So I thought that this week I'd share my picks for the top five underrated Disney movies. To be clear, these are not my top five favorite Disney movies, (that post will be coming soon!) but rather, these are the movies that I feel are forgotten about and don't get the love and appreciation that they deserve.
I hope you enjoy reading my reasoning and if you agree or disagree with my choices, let me know in the comments at the end of the post!
5. Hunchback of Notre Dame
The number five slot goes to one of my favorites - The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This movie often gets shadowed by the other fantastic movies to come out of Disney in the 90's like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid. But the Hunchback stands out from this group because of its quirkiness and adult themes.
The movie is based on a novel by Victor Hugo. Hugo also wrote Les Miserables, so I'll let you imagine just how happy the original Hunchback book was. Still, the studio writers found the book and thought, "we can Disney-ify this." But with all of their efforts, they couldn't eradicate all of the darkness from the plot. This is why there are still plot points like Frollo's lust for Esmeralda, the persecution of the gypsies, Frollo literally killing Quasimodo's mother, and the whole subsequent creepy relationship between Frollo and Quasi. Seriously, go back and watch this one and you'll be amazed at all of the elements that went over your head as a kid!
One of my favorite things about this movie, though, is the artistic quality of it as a whole (a point that you'll see repeated throughout the movies on this list). Not only does Hunchback have beautiful characters like the badass Esmeralda and the sweet, sensitive Quasimodo, but it also has beautiful background artwork and beautiful music by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. The "God Help the Outcasts" Sequence alone should have a spot on this list!
Well I think I've rambled enough about how much I love this movie. Let's move on to number 4!
4. Lilo and Stitch
Lilo and Stitch stands out as an oddball in the lineup of Disney movies, but it actually, in a way saved the company financially. Picture this, it's the early 2000's, Disney has lost their streak of fantastic films from the 90's and they've sunk all of their money into big budget productions like Dinosaur and Atlantis, which, don't get me wrong, I enjoy, but were ultimately box office flops.
Then they find one of the strangest ideas for a Disney movie ever, but they decide to throw the Hail Mary and go with it. I feel like we don't talk enough about how bizarre Lilo and Stitch truly is. Seriously, put aside your love of this film and just take a minute to think about how weird of a concept it is.
Like I often think about how that pitch meeting went... "So it's an alien movie?" "Yeah, but the alien gets adopted by two orphans because they think it's a dog" "So it's funny?" "Yeah, but the alien also learns about family and stuff." "Where will it take place?" "I don't know... Hawaii?" "Okay, call Menken and get him to write a luau soundtrack." "Oh, don't bother, we'll just use Elvis music!"
But somehow it paid off! And we ended up with one of the few iconic Disney movies from the 2000's. Not only that, they used watercolor backgrounds, which is a much cheaper technique than traditional animation, so it really helped the studio financially. Plus it looks beautiful! (They also used this technique for Dumbo after they blew all of their money on Pinocchio and Fantasia)
Pair that all with memorable characters and super quotable dialogue, and I'd say this one has easily earned its number four slot!
3. Brother Bear
Brother Bear might just be one of my favorites because it's nostalgic for me. It's one of the earliest that I remember seeing in theaters, but honestly, it's great and barely anyone has seen it!
Brother Bear has a really cute premise but it also tackles some heavier themes like the death of a brother or mother, revenge vs. forgiveness, and the family-like bonds that can grow out of friendship. Plus, it's set to a fantastic soundtrack by Phil Collins. (Finally, someone other than Alan Menken!) Phil is always remembered for his Tarzan soundtrack, so why does everyone forget about Brother Bear? I just don't get it! I jam out to "On My Way" whenever I hear it.
Also, the moose are fantastic! Seriously! Their lines are so quotable, eh? They are some of the funniest side characters ever! Maybe I should do a post ranking Disney sidekicks! They'd definitely be on it!
This is another one that gets forgotten, I think partially because it's not completely animated, but it's incredible! My favorite thing about it is that it sits right on the line between imitation and parody. It simultaneously pays homage to the old classic Disney Princess movies with its traditionally animated sequences, while also pointing out the lack of dimension that the old characters and plots had.
The casting is also spot on! I mean Amy Adams is already basically a Disney princess, and McSteamy, or whatever they call him (I don't watch Grey's Anatomy), is basically as close as we'll get to a real life Disney prince. Then you have James Marsden and Susan Freaking Sarandon with their beautifully dramatic and over-the-top acting that really makes their characters feel like they stepped out of a fairy tale! Plus Idina Menzel, aka Queen Elsa, is in it too, and Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins, herself!) narrates. What an all-star line up!
Lastly, can we take a moment to appreciate the soundtrack? Alan Menken knocked it out of the ballpark again with this one! (I kind of feel like this is turning into an Alan Menken appreciation post!) But seriously, the progression of the music in this movie perfectly mirrors Giselle's character arc. When she's her bubbly princess-y self, the music sounds like a classic Disney soundtrack. But once we see her at the ball in her gorgeous, modern, purple dress, the music changes to "So Close" which sounds like a pop ballad that could be sung by a 90's boy band, and then we end with Carrie Underwood's "Ever, Ever After." Plus it's the first Disney movie to have a character question why everyone's singing, so props for that, Disney!
1. Fantasia (and Fantasia 2000)
Okay, so I know why Fantasia isn't appreciated - because people don't want to sit through a movie that's just animation set to classical music. I get it, it's not as catchy as "Hakuna Matata." But even if it's not one that you'll sit down and sing along to, we should all at least appreciate the artistic vision of the film and its incredible animation.
When Walt created Fantasia, he envisioned it as a series of animated sequences that would be updated and re-released every ten years or so. Each new release would have some new sequences and some old favorites. This way, his animators could use the sequences to test new animation technologies without having to commit to a full-length film. This vision wasn't fulfilled until Fantasia 2000 was released. The only returning sequence, though, was "Sorcerer Mickey."
This technique of testing new technologies allowed for breakthroughs in animation, especially in Fantasia 2000. The animators were able to test out the new computer animation style, which would lead to films like Tangled and Frozen! Pixar uses the same testing style with their animated shorts, they just release them individually before each movie, rather than all together as feature-length film.
If you haven't seen Fantasia or Fantasia 2000, I definitely recommend that you sit down and watch them at least once, if only to because they're very intellectually appreciated films in the movie industry. But if you can't manage that, at least watch the Rhapsody in Blue sequence from Fantasia 2000. Its depiction of New York City beautifully captures the frantic nature of Gershwin's music and the animation style pays homage to the cartoons of Al Hirschfeld. Both of whom were New York natives! If anything, by watching it you'll sound smarter at your next dinner party.
So, what do you think of my list? Are there any other Disney movies that you think don't get the amount of recognition that they deserve? Let me know in the comments below!
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