Recap / Disney Animated Canon

Disney has made many animated films over years (currently 56 so far), so sit back, relax, and revel in the magic as we briefly go over the plots (and some other notes) of each and every one of them.

The films are listed in chronological order of release. Note that this list is divided into "eras", which revolve around various aspects—usually the critical and commercial successes of these films of the time, but some also revolve around specific themes. One's personal opinions of the quality of these films do not play a role in these "eras". Also, asterisks (*) in this list mean that these films consists of several short films released as one feature. DisneyToon Studios also made a number of films, most of which act as sequels to these movies, so check that page for further information.

The Golden Age

From humble beginnings, these are the first five feature-length animated films made by Walt Disney Productions. These films are considered to be all-time classics by Disney and animation enthusiasts.
  1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (February 4, 1938note ) — A cheerful young maiden proclaimed to be the Fairest of Them All finds herself targeted by a envious queen, and seeks refuge from a clan of diminutive miners. Holds the honor of being the first full-length animated feature film in the English-speaking world. Also became the highest grossing film of all time for a few years.
  2. Pinocchio (February 7, 1940) — A wooden puppet is brought to life by a fairy dressed in blue. With the help of a cricket, he must learn how to Become a Real Boy. This is one of the only films in the canon to have a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
  3. Fantasia (November 13, 1940)* — An Animated Anthology film where various pieces of classical music are told through animated stories or conceptual pieces. The one where Mickey Mouse brings a broom to life.
  4. Dumbo (October 23, 1941) — A bullied circus elephant with a large pair of ears learns to fly with the help of a mouse and some crows. Made on the cheap to support the next film, it's the shortest single-story film in the canon at 64 minutes.
  5. Bambi (August 13, 1942) — A Coming-of-Age Story about a young deer in a forest who loses his mother and grows up to become the great prince.

The Package Age

Thanks to all but two of the Golden Age films losing money on their first release and many of Disney's animators being drafted to serve in World War II, Disney made a number of films consisting of several shorts bundled together for a few years.
  1. Saludos Amigos (August 24, 1942 in Brazil/February 19, 1943 in the U.S.)* — Disney makes four shorts about South America as part of the Good Neighbor policy. The debut of Brazilian parrot José Carioca. The shortest film in the canon at only 42 minutes, just long enough to count as a feature film.
  2. The Three Caballeros (December 21, 1944 in Mexico City/February 3, 1945 in the U.S.)* — The follow-up to Saludos Amigos, continuing Disney's focus on Latin America. Donald Duck and José Carioca return from Saludos and meet Mexican rooster Panchito Pistoles. ♪We're three caballeros, three gay caballeros, they say we are birds of a feather!
  3. Make Mine Music (April 20, 1946)* — Many of Disney's animators were drafted into the war, so they had to keep going with package films. As the name implies, it has a musical focus. Among its ten shorts include an all-star baseball player striking out and an opera-singing whale.
  4. Fun and Fancy Free (September 27, 1947)* — Two shorts, one feature-length film. In one short, a circus bear escapes into the forest. The other short is basically "Jack and the Beanstalk" with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy as the stars of the story. The last time Walt Disney voiced Mickey.
  5. Melody Time (May 27, 1948)* — Another package film with a musical focus. Among its seven shorts include an adaptation of the legend of Johnny Appleseed, a story of the Aracuan bird (from The Three Caballeros) pepping up Donald Duck and José Carioca with samba, and an adaptation of the legendary cowboy Pecos Bill.
  6. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (October 5, 1949)* — The title's two shorts (shown in the reverse order) are adaptations of The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Features Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby as narrators.

