There’s no doubt that Disney has been responsible for some of the world’s most beloved and well-known films. From the early glory days to the Disney Renaissance of the 90s, to the recent tidal wave of live-action remakes, Disney’s films have captured the world’s imagination like no other. Such is the lasting effect of Disney’s most popular films that they can seen in theme parks, on lunch boxes, and in toy stores around the world. The recent slate of remakes is a testament to the fact that people are obsessed. But there are some Disney films in the canon which the public has forgotten.
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It’s not for a lack of quality that these films have begun to go unnoticed. Some of Disney’s most experimental and boundary pushing work can be found on this list. For whatever reason, some of these films performed badly at the box office or simply weren’t able to grab the attention of moviegoers. But that doesn’t mean these forgotten films don’t live up to the high standard of Disney. Below is a look at some of the best forgotten Disney films.
Updated July 4 2020, by Zach Gass: With their impressive collection of films, both live-action and animated, Disney has no shortage of entertainment for audiences of all ages. Whether the viewers are young or young at heart, there’s always something fun and exciting. Thanks to the creation of Disney+, fans now have access to nearly the entire Disney library. That includes the dozens of films that have fallen by the wayside. Forgotten they might be, but that doesn’t mean the Disney magic isn’t still fresh. Hopefully, these films will find a new generation of fans to enchant and delight
15 THE BLACK HOLE
Before Disney acquired the rights to the galaxy far, far away, they tried to get in on the sci-fi boom with their own tale of intergalactic adventure. Though viewers will find no Jedi or smugglers aboard this adventure, there is the presence of an intimidating space-station, an army of armor-clad soldiers with blasters, and more than a few droids.
The film is by no means perfect, but if one treats it as a tribute to the movies it takes from, it actually begins to take on a more impressive shape. It might lack a certain bonding element, but as a stand-alone film, it’s worth a watch or two.
14 POOH’S GRAND ADVENTURE: THE SEARCH FOR CHRISTOPHER ROBIN
Winnie the Pooh and his Hundred Acre crew have been on many wonderful outings in their time, but of all the flicks featuring the silly old bear, this one doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Not only is it perhaps the character’s most mature outing predating Christopher Robin, but it’s definitely Pooh’s darkest film to date.
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It’s not a joke, Pooh, Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, and Eeyore all face rather intimidating trials on their quest to locate their missing friend. They climb mountains, cut through a thorn-infested forest, traverse a bottomless pit, and all while being stalked by the mysterious Skull-a-saurus. It’s not all honey pots and Heffalumps.
13 JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
Nowadays, The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of Disney’s most beloved cult films. For those who can’t get enough Tim Burton, Henry Selick, or stop-motion puppets, this film is an absolute eccentric delight.
Based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, the film follows James and his insect friends as they sail on a giant flying peach across the sea and beyond the sky to the shimmering land of New York City. It’s magical, it’s heartwarming, it’s weird and bizarre, everything fans could possibly want from the two minds behind it. An underrated classic if there ever was one.
12 FANTASIA 2000
Although the original will always be the undisputed classic, the 1999 sequel is without a doubt one of the most beautiful creations to come out of Walt Disney Animation. Like the original film, Fantasia 2000 features segments of animation inspired by famous pieces of music.
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Unlike its predecessor, however, the film uses different animation styles and technologies to create its visuals, as well as throwing in one of the most well-known jazz compositions, “Rhapsody in Blue,” to add an extra layer of variety to the mix. Walt would definitely be impressed with this addition.
11 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
It might have had Walt Disney’s personal touch and involvement, but this film is definitely the most adult-oriented in the studio’s existence. Sure, it can keep a young viewer’s attention with its submarines, deep-sea diving, and giant squids, but the plot and interactions with the characters are definitely directed at older audiences.
It’s one of those films that proves that Disney isn’t just for kids, and they can be mature, dark, and engaging while still being family-friendly. For those looking for something different from the house of mouse, this subaquatic sci-fi classic comes with the highest of recommendations.
10 THE BLACK CAULDRON
Perhaps Disney’s most controversial film, The Black Cauldron was released in cinemas in 1985. The film was based on The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, a trilogy of novels in turn based on Welsh mythology. In the film an evil Horned King attempts to utilize the aforementioned black cauldron in his attempts to rule the world. Hoping to prevent the Horned King from fulfilling his evil plan is a farmer, specifically a pig farmer, named Taran and his cohorts.
The film was revolutionary in a number of ways. It was one of the first films to use computer-generated imagery as well as the first Disney film to be rated PG. However, it was also the most expensive film Disney had ever produced at this point in time and a lackluster box office taking meant that this film nearly bankrupted the company. Although today it has a cult following this film has never received a great deal of public attention, certainly it was one Disney wanted to forget.
9 OLIVER & COMPANY
Coming quickly on the heels of The Black Cauldron’s epic failure was an updated version of Dicken’s Oliver Twist. Only in this version the orphan Oliver is a kitten who teams up with a pack of stray dogs in New York. Released in 1998, just before the Disney Renaissance, the film was a commercial success, however, it became quickly overshadowed by 1989’s release of The Little Mermaid and wasn’t to be released on home video until 1996. Although, a quality retelling of a Dicken’s classic Oliver and company have gone largely overlooked in the intervening years.
