This past weekend, “Frozen” sped past “The Lion King” to become the highest grossing Disney animated film during its initial theatrical run. “Frozen,” which has grossed over $317 million, has been a force to reckon with, besting even the most optimistic box office predictions. The film, about a pair of princesses who team up to end an eternal winter spell that is accidentally cast, has become an instant classic. But not all of Disney’s animated films find such adulation until later in life.
Here is a look at the 10 most underrated animated films in the Walt Disney vault.
The Emperor's New Groove
Released in 2000, “The Emperor’s New Groove” was released when Disney’s animated films were on the downswing again. The film follows the adventures of a selfish Emperor named Kuzco, who is accidentally turned into a llama during a murder attempt by his advisor Yzma.
Featuring an all-star voice cast that included John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, David Spade and Wendie Malick, “The Emperor’s New Groove” was a return to comedic form for Disney. But the path to get onto the screen was a rough one for the film. With a plot that started out as a take on “The Prince and the Pauper,” the movie shifted gears and tone as a new director came onboard and its original director quit.
In the end, “The Emperor’s New Groove” ended up being a hit with critics and fans. But without being as flashy as some of Disney’s previous films, “The Emperor’s New Groove” has fallen to a second tier film in the company’s roster.
Consisting of eight animated segments – the most famous being “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” – all set to classical music, "Fantasia" contains very little spoken dialogue. Released during World War II to mixed reviews from critics, audiences also turned on the film fearing that Disney had suddenly turned highbrow.
Over the years “Fantasia” has been released multiple times, with segments deleted, added and edited. In doing so, the film has gotten a higher profile, but it’s still one of the more forgotten films in the Disney vaults. In 2010, the legacy of "Fantasia" was tarnished with the failure of Nicolas Cage's live action adaptation of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."
The Black Cauldron
A gamble for the Mouse House, “The Black Cauldron” was an adaptation of “The Chronicles of Prydain” fantasy series by Lloyd Alexander. It follows the story of Taran, a pig keeper, who dreams to be a warrior. He gets his chance when the Horned King tries to steal a pig in the hopes of being able to find the black cauldron, which has the power to resurrect the dead.
“The Black Cauldron” has more in common with the animated version of “The Hobbit,” which was released less than a decade prior, than with most of its Disney brethren. However, break out sidekick Gurgi deserved a better fate than he received when the film bombed at the box office. When it was finally released on video 15 years later, Gurgi got a minor bump in notoriety but still not enough for him to buy the munchies and crunchies that he loves so much.
The Fox and The Hound
Based on the novel of the same name by Daniel P. Mannix, “The Fox and the Hound” is the story of unlikely friends Tod and Copper. Throughout the first half of the film, their friendship is chronicled while they are still young. However, the film shifts tonally midway through when the unlikely friends grow into adulthood and a time when they should be adversaries.
While considered a financial success and receiving a relatively positive reception from critics, “The Fox and The Hound” falls into the forgotten period of the 80s for the Mouse House. Likely many other films from the era, it is known for being serviceable but not quite noteworthy. Nearly 25 years after its initial release, the film received a direct to DVD sequel that has also become largely forgotten.
A darker film than many of the animated films released by Walt Disney Pictures, “Dumbo” is the story of a circus elephant teased for the size of his giant ears. But due to the size of his ears, Dumbo is able to fly. Released in 1941, “Dumbo” was a hit with audiences and critics.
The film mixes many humorous parts with equally tragic moments. In recent years the film has come under fire for the depiction of some of the characters. “Dumbo” doesn’t quite strike the emotional nerve that “Bambi” does; it also isn’t quite as uplifting as some of the other Disney movies. Instead, “Dumbo” gets lost in the shadow of other films.
“Bolt” is another film that makes the list for being released at a time when the company was in turmoil creatively. Disney's transition into computer animation was a rough one and "Bolt" was the third release after the company announced they were abandoning hand drawn animation in favor of computer animated features.
“Bolt” tells the story of a dog, who thinks he has super powers because of the character he plays on television, who sets out to rescue a girl he thinks has been kidnapped. Despite being nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award, most people would be hard pressed to recall the film just five years later. However, with John Travolta and pre-twerking Miley Cyrus providing character voices, it might be time to revisit this one.
Oliver and Company
Released just a year before Disney hit the big time again with “The Little Mermaid,” “Oliver and Company” is a retelling of the classic “Oliver Twist” tale. Featuring the voices of Billy Joel, Bette Midler, and Joey Lawrence, “Oliver and Company” marked a return towards the musicals that the company had been famous for in the past.
While the film was a financial success, critics weren't too kind to the film. Part of the film's problem is that it's central characters are largely forgettable, instead relying on supporting characters to bring the laughs and entertainment.
The Great Mouse Detective
“The Great Mouse Detective,” like many of the animated Disney films released in the 1980s, is based on a series of children’s books. The “Basil of Baker Street” series, written by Eve Titus, follows the adventures of a Sherlock Holmes-esque mouse. For “The Great Mouse Detective,” Basil helps a little girl find her kidnapped father, who was taken to create a robotic replica of the Queen of England and allow his captors rule the country.
While “The Great Mouse Detective” was a modest success for the Mouse House, it continued a trend in the decade with animated films having a darker tone. It was also a change of pace, offering more of a film noir.
“Pocahontas” gets a bad rap, which might be why it is being included on this list. Disney wanted to add another princess to its roster, but in doing so they created a movie that changed history to create a happily ever after when the true story was anything but a fairy tale. The film was popular enough to spawn a direct to video sequel, but the controversy regarding the depiction of Native Americans had already sealed the film’s legacy.
Nowadays, the film is probably best known for its Academy Award winning song, “Colors of the Wind” by Vanessa Williams.
The Sword in the Stone
How do you turn the story of a young King Arthur into an animated film for children? That was the task at hand when Walt Disney set out to adapt the book of the same name by T.H. White. “The Sword and the Stone” was also the last film released before Disney’s death.
The film was a bigger hit with British critics than with American critics, who thought the film relied on humor to mask a lack of plot. While the film has been criticized for lacking anything differentiating, its villain Madam Mim does offer some entertaining moments.