To celebrate my current Walt Disney World adventure, I thought it was fitting to count down my Top 10 Disney animated films for you. Do you agree with my choices? Which movies make your list?
10. Cinderella (1950)
There’s something so quintessentially magical about this film that I smile just thinking about it. Even though Snow White was the first Disney princess, Cinderella will always be the epitome of a Disney princess to me: elegant, beautiful, kind, hopeful, and strong in her own way. The scene where Cinderella’s torn dress is transformed into her iconic gown will always be a Disney classic, and the image of the prince trying that glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot will always fill me with renewed belief in “happily ever after.”
9. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
This is the movie that made me a “dog person.” Lady is such an adorable dog, but what has always amazed me is the grace and poise the animators were able to bring to life in an animal. She’s every bit as ladylike as any Disney princess, and she’s the kind of dog I dreamed of having as a young girl (and still dream of having today). Also, no mention of this film would be complete without recognizing the famous “spaghetti scene.” It’s a gorgeously romantic moment between two dogs—if that’s not Disney magic at its finest, then I don’t know what is.
8. The Little Mermaid (1989)
The Little Mermaid may have the best soundtrack of any Disney film: the catchy “Under the Sea,” the smooth “Kiss the Girl,” the powerful “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” and, of course, the stirring “Part of Your World.” That song never fails to give me goose bumps, and the image of Ariel ending its reprise on that rock, with a wave crashing behind her, will always be one of my favorite Disney movie moments.
7. Robin Hood (1973)
Maybe it’s because I love any and all versions of the Robin Hood story. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for a classic romance. Or maybe it’s because I love really cute animated animals. No matter the reason, I fell in love with this underrated Disney classic a long time ago, and it continues to be a movie that always puts a smile on my face. Is it weird that this version of the Robin Hood/Maid Marian story is my favorite? Probably, but that’s what happens when you give British accents to adorable cartoon foxes.
6. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Featuring a career-driven princess, a prince with loads of personality, and an inventive twist on a classic fairytale, this movie instantly became one of my favorites when I first saw it in in the theater. Tiana is the Disney princess I admire the most, and she’s the princess I can relate to the most. I’m always sad to hear people dismiss this movie because I think it has all the elements of a classic Disney film: strong characters (especially a fun cast of supporting characters), a devilishly charismatic villain, a great love story, and a soundtrack I find myself humming after each viewing.
5. Aladdin (1992)
I love watching this movie after long periods away from it and remembering just how much fun it is. It’s one of the funniest Disney movies—thanks in no small part to Robin Williams’s brilliant work as Genie—and it’s one of the most action-packed. The entire Cave of Wonders sequence is fantastic, and that adrenaline rush is nicely balanced later on with the romantic whirlwind that is the entire “A Whole New World” scene. For as much love as I’ve given the Disney princesses on this list, it should be mentioned that Aladdin is one of the best leading men the studio has ever introduced to audiences.
4. Mulan (1998)
Mulan is—without a doubt—Disney’s most inspiring animated film, especially for young women. From a feminist perspective, it’s so rewarding to see a Disney heroine take an active role in her world beyond simply finding a man, to see a woman be a hero not just for herself or her family but her entire country. And yes, she may win the affections of a man, but it’s for more than just her looks—it’s for her courage, strength, and determination. In addition to the feminist importance of Mulan, this movie also features Eddie Murphy’s hilarious turn as Mushu, a great soundtrack (“I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is such a great song), and one of the most powerful scenes in Disney film history (the gorgeous, wordless sequence of Mulan preparing to run away).
3. The Lion King (1994)
It’s a Shakespearean drama—with lions! What might have sounded crazy at first is actually the most thematically complex and deep Disney movie ever made. Scar is Disney’s best and most chilling villain, and Simba has the best character arc of any Disney hero. The animation in this film is stunning, as is its music. And it contains some of the most moving moments in any Disney film: the stirring opening set to “The Circle of Life,” the horribly tense stampede scene and its heartbreaking aftermath, and Simba’s triumphant ascent to his rightful place on Pride Rock.
2. Tangled (2010)
Tangled just makes me happy. It’s a movie that I think I actually like more because I discovered it as an adult and ended up being surprised by how much it was able to move and inspire me by channeling all of the best Disney films that came before it. There’s something truly magical about being reminded of the hope and happiness Disney can spread once you become a grownup. Watching both the beautiful “I See the Light” scene and the emotionally powerful climax, I was stunned by the way animation can still give me goose bumps and put tears in my eyes decades after I saw my first Disney film. This is one of those rare movies I could watch again and again and find new things to love, but one thing will always stand out above the rest—and that’s the near-perfect character of Flynn Rider. For as sweet and surprisingly spunky as Rapunzel is, Flynn brings the charm and wit that sets this film apart from the pack.
1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
You never forget your first. Beauty and the Beast wasn’t just the first Disney movie I saw at a movie theater; it was the first of any kind of movie I ever saw at a movie theater. I remember watching the ballroom scene for the first time and feeling like I was in a different world, and that scene still fills me with a kind of wonder no other movie could ever hope to inspire in my heart. Even beyond the emotional attachment I have to this movie, it’s such a strong film. From the opening strains of “Belle” (quite possibly the greatest opening number to any musical—stage or screen) to the impressive animation of Beast’s transformation at the very end, this film is both a visual and aural masterpiece. Each musical number is captivating, and each character is given a personality and charm all their own. Also, Belle will always be the Disney princess for brunette bookworms like myself. (The library scene is my very definition of the perfect gift.) When she runs through that field, singing about wanting “so much more than they’ve got planned,” there’s something so personal and yet so universal about that moment. It’s my favorite scene in any Disney movie, and it’s just one of many breathtaking moments in this film.