Walt Disney is an undisputed household name. How many times have we sat in front of our screens and watched the familiar rainbow rise over the castle in Disney’s trademark intro? We’re betting it’s one too many. And whether you’re a veteran Disney watcher looking for some nostalgia or just a new enthusiast wondering what to watch, we’ve compiled a list that you will certainly enjoy- the 31 best Disney animated movies of all time.
Table of Contents
1) The Lion King (1994)
Standing at number 1, The Lion King wears the proud crown for being the best Disney animated movie ever. A classic for all children sleepovers or family bonding sessions, The Lion King left Simba, Scar and Mufasa are in our hearts forever as the greatest lion superheroes. With beautiful vast African landscapes and some amazing soundtracks, this Disney animated movie rose fast from 1994 to get sequels, Broadway plays and even long-lasting music.
The movies follow Simba’s journey to his place on the throne of the jungle, tumbling in a mix of lessons learned, comedy and top-notch animation. It tells a realistic story, one that shows how important standing up for your friends, family and yourself is.
2) Pinocchio (1940)
One of the things that makes Pinocchio so impressive is that was made at a time when animation movies weren’t that much of a thing. Pinochhio faced hurdles at every turn, from the use of the main character that wasn’t human, to make it into the second feature-length animated film ever. Hats off to the artists and creators for accomplishing that one.
Pinocchio’s story is based on an 1883 Italian fairy tale. It features a wooden puppet on a quest to become a real young boy by proving his truthfulness, bravery and unselfishness. This movie also gave us the classic long-nose joke that’s persisted for generations along with the evergreen When You Wish Upon A Star Disney soundtrack.
3) Beauty And The Beast (1991)
If you read that title to the tune of the song, you’re not alone.
This Disney movie was a beautiful tale of love, one that reached for something deeper beyond the surface. Beauty and The Beast, the name says it all. The movie created Belle, a strong, smart female. Belle wasn’t a damsel in distress or just a pretty face; she was a wise woman who knew the value of education.
Beauty and the Beast wove a tale of acceptance that has lived on nearly three decades later. So it’s no surprise that it was the first Disney animated movie to be nominated for the Best Picture Award.
4) Aladdin (1992)
The story of the kind-hearted thief Aladdin and the fiery Princess Jasmine was one of the biggest hits of its time. It was funny, romantic and adventurous with a lovable main character on his iconic magical carpet swaying everyone away. This Disney animated movie gave out a unique, magical vibe with its flying carpets and genie lamps. Aladdin had everything to its advantage including a perfect celebrity voice cast. Robin Williams’ genie kept us in laughs with his witty jokes and brilliant impressions.
Aladdin marked a small revolution in Disney, where not just kids, but adults could sit down to watch an animated movie and feel not just entertained, but like a kid all over again.
5) Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The first full-length Disney animated movie ever made. No-one knew how it would turn out; a lot to lose, and well, an everlasting cartoon classic story to gain. And the film created a real sensation. The world calls Walt Disney a visionary, as this is why. He imagined something that had never been done, took a huge gamble on it and came up with this.
Its backstory is almost as powerful as the real tale it tells. Filled with emotion, design, movement, and colour, Snow White a story of courage. Kids love Snow White for its imaginative elements- its cute dwarfs, an amazing princess and catchy music.
6) The Little Mermaid (1989)
Ariel, the first name that comes to mind when we say mermaid, ushered in a golden Disney animation era. The Little Mermaid was a glorious film, with a heart, a soul, and perfect animation. And the song ‘Under The Sea’ immediately became a huge mark that Disney left the world
The animated movie narrated a story underwater, of Ariel, a mermaid who dreamt of becoming a human and fell in love with a prince. She was the independent- thinking princess everyone wanted to take a lead role in cinema. She was it. And her story inspired people along with setting a benchmark and giving Disney the edge back over its rising competitors.
