Disney Studios is just a few years shy of its centennial, and its astounding impact on family entertainment remains unmatched. So many kids were introduced to the very concept of movies through a Disney release. Even as an adult, you probably have vague memories of sitting in a theater for the very first time, balancing a small tub of popcorn on your lap, thrumming with anticipation, and finally watching the Disney logo -- Cinderella's castle -- sparkle across the screen. Countless friendships have been formed over playground dragon-slaying and singalongs from Disney's iconic musicals, animated and otherwise.
The best Disney movies are the timeless ones. Think about your own favorite -- you may even have a living relationship with it. You may see something new in it every time. You've probably shown it to your own kids and other young relatives, because you consider sharing it your duty. And you want to be there when they watch it.
These five Disney movies stand out from the rest of the pack, whether it's by virtue of their cultural significance, creative excellence, or pure popularity.
Disney was already experimenting with feature structure and blurring the lines between high and low entertainment by the time "Fantasia" came around. Now widely regarded as a masterpiece, this movie pairs eight unconnected animated shorts (including one featuring the studio's biggest star, Mickey Mouse) with pieces of classical music like Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite." Younger kids may take a snooze during long stretches without dialogue, but adults can appreciate Disney's bold commitment to animation as a true art form.
'Mary Poppins' (1964)
Julie Andrews was deemed not famous enough to play Eliza Doolittle in the movie "My Fair Lady," even though she'd occupied that role on stage. Instead, in that very same year, the songbird was cast as "Mary Poppins," an enigmatic super-nanny who uses her considerable magic to bring one disconnected London family together before she floats off to wherever she's needed next. Andrews won an Academy Award for the mostly live-action musical, ironically beating out Audrey Hepburn in the role that Andrews missed out on.
'Beauty and the Beast' (1991)
In 1991, "Beauty and the Beast" became the first animated movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Disney was in the middle of a creative golden age at that time, with composers like Alan Menken translating their Broadway musical sensibilities to animated narratives to great acclaim. Bookish heroine Belle is beckoned to an enchanted castle; her kindness helps a selfish prince discover empathy and break the spell that changed him to a beast. The fairy-tale based movie is still so beloved that a live-action adaptation starring Emma Watson is scheduled for 2017.
'Toy Story 3' (2010)
Many of Disney's biggest hits from the '00s and the '10s hail from its subsidiary studio Pixar, an inventive hotbed of stunning yet accessible computer animation with a talent for weaving sneakily poignant tales. The third movie in Pixar's "Toy Story" franchise had Buzz and Woody shenanigans for the children, and meditations on aging for their parents. As their boy Andy prepares to leave home and go off to college, the toys in his toy box wonder what will become of them. "Toy Story 3" garnered a Best Picture nomination and the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, among many other accolades.
As wonderful as the Disney old-school classics are, they don't always fit in with widely held modern beliefs about gender equality. In other words, today's audiences want complex, self-sufficient princesses, not damsels in distress. The creators of "Frozen" turned a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale into a feminist story about sisterly love and self-acceptance. Princess Anna leaves her kingdom to bring back the only family she has left -- her sister, Queen Elsa, who has run away because she fears her own power. The movie took home the Animated Feature Academy Award and Best Original Song for Elsa's fierce anthem of empowerment, "Let It Go."