Many people would have you believe that Disney's best days as an animation powerhouse are behind it. And while it's true that Disney proper is often overshadowed by Pixar these days, they've still be putting out some darned fine animated movies in the past 20 years. Here are our favorites.
Disney went through a bit of a rough patch in the years following "The Lion King" and the end of the so-called "Disney Renaissance." "Mulan" is where the studio seemed to find itself again. It also sparked a growing trend where Disney movies subvert the old princess tropes. This time, Fa Mulan is very much the proactive, butt-kicking hero of her own story.
'The Emperor's New Groove' (2000)
Despite the now legendary behind the scenes turmoil, "The Emperor's New Groove" actually turned out pretty great. It's a lean buddy comedy that boasts a terrific vocal cast and some great slapstick humor. Sure, we would have loved to see the original version of the film along with its Sting soundtrack, but what we got is plenty entertaining.
'Lilo & Stitch' (2002)
"Lilo & Stitch" succeeds better than most Disney animated movies in offering something for viewers of all ages. Kids get a kick out of Stitch's goofy antics, while adults can appreciate the struggles faced by orphan Lilo and her big sister Nani, along with the rocking Elvis Presley soundtrack. It's easily one of Disney's most charming and well-rounded efforts.
'The Princess and the Frog' (2009)
"The Princess and the Frog" was Disney's first attempt at a more traditional animated movie in quite a while, complete with a handsome prince, catchy songs and a heroine with big dreams. Fortunately, the film also found plenty of ways to break new ground, including a predominately black cast and some great Jazz Age New Orleans trappings. That blend of comfortable and risky worked well. Sadly, this seems to have been the last hurrah for Disney's 2D animation lineup.
Like it or not, "Tangled" ushered in a new era of CG-animated princess movies for Disney. If not up to the standard of the old classics, "Tangled" still succeeds on the strength of its gorgeous visuals, adventurous story and compelling mother/daughter conflict.
'Wreck-It Ralph' (2012)
The first Disney animated film to get theatrically-released sequel since 1990's "Rescuers Down Under," "Wreck-It Ralph" is effortless in its likability and infectious with its emotional pull. The story of an 8-bit arcade game villain wanting to be something more that what he's programmed to do provided Disney with a chance to show-off some truly impressive visuals, along with a very relatable story that will pull on AT LEAST three heart strings.
"Frozen" is more than just one catchy but incredibly overplayed song. It's also a visually stunning Disney movie that downplays the traditional princess/prince romance in favor of a heartfelt story about two sisters reconnecting. There's a reason kids respond so strongly to this one.
'Big Hero 6' (2014)
Not all Marvel movies feature the X-Men or the Avengers. They don't even have to be in live-action. This all-ages superhero film offers a fun, exciting update to a more obscure Marvel property, proving just how versatile this genre can be.
One of the common complaints surrounding recent animated Disney movies is that the songs just don't measure up to the classics. Well, when you have "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda helping to create new Disney music, suddenly that's not an issue. Coupled with the gorgeous animation and a satisfying dynamic between the lead heroine and her demigod sidekick, and you've got all the ingredients for a modern classic.
"Zootopia" is a reminder that Disney can compete on equal footing with Pixar when it comes to both critical and commercial success. Not only is "Zootopia" once of the most visually ambitious and amusing animated Disney movies ever, it also packs in a great, timely message about tolerance and equality.
'Ralph Breaks the Internet' (2018)
Judging by early reviews -- and that Disney Princesses scene alone -- the six-year wait for this very entertaining sequel was worth it.