Worldwide icon-chevron-right North America icon-chevron-right United States icon-chevron-right New York State icon-chevron-right New York icon-chevron-right The 100 best animated movies: Disney
Best animated movies, Disney

The 100 best animated movies: Disney

World-famous animators pick the best animated movies ever, including Disney and Pixar movies, cult movies, kids movies, stop-motion, anime and more

By Time Out contributors, edited by Dave Calhoun and Joshua Rothkopf
Advertising

Now we know which are the 100 best animated movies of all time. But which are the best Disney movies and which are the best Pixar or Studio Ghibli films? Which are best for kids and families and which are strictly arty, political or edgy?

We’ve applied 26 handy labels to the 100 great animated movies in our list. Here you’ll find the best Disney movies.

But how many have you seen? Take our poll to find out.

RECOMMENDED: Explore the 100 best animated movies ever made

Tangled (2010)

No more little miss shy and retiring, this princess means business.

Directors: Nathan Greno and Byron Howard

Best quote: “I’m malicious, mean and scary/My face could curdle dairy.”

Defining moment: Escaping the tower, Rapunzel feels grass under her feet for the first time, and breaks into song (as you would).

The brothers Grimm’s “Rapunzel” must have presented modern Disney with a bit of a head-scratcher. Long gone are the days when a Disney princess would spend her hours mooning around a tower dreaming of a knight in shining armor to rescue her. So in this version (with Pixar’s John Lasseter executive-producing), gone is the handsome prince, replaced with an egotistical thief, Flynn Ryder. When he first smarms his way upstairs, Rapunzel thwacks him with a frying pan. This sparky princess will do her own escaping, thank you very much, twirling all that hair like a lasso. Tangled has energy and humor in spades. Best are the beasts: Maximus the army horse (on a mission to capture Flynn) and Pascal the chameleon.—Cath Clarke

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

The thuggish villain of a classic arcade game gets tired of being bad and breaks out of his cage.

Director: Rich Moore

Best quote: “I don’t need a medal to tell me I’m a good guy.”

Defining moment: Pac-Man shows up at a party and hogs all the hors d’oeuvres.

In the universe of Rich Moore’s quarter-per-play nostalgia bath, the characters are nervous: Our 8-bit arcade heroes of yore have been supplanted by buxom first-person shooters, while their antagonists—like the Donkey Kong–esque Wreck-It Ralph (an inspired John C. Reilly)—attend support groups to talk through their preprogrammed bitterness. Over everyone hangs the threat of a final “game over,” their cabinets unplugged forever. The clever setup avoids too heavy a wink by quickly adding emotional heft, as Ralph busts into another game to befriend the adorable-but-obnoxious Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), who just wants to build her candy car and win the race. Wreck-It Ralph is loaded with cameos—from Sonic the Hedgehog to the ever-profane Q*bert—but it somehow feels fresh: a sincere tale of finding your own identity.—Joshua Rothkopf

Advertising

Lady and the Tramp (1955)

What happens when a well-groomed cocker spaniel meets the love of her life, a stray mutt from downtown?

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske

Best quote: “I wonder what the leash-and-collar set does for excitement.”

Defining moment: As if you have to ask: a romantic Italian dinner, a single spaghetti strand and two slurpers.

None of Disney’s animated productions speaks better to that studio’s legendary machine than this one, hatched a full 18 years before its ultimate completion. The story was inspired by an actual dog, Lady, the pet of scenarist Joe Grant (also the cowriter of Dumbo), who began shaping material as early as 1937. In the subsequent decade, several more scripters hacked away at drafts, incorporating their own doggie anecdotes. By the early ’50s, a working story was approved, but technology demanded a wider canvas: This was the first animated film to be crafted in CinemaScope (a far greater headache for draftsmen than you’d imagine). As for that famous “spaghetti kiss,” a now-classic bit of flirtation? Walt almost killed it. Legendary artist Frank Thomas defied his boss and mocked up a rough version that won the day.—Joshua Rothkopf

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Never has a party snub had such dire consequences.

Director: Clyde Geronimi

Best quote: “Now you shall deal with me, O prince, and all the powers of hell!”

Defining moment: Evil fairy Maleficent turns herself into a fire-breathing dragon and goes to battle.

In the Disney villainesses hall of fame, Maleficent ranks up there with Cruella De Vil. The self-proclaimed “mistress of all evil,” Maleficent is the badass fairy who casts a spell on Aurora at birth, causing the princess to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die before her 16th birthday. Why? All because the king left her off the guest list at Aurora’s christening. After nearly a decade of preparation, Walt Disney wanted Sleeping Beauty to stand out from existing princess-led fairy tales Snow White and Cinderella, and so it does. Inspired by medieval art and tapestries, this is Disney as its most wow-worthy, best of all in the lurid scenes at Maleficent’s lair. Sleeping Beauty marked the end of an era—it was the final animation overseen directly by Walt himself, now busy building theme parks and making TV. That said, rebellious, feisty Aurora also harkens to the sparky princesses of Disney future, even if she’s muscled into a supporting-actress slot by a certain scene-stealing bad fairy.—Cath Clarke

Advertising

Frozen (2013)

Disney takes a modern approach to an old-fashioned fairy tale.

Directors: Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck

Best quote: “Wait, you got engaged to someone you just met that day?”

Defining moment: Whether you think it’s a feminist belter or reactionary pop drivel, the Oscar-winning song “Let It Go” is a new Disney classic.

