I grew up in what is now known as the Disney Renaissance. This is the era spanning the late ‘80s to the mid ‘90s, in which Disney’s quality of movie skyrocketed for the first time in decades. As such, I was greatly spoiled with excellent movie after excellent movie. I know, I know. This reeks of a ‘90s kid superiority complex. But I say all this in order to better lend credence to my claim that I believe we’re in another Disney Renaissance now. Once again, Disney movies have that indefinable quality that really makes them timeless and wonderful. And, all this is to say, most of my favorite Disney movies come from Renaissance eras. And it’s no wonder as to why. When Disney is in its prime, it shows. However, there are always a few outliers and I’ll be talking about a couple of those too. So, find the kid in you, and join me in a conversation on the movies I believe to be Disney’s finest:
- The Lion King (1994): I’m going to start the list with not only the most obvious choice, but my favorite movie of all time. For kids, it’s a fun romp about animals. For adults, it’s a thematic revelation. It deals with some really heavy themes, like betrayal, self-loathing, grief, personal responsibility, and the impact of the past. It also speaks directly about dark things like murder and government usurpation. Simba’s character development is genuinely some of the best character development I’ve ever seen. And then there’s the music, some of the best Disney has ever had. Elton John really trapped lightning in a bottle with that one. The animation is also great, both in art style and the color palettes. Everything about this movie works. It’s no wonder this movie is such a staple among Millennials and Disney’s most successful film of all time.
- Lilo & Stitch (2002): This is one that, while I liked it as a kid, I didn’t love it the way I do now. This movie is gut-wrenching. It’s a beautiful story about family and belonging. I cry every time I see this film. Multiple times. This movie is also an example of a Disney film that can be excellent without being a traditional musical. While music plays a big role (in both Hawaiian songs and Elvis Presley), the characters don’t break out into song. This also takes the concept of aliens in Hawaii and makes it not only plausible, but downright sensible. Stitch is also my favorite Disney character of all time. I love how he starts off as a psycho little blue koala, but becomes soft and loving. His journey to finding a place to belong is so relatable. But the thing that moves me most about this film? Lilo and Nani’s relationship. One of the best sisterly relationships I’ve ever seen. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen this flick, give it another viewing. You’ll fall in love with it all over again.
- Big Hero 6 (2014): One of Disney’s most tragically underrated movies, this film is the company’s most honest look at grief and depression. Hiro’s story is centered around the death of his beloved older brother. The story is also about the fine line between vengeance and justice. As Hiro and his friends team up to stop a villain, Hiro grapples with his choice between the two. However, it’s not all dark. Hiro’s group of friends is eclectic and lively, one you’ll fall in love with immediately. And then, of course, there’s the adorable Baymax, a cuddly robot designed to be a nurse of sorts. He makes for lots of laughs in an otherwise heavy movie. On top of all this, Fall Out Boy does an original song for the film and I’m always here for that. This movie is getting a well-deserved second life as a cartoon on Disney Channel, but it’s still not getting its dues. Definitely watch this movie if you haven’t.
- Frozen (2013): Despite the overhyping and recent influx of hate, I love this movie. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. There’s so much to love about this movie, from the self-aware comedy to the sisterly relationship to the music to the conflict. I love that the conflict doesn’t center around a villain, but rather Anna and Elsa’s strained relationship and Elsa’s anxiety and self-doubt. Sure, there is a villain, but his is a side plot. Plus, I love Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, so their being in this movie is a bonus. And then there’s the fact that Demi Lovato sings the single version of “Let it Go.” This movie genuinely means so much to me and I hate how the public has turned on it. It deserves better.
- Mulan (1998): When I was growing up, Mulan was The Disney Princess. I mean, she joined the army and saved China! Talk about badass! Moreover, the movie balances topics like a woman’s place in society and self-discovery with clever humor. Honestly, any time Eddie Murphy voices an inhuman creature, you know it’s going to be a good movie. Mulan was an excellent role model for a seven-year-old girl to have. Even as a twenty five-year old woman, this film is still so empowering. And then, of course, there’s the amazing soundtrack. I remember playing it on repeat. Stevie Wonder is even a part of it! Everything about this movie is wonderful and if the live action version screws up even one (1) thing, I’m storming the Disney offices.
- Finding Nemo (2003): I can some up my love for this movie in one word: cinematography. Sure, the characters and plot are great, but that animation is gorgeous. It’s genuinely some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. The flow of the ocean is just stunning. Everything about this movie is aesthetically pleasing. I recommend this movie on that basis alone. Forget scuba diving— just watch this film!
What are some of your favorite Disney movies? Tell me about them in the comments!