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

    The Rescuers Down Under (1990)


    The Rescuers Down Under (Disney)

    The Rescuers became one of Disney’s biggest hits to date when it released in 1977, sparking the House of Mouse’s first-ever sequel in 1990. However, the follow-up received a much more tepid response, perhaps because it dropped on the same day as the juggernaut Home Alone. But the return of Bob Hope and Eva Gabor (in her last-ever film role) as Bernard and Miss Bianca of the Rescue Aid Society deserved better: This time they travel to Australia on the back of a hilarious albatross named Wilbur (John Candy) to stop a sadistic poacher, McLeach (a scene-chewing George C. Scott). With sharp jokes and action galore, The Rescuers Down Under matched the manic joy of the original. — W. Graves

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

    Underrated Disney Movies

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney)

    Despite its G rating, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the perfect Disney movie for any child who’s decided they’ve started to outgrow the idea of Disney movies. One of the most overtly dark films to come from the notoriously sanitized studio, The Hunchback of Notre Dame carries an intense tone and is unafraid to shy away from themes of genocide, sexual lust, and eternal damnation. Just watch the “Hellfire” sequence and tell me this movie is for babies. The film stands as a grand artistic achievement, with songs and animation on par with any other Disney Renaissance cut. More than that, it’s a true anomaly: Never before had Disney been able to package such a deeply adult film into a kid-friendly package, and they likely never will again, at least not to the same level of success. So, is The Hunchback of Notre Dame the first film parents should be showing their children? No, but that’s not a fault. In fact, it’s one of its greatest strengths, as it is the film’s willingness to trust its family audience to engage with darker subject matter that allows it to resonate so deeply. – Jonah Krueger

    Treasure Planet (2002)


    Treasure Planet (Disney)

    Treasure Planet was a box office bomb by Disney’s high standards, but over 20 years later, its imaginative story and exhilarating animation is definitely noteworthy. Treasure Planet was promoted heavily by Disney, and its sci-fi backdrop — complete with protagonist Jim Hawkins as an über cool “sky surfer” — had a peculiar aesthetic. But with Disney powerhouses Musker and Clements once again at the helm, they manage to make Jim’s wide-eyed journey a compelling and memorable turn. To this day, Treasure Planet has its fair share of believers, and its fascinating futuristic imagery has its own place in the evolution of Disney’s world-building prowess. — P. Ragusa

    Brother Bear (2003)

    Underrated Disney Movies

    Brother Bear (Disney)

    Let’s start with the data: The wonderfully warm-hearted, dramatic feat that is Brother Bear currently sits at a mere 27% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 48/100 on Metacritic. Reviews from the time criticize it for not having as much humor as other Disney hits, being overly precious with its morals, and for not living up to the heights of The Lion King (which, mind you, was nearly a decade old at the time of Brother Bear’s release). And that’s a shame because, for all of its faults, Brother Bear is one of the most empathetic, tasteful, simply beautiful films in Disney’s post-2000 catalog, a genuinely engaging watch with poignant themes and surprisingly interesting technical decisions. (Did you know the film changes aspect ratios a quarter of the way into its runtime? The first animated film to ever feature a widescreen shift!) Sure, it’s a little heavy-handed with its ideas, but what kids’ movie isn’t? Brother Bear is a Disney film worth remembering for generations to come. – J. Krueger

    Meet the Robinsons (2007)


    Meet the Robinsons (Disney)


    Disney’s quirky time travel adventure slid somewhat under the radar upon release in 2007, but the story of Lewis, Wilbur, Goob, and one wacky family of the future is truly heartwarming. Sweet without being overly sentimental, Meet the Robinsons is structured around a core tenet of Walt Disney himself: “Keep moving forward.” There’s something here for the science kids, the dinosaur lovers, and viewers looking for a few laughs that don’t end in the “catching your breath through tears” sequences of Pixar favorites of the era. — Mary Siroky

    The Princess and the Frog (2009)

    Underrated Disney Movies

    The Princess and the Frog (Disney)

    There’s so much to love about The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s final project animated in the traditional format and the first to feature a Black princess in ambitious restaurateur Tiana. The music is truly fantastic — “Almost There” should be considered one of the best “I want” songs in the Disney canon — and Tiana’s love interest, Naveen, is the charismatic, funny, dashing romantic partner she deserves. While the film has its bumps (one major letdown of The Princess and the Frog is just how much time Tiana and Naveen do spend in frog form), the New Orleans-set romp from Musker and Clements feels underrated. — M. Siroky