Despite its box-office appeal and Oscar wins, Disney’s most recent animated smash divides opinion. Some see Frozen as a delirious throwback to the studio’s classic era, with tongue firmly in cheek and belting torch songs galore (the stage musical cannot be far away). For others, though, its shiny veneer masks old-fashioned ideals: The heroines are all slim, perky and good-looking, and the idea that freedom drives women mad might not be a particularly welcome one. Whatever your take, there’s no denying that Frozen is ridiculously entertaining: beautifully animated, breathlessly paced and winningly goofy. The fun part is seeing those classic fairy-tale characters—the adventurous princess, the handsome prince and the wicked queen—being forced through a postmodern blender.—Tom Huddleston

Aladdin (1992)

Disney’s comeback was assured when this lively romp made millions.

Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker

Best quote: “Three wishes, to be exact. And ixnay on the wishing for more wishes.”

Defining moment: The first appearance of the genie, voiced by Robin Williams, is a rat-a-tat stand-up routine set to dizzying visuals.

In 1992, Disney’s Aladdin heralded the modern age of animation. The cave-of-wonders sequence was the first use of computer animation in a major Disney feature (with admittedly mixed results), while the appearance of Robin Williams as the Genie was a landmark in the employment of celebrity voices: This wasn’t so much a character as a self-portrait in ink and paint. Most importantly, the film’s massive success—it was the biggest movie of 1992 and the biggest animated film ever at the time—proved that, after years of false starts and disappointments, the public was once again ready to hand over their cash to an all-singing, all-quipping animated spectacular. The film has its problems: Accusations of underlying racist attitudes, particularly of the original cut with its “They cut off your nose if they don’t like your face” lyric, were perhaps justified. But this is the work of a company rediscovering its core purpose, to bring joy.—Tom Huddleston

Advertising

The Lion King (1994)

Like Shakespeare at the zoo, it’s the story of one lion cub who goes from pampered prince to outcast, and then to lord of the pride.

Directors: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Best quote: “I was first in line until the little hairball was born.”

Defining moment: On a cliff edge, Scar lets his brother, Mufasa, the king of the lions, fall to his death.

The opening alone is worth the price of a DVD: a majestic scene as beasts of the savannah gather to pay tribute to new lion prince, Simba. Even inside Disney, expectations for The Lion King were low. As producer Don Hahn later summed it up: “Lion cub gets framed for murder by his uncle, set to the music of Elton John…good luck with that.” But it stormed the box office as 1994’s second-highest-grossing film. Why? For a start it has one of the best (possibly the best) Disney villains, the king’s brother, Scar, drawling and plotting with supreme boredom and devilish sarcasm. The soundtrack by Tim Rice and Elton John is endlessly hummable, and the animation—best of all, a wildebeest stampede, which took three years to animate—is spectacular.—Cath Clarke

Robin Hood (1973)

The easiest and breeziest of all the classic Disney cartoons.

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman

Best quote: “Oh, he’s so handsome…just like his reward posters.”

Defining moment: The opening tune sung by “King of the Road” balladeer Roger Miller sets the scene perfectly, with laid-back country charm and wheezy gags.

Disney may be infamous for manhandling the world’s finest folktales into moralistic all-American parables (see also The Sword in the Stone, Aladdin, Mulan, etc.), but there are times when it really works. Robin Hood is a fine example: The Jungle Book director Wolfgang Reitherman’s decision to transplant hokey, cowpokey Western movie tropes to Ye Olde England should have led to disaster, but the resulting film is so sweet-natured, so casual, so doggone friendly that it becomes impossible to resist. The minuscule budget meant that entire sequences and characters were lifted wholesale from earlier Disney hits (just think of Little John as a brown Baloo), but somehow this only adds to the film’s unpretentious, shaggy-dog charm.—Tom Huddleston

Advertising

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Lewis Carroll is brought to the screen the Disney way.

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske

Best quote: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t.”

Defining moment: Alice disappearing down the rabbit hole is only the beginning of the weirdness.

Walt Disney had long had his eyes on adapting Lewis Carroll, and when he did so, the results were faithful enough to qualify as one of the studio’s strangest offerings. Evoking the books’ original John Tenniel illustrations but with more than a touch of Disney cuteness, the film as a whole is in thrall to Carroll’s singular visual imagination and his play with language. But it doesn’t quite know how to turn dotty schoolgirl Alice’s episodic odyssey following the white rabbit into anything resembling a satisfying story. One can only imagine what apple-pie audiences thought of it at the time, besieged by hookah-puffing caterpillars, hallucinogenic mushrooms, the Mad Hatter’s tea party and an evidently psychotic Queen of Hearts. It was subsequently a late-night favorite among the herbally assisted.—Trevor Johnston

James and the Giant Peach (1996)

Roald Dahl’s beloved but trippy children’s book—about escape, adventure and the company of giant insects—meets its creative match.

Director: Henry Selick

Best quote: “Try looking at it another way.”

Defining moment: The eponymous peach is set free from its tree and rolls to freedom, leaving much bewilderment in its wake.

Many filmmakers have struggled to nail the blend of the whimsical and the macabre in Roald Dahl’s inimitable children’s fiction. Oddly, the ones who succeed best are those who put their own creative personality first: Nicolas Roeg, Wes Anderson and, in this winningly surreal take on Dahl’s least overtly filmable work, Henry Selick. The Nightmare Before Christmas director’s Gothic-style puppetry and doleful sense of humour are ideally suited to this initially melancholy, increasingly manic tale of a lonely young orphan whose life takes a turn for the better when he boards a giant peach bound for New York and populated with lovable mutant bugs. Short, strange and bookended with live-action sequences scarcely less cartoonish than the rest, it’s a fond but inventive tribute to a great storyteller.—Guy Lodge

Show more
See more on animated movies
Recommended

    You may also like

      You may also like

        Advertising