Walt Disney’s name is synonymous with the world’s most popular cartoons, yet some Disney films have gone criminally overlooked.
Yes, it’s true. Though we can remember most Disney films by singing a memorable tune about the bear necessities or how to make a man out of you, some of the studio’s feature length animations didn’t catch on as many hoped they would. Whether it’s due to poor timing at the box office, a story that didn’t resonate with children, or even just being too old, it goes to show that no movie is safe from getting lost in time. Still, that doesn’t make these seldom-remembered Disney films bad, per se. On the contrary, some of Disney’s most obscure films have cult followings that attest to their quality to this day.
If you’re a Disney fan who’d like to discover a film you didn’t see 100s of times as a kid, we’ve put together a list of 10 Disney movies that may have slipped under your radar. We’ve excluded live-action films such as Newsies and The Rocketeer, as those movies are a story for another day.
10: The Emperor’s New Groove
With a direct-to-video sequel and a spinoff series on the Disney channel, it may seem odd to consider The Emperor’s New Groove “overlooked.” However, with rather modest marketing and a humble box office performance by Disney standards, many seem to forget that this was indeed a movie made by the studio responsible for Mickey Mouse.
The Emperor’s New Groove lacked the polished animation and fairy tale plot of Disney’s previous works, yet fans of the movie appreciated its offbeat and slapstick humor.
9: The Rescuers Down Under
As the first sequel to ever premier in the Disney animated features canon, The Rescuers Down Under is a bit of an anomaly. In fact, this follow up to The Rescuers remains one of only three animated theatrical film sequels by Disney.
The Rescuers Down Under unfortunately suffered at the box office due to debuting the same weekend as Home Alone, and subsequent marketing for the movie was pulled as a result of its poor performance. Although more sequels were planned for The Rescuers series, this pair of movies are instead oft forgotten curiosities for the average Disney fan.
8: Oliver & Company
By adapting the classic story of Oliver Twist as an animated film with cats and dogs, Oliver & Company saw admirable box office success when it debuted in 1988. However, due to mixed critical reviews and even some scorn among Disney’s own animators, Oliver & Company did not stand the test of time as its other animated counterparts have.
That’s not to say the film is without merit, of course. With music performed by the likes of Huey Lewis and Billy Joel, Oliver & Company is an unmistakable relic of late 80s animation.
7: Home on the Range
Home on the Range existed at a crossroads for Disney. Released in 2004, the western musical would be Disney’s last 2D animated film until The Princess and the Frog revitalized interest in “classic Disney” 5 years later. With the studio trying to find itself in these formative years, audiences also struggled to find footing with Disney’s output.
Home on the Range received mixed critical reviews, but fans stand by its merits as a unique Disney film.
6: Atlantis: The Lost Empire
In one of the biggest departures from the Disney formula, Atlantis: The Lost Empire featured an adult-oriented story with the visual style of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. Though big names like Joss Whedon were involved in production, the film’s lack of musical numbers and whimsy led to mediocre reviews and small box office earnings.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have fans. On the contrary, as Disney’s first sci-fi movie and a massive departure from the studio’s traditional formula, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a prime example of a cult classic.
5: The Brave Little Toaster
The Brave Little Toaster is a movie that tends to be ignored amongst talk of Disney films, yet its mere mention makes many fans weepy with nostalgia. Perhaps it’s because The Brave Little Toaster isn’t a fully Disney-produced movie in the traditional sense, even if members of its production team would go on to form Pixar.
Whether you fancy yourself too old for the film or not, The Brave Little Toaster still delights children to this day.
4: Treasure Planet
Pitched at the same time as Disney’s classic The Little Mermaid, this big budget version of Treasure Island in space seemed to have everything going for it. Unfortunately, Treasure Planet didn’t just do poorly upon release: it bombed. Grossing only $38 million in the United States and Canada, Treasure Planet didn’t come close to covering its $140 million budget.
Though its planned sequel didn’t pan out, Treasure Planet remains a unique and accessible Disney film.
3: The Great Mouse Detective
With success at the box office and positive critical reviews, 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective gave Disney’s animation studio confidence after a series of middling successes. As one of the movies that set the stage for what is now referred to as the Disney Renaissance, The Great Mouse Detective is more significant than what many give it credit for.
Make no mistake, The Great Mouse Detective is more than a mere novelty. The tense climax atop Big Ben remains as thrilling today as ever.
2: The Sword in the Stone
As the final film released by Walt Disney himself before his untimely death, The Sword in the Stone gets surprisingly little recognition from modern audiences. While its characters and themes do go remembered, it pales in comparison to any of the Disney princess films of the same era.
Due to surprising philosophical depth – with many believing Merlin to be based off of Disney himself – The Sword in the Stone is a film that deserves more recognition than it receives.
1: The Black Cauldron
When it comes to often forgotten Disney movies, it’s hard to get any more obscure than The Black Cauldron.
Even those who do remember the film are divided on its quality. Based on Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Pyrdain, The Black Cauldron was both a box office flop and a critical failure upon its release. Many Disney fans consider it the weakest film in the Disney animated canon, yet others consider it a delightfully unique work of art. With a dark storyline told in a unique fantasy aesthetic, fans of the movie sing its praises for its grand departure from the usual Disney formula. Even if The Black Cauldron bombed on its release, the film’s cult following has done its best to preserve the movie’s memory to this day.
Either way, though many love and hate The Black Cauldron, the truth is that most Disney fans haven’t even seen it. If you’re one of those people, then you too may find it to be a hidden gem among Disney’s vast library of animated classics.
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