The Silver Age

After World War II finished, Disney finally returned to making single-story features, and once again made some all-time greats.
  1. Cinderella (February 15, 1950) — Based on the classic Fairy Tale of the same name. A beautiful young woman who is abused by her Wicked Stepmother and stepsisters meets a Fairy Godmother who helps her attend a royal ball and meet a charming prince. Oh, and there's this Glass Slipper...
  2. Alice in Wonderland (July 28, 1951) — Trippy as hell adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. A young girl follows a white rabbit Down the Rabbit Hole and ends up in a curious world filled with nonsense.
  3. Peter Pan (February 5, 1953) — Based on James M. Barrie's famous stage play (and its 1911 book adaptation), three kids meet a boy who never grows up and, with the help of a fairy's pixie dust, fly off to a land filled with pirates, lost boys, mermaids, Indians, and a ticking crocodile. The last film to have all nine of Disney's Nine Old Men working together and the last entry to be distributed by RKO Radio Pictures.
  4. Lady and the Tramp (June 22, 1955) — A dog who is Spoiled Sweet by humans meets a street-loving stray and falls in love with him. They have a Spaghetti Kiss at one point. The first feature-length animation created in widescreen, and the first entry in the canon to be distributed by Buena Vista.
  5. Sleeping Beauty (January 29, 1959) — Based loosely on the Charles Perrault version of the classic fairy tale, three good fairies try to protect a princess put under a curse by an evil fairy. When they fail, they help a prince defeat the evil fairy and break the curse with a True Love's Kiss.
  6. 101 Dalmatians (January 25, 1961) — Based on a children's novel by Dodie Smith, two dalmatians (and their humans) meet, fall in love, and have fifteen puppies. A socialite wants to skin the puppies for their soft spotted fur and has them kidnapped. The dalmatian couple not only have to save their pups, but 84 other dalmatian puppies as well. Noteworthy for being the first film animated via xerography, a cost-cutting animation method that would prove useful in keeping the studio afloat through the coming Dark Age.
  7. The Sword in the Stone (December 25, 1963) — Disney's take on King Arthur where a young orphan boy meets a wizard who would end up helping him become King of England. Lots of shapeshifting ensue. The final animated film released before Walt died in 1966.
  8. The Jungle Book (October 18, 1967) — Rudyard Kipling's collection of stories gets warped by Disney so much that it displaces it big time. A "Man-Cub" Raised by Wolves must leave the jungle and find a village to avoid the wrath of a tiger. Along the way, he meets an easygoing sloth bear who tells him about "The Bare Necessities". The final animated film produced before Walt died in 1966.

The Bronze Age/The Dark Age

After Walt's death, the studio's animation output took a gradual downfall until the studio almost stopped making them after their 1985 feature bombed.
  1. The Aristocats (December 24, 1970) — A wealthy retired opera singer plans to leave her entire fortune to her cats, but her greedy butler drugs them and leaves them in the French countryside. The cats decide to head back home with the help of a streetwise, jazz-loving alley cat. The final film Walt personally green-lit, as well as the final film released during the life of Walt's brother Roy O. Disney, co-founder and first CEO of the company.
  2. Robin Hood (November 8, 1973) — The classic myth told with anthropomorphic animals and a lot of recycled animation. The final animated film released while all of Disney's Nine Old Men were alive.
  3. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (March 11, 1977)* — A. A. Milne's famous children's tales about his son's stuffed animals were actually adapted by Disney before as three separate shorts released from 1966 to 1974. Those shorts were compiled into this film, with new animation to tie everything together.
  4. The Rescuers (June 22, 1977) — Based on Margery Sharp's series of children's novels, two mice travel to a swamp to "R-E-S-C-U-E" an orphan girl who was kidnapped by an evil woman who wants the world's largest diamond. The most successful film of the Bronze Age, it received a sequel in 1990 (see the next section below).
  5. The Fox and the Hound (July 10, 1981) — Very loosely based on Daniel P. Mannix's book of the same name, a fox raised by an elderly human woman befriends a hound dog who is raised by a hunter, despite being natural enemies. Their friendship would be tested as adults when the fox has to be released to the wild, and when the hound is trained to hunt. The last film that any of Disney's Nine Old Men worked on as animators, and the last entry to carry the Buena Vista Vanity Plate.
  6. The Black Cauldron (July 24, 1985) — Based on The Chronicles of Prydain novel series by Lloyd Alexander, a young boy wants to be a great warrior. He defends an oracle pig from a Sorcerous Overlord who wants to use her to find a legendary cauldron, with which he can raise an undead army to Take Over the World. One of Disney's darkest animated features, it's the first animated Disney film to carry a PG rating due to violence and nightmarish imagery, and the first to open (and end) with a Vanity Plate for Walt Disney Pictures instead of the studio's distributor.note 
  7. The Great Mouse Detective (July 2, 1986) — Eve Titus's Basil of Baker Street gets adapted into this film where a Mouse Sherlock Holmes helps find a young girl's mechanical genius father, who was kidnapped by the minions of "the world's greatest criminal mind", a rat Vincent Price. The last film to have one of Disney's Nine Old Men directly credited; that was Animation Consultant Eric Larson, who retired this year and died soon after.
  8. Oliver & Company (November 18, 1988) — Oliver Twist in 1980s New York City with talking animals. A unwanted ginger kitten gets taken in by a petty thief and his gang of street-wise dogs, including a dog Billy Joel. They deal with a loan shark and his two Doberman Pinschers, and a Lonely Rich Kid would later adopt the kitten.

