Some Disney movies just don't get the same kind of love that films like "The Lion King" or "Beauty and the Beast" do. You'll rarely find these gems on someone's list of favorite Disney movies, but they still deserve recognition. I can't tell you why exactly they didn't do well at the box office or why they didn't maintain solid movie buzz through the years, but that's not what I'm here for anyway. I'm here to detail good aspects about my eleven picks for underrated Disney animated movies. In case you haven't had the pleasure of seeing these awesome movies, don't worry. I took the liberty of including some vague plot summaries for you.
1. "Brother Bear"
Plot: A young Inuit hunter named Kenai kills a bear unnecessarily which causes him to become magically transformed into a bear himself as punishment. As Kenai's own brother Denahi hunts him down, he has to deal with a gregarious cub named Koda who shows him what brotherhood is all about.
"Brother Bear" has beautiful landscape imagery showcasing the allure of nature and Inuit traditions. There is hilarity involved in the dialogue of Kenai and the other animals as well as a lesson learned about the importance of peace and respect for other living beings. Phil Collin's soundtrack is also a wonderful addition to the movie.
Plot: Here we have the story of Tarzan, an orphaned man who was raised by gorillas. He finds out that he's human once he meets a smart and eccentric woman on an expedition, Jane Porter. Tarzan then finds himself torn between the life of a human or a gorilla, struggling to fit either role.
Okay, more Phil Collins?! Yes, he did the soundtrack for "Tarzan" too! Someone get the adorable "You'll Be In My Heart" out of my head please. The story is cute too, something you can relate to if you don't always feel like you fit in. The narrative is of course complete with a love story (because Disney) between Tarzan and Jane. I honestly relate to Jane Porter's style choices. Who wouldn't want to wear their best poofy yellow dress and heels during an expedition into the jungle? You never know, you could wind up bumping into a handsome gorilla man.
3. "Oliver and Company"
Plot: A homeless kitten, Oliver, survives the rough streets of New York with the help of a group of homeless dogs that steal to stay alive.
"Oliver and Company" is a lost gem from 1988. This classic includes Billy Joel and Bette Midler, who help with the catchy soundtrack too! Disney puts an animated, animal-centered twist on the classic Dicken's story "Oliver Twist" that's enjoyable and creative. If you look closely, you'll also notice some of the dogs from "Lady and the Tramp" make cameos in this movie! Really though, there's no shame in simply watching it for the cute kitty cat, Oliver.
4. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"
Plot: Set in 15th century Paris, the deformed and gentle-mannered bell-ringer of Notre Dame, Quasimodo, finds himself facing off against Claude Frollo, the man who hid him away from the world in a bell-tower (because he thought he was too ugly, basically). He comes out of hiding during the Festival of Fools, where he meets the gypsy Esmeralda and the soldier Phoebus who wind up being his allies as he goes up against Frollo to stop his decimations of the homes of gypsies.
In "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" Quasimodo is an unforgettable and atypical protagonist. He isn't conventionally handsome, but he has a good heart which is all that matters in the end. This story has love and crushes involved, but love isn't the end goal for once. The happy ending instead is refreshingly about our protagonist finding acceptance in the world and with himself. Worth mentioning is the villain of Frollo, whose menace partly comes from the fact that he actually believes he's doing the right thing, which is very human of him. We could all learn to be more tolerant of accepting of those who are different from us.
5. "Wreck-it Ralph"
Plot: Wreck-it Ralph, an arcade-game character, gets fed up being the bad guy losing to the good guy, Fix-it Felix. To try to prove that he can actually be a hero he hops through different games until he accidentally unleashes a deadly enemy. He needs the help of a "glitch" named Vanellope von Schweetz to defeat this enemy and maintain the peace of the gaming world.
Has anyone else watched the new "Ralph Breaks the Internet" trailer over and over? Just me? Okay, let's forget I said that and go back to talking about the first movie, "Wreck-it Ralph". You don't have to be a die-hard Disney fan to enjoy it. It can be nostalgic for any gamer too due to the involvement of some classic video game characters. You'll see appearances by Donkey Kong, Bowser, Sonic the Hedgehog and Eggman, Cherry and Clyde (from Pac-Man) and more. Not to mention the video game villains sit in a support group together and chat about their hurt feelings. The moral of the movie here is that villains might inherently actually want to be good, but they get stuck in the bad guy roles that society has placed them into. It's an exciting story that thoughtfully pulls together video game elements with fun, dynamic characters.
6. "Treasure Planet"
Plot: Jim Hawkins is a rebellious teenager who receives a map from a dying pirate. He goes onboard a space galleon as a cabin boy to use the map to journey across the universe to find the legendary Treasure Planet.
Maybe the world just wasn't ready for steampunk pirates in space at the time "Treasure Planet" was released, who knows? Personally, I found this movie to be a refreshing sci-fi story with unique creatures and places and a compelling story. This movie was actually a space rendition of the original book "Treasure Island" of which Disney made a movie of in 1950. Still it remains inventive and exciting, plus the incredible voice cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jim, Martin Short as B.E.N., and Emma Thompson as Captain Amelia.
