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Most Underrated Animated Disney Films

Walt Disney Studios has long been known to deliver wonderfully relevant family films (and more recently some films that appeal greatly to more mature audiences). In particular, animated films have yielded an unparalleled number of viewers since the first feature length Disney film in 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Films like Frozen, Aladdin and Toy Story are world-wide favorites that have stood the test of time (regardless of how much time that is). Yet, there are films that are truly genius that have graced the big screen and are often overlooked by the masses. The following is a list of the five most underrated animated films in the history of Disney Studios

5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996):

Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is based on Victor Hugo’s 1833 novel of

the same name. The film depicts a love story that, unlike most others, ends with the protagonist not getting the girl he has fallen in love with. Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) is a down on his luck hunchback who, through the many trials and tribulations of his life, has finally found the woman that he believes he is meant to be with--that woman being Esmeralda (Demi Moore). While their friendship grows immensely throughout the course of the film, as previously mentioned, it moves no further than that, and the two ultimately remain friends rather than becoming romantically involved. The unique story is, in part, thanks to Hugo and his wisdom with words, but the film is adapted into a story that is suitable for viewers of all ages. The twist that keeps the two protagonists separated romantically is a breath of fresh air in many ways. It is appropriate that audiences see realities of the world in which they live, rather than always being subjected to the sometimes inaccurate depictions of reality (this is not to say that these flashy and whimsical endings are not endearing, because they are). Disney and their writing crew (in this particular case there are more than twenty people credited with creating the story and script for this film), develop a film that takes the magic of Disney to new places. In comparison to other Disney films, The Hunchback of Notre Dame presents vibrant, intense and somewhat terrifying images to its audiences. This is somewhat untapped territory for the child-centric production company, making it one of a kind. The unexpected ending and the often horrifying images depicted in Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame are both the reason that some audiences vere from the film and the reason it has made its way into the list of Most Underrated Animated Disney Films

4. The Good Dinosaur (2015):

2015 was an interestingly slow year in terms of Disney’s animated releases. That year saw only Inside Out and the wonderfully underrated The Good Dinosaur. While Inside Out is regarded as one of Disney’s better animated releases in the past five years, The Good Dinosaur is often overlooked and even disregarded in conversations about the upper-echelon Disney flicks. Interestingly enough, Peter Sohn’s The Good Dinosaur, provides audiences with a sense of humor that most other Disney films often ignore. Dry humor takes great strides toward the forefront of the film and entices audiences that are sometimes neglected in the cutesie stories produced by Disney. Thanks to the introduction of the Pet Collector (played by director Peter Sohn) and his posse of interesting twisted friends, dry humor makes its way into the world of Disney and provides audiences with a delightfully funny experience. The Good Dinosaur lands on this top five because of its beautiful combination of said humor and the aggressive dose of reality present at the start of the film. Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), the runt of his litter, finds himself in a peculiar situation as his cowardice is, in some ways, the cause of his Poppa’s (Jeffrey Wright) untimely death. Immense loss and personal growth surround the young dinosaur as the film progresses. The story is relatable and provides a sense of direction for young viewers. The humor provides a sense of relief for those parents who dread watching another Disney film, and, even more, adds levels of depth to The Good Dinosaur that, while present in other animated Disney properties, is truly unprecedented. 

3. Robin Hood (1973):

The tale of Robin Hood is one that has been told for generations. It is the story of a man who steals from the rich to give to the poor. This man is often regarded as a hero, and, quite honestly, his work should be commended. As is explained in the opening moments of the film, the animal kingdom has their own version of the famed story. What separates Robin Hood from the pack and lands it at number three on the list of Most Underrated Animated Disney Films is the fact that, while most Disney films embody ideas of innocence, Wolfgang Reitherman’s depiction of the tale manages to dive even further into this idea while still maintaining relevance in a world full of economic despair. Young, innocent characters like Skippy (Billy Whitaker) and Toby (Richard Sanders) display an innocence that is not shown in any other fim. This level of innocence is endearing and it appeals to audiences of all ages. It allows young audiences to relate and audiences who are more experienced with the real world are able to appreciate and remember a time when the world was, in fact, rainbows and unicorns. The story is compelling and relates to the hardships of the real world. It allows audiences to see two sides of the same coin. This particular coin depicts both the financial struggles of the world and the people who often step up and speak for those in need. Music has for a longtime played a significant role in the success of Disney’s film. 1973’s Robin Hood does not often come up in discussions regarding Disney’s musicals; this soundtrack, however, is sold short. “Whistle Stop” and “Oo-de-lally,” both written and performed by Roger Miller, have stood the test of time and are, without a doubt, two of the catchiest tunes in Disney film history. All of the characteristics of this impressive film create a compelling story that appeals to all. The seemingly simplistic nature of the film, however, often leaves audiences disappointed and in need of both more content and more story. With this being far from the truth, Robin Hood solidifies its place at number three on this list. 

