With the release of “Zootopia” this week, I thought it would be fun to rank the talking animal movies in Disney Animation’s catalog. Just a couple of housekeeping rules before we dive in. First of all, this is my personal list, and I am certain many will agree or disagree with my placement of films on this list. I encourage that, because the place and time where we interact with these movies ultimately decides our love for them. Everyone’s list should look different, because the quality of many is so high they are almost interchangeable.
Second, I had to lay ground rules on what a “Talking Animal” movie would encompass. My first call to eliminate movies was that they had to hold an entire feature to themselves. That meant that “The Wind in the Willows” segment of “The Adventures of Icabod and Mr. Toad” is not enough to qualify for a talking animal film. That also eliminated the anthology films that were frequently released early in the companies history.
Another rule I had to enforce was the species of the protagonists of the film. If the film has more than one human at the center of the film, than it was disqualified from the rankings. This kept a movie like “The Jungle Book” active, but eliminated films like “Tarzan,” “The Princess and the Frog” and “Brother Bear.” Humans could be the villains of the film, without any repercussion on the film’s status.
With that in mind, we’re counting down the list.
18. (TIE) “Dinosaur” and “Home on the Range”
I’ll get this out of the way quick. Neither of these films are particularly strong, with a combination of weak storytelling and subpar animation. “Dinosaur” would likely have beaten out “Home on the Range” but I don’t think that the animation holds up particularly well. “Home on the Range” has a funnier concept with Alameda Slim’s yodeling, but most of the jokes fall flat. I think most Disney fans would rather forget these two (if “Dinosaur” was a third as good as it’s ride, it would probably have settled this fight quickly).
17. “Chicken Little”
This was an interesting take on the folk tale, but I think it falls short in some areas. I think they overplay the “nerd” factor with Chicken Little at times, it frustrates with its focus on traditional forms of masculinity (considering baseball excellence to be more important than intelligence in 2005 was a bit dated), and the town is kind of full of frustrating characters. I definitely recommend showing this to your children, and its frankly better than the majority of animated films it was released against. Still, it doesn’t hold up against Disney’s strong legacy in the genre.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with “Bolt” and nothing that is detrimental. However, it is also kind of forgettable at times, which is the problem it faces here. I think Rhino was a huge addition to the movie, and provided most of the laughs. I also think that the road trip aspect was a wise choice for Disney here. Still, there aren’t any scenes that I would consider must-see moments in Disney history, and most of the other films have those moments.
Disney’s most successful box office film of the 1940s, the film about the Elephant that could fly still holds a strong place in the mind of Disney fans. Timothy J. Mouse is one of my favorite Disney characters, and the “The Elephants on Parade” is one of the most unusual, yet iconic scenes in Disney history. Still, it’s one of Disney’s shortest films (only 64 minutes in length) and questionable racial stereotypes hurt the film a little. I don’t revisit the film often, which is the opposite of the rest of the films on this list, so for me, it gets a very weak 15th place (I fully recognize that this will rank much high on reader lists than on mine).
14. “The Rescuers”
The story of Bernard and Bianca has continued to resonate with audiences, and I think that’s the case for a handful of reasons. One, the side characters of Devil’s Bayou are charming and enjoyable. Until “The Princess and the Frog” was almost no representation for Louisiana until these characters made an appearance. Second, Madame Medusa might be the most underrated villain in Disney history. She is frightening, tries to win at all costs, and cares little for the safety of Penny. She does justice to Cruella De Vil, who was almost used in her place. It’s a sweet story, and I doubt anyone who watches is able to hold their tears back on this one.
13. “The Fox and the Hound”
Speaking of being unable to hold your tears back, the story of two opposites who becomes friends is a sweet film that has a ton of heart. It’s cast and crew have also gone on to a lot of success, with Tim Burton, John Lasseter, Brad Bird, and Henry Selick serving as an animators, and the voice talents of Kurt Russell and Mickey Rooney anchoring the film. It’s a fun piece of Disney history that’s extremely heartfelt.
Disney’s first foray into the talking animal genre, it has some of the saddest moments in Disney history. Man’s (the hunter) inclusion on AFI’s top villains in film should speak to how hard Bambi’s Mother’s death hit the audience when the film was released.
11. “Oliver and Company”
An excellent collaboration between Billy Joel and Disney, this ultimately signaled to the world that Disney animation was back in a big way. The opening sequence might be the most heartbreaking opening in Disney Animation history (“Up” is Pixar Animation), and the film’s showcasing of New York City is one of the most unique aspects in any Disney film.
10. “Winnie the Pooh”
The relaunch of the “Winnie the Pooh” franchise was not met with box office success, but remains one of the hidden gems in Disney history. Another film with a short run time, it was enjoyable to see Disney return to one of its most beloved franchises with modern day animation techniques.
9. “The Great Mouse Detective”
Following “The Black Cauldron” it was clear that some Disney animators wanted to tell darker and more grotesque stories. “The Great Mouse Detective” is probably the film that best encompasses the dark tone these animators were looking for, with an enjoyable story to boot. The mystery is told expertly, and continues to be one of the secretly great films in their catalog.
8. “The Aristocats”
“The Aristocats” was Disney’s last great musical until “Oliver and Company” and still holds up well today. Not only does it have a strong root in Jazz, but featuring the return of Phil Harris to voice O’Malley was an excellent way to build on the success of “The Jungle Book.” Marie is also one of the cutest characters in the company’s history.
7. “The Rescuers Down Under”
This was the first movie I ever saw in theaters, and I doubt I realized the significance it would bring when I watched it. Not only was it the first Disney animation film to utilize computer animation techniques, but it also brought Pixar into the fold at Disney. It’s historical importance aside, the messages of conservation are extremely timely today.
6. “Robin Hood”
A fun retelling of the classic tale, “Robin Hood” really utilizes the taking animal film to its advantage. Not only does it bring in similiar character designs from its other films to add a level of meta continuity between the films, but it was able to establish its own unique characters at the same time. It’s a fun ride and might be the most entertaining of the talking animal films.
5. “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”
Unlike “The Adventures of Icabod and Mr. Toad,” “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” features three different stories about the same group of characters. It is probably the most iconic use of these characters, and is still loving regarded by fans around the world. It introduced the world to “Winnie the Pooh” and was one of the last properties that Walt was able to work on before he passed.
4. “101 Dalmations”
Cruella De Vil might be the most frightening villain on this list, and her character elevates the film to heights that the other films don’t reach. Not only is she enjoyable to watch, but Pongo and Perdita might be the go-to Disney romance if not for some other characters on this list (we’ll get to that in a second). It is a fun and humorous adventure film that was able to cash in on many conceptual ideas about pets and animals, and turn them on their head for laughs.
3. “Lady and the Tramp”
The greatest romance in Disney history, these two pups are the center of one of Disney’s greatest achievements. Not only unique for its strong romance, the film was able to capture the hearts of many around the world. On a personal level, my Cocker Spaniel is named Bella for the famous spaghetti scene in the film.
2. “The Jungle Book”
One of the best Disney musicals before the Disney Renaissance, “The Jungle Book” is one of the most beloved films in Disney history. So beloved that the film is due out in live action in a little over a month. I feel like that’s all we have to say.
1. “The Lion King”
The crown jewel of the Disney Renaissance, “The Lion King” not only combines Shakespearean drama with Nathan Lane’s incredible humor. It spawned a huge show on Broadway, and continues to be a beloved hit. It’s lack of a Best Picture nomination in 1995 is still questionable.