The Disney Renaissance

After the moderate successes of The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver & Company, Disney Animation would later make its first big comeback with the Disney Renaissance, which began a new age of quality animated features.
  1. The Little Mermaid (November 17, 1989) — Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale is turned into an animated musical. A young mermaid with beautiful singing voice falls in love with a human prince, who she saves from drowning. She bargains her voice with a sea witch to become human, but if she doesn't receive True Love's Kiss from the prince in three days, she will become the witch's slave.
  2. The Rescuers Down Under (November 16, 1990) — Disney's first direct animated sequel, the two mice from The Rescuers head down under to the Australian Outback to rescue a young boy from a sinister poacher who is looking for a giant eagle. The first completely digital film ever produced, although this movie underperformed in comparison to the other films of this era.
  3. Beauty and the Beast (November 22, 1991) — The most beautiful love story ever told gets adapted into this incredible animated musical, where a beautiful and intelligent French woman finds her inventor father trapped in a hidden palace by a hulking monster, who is really a cursed human prince. Offering herself as prisoner in her father's place, the woman and the monster see that beauty lies from within and fall in love with each other. So far, this is the only movie of the canon, and the only traditionally animated film ever, to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
  4. Aladdin (November 25, 1992) — Based on the Arabian Nights tale, a Street Urchin falls in love with a Rebellious Princess. Thanks to an evil vizier using him, the urchin gets a sentient Magic Carpet and a magic lamp with a Robin Williams-voiced genie who grants him three wishes that the urchin hopes to use to win the princess over. The first animated film to gross $200 million.
  5. The Lion King (June 24, 1994) — Hamlet in Africa. A lion cub who is the heir to the African savannah is tricked by his jealous uncle into believing that he killed his father. The cub leaves in shame, but after he grows up, he learns of his uncle's tyranny and decides to face him in order to reclaim his rightful place as king. The most successful traditionally animated film of all time, the third-highest grossing movie worldwide and highest-grossing domestically in the canon.
  6. Pocahontas (June 23, 1995) — An adaptation of the supposedly true story about a Native American girl from what is today Virginia who supposedly saved the life of an Englishman (after supposedly falling in love with each other) and prevented her tribe and the English settlers from starting a war. Supposedly. The only film in this era to be given a "Rotten" rating by Rotten Tomatoes, with a Tomatometer score of 56%.
  7. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (June 21, 1996) — Victor Hugo's famous novel gets animated here. In medieval Paris, a sinister judge kills a Gypsy woman, and is forced to raise her deformed child as his own. The child (who has grown to become the bell ringer of Notre Dame cathedral) longs for freedom, and during a festival he becomes friends with a Gypsy dancer, who the judge develops a disturbing lust for, and the hunchback and the Gypsy must team up with a knight to save Paris from the judge's wrath.
  8. Hercules (June 27, 1997) — A Lighter and Softer take on the Greek god Herakles, the ruler of the underworld tries to turn the king of the Gods' incredibly strong son mortal and kill him, but fails to do the latter. The son of Gods learns of his heritage when he grows up, and he must prove himself to be a "true hero" in order return to the Gods' home.
  9. Mulan (June 19, 1998) — Inspired by an Ancient Chinese folk legend, the daughter of an aging war veteran disguises herself as a man to take his place in an impending war, but would soon find herself to be the saviour of China. Was also the last musical in the canon for several years.
  10. Tarzan (June 18, 1999) — The first time Edgar Rice Burroughs's jungle hero gets animated, a young boy's parents get killed by a leopard in Darkest Africa and is raised by gorillas. When he grows up, he finds himself meeting strangers like himself when a British expedition team arrives. Also features BRIAN BLESSED as an Egomaniac Hunter who faces off against the jungle hero (he also provides the hero's famous yell).

