Eighty-five years ago this week, on May 15, 1928, Mickey Mouse made his animated debut in the short “Plane Crazy,” the little-seen film that isn’t quite as popular as the first distributed Disney film, “Steamboat Willie.” While Mickey Mouse became the face of the Disney empire, he didn’t make it into many of the studio’s feature films. But his success and popularity made his creator Walt Disney a household name, and he paved the way for the great animated films for which Disney’s studio became known. To celebrate this anniversary, we took on the massive task of ranking Walt Disney Pictures’ 20 greatest animated features.
20. Oliver & Company (1988)
Why not modernize Oliver Twist and fill it with cats and dogs in New York City? Bonus: Cheech Marin, Bette Midler, and Billy Joel all provide voices.
19. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
This is inarguably David Spade’s best work to date.
18. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Disney’s animators returned to their roots, using watercolor backgrounds as featured in early films Snow White and Dumbo. They achieved a classic look that was paired by a modern story and design. (Plus, Stitch is adorable!)
17. Hercules (1997)
It isn’t necessarily a fan favorite, but Hercules is both a great musical and a perfect screwball comedy.
16. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
This canine romance is probably best known for its Orientalist portrayal of the Siamese cats (Si and Am, naturally) voiced by Peggy Lee, but there’s also that monumentally famous spaghetti kiss scene. (We all know how much dogs love pasta.)
15. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
There are some heavy sociological messages in this film about a young dog and a young fox who become best friends before learning that society wants them to be enemies.
14. The Jungle Book (1967)
As with many Disney films, this one is filled to the brim with uncomfortable and stereotypical racial undertones. But, you know, all that aside, it’s pretty groovy!
13. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
Cruella de Vil is quite possibly the most terrifying movie villain of all time.
12. Robin Hood (1973)
The classic story is reimagined with animals ranging from foxes to lions, because in Disney’s world, the animal kingdom is one big crazy zoo.
11. Fantasia (1940)
It might not be the most exciting film (it’s cinematic Ambien for children under 12), but Fantasia‘s animated musical staging was groundbreaking and inspired Disney animators for decades following its release.
10. Peter Pan (1953)
This version of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale is perhaps its most recognizable film adaptation, and it solidified Tinker Bell’s status as a character and trademark all on her own.
9. Bambi (1942)
This is the perfect film to put on if you’d like to watch children have an emotional breakdown as they realize for the first time their parents’ mortality.
8. The Little Mermaid (1989)
This paved the way for Disney’s animation revolution in the early ’90s, particularly as it introduced the songwriting team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman to a wide audience.
7. Aladdin (1992)
With the participation of Robin Williams as the genie, Aladdin proved that Disney can make movies that are fun for kids and grown-ups.
6. Pinocchio (1940)
Pinocchio’s Oscar-winning song, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” has become as synonymous as Tinker Bell with the Disney brand.
5. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Most people first encounter Lewis Carroll’s story by seeing this little mind-fuck of a movie, and the elements of psychedelia (and, naturally, its popularity within drug culture) gave this film some staying power.
4. Cinderella (1950)
Disney’s take on what is arguably the world’s most popular fairy tale is a pretty standard, straightforward one, but it has proven to be the most classic adaptation of the Cinderella story.
3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
It’s hard to ignore how important this picture is. As the first feature-length animated film, it paved the way for pretty much everything we see today. And, like Cinderella, this has become the definitive version of the Snow White tale.
2. The Lion King (1994)
Perhaps the most ambitious of Disney’s films, The Lion King presents an original story (albeit one inspired by the Biblical tales of Moses and Joseph, as well as Hamlet and Macbeth) and perfectly balances the serious and comedic tones. With the successful stage adaptation directed by Julie Taymor, The Lion King may be the most enduring film in Disney’s catalog.
1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Beauty and the Beast single-handedly changed the animation game, combining traditional animation techniques with CGI technology, and was the first animated film in history to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Not only did its writers take a more modern stance when crafting its characters, but the film incorporated elements of musical theater to reinvigorate the movie-musical genre.