. A beautiful relationship. The side characters also make me laugh so hard. The smolder will never not be funny.
Best song: “I See the Light”
#2 – The Princess and the Frog
In terms of favorite Disney love stories, Tiana and Naveen is a close second. They also grow closer together and they also grow and change together throughout the story. The vibrant, hand drawn animation makes New Orleans come alive—such a rich setting. The side characters, Louis and Ray, also have rich stories of their own. Ray’s story left me in tears. The one downside for me is a weak relationship between Tiana and our villain. But I can forgive that.
Best song: “Almost There”
#3 – Wreck-It Ralph
This film brings the world of classic video games to life so effectively. I want to live inside Sugar Rush. Ralph’s bad-to-good character arc gets points for originality and it tugs at my heartstrings. This might be the only Disney movie that pulls off the twist villain effectively. The entire twist at the end of the movie blindsided me in the best way. I could watch this movie over and over again.
Best song: “When Can I See You Again?”
#4 – Big Hero 6
I don’t like superhero movies, but dang, I loved this one. San Fransokyo comes alive, a brilliant combination of two unique, amazing cities. But what shines is the characters. Hiro and Tadashi have such a genuine, heartwarming relationship that leaves me teary. As for Baymax… he is not overrated. In fact, that isn’t possible. He is even more warm, funny, and wonderful than I remembered.
Best song: “Immortals”
#5 – Encanto
I went into this movie expecting little. The last several Disney movies didn’t work for me, and even though I liked the trailer, I didn’t think this one would be much better. This movie pleasantly surprised me. The rich, colorful animation brought the world of Columbia alive. Mirabel is a relatable protagonist, and all of her family members are fleshed out and feel real as well. I listened to the soundtrack on repeat for months—it’s that catchy. My only critique is that the story sags in the second act. I felt like Act 1 set us up for an epic adventure story and it never delivered. The characters, however, are enough to make the film enjoyable.
Best song: “Surface Pressure”
#6 – Zootopia
I love how this movie brings to life a world like our own, but if it were created and inhabited by animals. Judy Hops’ story really brings the heart—from the very beginning, I’m rooting for her to succeed. Meanwhile, Nick Wilde brings the humor with a dry delivery that only Jason Bateman could truly pull off. The film is a fun, hilarious time, but still manages to sneak in a strong message.
#7 – Strange World
This movie feels like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, but if it were made in 2022. It follows the familiar story structure where we all go out on an adventure to discover a new world. It also explores familiar themes of familial expectations, not all that different from Encanto. Overall, it’s nothing new, but it’s an enjoyable enough way to spend a few hours.
Read more: ‘Strange World’ review
#8 – Frozen II
The story of this film is weak and ridiculous, with a simply bizarre resolution. However, it made me laugh a whole bunch, so it gets more props than the first one. Olaf’s dramatic reenactment of the first movie and Kristoff’s 80s music video are both truly inspired.
Best song: “Lost in the Woods”
#8 – Moana
I’m sorry—I just don’t get the hype. Moana herself is a strong protagonist and the story follows the typical Hero’s Journey structure to the T. Ultimately, it feels like nothing new is being offered. It’s fine to use the formula if you use it to tell an effective story, but this one doesn’t do much for me. I don’t relate to Moana or Maui and their goals. The second act leaves my mind wandering. Even the music doesn’t excite me. Miranda did his best, but the music just isn’t as good as Encanto.
Best song: “How Far I’ll Go”
#9 – Winnie the Pooh
This movie is cute and harmless. It follows a similar structure as The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It’s great to spend a simple hour or so with Pooh and friends, but sadly, the movie doesn’t leave much of an impression.
#10 – Frozen
I don’t think it’s possible to sum up my utter loathing for this film in a few sentences, so I’ll save it for another piece. Supposedly, this movie is Elsa’s story, but Elsa is a reactive character. Throughout the film, things happen to her instead of her going out to pursue her goals. In fact, we barely spend time with Elsa at all. We don’t get to watch her overcome her anxiety or gain confidence. She and Anna barely spend any time together, either, so the message of sisterly love also rings hollow. Honestly, I don’t know what this film is trying to say. Watching it always leaves me dissatisfied and I don’t understand the hype.
Best song: “For the First Time in Forever”
#11 – Ralph Breaks the Internet
Like its predecessor, this movie delivers stunning, creative worldbuilding. I love seeing the Internet come to life. But I don’t love the darker parts of the Internet where we spend so much of the movie, like Slaughter Race and the Dark Web. These places hold no wonder for me. I don’t want to live there like I want to live in Sugar Rush. All of the jokes and references guarantee that this film will become dated. I enjoyed Vallenope’s character arc, but Ralph’s felt unnecessary and out of character. This sequel disappointed me.
#12 – Raya and the Last Dragon
This was so hard to get through. The two main characters annoy me to no end. The jokes made me groan. The twist villain at the beginning was not set up well at all, instead coming out of nowhere. Even the animation is lacking any wonder or beauty. Ultimately, I found nothing to like.