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3 Underrated Disney Movies You Probably Forgot About

Let’s be real – who doesn’t love a good Disney movie? We’ve all grown up watching the iconic classics, playing Disney Princess with our friends, and begging our parents to take us to Disney World. The Disney animated canon has a total of 56 films so far, from “Snow White” to “Moana”, and between those two are many movies we all know and love, but also a bunch that aren’t so well known. Here are just a few forgotten Disney flicks that are worth a look.

“The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” (1949)

The 1940s were an interesting era for Disney. Back in 1937, the studio had a massive, unexpected success with “Snow White”, the first animated feature film ever made. In the following years they continued to produce classics like “Pinocchio” and “Bambi”, but when the U.S. entered the Second World War in late 1941, many Disney animators were drafted, and the remaining talent focused on making propaganda films to boost public morale. Disney no longer had the manpower or money to make feature films as they had in the past, but to keep the tradition afloat, they began releasing package films, which were basically collections of animated shorts pieced together into a feature-length movie. Even after the war ended, Disney would continue making package films for the rest of the decade as they worked to get back on their feet, finally returning to their former glory with “Cinderella” in 1950.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” was the very last of the package films and is made up of two segments. The first is an adaptation of the classic children’s book “The Wind in the Willows”, and not gonna lie, the plot on this one is a little hard to explain. Basically, the wealthy but irresponsible Mr. Toad becomes obsessed with owning a car and all sorts of shenanigans happen after he gets mixed up with some shady weasels in order to get one. Despite the convoluted plot, it’s honestly a really funny, creative, energetic short. The second segment is an adaptation of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, in which a superstitious schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane arrives in a village rumored to be haunted by a headless horseman. Ichabod ends up competing with the town hero Brom Bones for the affections of the local rich girl Katrina van Tassel, only to vanish after an encounter with the headless horseman himself. This short is probably my favorite of the two because of the great art design, perfectly vintage music, and some serious spookiness at the climax of the story. “Ichabod and Mr. Toad” is definitely different from most of our Disney favorites, but it’s a unique, clever, light-hearted movie, and a good representation of a very different era for both Disney and the country.

“The Black Cauldron” (1985)

This might be one of Disney’s most obscure movies, and you’ll be hard-pressed to see the company acknowledge it all. Other obscure movies aren’t ignored the same way this one is – even “Song of the South”, which is kind of an embarrassment for Disney nowadays, is featured in the parks as the inspiration behind Splash Mountain, which is more than “The Black Cauldron” gets. It took over a decade after its theatrical release for Disney to release it on home video, and this was only after it had become something of a cult classic and fans begged to see it on VHS. So, what’s up with this movie? Why does Disney seem to want to leave it in the past?

To start, the animation studio was seriously struggling during this film’s production and had been since the late 60s. Walt Disney died in 1966, his brother, Roy, died a few years later, and many of the original animators began to retire, leaving the company without a sense of direction. Don Bluth, who had been a promising new talent, left Disney in 1979 and took many of his fellow animators with him to start his own company, sending the studio into even more of a tailspin. Bluth would become Disney’s main rival in the 80s and was responsible for a few of our childhood favorites like “The Land Before Time” and “An American Tale”. Disney, meanwhile, hit rock bottom during this decade – and “The Black Cauldron” marked their absolute lowest point. Originally envisioned as a revolutionary movie that would revitalize the studio, “The Black Cauldron” – which at this point was the most expensive animated film Disney had ever produced – flopped, and flopped hard. It failed to make a profit and nearly killed the animation department entirely. But does it really deserve to be so ignored by Disney today?

“The Black Cauldron” is based on a series of fantasy novels called “The Prydain Chronicles”. It’s about a farm boy, a princess, and a minstrel who team up to stop the Horned King from using a magical black cauldron to unleash an army of the undead. Right off the bat, it’s pretty weird. “The Black Cauldron” is far from perfect – the characters aren’t as well-rounded or memorable as other Disney creations, and there are some strange, cringe-worthy moments. But all the bizarreness and extreme 80s vibes make it kind of fun to watch today, and it features a truly scary villain and some impressive animation. In my opinion, it’s really not the complete disaster it’s sometimes seen as, and worth a watch if you want to see a fascinating piece of Disney history.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996)

Okay, so this one isn’t as obscure as the other two. But if we’re looking at the quality of the movie compared to how much recognition it gets, I’d say “Hunchback” is Disney’s most underrated film just because the quality is so damn high. It was made during the Disney Renaissance of the 90s after the company had recovered from the struggles of the 80s and produced huge hits like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King”. “Hunchback” came at the tail end of the Renaissance, and though it’s not as well-remembered as other movies from that era, it’s one of my favorite Disney movies ever.

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” tells the story of the deformed Quasimodo, who lives in the bell tower of Notre Dame cathedral under the control of his master Judge Frollo. When Quasimodo dares to leave the cathedral for a festival, he meets a gypsy named Esmeralda and falls in love with her. But things get complicated when Frollo becomes fixated on Esmeralda too, and because of his hatred of the gypsies, he becomes convinced that Esmeralda is a witch who has cast a spell on him and sets out to destroy her.

The themes in this movie are pretty heavy – it deals with racism, ableism, religious hypocrisy, and obsession, which are not exactly what Disney usually tackles. When I watched “Hunchback” as a kid, all this stuff flew right over my head, but watching it as an adult is a whole different experience. The heroes are some of Disney’s most likable, while the villain is both Disney’s most despicable and most complex. I can’t deny that this is kind of a weird movie, and it’s not without its flaws. But when it works, it really, really works. Everything from the music, to the animation, to the voice-acting, to the storytelling is incredible. It’s a powerful, sometimes disturbing story for sure, but those elements are still blended with that good ol’ uplifting Disney magic. This movie is one of Disney’s very best, and it definitely deserves as much hype as its fellow Renaissance classics.

Claire Delano is a senior at the College of Charleston and the President of Her Campus CofC. Her work has also appeared in Frolic Media, WORDY by Nature, Chapel Hill Magazine, and others. You can visit her personal website here: https://clairedelano.wixsite.com/mysite.
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