The fifth highest-grossing film in 2000, the year of its release, and well-liked by audiences and critics alike for its stunning visuals and technical wizardry, Dinosaur has drifted into obscurity. At the time of its release, Dinosaur was considered a technical marvel, blending live-action backdrops with CGI dinosaur characters, achieving a sense of photorealism no other film had achieved so spectacularly until now. One could almost argue this film was a precursor to today’s photorealistic remake of The Lion King. Despite the technical achievements of the filmmakers, audiences found the story and characters in Dinosaur somewhat forgettable. Although, a vital step along the way to achieving the computer animation techniques used in today’s films, Dinosaur was unable to stomp its way into achieving the kind of reverie attributed to its decedents.
7 HOME ON THE RANGE
Released in 2004, Home on the Range came at the tail end of what’s known as the Disney Renaissance and is often considered exemplary of the waning quality at Disney around this time. In actual fact, Disney was turning its attention to computer animation, with Home on the Range their last 2D animated film until 2009’s Princess and the Frog. Critics and audiences were tough on this film for not living up to their idea of the Disney standard, and although largely forgotten, it’s possible to look back on this entry in the Disney canon and see the better qualities of this piece. With a fun story, a wacky cast of characters, and music from Disney stalwart and part of the Disney Renaissance’s driving force, Alan Menken, this film has a lot going for it.
6 THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE
The Great Mouse Detective was released in 1986 to commercial and critical success. It tells the story of a mouse, emulating the great detective Sherlock Holmes. While the film itself has drifted from the mainstream discourse, Disney fans have a good deal to thank Basil and his mystery solving adventures for.
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After the abysmal box office taking of The Black Cauldron, Disney was considering shutting down their animation department, however, the success of this film proved to the executives that animation was a commercially viable route to explore. Without this film the Disney Renaissance would never have happened. This film also speaks for itself with legendary directors Ron Clements and John Musker, directors of numerous future Disney classics, working on the film, it’s a fun story with vivid, colorful characters.
5 ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE
Atlantis: The Lost Empire remains an outlier in the Disney canon. Released in 2001, the film uses a combination of 2D and 3D animation and tells the story of a gang of mercenaries who find their way to the lost city of Atlantis. A decision made by the studio to depart from its usual musical fare led to the conception of this film. Pitched at a slightly older audience this film represents one of Disney’s only attempts at science fiction. Although it’s box office takings were disappointing at the time, this film now has something of a cult fan base and some of Disney’s most stunning visuals. It truly is a more grown-up, action-heavy work, and this proved divisive with Disney fans. For this reason, Atlantis has become one of Disney’s forgotten classics, but one worth giving a second look.
4 FOX AND THE HOUND
A classic Disney blend of heartwarming, endearing creatures and some rather grown-up themes, Fox and the Hound tells the story of two cubs destined to grow up into adversaries. Friends from their childhood, Tod the fox, and Copper the hound dog, must contend with their roles in society as they develop from youthful friends into their prescribed destinies. Fox and the Hound performed well at the box office when it was released in 1981 and was praised for its voice work. Although largely overlooked nowadays, this film is a great example of Disney’s ability to explore adult themes such as societal pressure and loss of innocence within a child-friendly animated feature. This stands as one of Disney’s great achievements despite a lack of representation in modern Disney.
3 THE RESCUERS
The premise of this film is somewhat bizarre. Two mice, belonging to the Rescue Aid society, a group responsible for assisting victims of abduction, attempt to save a young girl from the evil, money hungry Madame Medusa. The film, released in 1977, languished in development since 1962 but was finally produced and was well liked by both critics and audiences. In fact, this film was so popular a sequel called The Rescuers: Down Under was approved and released in 1990. Both films are a rollicking mysterious adventure and despite they’re status as ‘forgotten’ they stand the test of time.
2 TREASURE PLANET
Treasure Planet, Disney’s science fiction retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, remains something of an anomaly. Directed by Disney legends Ron Clements and John Musker, this film used revolutionary animated techniques, blending 2D character animation of 3D computer-generated backdrops, to create some of Disney’s most stunning visuals to date.
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The film also had a stellar voice cast including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Hyde Pierce, and Emma Thompson; music by the Googoo Dolls, a well-known adventure story behind it, a strong positive critical response, and a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. Yet, it performed spectacularly badly at the box office. Considered one of Disney’s biggest flops Treasure Island is rarely heard of or seen in the world of Disney. However, a look back at this film proves it stands the test of time.
1 A GOOFY MOVIE
Finally, A Goofy Movie is a Disney animation that deserved better. Following on from the cartoon series Goof Troop, A Goofy Movie sees Goofy trying to maintain his relationship with adolescent son Max who’s more interested in his crush, Roxanne, and standing out from the crowd. For all intents and purposes, this 1995 release, is a simple road movie but with a spectacular tracklist of musical numbers, laughs a minute, and also renders Goofy in a more nuanced, emotional light than ever before. Mixed reactions from critics mean that Goofy and his troop weren’t given the attention they deserved, however, love for this ‘forgotten’ classic means a strong cult following has sprung up around this film. Perhaps, Goofy and Max could be due for the live-action remake treatment.
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