2. Oliver & Company (1988):

Billy Joel, the Piano Man, is often regarded as one of the better voices of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He is not, however, often considered to be one of the better voice actors (he is often not considered at all). Yet, in Oliver & Company, Billy Joel becomes one of the most recognizable stars in the world to voice one of the most endearing characters in Disney’s history. Dodger, the charismatic Jack Russell Terrier, who calls the ruthless streets of New York City home. His somewhat existential outlook on the world, and his stellar singing voice, allow him, and this film in which he is present to land at number two on the list of Most Underrated Animated Disney Films of all time. Even with Dodger’s interesting outlook on life, the story does not appear to have the deeper, layered meanings that Robin Hood or the very recent Onward might (at least it is not as thoroughly developed as the others). So, why does a charismatic dog land Oliver & Company on this list. Joel’s Dodger, and the rest of the characters, each possess a unique view of the world around them and create the ability for audiences to create their own opinion on their reality. This, while not necessarily part of the story, creates a bond with viewers and compels them to evaluate their own existence. Furthermore, seemingly more than ever, Disney brings fun to the table that appeals to audiences of all ages. The combination of Joel and Cheech Marin (Tito) creates an aura of fun-filled entertainment for children and adults alike. The voice acting rivals some of the best ever and is one of the many reasons that Oliver & Company makes this list. With beautiful points of view on the world, unlikely friendships (which play a role in those points of view, and a soundtrack--which includes Billy Joel’s “Why Should I Worry?”--help to develop a one-of-a-kind ride that is unlike anything else Disney has ever produced. 

1. Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996):

Aladdin (1992) is often regarded as one of the best animated films of all time. The compelling story, the beautiful soundtrack and the ridiculously relatable characters make it one of the most beloved Disney films of all time. Sequels in the world of Disney do not often yield the same level of attention or appreciation as their predecessors, and Aladdin and the King of Thieves is no different. Two years after Aladdin and the Return of Jafar (which is terribly dreadful and completely tanked), Disney is back at it with another attempted sequel to the 1992 hit. Aladdin and the King of Thieves embodies the heart and soul of the first installment of this series and it dives even deeper into the parentage and the past of the titular Aladdin (Scott Weinger). While this sequel cannot compare to the magic of Aladdin, audiences find themselves engrossed in a film that, in many ways, does compete with the fun and the energy of some of the more action-packed scenes of Aladdin. Sword fights and fast-paced action sequences are full of life and more entertaining than most of the action sequences strewn throughout the Disney animated universe. Furthermore, what often falls to the wayside in sequels (not just in Disney, but across the board in Hollywood), is the development of the characters and the story. Disney steps up their game, however, and beautifully develops depth and relatability in Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Family has always been prominent in the showings of Disney’s properties, but, for seemingly one of the first times, they create a story that revolves entirely around family and their importance. As Aladdin slowly discovers his lineage, he is forced to understand the difficulties of family, but even more, the incredible role that they play in helping to develop their loved ones (whether it is intentional or not). Disney finds ways to reach young audiences in ways that provide them with an in-depth understanding of the people around them and how tirelessly many of them work to ensure that these youngsters flourish and find success. With impeccable voice acting from one of the greats--Robin Williams (Genie)--and many other incredibly talented individuals, a deep, meaningful story about family and sacrifice and intense and fun action sequences, Aladdin and the King of Thieves finds itself atop this list of the Most Underrated Animated Disney Films. Throw out your preconceived notions of sequels and give Tad Stones’ animated masterpiece a chance.  

All of the films listed above, and more, are currently accessible on Disney’s streaming service, Disney+. Pop a bag of corn, throw on your favorite pair of pajamas and engulf yourself in a world of animated beauty and success. You will not be sorry.



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