Best Disney animated classics to stream during lockdown

  • The List
  • 20 April 2020
The greatest Disney animation classics

The Lion King (1994)

Feeling nostalgic and longing for simpler times? Get lost in the magical world of Disney with these animated classics

Before it had conquered the majority of the film industry and turned heavily to CGI to remake its own classics, Disney was responsible for shaping millions of childhoods around the world. To celebrate the launch of Disney+, we take a look at some the best animated films made by the studio in the 20th century, revisiting why we love these stories so much. Take a walk down memory lane with our favourite Disney classics and don't forget; you can watch them all on Disney+ now and many of them on Now TV or Amazon Prime Video too.

The greatest Disney animation classics

Fantasia (1940)

Is Fantasia the ultimate Disney film? Perhaps, but if not, it's definitely seen as one of Walt Disney's masterpieces. The 1940 film was the third Disney animated feature to be released after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio, and consists of eight segments set to pieces of classical music. The blend of classical pieces like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite with the fascinating, experimental imagery is what makes it so special and in many ways, ahead of its time as a landmark in the genre. Night on Bald Mountain might be the most intense part of the film, with its evil spirits, ugly demons and dramatic music by Mussorgsky. Mickey Mouse also makes his first feature-length appearance in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, based on the poem by Goethe and set to the orchestral piece by Paul Dukas, which is also probably one of the film's most well-known segments. (Arusa Qureshi)
Watch now on Disney+, Now TV, or Amazon Prime.

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Certainly one of the more psychedelic films of the Disney canon, Alice in Wonderland offers a family-friendly introduction to Lewis Carroll's classic books, although with some arguably twisted and nightmare-inducing visuals (Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the Cheshire Cat providing just two examples). Still, the surreal animation coupled with that trademark Disney humour makes it one of the best and most memorable fantasy-adventure films in the Walt Disney Productions universe. It's cutesy tunes, like 'In a World of My Own', saccharine sweet colours and eccentric storyline makes it ideal for little kids and adults alike looking for an hour or more of nonsense and escapism. (Arusa Qureshi)
Watch now on Disney+, or Amazon Prime.

The greatest Disney animation classics

The Jungle Book (1967)

Where to start with The Jungle Book? This inventive tale has talking jungle animals, catchy songs and the all-important themes of love, loss, conflict and dazzling Disney-fied friendships. The lead character Mowgli is a curious and playful boy who was abandoned at birth and brought up by wolves … yes wolves! The multi-faceted musical follows Mowgli as he comes to terms with his new identity whilst bypassing the antics of orangutan king, King Louie and the vengeful tiger Shere Khan along the way. Despite all the adversity Mowgli faces The Jungle Book puts the viewer in his shoes for a little while. Who wouldn't aspire to run with a wolf pack family or befriend Bagheera the panther and the charismatic bear Baloo? The original story, taken from Rudyard Kipling's 1894 book, proved to be so popular on screen that Disney made it twice. Though the 2016 CGI remake holds up well, it could never top the colourful, uplifting and adventurous storytelling of the 1967 original which was the last Walt produced before his death during its making. (Becki Crossley)
Watch now on Disney+, Now TV, or Amazon Prime.

The Aristocats (1970)

With its mere 79 minutes, one of the most charming and feel-good animations from Disney guarantees a perfect night for the entire family; even by today's standards. As timeless as most of these classic tales, the brilliantly titled Aristocats follows a spoilt and 'high class' cat mama and her three kittens, who get abandoned in the wild by greedy butler Edgar, when their lovely owner plans to leave her fortune to them and not to him. Lucky for them – and us – they quickly befriend a stray cat, Thomas who not only introduces them to the careless and exciting side of living on the street but also steals the heart of Duchess. The film is about family, loyalty, love and of course, music. Who could forget the iconic 'Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat' song or Duchess' gorgeously sparkling blue eyes when her and Thomas are sitting in the moonlight? The memorable sequences, hilariously original names and Roquefort, one of the cutest characters in the whole Disney universe, make this 70s classic a true evergreen, not only for little ones, but for grown-ups too. (Julia Kajdi)
Watch now on Disney+, Now TV, or Amazon Prime.

The greatest Disney animation classics

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

Seen by many as one of Disney's more faithful literary adaptations in terms of its connection to the A.A. Milne classic stories, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is the ultimate feel-good animation, with very little scary or troubling content and instead, plenty of cute and whimsical moments courtesy of Pooh bear and his best pals. The 1977 film is an hour-long compilation of three previously released shorts: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too! (1974), all three of which follow the gang's adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood. Although the whole film provides a burst of nostalgia and acts as a sweet reunion with characters from our childhood, highlights include Pooh as the Little Black Rain Cloud, the trippy Heffalumps and Woozles dream, Tigger's escape from the very tall tree, with help from the narrator and of course, Eeyore's entire vibe. (Arusa Qureshi)
Watch now on Disney+, Now TV, or Amazon Prime.

