The 5 Most Unappreciated Disney Animated Films

Posted: April 19, 2015 in Thoughts and Reflections

Disney films are some of the most nostalgically engrained films in our young-or-old psyche. Whether it’s Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast or Sleeping Beauty, many of us have been reared to breathe and live Disney. And over the studio’s 75+ years of filmmaking, we’ve seen many a-cherished classics come to life: 101 Dalmatians, Robin Hood, The Aristocats, Lady and the Tramp, The Jungle Book, just to name a few of the lesser classics much less the better known ones. But while most of us are on exceedingly familiar terms with these films, there are a few works of animation that the greater populace is less than familiar with.

 

The Sword in the Stone

Arthur_The Sword in the Stone

Released right in the midst of 101 Dalmatians and The Jungle Book, The Sword in the Stone is a mostly forgotten (if even watched) film among Disney aficionados. Based on the renowned story of a young not-yet-king Arthur fulfilling the prophecy by pulling Excalibur from the stone, this film has as much charm as any Disney film should. While many critics at the time derided it as mere silliness—-where a bumbling, eccentric Merlin substituted the more “historically accurate” all-powerful wizard—-in hindsight, I could certainly understand how a film like this on the heels of Sleeping Beauty would have seemed underwhelming. 50 years later, however, the perception has seemed to adjust. We’re not seeing these films sequentially in theaters anymore. We’re not basing our opinions of Bambi compared to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We’re seeing these as one large faction of Disney films.

It still isn’t considered an all-time great, nor should it be, but Sword in the Stone is certainly more deserving of attention and appreciation. Merlin—-as bumbling as he may be—-is still loveable. Plus, his oddity is tribute to 75 years of character embellishment. Whether it’s the characters of The Little Mermaid, The Jungle Book, or even Frozen, Disney has shown with each adapted film that they’re willing to change the characters to fit into the story they want to tell. And, almost every time, their characters become the most well-loved.

Memorable character: Merlin’s cranky, crotchety owl companion Archimedes.

 
Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Milo_Atlantis: The Lost Empire

The subject of Atlantis has been a popular subject during the past century with many authors, most commonly with Jules Verne. Disney’s version of the story behind the mythical lost city is a bit more caricatured than Verne’s more prosaic approach, but no less exciting. Another film that manages to fly under the radars of viewers, Atlantis: The Lost Empire blends the mythical with the practical. Set in approximately the same time period as Verne’s novels, this film is certainly among Disney’s more mysterious projects.

The main character is Milo Thatch, a knowledgeable but awkward kid—-essentially an animated Marty McFly (voiced by Michael J. Fox). He’s instantly likeable (albeit a tad annoying on occasion) and you do sympathize with him and his endeavors. The film has an eerie aura, which only adds to the mysteriousness of the subject. Perhaps the best scene in the film—-probably one of the most unnerving scenes in any Disney movie—-is when the explorers’ enormous submarine vessel is being stalked by some Leviathan-like sea creature. With pulsating action and a boldly adventurous style, Atlantis is definitely a film worth re-watching if you haven’t already seen it.

Memorable character: Mole, the little French-speaking terrestrial who’s obsessed with his dirt. “I’m so excited!”

 
The Princess and the Frog

Naveen, Tiana_Princess-and-the-Frog-Wallpaper

The most recent of the films on this list, The Princess and the Frog eventually became buried underneath the paramount success of Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen. Having not even made its money back in the domestic box office (though globally it managed to make a little profit), the film has unfortunately become another of Disney’s forgotten treasures. Filled with lively vivacity, memorable characters, and charming songs, it’s difficult to comprehend why more people didn’t go see it. One possible explanation was that it was released at the tail-end of a decade that was hit-and-miss for Disney; plus, it was coming off of Bolt and Meet the Robinsons (two enjoyable films, although no instant classics).

Whatever the case may be, I hope that more people revisit this film in the near years to come, because this is indeed a special film. It marked Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation after several years of computer animation, something that only created an instant sense of familiarity and nostalgia for the film’s atmosphere. The story is purely classic Disney and started what I believe to be Disney’s 2nd Renaissance.

Memorable character: Ray, the quintessential Louisiana-Cajun firefly who’s in love with Evangeline, the brightest firefly in the sky.

 
The Rescuers Down Under

Bernard, Bianca_The Rescuers Down Under

While this sequel is certainly more acclaimed than its predecessor The Rescuers, it still isn’t viewed by this generation as much as it should be. As prominent as mice are in Disney cinema, the mice in this film are wholly civilized and loveable. Bernard’s constant attempts to propose to Miss Bianca is purely endearing. His persistent road block, the swashbuckling Australian bloke, is one pretty much any guy who’s ever dated or had eyes for a girl can relate to. Adventure is at the forefront of this film, while it still strides in more thoughtful and emotional moments. And when the film’s young protagonist takes to the skies atop the magnificent eagle, it’s enough to make your spirits soar.

Memorable character: Joanna, the bad guy’s devilish pet monitor lizard. As downright frightening as she can be, her more-often cowardice likens her to a dog whose bark is worse than her bite.

 
Treasure Planet

Silver, Jim_Treasure Planet

Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel is a cherished classic and has seen many iterations throughout the years. Whether it’s the 1950 live-action adaptation or even the Muppets version, piracy on the high seas has always been a popular venue. But an intergalactic version? Disney sure does manage to find the alternate angle. As hit-and-miss as Disney was during the 2000s, Treasure Planet is certainly among the better of the films produced during the decade (along with Atlantis and The Emperor’s New Groove).

Treasure Planet is a beautifully animated and exploratory adventure, with characters’ key qualities and the essence of the novel faithfully adapted. It focuses on the wonderful relationship between the old salty dog Silver and the young devil-may-care Jim Hawkins. And even its musical score lends itself handily to the overall sense of journeying into the cosmos, seeking pirate treasure, and forming uneasy alliances that eventually turn into something quite special.

Memorable character: The adorable little shapeshifting blob Morph, who chirps like a content baby raccoon.

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