7) Fantasia (1940)
This movie has been called a masterpiece. Known as the Disney Animated Movie that gave Mickey Mouse a new life, Fantasia was Disney at its peak. As Walt Disney’s head project, he certainly made sure the animation was top-notch. A ton of work and a ton of love went into creating this film and the final product was fantastic. A perfect blend of pop culture and classical music, Fantasia was one of the most creative, awe-inspiring, and imaginative films of Disney’s animation run.
8) Frozen (2013)
This one is from a much later era of Disney animated movies. Frozen had a new, interesting story and a different take on true love. The famous “Let It Go” song stems from this movie.
Frozen told the story of Anna and Elsa, two snow princesses. Elsa’s journey to regaining control and losing the fear of her power was long and brutal but in the end, she was saved by her sister. Frozen shows the power of family bonds, the deceptiveness of appearances and the hardships of being a princess in an almost two-hour rewarding film. It was a beautiful blend of humour, grief, stupidity, and wisdom. And of course, the lovely sister bond, coined in the song ‘Do You Wanna Build A Snowman’ melted all our hearts.
9) Mulan (1998)
Mulan was the Disney Animated Movie that made everyone laugh, cry, and cheer on an incredible female character as she broke down boundaries that divide men and women. Driven by ambition, Mulan won a war for her nation that forbade girls to even fight. She became a role model for girls all over the world, especially for women of colour.
This movie stepped up and showed the world that princesses aren’t just people who fall in love with someone important or have something wonderful happen to them. A new princess, someone who overcame horrible and harsh circumstances, with grit and courage was born. And that’s how Mulan left its mark.
10) Moana (2016)
The most recent film to make the list, Moana showed off some notable 3-D animation, especially with its ocean effects. Moana is a young girl, looking for adventure, who sets out at sea. She plans to pursue a dangerous mission to rescue the shape-shifting demigod Maui and return a magical item to its rightful home.
With a selfless and heroic main character on an exciting adventure, Moana had something for everyone to enjoy. And Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the Demigod Maui had a lot of hearts pounding.
11) The Jungle Book (1967)
This was, sadly, the last film that Walt Disney had a hand in before passing away. But The Jungle Book elevated Jungle Stories to a new level. It tells the story of Mowgli, a ten-year-old boy raised in the Indian jungle by wolves and his adventures with a carefree bear Babloo along with pythons, tigers and an assortment of animated animals.
The Jungle Book was a movie with a funky vibe and delightful tunes. Beautiful blue-green, lush landscapes, warm emotions, humour and the famous jungle liveliness made it a family favourite that will never fade away.
12) Bambi (1942)
The Disney animated movie that left everyone in tears makes number 12 on our list. Bambi isn’t fairy-tale like. It’s realistic and delicate with emotions that tug on everyone’s heartstrings. The death of Bambi’s mother was one of the saddest scenes ever created by Disney, even all these years later.
Bambi is the story of fading innocence. It shows Bambi growing up, accepting responsibility, and moving past his sorrow while realizing that you can’t replace people, but you can add new ones to your life. The movie isn’t just a sad, weepy tale. It’s the sort of story that leaves an impact on everyone who watches it. And perhaps that’s why it’s Walt Disney’s favourite film he ever created.
13) Hercules (1997)
Hercules featured some good fast-paced action, peppy numbers in the background and remarkable animation. A sharp contrast to Bambi, this Disney movie was light-hearted and good fun, with a crazy villain, and a heroine who just couldn’t be the damsel in distress.
And the voice cast pushed the whole delightful and entertaining vibe Disney was going for, over the top. James Woods’ speed-talking Hades made an outstanding villain, one that very few modern villains can live up to.
14) 101 Dalmatians (1961)
This one became an instant kids and family favourite with its adorable dogs. 101 Dalmatians was clever and funny with a sketchy style, great to watch approach to animation.
A litter of Dalmatian puppies were kidnapped by a wealthy, fashion-obsessed heiress who wanted to use their fur to make into coats, in the story. An unusual female villain and an attempt to see inside the minds of puppies as main characters, this movie was unique if nothing else.