7. "A Bug's Life"
Plot: When a misfit ant, Flik, reaches out to find "warrior bugs" to help defend his ant colony against greedy grasshoppers, he winds up with an amateurish circus troupe of bugs instead. Flik must work quickly to find an inventive way to win against the grasshoppers. Meanwhile, the rest of the ant colony loses faith in him and his idealistic and seemingly crazy inventions.
Flik and the circus troupe don't exactly fit in, so again we see the strength of finding acceptance and strength in our differences. The characters are fairly distinctive and humorous, including an aggressive ladybug named Francis and a fat green caterpillar with a German accent named Heimlich. The story of "A Bug's Life" has some fun twists and turns and memorable snippets of dialogue. Motivational phrase of the day (if you don't say it in Heimlich's voice, you're saying it wrong): "I'm a beautiful butterfly!"
Plot: Disney puts its own animated spin on the story of Hercules, the son of Gods Zeus and Athena. He's taken as a baby by Hades's henchmen but Hades' henchmen end up losing him so he winds up growing up among mortals as a half-man/half-god. In order to prove himself worthy of living with the gods on Mount Olympus, he has to defeat evil creatures with the satyr Philoctetes as his teacher and Pegasus as his trusty steed.
Hades is my favorite Disney villain, as I am a sucker for a sassy personality :) He's got a temper too, but who doesn't? Really though—he's fine, fine, he's cool, he's fine. My main girl Megara (sure, you could also say Hercules' love interest) is a strong character worth watching because of her wit and sass. She doesn't take crap from anyone and she's a self-sufficient lady. Megara (and also me): "I'm a damsel. I'm in distress, I can handle this. Have a nice day". Also, there's Hercules' comic sidekick Phil who basically resembles the main who voices him, Danny DeVito, whose full of snide remarks and entertaining gestures like eating bowls and flowers.
Watching "Hercules" counts as educational, right? I mean, you are learning about Greek mythology, just with a cute love story and people breaking out into random catchy songs.
Plot: Boy, this is a tricky one to break down. There are 8 different animation sequences that contain their own storylines that happen without a peep of dialogue. This includes one of the most popular sequences, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," where Mickey Mouse is an aspiring magician who gets himself involved in some magic he can't figure out how to stop. Trust me, the other sequences are worth watching too.
Is classical music your thing? Great! This is a good movie for you. Is classical music something you detest and find sleep-inducing! Great! Give this movie a shot anyway because that's how I used to feel, but I wound up loving this movie. Disney did an outstanding job of making picturesque and thrilling animated sequences to match the classical musical masterpieces such as the music from The Nutcracker and Beethoven's symphonies. When you think about it, it's just a huge silent film complete with dancing elephants, hippos, crocodiles, and elephants. I'm also a big fan of the colorful centaurs, fairies, and flowers. "Fantasia" a bit of an old movie so the graphics could use a little touching up, but it is a refreshing change from those movies with pop music and a predictable plot.
10. "Atlantis: The Lost Empire"
Plot: Milo and his team embark on an expedition to find the lost continent of Atlantis. For some of the team though, discovery isn't all they have in mind which leads Milo and Princess Kida of Atlantis to a fight they didn't see coming.
I maintain that Kida is a Disney Princess, even though she's not officially recognized by Disney as such. She's a kickbutt warrior and an inspiring female protagonist of color to look up to which is part of why I love this movie so much. Milo is an adorable dork and his team are all obsessive about their skillsets, making their interactions fun to watch. Plus, the scenery of Atlantis is mesmerizing to watch and the movie explores a new culture in a pretty cool way. The filmmakers of "Atlantis: A Lost Empire" even hired a linguist and made up their own language just for the Atlanteans.
11. "The Emperor's New Groove"
Plot: When the vain Emperor Kuzco is turned into a llama by his vengeful ex-administrator Yzma, he has to rely on the help of the modest llama herder, Pacha, to escape assassination by Yzma and her right-hand man Kronk.
"The Emperor's New Groove" is pure comedy gold, with a terrific voice cast and enjoyable character personalities. Yzma (Eartha Kitt) is a terrifying villain that you just love to hate. She's assisted by an idiot henchman, Kronk. Kronk might be a little stupid, but he's a great chef, he's fluent in squirrel-talk, and he even writes his own theme music. He contemplates right and wrong through conversations with an angel and a devil on his shoulders, showing a moral complexity that's you don't often find in Disney secondary characters. The arrogant emperor Kuzco (David Spade) clashes with the humble family-man Pacha, who helps show him the benefits of being selfless. Quick Disney trivia fact for you: the guy who voices Pacha, John Goodman, is also the voice of Sully on "Monsters Inc."!
The movie doesn't even make sense half the time, but what makes that so sweet is that the movie recognizes that very thing. It is self-aware and sloppy but it's so in your face with it and uncaring that you can't help but love it anyway. "It's brilliant brilliant brilliant, I tell you! Genius, I say!"
There you have it—11 underrated but precious Disney movies that more people need to give a shot. This ranges from brother-bonding stories with one brother as a bear and the other as a human to a Deadpool for kids llama movie. Be right back, I need to order myself a doormat that says: "Pull the lever, Kronk! Wrong lever!"