Disney's "Post-Renaissance" Era/Disney's Experimental Era

All good things must come to an end as audiences tire of Disney's animated musicals by the Turn of the Millennium, and Disney finds some new stiff competition ahead. As All-CGI Cartoon films started to become the norm (thanks to said competition and an increasingly-celebrated studio Disney initially partnered up with and would later buy outright), Disney tried to get more creative with their storytelling as traditionally animated films begin to lose relevance.
  1. Fantasia 2000 (December 17, 1999 in limited release/January 1, 2000 in wide release)* — The follow-up to Fantasia, this return to the Animated Anthology format features seven new segments set to classical music, along with the return of Mickey's famous broom-enchanting moment from the original. It's also the first animated film initially released in IMAX theaters.
  2. Dinosaur (May 19, 2000) — A live-action-CGI hybrid about an Iguanodon who was found and adopted by lemurs. Their island home gets destroyed by meteors and they join a herd of other displaced animals to make their way to literally greener pastures. It's not considered part of the Canon in Europe, where The Wild (2006) takes its place.
  3. The Emperor's New Groove (December 15, 2000) — A spoiled Incan emperor gets turned into a llama by his elderly-beyond-belief advisor and gets dumped in the jungle. He and a hefty, but kind peasant must make their ways through the South American jungle in the most humorous ways possible so the emperor can become human, reclaim his throne, and hopefully gain some humility along the way. This movie's Troubled Production was well documented.
  4. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (June 15, 2001) — A young linguist goes on a journey with a rag-tag team to find the lost civilization of Atlantis. As he helps the dying and underdeveloped society rediscover their written language, he finds that his compatriots in the expedition team have other plans.
  5. Lilo & Stitch (June 21, 2002) — Chris Sanders tells an original tale about an eccentric orphaned Hawaiian girl who adopts a mischievous artificial alien criminal (that Sanders voices) mistaking him to be a "dog". The alien uses her for protection at first, but then he learns to care about her thanks to her beliefs in ʻohana, the Hawaiian concept of extended family. The first entry to be nominated for Best Animated Feature, and the Experimental Era's biggest success.note 
  6. Treasure Planet (November 27, 2002) — Treasure Island IN SPACE! and a personal pet project for Renaissance-era directors John Musker and Ron Clements, who spent 16 years trying to get it made. That's all you need to know, really.
  7. Brother Bear (November 1, 2003) — An Inuit man kills a bear to avenge the death of his eldest brother. Displeased spirits, including that of his brother's, transform him into a bear as punishment. As he heads towards a certain mountain so he can change back into a human, he encounters and later bonds with a young orphaned cub along the way, gaining a new perspective on life.
  8. Home on the Range (April 2, 2004) — Three cows save their tiny farm from being bought out by a yodeling cowboy with a bounty on his head. It was the last traditionally-animated film until December 11, 2009, and also one of at least six bombs in 2004 that derailed CEO Michael Eisner's Disney career.
  9. Chicken Little (November 11, 2005) — A chicken who falsely claimed one time that the sky was falling later finds the sky to be actually falling, except that it turns out to be the start of an alien invasion. Disney's first true CGI movie done without Pixar and the last movie with a variation of the original Walt Disney Pictures logo.
  10. Meet the Robinsons (March 30, 2007) — Loosely based on a William Joyce picture book, a young orphan inventor heads thirty years into the future where he meets a bizarre family. Meanwhile, a crazed Manchild and his robotic bowler hat chase him down in hopes of taking credit for his inventions. The last entry to be distributed by Buena Vista, and the first to include a Vanity Plate for Walt Disney Animation Studios alongside the opening and closing Disney logos.
  11. Bolt (November 21, 2008) — A dog who is a superhero on television — and believes he is one in reality — ends up separated by his owner in the world outside the stage where he doesn't have powers. He travels cross-country with an alley cat and a superfan hamster in hopes of reuniting with them. The first entry distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures after Buena Vista was reorganized into that label. It's debated whether this film is the end of the "Post-Renaissance"/Experimental Era, or the beginning of the Disney Revival.