15) Sleeping Beauty (1959)
While it initially didn’t so well at the box office and its large budget put Disney in a spot of trouble, Sleeping Beauty’s brilliance was gradually realised as extraordinary.
This animated movie had all the classic fairy tale elements, a dashing princess, an evil witch, a handsome prince atop a horse, oh, and a dragon to star in the final battle. Its beautiful, sprawling graphics and entrancing story slowly pushed towards its high acclaim.
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16) Dumbo (1941)
Despite World War 2 causing doom at Disney’s box offices, Dumbo was a 64-minute simple run that did pretty well.
This animated movie tells the story of a circus elephant who’s constantly and cruelly ridiculed for having comically oversized ears. It quickly rose to become a symbol of endurance. It had a perfect blend of sad scenes (where Dumbo met his mother and she sang ‘baby mine’), some humour and a happy ending. Complete with its lesson its own lesson to deliver in classic Disney fashion, Dumbo has a special place in many hearts as the best, cutest cartoon elephant ever created.
17) Cinderella (1950)
Cinderella is known as the Disney animated film that delivered a smashing hit at the box office and cleared a $4 million debt for Disney. But its economic success certainly isn’t why it’s still a fan favourite.
Cinderella was the perfect princess movie, a princess troubled by her stepmother, a fairy godmother, pumpkin carriages, glass slippers and her very own prince charming at the end with justice served to her mean stepsisters. And Disney turned it into something on a pedestal with serene art, pretty colours, beautiful songs and it’s own good vs evil theme perfection added to the mix.
18) The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh (1977)
Here we are at number 18, the most quotable Disney animated movie of all time with the most lovable little bear. Winnie The Pooh eating honey out of the brown pot with his little friends is a classic image for all of us from the Disney animated era, one that we see on tiffin boxes, posters, stickers, just about everywhere.
While we’ve seen jungle movies about lions and wolves, this movie gave us a different story of the woods- a friendly bear, a piglet, a kangaroo and donkey and more. Winnie the Pooh is a tale of friendship, a sleepy adventure in a little jungle, perfect for family adventures with little kids or just a nice quiet relaxing afternoon.
19) Peter Pan (1953)
While today’s kids love the Jake and The Neverland Pirates TV show, nothing will ever quite as beat the original Captain Hook for veteran Disney animated movie watchers.
This movie was one of the most vibrant, kid-friendly adventures of its time. Peter Pan brought back the Disney magic that some of the more recent films were lacking- the Pixie Dust, the cutesy hot-headed pixie Tinker Bell and Neverland. Just like Peter Pan will never grow up, this movie will never grow old.
20) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
This might’ve been one of the darkest Disney animated movies ever but it was visually stunning, meaningful and exciting with a beautiful soundtrack. The characters were relatable with perfectly cast voices. Esmeralda has been called the true Disney feminist heroine and Frollo, the most realistic villain ever created.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a mix up of turbulent emotions, violent and heart-wrenching scenes with some silliness to top it off. And while it isn’t as promoted today, this movie possibly even deserves to be up higher on every list based on merit alone.
21) The Lady and The Tramp (1955)
The tale of a posh dog that falls in love with a scrappy tramp and a spaghetti string kiss that no rom-com will ever beat. This Disney animated movie was cozy and charming, with nifty songs and an incredibly simple but entertaining plot. It was a daring adventure mixed into a love story with a touch of Walt Disney’s own life views added.
The Lady and The Tramp was rich in colour and tale and a landmark in the world of talking animal movies.
22) Pocahontas (1995)
More than 20 years later, we’re still looking for someone who can paint with all the colours of the wind.
