Which Recent Disney Animated Movie Is Best?
Encanto quietly marked an unprecedented achievement for Walt Disney Animation Studios. It was the 60th (!) movie in the studio’s history.
Some of the films from the 21st century are spectacular – Lilo & Stitch! – while others are…fine. I’m looking at you, Brother Bear.
Which Disney animated films are the best of the past decade, though? Let’s
Okay, we’re only discussing Walt Disney Animation Studios films. So, you won’t find any Pixar titles here.
That narrows the list to nine titles that Disney has released since the fall of 2012. And almost all of them are movies I gave a grade of at least an A when I reviewed them!
As fans, we take Disney for granted. The company is undeniably on an animated movie hot streak, though. Walt Disney would be proud.
Still, one franchise hasn’t done as much for me as I’d like. When I first watched the previews for Wreck-It Ralph, I thought Disney had made a movie just for me.
As a massive fan of video games, I treasured the idea of characters like Zangief and Q-Bert interacting with Ralph and his frenemy, Fix-It Felix, Jr.
Sadly, the movie didn’t prove to be a home run for me. While I liked all the characters, I found the story a bit lacking.
Wreck-It Ralph is the closest thing to a miss that Disney Animation has suffered this decade…and that’s incredible!
Ralph Breaks the Internet
I’m likely giving off the impression that I don’t like the Wreck-It Ralph franchise. That’s simply not the case.
I find the characters charming and consider Vanellope von Schweetz one of Disney’s finest of this century.
This film also introduced the Disney Princesses in a more modern style, giving each of them a clever angle and wry sense of humor.
That one scene in the film was my favorite of the year. It’s this one:
Similarly, the Grand Theft Auto sendup busts me up and proves more than just a subplot.
Frankly, if a Ralph/Vanellope series came out tomorrow, I’d drop everything to watch it. Somehow, Disney has done much better than these two films, though.
Okay, I can tell that this list is ridiculously good if Zootopia finishes seventh. After all, that title finished in my top 20 for the year!
Zootopia tells a straightforward story about a small-town cop who tries to make it in the big city. It’s almost like an inverse Hallmark movie.
The catch is that she keeps running into corrupt elements in this place, Zootopia. In fact, she somehow wounds up with a shameless felon as a bestie.
Zootopia overflows with imagination and creativity. At least one Disney theme park will introduce a themed land based on it soon.
I’m hopeful that Walt Disney World will follow suit within the next few years. Zootopia’s vibrant backdrop makes for the ideal themed land.
As for the film, I defy you to name something funnier than an arctic shrew who is a crime boss.
Remarkably, this film features two ideas that funny…the other being the three-toed sloth who works at the DMV.
Big Hero 6
If I published this list in a week, I might change the order of the fourth through seventh titles. They’re interchangeably excellent. It’s a mood thing deciding the best of them.
Big Hero 6 is probably the most upbeat of the stories. A talented prodigy named Hiro tragically loses his brother and father figure in an accident.
The brother’s friends work to fill the void, as does a robotic Michelin Man named Baymax. He’s the world’s cuddliest medical professional.
Big Hero 6 works as a superhero movie, but it’s that much better as a story about coping with loss and grief. This one packs an emotional punch.
Confession, I initially ranked this one substantially higher. Then, I started comparing the films individually…and Encanto kept fading.
Obviously, I’m not the average Disney+ viewer, as this title has dominated the streaming charts for the entirety of 2022. Seriously, it’s the Titanic of streaming.
Encanto topped the Nielsen streaming ratings for about as many weeks as the soundtrack did the same on the Billboard charts. 2022 is the year of Encanto.
Here’s the thing, though. The story doesn’t move me as much as the four films I’ve ranked ahead of it, though.
I adore all the characters, especially Mirabel and Bruno, but the entire movie sort of runs together for me. You’ll notice I mention specific parts of other Disney titles.
When I saw Frozen II in the theater, my first thought was that I liked it better than the original.
In fact, I held that opinion for quite a while. Unfortunately, it proved to be recency bias, though.
After a time, I’ve had ample opportunities to rewatch Frozen II…and it’s sublime. Seriously, I have no complaints about the film, a rarity for me.
The moments when Elsa discovers new abilities are magical, even by Disney standards. I especially admire the Nokk and find the salamander so very kawaii.
Plus, the story resonates with me. Disney could have turned the entire family into superheroes.
Instead, Elsa learns that one of her ancestors isn’t what she’d hoped.
Rather than let this realization cause her to regress, she experiences character development. She grows stronger by learning that she’s more than her predecessor.
Elsa proves herself even more heroic than we’d thought, and she finds an unexpected sense of peace at the end…albeit after a surprising monarchy change.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Here’s the controversial ranking on the list. Disney released Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+ during the middle of a pandemic.
For some fans, this title became a reprieve during a trying time. For others, it fell too far beneath the radar to enter the rare air of some Disney classics.
For example, my unscientific opinion is that ten times as many people know about Encanto compared to Raya. And that’s tragic.
Friends, if you have never watched Raya and the Last Dragon, you should turn on Disney+ and remedy that mistake immediately!
This sweeping epic tells a story unlike any in Disney history. It’s much closer in tone to an MCU movie, but its gorgeous animation is decidedly Disney.
You’ll watch an imperiled girl grow into a strong leader for her people, even the ones who don’t necessarily believe in her.
Also, you’ll discover several heartwarming characters, including my beloved Tuk Tuk.
I’ve probably bought more Tuk Tuk merchandise than any other character during the pandemic. This little critter is my go-to half-armadillo/half-pug!
More importantly, Raya and the Last Dragon shows that people can change, that they can redeem themselves after making mistakes. It’s an inspirational tale that’s an ideal way to educate children!
My top two were relatively simple to determine. The only question came down to ordering. If you asked me again next week, I might flip them.
Moana works as a zanier title that’s impossibly upbeat and noble in structure.
I’ve previously mentioned the connection to one of my favorite movies ever, Whale Rider.
In both stories, a girl knows from a young age that the water possesses big plans for her.
Simultaneously, she recognizes how her fate will cause problems for her family.
Whale Rider tells the concept from a stern, mostly humorless perspective. Moana…goes an entirely different way by introducing the Maui character.
Still, both share that same core premise that a heroine will rise and save her people. Moana does it with shinier graphics and a better soundtrack, though.
I’ve written about Arendelle quite a bit lately, and that likely plays a factor in my rankings.
Still, after all these years, I remain in awe of the optimism intrinsic to Frozen.
A young girl discovers a secret that tears her up inside and forces her to shut herself inside, ignoring the outside world.
Over time, she embarks on a voyage of self-discovery, ultimately accepting all parts of her personality, even the ones she once feared.
Along the way, a loyal but confused sister offers unconditional support every step of the way.
Eventually, the siblings recognize as one learns the other’s secret and happily accepts her for who she is.
There is true beauty in this story, and its underlying message resonates more with each passing year.
Even if Frozen didn’t include some of the best Disney music of the past 50 years, it’d STILL be a storytelling triumph.
Also, this is one of those rare times when I think I line up with the majority.
I believe that the consensus opinion would be that Frozen is Disney’s best animated movie of the past decade.
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Feature Photo: Photo: Disney