5 Mary Poppins
With Julie Andrews in the lead with Dick Van Dyke and David Tomlinson supporting her, this could not be a bad movie. Despite the input from the author of the original books, who took a lot of convincing, the movie is still much more light-hearted and less mysterious than the children’s novel. But for adults, the messages are just as clear. The story is that of a strict yet wonderful nanny who comes to throw a repressed English family into chaos in order to teach the father that he needs to loosen up and start spending some time with his kids. If you’re a child of the 90s you’ll know that that was the common message of kid’s movies at that time but Mary Poppins was released in 1964. It was also ahead of its time in its smooth integration of animation, live action and special effects. And if you’re just too cynical to laugh at the wholesome, if secretly sarcastic, humor of the script there will always be Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent which has many times been called the worst film accent in history.
4 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
This gets credit for being the movie that started it all. Before this movie’s release, animation was only used for cartoon shorts before full length features. This was Disney’s first full length feature, the first full length animation ever seen in the U.S., the first in the U.S. with a soundtrack album, the first ever in full color and the first in a long line of Disney movies based on fairy tales. Today, this may not seem particularly clever or well filled out but if you can remember that this was the first you’re more likely to be terribly impressed with the balance between action and romance and between Snow White’s story and the gags and slapstick of the dwarfs.
3 Beauty and the Beast
Before 2009, this was the only animated movie ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. It was also one of the first to use computer animation and is still known for its beautiful integration of the best of both traditional and modern animation techniques. This has all of the sweeping beauty and classic romance of earlier Disney Princess movies, like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty but with characters that have some depth. After all, the movie’s message is to look deeper and not to judge people on their outward appearance, so the prince and princess had better be more than just some pretty faces. And they’re not the only ones. Every supporting character and minor role in Beauty and the Beast is taken seriously, making for an impressive balance of the romantic, thrilling and just plain cute.
2 The Little Mermaid
To be honest, this almost didn’t make it on the list. But then we got to thinking about Sebastian the crab and his musical numbers “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” and no matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t let it go. The voice actor who sings those is Samuel E. Wright. Although this is probably the film he’s best known for (and we had never heard of him) he has been nominated for two Tony awards, the second of which was for his performance as Mufasa when The Lion King was performed on Broadway. But he’s not the only reason that The Little Mermaid made the list. It was the first of what has come to be known as “The Disney Renaissance,” a time stretching from its release in 1989 until the end of the 90s when Disney returned to be the undisputed rulers of animated cinema. The mom’s out there may want to note that this is the first time a Disney Princess speaks up for herself. They still had a far way to go to get to businesswoman Tiana in the Princess and the Frog, but Ariel made a good start. Even if she did it while wearing nothing but a seashell bra.
1 The Lion King
This is what happens when Shakespeare and Elton John meet up with talking animals in the Serengeti. It’s based very loosely on Hamlet but instead of the Prince of Denmark, you’ve got the Prince of the Animal Kingdom and then they threw in some Macbeth and some biblical Joseph and Moses. It’s voiced by an all star cast, including Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg and Jeremy Irons. This is the movie that has everything: Beautiful scenery, stirring emotion, complicated power plays, dangerous fight scenes, brilliant comedic timing and musical numbers worthy of Broadway’s best.
We couldn’t fit Aladdin, Fantasia or Mulan on this list but feel free to argue their case if you think they deserve to replace the obvious classics listed here!