The Disney Revival

After Disney bought Pixar, they made Pixar Regular John Lasseter the CCO of the newly-rechristened Walt Disney Animation Studios. Thanks to his guidance, the studio would make their second comeback, making critically acclaimed blockbusters again (albeit, with CGI this time).
  1. The Princess and the Frog (December 11, 2009) — Inspired by E. D. Baker's The Frog Princess (itself inspired by "The Frog Prince"), a hard-working woman in 1920s New Orleans hopes to buy her own restaurant, but she then meets a jazz-loving prince turned into a frog by a voodoo man. She gets affected by the curse as well, and the two Bewitched Amphibians journey through the Louisiana bayou in hopes of lifting their spell. This was the first traditionally-animated film after 2004, and is usually considered the beginning of the Disney Revival. This is also the final film released during the life of Walt's nephew Roy E. Disney, who served various positions for the company over the years, finally becoming a Director Emeritus from 2005-2009.
  2. Tangled (November 24, 2010) — A girl with incredibly long hair stuck in a tower meets a (supposedly) Loveable Rogue who brings her to the outside world, where she learns that she's the long-missing princess of a kingdom. Disney released a rather nifty video to celebrate its milestone as the fifty mark.
  3. Winnie the Pooh (July 15, 2011) — Pooh Bear and his friends misunderstand a letter sent by their good friend Christopher Robin and go out to save him from a monster. Disney's last traditionally-animated film to date, and not part of the Canon in the United Kingdom, of all places.
  4. Wreck-It Ralph (November 2, 2012) — A video game Punch-Clock Villain tires of his lot in life and goes across various other games in his arcade to become a good guy. A nice aversion to Video-Game Movies Suck notable for having guest appearances by characters from other video game companies (such as Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog).
  5. Frozen (November 27, 2013) — A tale Inspired by... Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen where a queen with uncontrollable ice powers runs off when her powers are revealed to her people, unintentionally starting an Endless Winter on her kingdom. Her younger sister goes out to find her in hopes of thawing the kingdom and reuniting with her. The first canon film to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and currently the most financially successful animated film of all time, becoming the first film in the canon to gross a billion dollars worldwide.
  6. Big Hero 6 (November 7, 2014) — Based on Man of Action's Marvel Comics series, a young prodigy boy who lives In a World... 20 Minutes into the Future where East and West culture is blended together loses his older brother to a fire. When a city is under the threat of a mysterious mask-wearing criminal, the prodigy forms a superhero team consisting of himself, a robot his brother was working on, and the late older brother's four best friends to save their city. The second canon film to have won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
  7. Zootopia (March 4, 2016) — In a World of Funny Animals, a rabbit moves to the big city to become a police officer. When her overambitions almost get her fired, she and a fox con artist solve a missing persons case that unveils a conspiracy, one that also shows just how much Fantastic Racism there is among the city's citizens, including the bunny cop herself. The third canon film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the second-highest grossing film in the canon thus far, and the second to gross a billion dollars worldwide.
  8. Moana (November 23, 2016) — A Polynesian chief's daughter ventures out into the great ocean to save her island from an impending darkness that threatens her tribe's livelihood, getting the help of a demigod in order to do.