The Fox and the Hound (1981)

Released nearly forty years ago in 1981, The Fox & the Hound is loosely based on the 1967 novel of the same name and tells the touching story of two unlikely friends: a red fox named Tod (voiced by Mickey Rooney and Keith Mitchell) and a hound dog named Copper (voiced by Kurt Russell and Corey Feldman). Tod is orphaned as a young fox when his mother is shot by a hunter, but he is quickly found by a motherly owl named Big Mama, a woodpecker named Boomer and a finch named Dinky, then subsequently taken in by a friendly widow who lives alone on her farm. The curious and playful Tod soon meets Cooper, a new hound dog puppy who lives next door. Cooper's owner Amos Slade is a hunter who has a particular hatred for foxes and spends much of the film trying to kill Tod, causing Cooper to decide between his loyalty to his owner and his friend. The Fox & the Hound has stood the test of time as a beautiful tale of friendship that also delivers an important moral message to adults and children alike. (Megan Forsyth)
Watch now on Disney+, or Amazon Prime.

The greatest Disney animation classics

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Who'd have thought Disney and Tim Burton would be making movies together well into this decade? Anyone who has seen The Nightmare Before Christmas perhaps. This unusual, dark and visually enchanting stop motion film follows Jack Skellington, a macabre character, clad in black who is confused about the joy that Christmas brings. The plot unfolds with the weirdest characters imaginable – like an Oogie Boogieman and a mad scientist named Doctor Finklestein – at the forefront. The film would be incomplete without Danny Elfman's amazing score which is used to explore Jack's emotional awakening as well as immerse viewers into the contrasting worlds of Halloween Town and Christmas Town. The Nightmare Before Christmas has become a cult phenomenon amongst goths, a right of passage for alternative teens and a captivating film for young kids. It's kooky, fun and scary and emits a strong message that weird is good and the world could always use a little more of that! (Becki Crossley)
Watch now on Disney+, or Amazon Prime.

The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King became an instant Disney classic upon its release in 1994 and still holds up as one of the greatest animated films of all-time over 25 years later. Influenced by the Biblical stories of Joseph and Moses, as well as Shakespeare's Hamlet, the film tells the story of lion Simba's journey to become King of the Pride Lands in Africa with the perfect mix of drama, comedy and romance. The impressive all-star voice cast includes Matthew Broderick (Simba), Jonathan Taylor Thomas (young Simba), James Earl Jones (Mufasa), Jeremy Irons (Scar), Nathan Lane (Timon), Robert Guillame (Rafiki), Rowan Atkinson (Zazu), Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi) and Cheech Marin (Banzai), just to name a few. Music is central to the film, with memorable songs including 'The Circle of Life', 'I Just Can't Wait to Be King' and 'Hakuna Matata', as well as a powerful soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. The story was later adapted into the popular Broadway musical that debuted in 1997 and the film was recently remade by Disney just last year, but the original is hands down still the finest of them all, consistently delivering laughs and tears on each viewing. (Megan Forsyth)
Watch now on Disney+, or Amazon Prime.

Pocahontas (1995)

I still remember the deep disappointment I felt when I first watched this Disney feature; my mind just could not handle the fact that Pocahontas and John Smith actually part from each other. In retrospect and of course with the knowledge of the real life story, I now find the ending to be one of the most compelling elements of the tale. After all of those pink-rainbow-dreamy-perfect and let's face it, totally unrealistic love stories where the princess always finds happiness, this was the first time I was taught by an animation that love does not conquer all. And even though I appreciate that the film does not deal with racial issues in the most respectful way, no one can deny how stunning the visuals are, how gorgeous Pocahontas is and how this classic gave us legendary songs like 'Colours of the Wind'. Not to mention the cute and highly entertaining feud between Meeko the racoon and Percy the pug. (Julia Kajdi)
Watch now on Disney+, Now TV, or Amazon Prime.

