My Top 5 Classic Disney Animated Movies

I’m pretty sure there’s no one in the world who doesn’t know Disney. The company’s animated and live-action movies have been etched in the minds and hearts of young and old for many generations and show no signs of stopping.

My childhood was saturated with the animated films and my family had many of them on VHS (remember those?) that I would watch non-stop. I’m surprised none of them wore out from replay. They helped define my younger years and I still hold them in high regard today, even though I don’t have many on DVD since Disney either made them ridiculously expensive or locked them in the scam gimmick known as the Disney Vault. Therefore, I wanted to reveal my top 5 favorites.

I’m allowing this list to include animated movies through the year 2000, because that’s when I reached my teenage years and also when Disney started using more computer animated techniques. Though I love the more recent Disney films, I feel the classics — especially those which were drawn by hand — are just in a category all their own.

Let’s get started, going from top to bottom.

Aladdin (1992)

My all time favorite animated classic by Disney, without fail. I remember seeing Aladdin in theaters, being wowed, and hearing my dad laugh at the puns I was too young to understand.
This movie is so vivid and brimming with adventure, moves quickly, and it doesn’t hurt that Aladdin himself is attractive and Princess Jasmine is freakin’ gorgeous (for cartoons). She quickly became my favorite Disney princess because of her beauty, ability to stand up for herself, protest against laws/actions she knows are wrong, and lack of care for suitors. Jafar proved himself to be a worthy adversary, especially once he got the lamp in his hands. And side note: I’m one of the few who actually enjoyed Return of Jafar, even though it was of poor quality and the voices weren’t the same (one of my pet peeves in sequels). The third movie, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, was so-so.
But we cannot forget the best character of them all: Genie. Robin Williams is astounding in this role. His charisma flowed through this movie and wouldn’t be the same without him (which is probably a huge reason Return of Jafar flopped). He pretty much makes this movie what it is.
Seriously, what’s not to love about Aladdin? Nothing. Disagree? Fight me.

The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

The Emperor’s New Groove is probably the most underrated animated Disney movie, and a lot of people haven’t even seen it. I don’t remember this flick getting a lot of press, even with many well-known voices, but I could be wrong; maybe because there aren’t songs?
David Spade is the perfect actor for Cuzco, the main character, and he helps make this movie hilarious and extremely quotable, even though his personality is less than pleasant. I love that each character has their own brand of zany, and the antics that take place while Cuzco and Pacha evade the villain Yzma and her dumber-than-dirt right-hand man, Kronk, create an amusing, goofy roller coaster ride.
This is a very unusual movie, even for Disney, but it’s one that makes me feel good, have fun watching, and bust a gut with the witty script. A must see! It’s rare for me to not want to watch this film.

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Obviously, this movie was released long before I was born, but The Sword in the Stone’s age, which you can definitely see when watching, helps make it more charming and magical. Arthur/Wart, the main character, doesn’t even hold a candle to the secondary characters of Merlin and Archimedes, who are amusing and lovable. And don’t forget the pesky wolf who keeps following them and always ends up in trouble when he misses his prey! The experiences Arthur has as a fish, squirrel, and bird made me wish I could be in his shoes. And the epic — well, epic for a Disney movie of that time — battle between Merlin and Madam Mim (“I haaaaate shunshine!”) is always fun to watch. Such a classic!

The Lion King (1994)

I’m pretty sure most Disney movie fanatics love The Lion King. The rich colors, memorable characters, catchy songs, and story line are all reasons why this is in my list. And there are so many celebrity voices! The animation was really well done and the score is a masterpiece. Disney pulled out all the stops when making it, and it paid off, ringing in millions from the Broadway production, the play’s touring show, and merchandise alone. For me, The Lion King was the first Disney movie I remember feeling really sad while watching; when Mufasa died and Simba was trying to wake him up. I can’t remember if I cried in the theater, but I imagine I did, cause that scene still tugs on my heartstrings to this day. And fun fact: if you look very closely, you can see blood during the fight between Simba and Scar near the end.

Mulan (1998)

When I first watched this flick, I noticed just how different Mulan was from other of Disney’s animated movies. Growing up in a city with little to no diversity, a movie showing a different culture was more of an adventure and learning experience. In addition, it was the first time I had seen a Disney animated movie with a female lead who wasn’t the typical Disney princess, waiting to fall in love or get rescued. Though she had a little help and there was an attraction to Captain Shang, Mulan took care of business and used her brain to solve problems and strategize without romance taking a front seat. I loved it. The songs, especially “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” are fun to sing along with, and Eddie Murphy as Mushu was perfect.

And there you have it. My complete list of favorite Disney animated movies from top to bottom. Oh no! But wait!

Honorable Mention

The Little Mermaid (1989)

It was so hard to leave this out of my list, but Mulan just barely edges out The Little Mermaid because of it’s strong female lead. It’s the feminist in me, I guess. But back to the point. The Little Mermaid was IT for me as a young girl. And I mean…I wanted everything Ariel. I idolized her because (1) who doesn’t want to be a freaking mermaid, and (2) I loved singing her songs because I knew even at that age that I could sing them well. I even had books (which must have taken place before the whole “becoming a human thing”) that I read until the spines broke. And what a great villain Ursula is; she is properly scary. I remember watching the film all the time, and being insanely jealous of my best friend who basically had the bedroom of my dreams: Little Mermaid wallpaper, a Little Mermaid bedspread, a Little Mermaid rug, Little Mermaid toys up the wazoo. Ugh. It wasn’t fair.
When I played Kingdom Hearts for the first time and realized there is a Little Mermaid world to beat, my inner child was thrilled. Then I found out how hard swimming was in the level that had you navigating a maze of caverns to complete all of the tasks until you fought the nearly unbeatable, ginormous (and still incredible terrifying) Ursula.
You get my point. I couldn’t leave this movie out, as it had such a huge place in my childhood.

All right, that’s the end, I swear. This list was so difficult to put together, as I love so many more animated classics.

Which classic Disney animated movies are in your top 5 and why? Leave the answer in the comments!

—K

About Karin

Journalist, singer, reader, movie fanatic, photography buff, GVSU alum, wanna-be-Brit, Crohn's fighter, Coca-Cola addict, animal lover, not a kid person, hater of winter, Michigander
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6 Responses to My Top 5 Classic Disney Animated Movies

  1. Janet M Schnell says:

    I love Jungle Book! I realized I haven’t watched 4 of the ones you listed. Also realized as I looked through my movies that I have not watched the Little Mermaid even though I own it. Will have to rent Alladdin, Mulan, Sword in the Stone, Emperors New Groove. Loved your write up of each movie. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nicole says:

    I was just about to protest that The Little Mermaid wasn’t included… good save! 🙂 I honestly don’t remember if I’ve ever seen The Sword in the Stone or Mulan… I’ll have to look them up with the kids!

  3. Mom says:

    Sword in the Stone is my favorite. I picked it up today & took it to Jan’s. Would have grabbed the others but Family Video was all out. And yes, we do have the others here on VHS.

    • Karin says:

      Family Video’s kids movies are always wrecked. I hope she was able to watch it without issues. I never rent from that business anymore.

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