11 Most Underrated Disney Movies

There are some unappreciated classics to discover within the Disney Vault

Underrated Disney Movies
Illustration by Steven Fiche

    In the lead-up to the release of the live-action The Little Mermaid, Consequence will be looking back at the Disney Renaissance and how it shaped our culture. This time, we’re sharing the animated Disney movies, streaming on Disney+, we feel have been the most underrated over the years

    Each new Disney film is loaded with potential, and more often than not, they become revered by generations young and old. But a company with a bar as high as Disney’s can’t always provide box office smashes or garner critical acclaim, like the dull Home on the Range or the bloated Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Several Disney films are immediate successes, and some take several years to get their due. For every Snow White, The Little Mermaid, and Frozen, there are smaller, less ubiquitous titles that are nonetheless deserving of the same fandom and praise.

    That’s right, we’re talking about Disney’s hidden gems, the underappreciated marvels. Every era can’t be a “Renaissance,” but Disney has a habit of sneaking cinematic glory in the most unlikely stories. For starters, it’s worth noting that while many Disney films have been overlooked, panned, or otherwise forgotten, many have earned that status for a reason: We latch onto the stories that inspire us, and shrug off the ones that fail to reach us.


    On the other hand, several films seemed destined for failure at the time, but have nonetheless become revered classics. As one example, 2000’s The Emperor’s New Groove was mired in production issues, rewrites, and delays, and despite its initial critical reception, it became beloved by many millennials and zoomers (this writer included). Essentially, it can’t be considered “underrated,” because its legacy and stature is generally renowned.

    But there are dozens of films that fall into a grey area, featuring characters and concepts that deserve a bit more credit than we’ve historically given. So take a stroll down memory lane and revisit some of these underrated yet worthy titles.

    Paolo Ragusa

    The Sword in the Stone (1963)

    Underrated Disney Movies

    The Sword in the Stone (Disney)

    For a studio known for magic and hope and dreams, a story with the lesson “knowledge and wisdom is the real power” feels a bit out of place. That could be one of the reasons this underappreciated classic earns the adjective — still, with fantastic performances from Karl Swenson (Merlin) and Junius Matthews (Archimedes) and marvelously entertaining set pieces, The Sword in the Stone should be far more favored in the Disney canon. Even with a relatively simple animation style, scenes like the wizards’ transformation duel and a magical dishwashing bit that epitomizes bewitched cleaning are sheer delights. While lacking more memorable songs (save for the unhinged “Mad Madam Mim”) and saddled with a puberty-induced casting mess (young actors Rickie Sorensen, Richard Reitherman, and Robert Reitherman all serving as Wart), this still stands as one of Disney’s most pure and enjoyable pre-Renaissance films. — Ben Kaye

    Robin Hood (1973)


    Robin Hood (Disney)

    Aside from introducing arguably the hottest character of the Disney canon (will fight you in the parking lot after school if you disagree), this is such a thoughtful adaptation of the iconic British fable, equal to the power of live-action adaptations that didn’t feature anthropomorphized cartoon animals in the cast. It’s also an extremely romantic take on the story, especially thanks to a beautiful interlude between Maid Marian (voice of Monica Evans) and Robin Hood (voice of Brian Bedford), set to the Oscar-nominated song “Love.” That tune was written by Floyd Huddleston and George Bruns, and it’s not even the most memorable of the film — Roger Miller’s toe-tapping poppy folk tunes, including “Oo-De-Lally” and “Not in Nottingham,” have been lodged in my brain for decades. There’s so much charm and wit and fun embedded in this film (Lady Kluck’s running play down the field! Pretty much everything Sir Hiss does!); it deserves all the praise and attention we can give it. — Liz Shannon Miller

    The Black Cauldron (1985)

    Underrated Disney Movies

    The Black Cauldron (Disney)

    The first Disney animated film to receive a PG rating was also almost the studio’s last cartoon. A bloated budget ($44 million — adjusted for inflation, that’s about $67 million today!) and horror themes that were a decade too early led to The Black Cauldron being a commercial and critical bomb. Yet the film is still a fascinating and beautiful watch: The Horned King stands perhaps as the single scariest-looking villain Disney animators ever drew, and the technological use of the animation photo transfer process and computer-generated imagery is truly a wonder of the era. (Even though work on The Great Mouse Detective was technically finished first, it’s the first Disney animated feature released with CGI.) Most underrated of all might be Elmer Bernstein’s score, using his trademark ondes Martenot to match the eerie mood and also hint at his iconic Ghostbusters compositions. — B. Kaye

    The Great Mouse Detective (1986)


    The Great Mouse Detective (Disney)


    Before John Musker and Ron Clements gave us The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, and Moana, the duo made their directorial debut with The Great Mouse Detective, a rodentian romp through the world of Sherlock Holmes. Basil of Baker Street is hot on the trail of Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price at his sneering best), and along with the help of Dr. Dawson, they set out to rescue young Olivia’s kidnapped father and protect Queen Mousetoria. While not a full musical, it also includes a pair of delicious songs co-written by Henry Mancini and performed with gusto by Price. With captivating set pieces and a propulsive plot, The Great Mouse Detective set up Musker and Clements for future Disney success. And it doesn’t take a great detective to figure out that you’ll see their work a few more times on this list. — Wren Graves

    Oliver & Company (1988)

    Underrated Disney Movies

    Oliver & Company (Disney)

    Oliver & Company also made our Most Traumatizing Disney Films list, for its still-heart-wrenching opening sequence. But once you get past the trauma of poor abandoned Oliver struggling to survive on the streets of New York City, this unconventional adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is a dang romp. For one thing, “Why Should I Worry?” remains a banger for the ages, thanks in part to the vocal performance of Billy Joel. Other standouts from the voice cast include Bette Midler as a finicky poodle (galaxy brain casting there), Cheech Marin as a hyper Chihuahua, and thee Sheryl Lee Ralph as a tough Saluki with an incredible mane. Plus, the gritty hand-drawn animation, so different from the polish of the modern-day Disney aesthetic, makes this really feel like a story set in 1980s New York City, where (as Ruth Pointer sings) if you play it brave and bold, these are streets of gold. — L.S. Miller