    Upcoming films 
Films slated for release:

    Franchises based on films in the Canon 
Technically, a lot of Disney's animated films have been spun off into franchises, of course. However, we are only listing the ones that we made franchise pages for here, so far (organized into chronological order based on their first films or when they were officially established):

    Cancelled films 
Films that, for one reason or another, never came to be:

  • The Wizard of Oz (the studio did some conceptual art for it shortly after Snow White but it was canceled in pre-production after MGM released their own version, which was greenlit after Snow White's success. Incidentally, Disney would much later release an "unofficial" sequel and prequel to the MGM version.)
  • Chanticleer (eventually retooled into Robin Hood; some elements of the story migrated into Don Bluth's Rock-A-Doodle)
  • The Gremlins (Based on Roald Dahl's book. Questions of whether plane sabotaging creatures could be made sympathetic and development running late into the war leading to a cancellation due to possibly becoming dated. Some Gremlins would later appear in the 2010 video game Epic Mickey.)
  • Don Quixote (just like several other attempts to adapt that story into a movie have been cancelled)
  • Fraidy Cat (a homage to the work of Alfred Hitchcock focused around house pets, was supposed to be Ron Clement's and John Muskers' next film after Treasure Planet)
  • Wild Life (a Pygmalion-type story about a nightclub recruiting a singing zoo elephant to hype into the next big thing to discredit a critic, cancelled due to concerns about more mature content)
  • My Peoples (Loose Appalachian set adaptation of The Canterville Ghost, cancelled due to the closure of the Florida studio, which was the only one making the movie)
  • Fantasia 2006 (due to shifting management; several shorts were completed and released separately)
  • Mort (Disney couldn't get the adaptation rights, which were sold as one large package rather than individually)
  • The Search For Mickey Mouse (Was going to be Disney's first Crossover of all their characters, centering around Mickey getting kidnapped and Minnie recruiting a group to find him. It was also going to be their 50th animated film until new management restructured everything.)
  • Sequels were planned for films such as The Jungle Booknote  and Bambinote  during earlier phases, though didn't get past early production stages (allegedly due to Walt not being a fan of sequels). Actual follow ups were made much later on, though are not made part of Disney canon. A Tangled sequel was also considered at one point.
    • In their line of Direct-to-Video sequels, Disney had plans to make Dumbo 2, The Jungle Book 3, The Aristocats 2, Chicken Little 2note , and Meet the Robinsons 2. Dumbo 2 was in on-and-off development for a while (even though it was promoted on the 2001 DVD of Dumbo) before being cancelled altogether, while The Jungle Book 3 was cancelled after the under-performance of The Jungle Book 2. The remaining three projects were cancelled under order of John Lasseter after Walt Disney Animation Studios was given control over DisneyToon Studios (the division making the sequels) in 2007.
  • Kingdom of the Sun, an Inca-era prince and the pauper type Animated Musical, which was later retooled into The Emperor's New Groove, and the subject of the documentary The Sweatbox.
  • King of the Elves, based on the book by Phillip K. Dick. Chris Williams was to direct this film. Was announced in 2008 and was scheduled for a 2012 release, then got pushed to 2013, and then finally ended up getting shelved.
  • Gigantic, a film that would have adapted Jack and the Beanstalk and have it set during the Age of Discovery in Spain. It was delayed by two years, from 2018 to 2020, before being permanently shelved.

    Live-action remakes 
Over the years, Disney's own live-action studio Walt Disney Pictures has produced remakes of the animated films.

They have also produced more loosely related live-action versions which aren't quite remakes of the animated films:

In 1997, Walt Disney Television produced a telefilm adaptation of Cinderella for The Wonderful World of Disney, starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, though it was based on a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical instead of the animated film.

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