This movie was controversial, yes. But you only have to look to see the thought that went into it. Pocahontas gave us all important lessons about tolerance in the face of diversity. Not every princess gets a happy ending and Pocahontas didn’t, but she taught everyone that girls can be brave, intelligent and make a difference in other people’s mindsets. She’s up there with Mulan and Esmeralda for the strongest female character. And powerful music and a contrast of colours consolidated its inspirational message into a classic movie.
23) Tarzan (1999)
Disney’s always shown a man and nature harmony in its films. Mowgli and Babloo, Cinderella and the birds all had beautiful lush nature landscapes. But Tarzan outdid all of that with the greatest return to the forests that Disney animation ever made.
Tarzan was a movie that’s scenes roamed unchecked through the wild. The high-speed animated movements, enabled by new technology, blew everyone away. Tarzan zipping through the skyline and skating down tree branches at a dizzying pace is the sort of scenes that entertained, pulse-raised and stayed with everyone.
This 1999 movie became a terrific masterpiece that established a new style of Disney and made animation films into rollercoasters.
24) Lilo and Stitch (2002)
Lilo and Stitch was a strangely touching movie about an unlikely friendship. It featured a perfect pair of friends, (each with their own flaws) that just fit together amid some great humour and deep metaphors. Disney did a great job of including jokes in the mix that would appeal to adults as well while sticking to its children’s’ themes.
The story was relatable, funny, and even inspirational. Lilo, a victim of bullying was a symbol of courage for many kids back then and the action-filled suspenseful moments with perfect music made it a delight to watch.
25) Zootopia (2016)
This Disney animated movie did the unprecedented. It merged a political landscape with a world of innocent animals. Zootopia was the story of a bunny that wanted to become a police officer. While it commented or tried to comment on racism in a way, the movie kept it light and fun for kids with a great plot and unexpected twist at the end.
Zootopia was a movie set in the real world rather than a happy-go-lucky fantasy world. Work hard, overcome challenges and keep believing, was the movie’s message in one line.
26) Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Wreck it Ralph was another Disney animated movie with an important lesson to teach. It is a story about outcasts finding their place in the world, and learning how to be comfortable in their own skin. Disney’s tireless negotiations to feature all those of high-profile video game characters in the movie certainly paid off. But the pop-culture laced script didn’t let go of its roots. Wreck-It Ralph stayed true to genuine emotion of Disney’s animated projects.
27) The Princess and The Frog (2009)
Putting all the troubling controversy aside, The Princess And The Frog was a great film, and one of the last pure fairy-tale Disney animated movies.
The Princess and the Frog was rich, rewarding and lovable with magical and fiery music numbers. It also had a certain simplicity and candor to it, in the way it openly treated subjects like race. This movie starred an interesting array of supporting characters and led Tiana to the ranks of a brave, determined Disney Princess.
29) The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
With a detective world that is worthy of Sherlock Holmes and a light, frothy tune, The Great Mouse Detective is still a family favourite. Its plot leaves everyone wanting more and the cute little mouse is forever at the top of our favourite mice character movies along with Stuart Little.
Disney created extremely believable characters with realistic personalities with this film. 74 minutes full of humour and heart and a bold adventure was what this movie gave us. And for Disney, it gave it the preamble to its soon to follow Renaissance.
30) Alice In Wonderland (1951)
Alice In Wonderland has an unusually long-lasting legacy with its teacups. The movie is funny, colourful, and strange, but it lacked a certain flavour and whimsy. Whether it was the multiple changes in the writers’ room or just the character that they were given to work with, Alice in Wonderland could’ve been better.
But it still entertained. People loved the weird, dream-like and surreal vibe that it gave out along with the smart and sweet Alice, and that’s why it makes number 30 on our list.
31) The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
And that’s it for the last one. The Emperor’s New Groove is the last one to make this list, and its majorly because of its undefeated slapstick comedy that’s still up there today with the likes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. This movie is one that leaves audiences in hysterics, littered with smart and subtle comedy. It’s a fast-paced adventure and charismatic characters made it into an epic musical that’s as entertaining today as it was two decades earlier.