James and the Giant Peach (1996)

Roald Dahl's much-loved tale about an orphan boy who runs off with a passel of giant anthropomorphic insects in a giant peach was given the stop motion animation treatment by Disney in 1996, and it perfectly encapsulated the darkly eerie, yet upliftingly charming aesthetic of the great Dahl's masterful storytelling. When young James' parents are killed by a rampaging rhinoceros, he's shipped off to live with his two cruel aunts. One day, a mysterious old man bequeaths him with a bag full of 'magical crocodile tongues', which he drops near a peach tree, causing a ginormous stone fruit to grow on its branches. When he crawls into the pit, James discovers a loveable and unforgettable gang of giant talking insects, including the curmudgeonly Mr Centipede, the scholarly Mr Grasshopper and the adorable Mrs Ladybug. The gang decide to roll out to New York City using the air power of a hundred seagulls, and end up facing down a horde of undead skeletal pirates, frozen wastelands and dangerous wildlife – all the while discovering the enduring power of love and family in overcoming our prejudices. Though the film may not have gone so far as to cure a generation of their arachnophobia, it certainly made us think twice about the way we treat our insect brethren. (Deborah Chu)
Watch now on Disney+, or Amazon Prime.

Hercules (1997)

When the Disney animators united with the gods of Greek mythology, something truly magical happened. The 1997 musical fantasy film arrived after a period of disappointments for Disney, proving that the company was still able to remain on top form as far as animation goes. Bringing together stories from ancient lore, Dreamgirls-esque gospel singing and choreography from the five narrator Muses, everyone's favourite winged horse Pegasus and plenty of wise-cracking comedy, it's a film that remains timeless thanks to its lightheartedness, imaginative settings and ultra-campy style. Plus, you can't beat the all-star cast and the way that the actors' voices are matched perfectly to their characters, with Tate Donovan bringing out Hercules's charm and innocence and James Woods turning his blue-haired Hades into the ultimate fast-talking, slimy villain. (Arusa Qureshi)
Watch now on Disney+, Now TV, or Amazon Prime.

The greatest Disney animation classics

A Bug's Life (1998)

Released in 1998, Pixar's A Bug's Life took the microscopic world of bugs and blew it up on the big screen. The story follows a colony of ants dominated by powerful and greedy grasshoppers. A brave and heroic ant named Flik realises the tragedy of the situation and sets out to make positive change for his colony. Teamwork plays a vital and uplifting role in most Disney films and this is no exception. Flik is not alone in his quest and ends up with a rebellious cross-species team by his side, most of which come from the insect circus (naturally!). Despite being Pixar's second-ever film, A Bug's Life remains visually stunning and does an excellent job of opening up a world that would otherwise only be seen through a microscope in the garden. Genuinely scary villains, sharp-wit, emotional scenes and hilarious scenes (like bugs drinking in a bar) make up a well-rounded plot and the fantastic characters make it a delightful watch even on the tenth viewing. (Becki Crossley)
Watch now on Disney+, Now TV, or Amazon Prime.

Mulan (1998)

Every Disney film has a few well-engineered hits to its name, but how many stir the blood quite the same way that 'I'll Make a Man Out of You' does? How many work as genuine tearjerkers like 'Reflection', or embody the perfect comic rhythm of 'A Girl Worth Fighting For'? The strength of feeling that people still carry towards Mulan, Disney's 1998 animated feature, was demonstrated in the vociferous outcry that arose from the announcement that the 2020 live action remake would not feature the original film's songs. But it's not just the music that makes Mulan a true gem in the Disney stables. The story – which follows young Mulan's journey to protect her family and country against the invading Huns, disguising herself as a male soldier and accompanied by her ancestral guardian dragon spirit, Mushu (voiced pitch-perfectly by Eddie Murphy) – is a moving tale about one woman's desire to take control of her own life, while also negotiate the various pressures placed upon her by tradition, gender and national duty. Moreover, its commentary on sexism and gender performativity (and even drag, to a certain extent) is radically explicit for a Disney film. Only time (and the COVID-19 pandemic) will tell how the upcoming live-action remake stands up to this classic – the loss of unexpected bisexual icon Li Shang is already quite the blow – but we're going to keep our hearts and minds open. After all, you don't meet a girl like this every dynasty. (Deborah Chu)
Watch now on Disney+, Now TV, or Amazon Prime.

Tarzan (1999)

Man versus nature is one of the great animating conflicts of human storytelling, and those who straddle the line between these two worlds have always been a source of endless fascination: think Heart of Darkness, or The Jungle Book. Disney's take on Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes does away with (most of) the origin story's troubling discourse around the 'civilising' influence of Western culture, to instead explore how universal themes around family and friendship can help us find our place in the world, no matter where that is – with the help of some wonderfully cheesy bops from Phil Collins, of course. The film follows Tarzan's struggle to gain acceptance from both his gorilla family, as well as the humans who threaten to upset the balance of the animal kingdom, but who represent a key to his human roots. 'You'll Be In My Heart' ended up nabbing the Academy Award for Best Original Song, as well as a place in our hearts. (Deborah Chu)
Watch now on Disney+, Now TV, or Amazon Prime.

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