20. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
The film: It takes a lot for some people to learn their lesson. Say, being transformed into a llama. That’s the fate that befalls the selfish, egotistical Kuzco, who makes an enemy of his royal adviser Yzma. She plans to poison him and take the throne for herself. Unfortunately, she has a rather unfortunate taste in henchman and the hapless Kronk accidentally swaps the vial of poison with a vial of transforming potion. Only after Kuzco faces the consequences of his actions will he finally be able to turn back.
Why it’s worth a watch: The early 2000s are too easily dismissed as an era of creative bankruptcy for Disney. The Emperor’s New Groove (and one other film on this list list) prove otherwise. The film is fun, zippy, and genuinely funny in a way that feels worlds apart from the epics of the Disney Renaissance - and that’s refreshing in its own way. And how could you possibly shun a movie where Eartha Kitt pays a villain who looks likes a decrepit, centuries-old peacock come to life?
19. Frozen (2013)
The film: Frozen tells the story of two sisters, Anna and Elsa, who become estranged from each other after their parents’ death and from all the years Elsa has been kept isolated – all because she possesses ice powers she struggles to control. With the help of a kind-hearted ice harvester named Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, alongside a magical snowman named Olaf, the two sisters save the kingdom of Arendelle and discover the key to their special bond.
Why it’s worth a watch: The best example of the modern Disney princess, Elsa and Anna’s stories don’t prioritise getting rescued or finding some Prince Charming. It’s their relationship that remains at the heart of everything, offering a touching tribute to the power of sisterly love. Plus, the way Idina Menzel belts out “Let it Go” has given us an anthem for the ages. With Frozen II opening in cinemas son, there’s no better time to revisit what will soon be considered a modern classic of animation.
18. Inside Out (2015)
The film: What if your emotions had a emotions? That’s the question at the centre of Inside Out, the most thematically ambitious of all Pixar’s movies. We jump inside the head of Riley, an 11-year-old girl, and meet its colourful inhabitants: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. They’re struggling to guide Riley through the major changes that come from moving halfway across the country, after her parents relocate her from Minnesota to San Francisco.
Why it’s worth a watch: What’s so profound about Inside Out is how director Pete Docter and his team found a way to directly and elegantly talk to children about depression and the necessary role that sadness has to play in our lives. It’s not just an entertaining film, but an effective therapeutic tool (that extends beyond just children, considering it has a reputation for causing grown adults to start blubbering away).
17. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
The film: Part of the great '90s trend of turning literary classics into teen comedies (including Clueless and She’s All That), 10 Things I Hate About You reimagines Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in an American high school. A Shakespeare comedy isn’t a Shakespeare comedy without an elaborate scheme – Cameron tries to woo Bianca, but her father has ruled that she can only date once her antisocial, rebellious older sister Kat does. And so, local bad boy Patrick is enlisted to help seduce Kat and overrun the rule.
Why it’s worth a watch: It’s all about Heath Ledger, as Patrick, running up and down the school bleachers while serenading Kat with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. The film is filled with the sort goofy romanticism that teens absolutely adore, although just as deserving of a shout-out is Julia Stiles’ Kat and her own big scene, where she tearfully recites an achingly earnest poem about love.
16. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The film: After being plunged into the stop-motion imaginarium of Tim Burton (although the film, in truth, was actually directed by Henry Selick), we follow Jack Skellington, otherwise known as the Pumpkin King and the most heralded resident of Halloween Town. One day, he stumbles into the portal to “Christmas Town” and becomes fixated on the holiday, recruiting his ghoulish friends to help him become the new “Sandy Claws“ and deliver toys to the world.
Why it’s worth a watch: The Nightmare Before Christmas serves double duty as a holiday classic, since it works for both Halloween and Christmas – meaning it can be enjoyed at any point between September and January. It’s also one of the finest examples of Burton’s trademark blend of Gothic styling and fairytale sensibility, where the strange and unusual are not only celebrated, but represent the new norm.
15. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
The film: Lilo, who’s under the guardianship of her adult sister after the death of their parents, is in for the surprise of a lifetime when her newly adopted dog, who she names Stitch, actually turns out to be the highly dangerous Experiment 626. He’s an alien genetically bred to be a tool of pure destruction. And while Stitch might not fit in at first, he soon discovers the real meaning of “ohana”, or family.
Why it’s worth a watch: Out of all of Disney’s animated movies, very few have a message as grounded in reality as Lilo & Stitch. It teaches kids that families come in all shapes and sizes, are functional and dysfunctional, or are bound by blood or by friendship – that doesn't mean they’re any less legitimate. Not only is Stitch as adorable as can be, but he also issues the film’s most heartbreaking piece of dialogue: “This is my family. I found it, all on my own. It's little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.”
14. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The film: The story here is pretty much the same as Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella, you just need to swap out most of the humans for felt puppets. On Christmas Eve, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is given a brutal lesson in human compassion, as he’s visited upon by three ghosts; the Ghost of Christmas Past (creepy), the Ghost of Christmas Present (jolly), and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (not here to mess around), We all know how it ends.
Why it’s worth a watch: Although Muppet Treasure Island will always have its fans, The Muppet Christmas Carol is considered by many to be not only as the best Muppets movie, but one of the greatest holiday movies ever made. It captures the touching, inward-looking sentiment of the original book, while still throwing in plenty of irreverent humour to keep things feeling festive.
13. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
The film: The city of Monstropolis has found its own source of renewable energy: the screams of children. Sulley and his best friend Mike work at the local factory as scarers, using portals to sneak into children’s bedrooms and harvest their terror so they can help power the city. One day, a little girl manages to escape and is let loose on Monstropolis, as Sulley and Mike take it upon themselves to get her home safe.
Why it’s worth a watch: The brilliance of pitting John Goodman and Billy Crystal against each other makes Monsters, Inc an ingenious throwback to all of the most classic of double acts. But the film isn’t just silliness for silliness’ sake, and, in true Pixar tradition, it’s got a heart of gold at its centre in the form of Boo, the lost girl. She forms a close bond with Sulley, who she calls “Kitty”. It’s a reminder to us all that the fear of the other is an entirely irrational thing.
12. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
The film: The story takes place in an alternate version of 40s Hollywood were cartoon characters are real, breathing entities, but remain an oppressed minority – exploited for their work and forced to live in the segregated borough of Toontown. One of the biggest toon stars, Roger Rabbit, is falsely accused of the murder of studio head R.K. Maroon. He turns to Detective Eddie Valiant, a jaded alcoholic, in an attempt to clear his name and uncover the sinister secret lurking in the shadows.
Why it’s worth a watch: Roger Rabbit doesn’t use its mix of live-action and animation as some kind of flashy gimmick, but as a tool to create a rich, believable world that brilliantly parodies the noir genre. It dances on the edge of risqué without alienating its family audience, thanks to its femme fatale Jessica Rabbit (who’s not bad, just drawn that way) and the gruesome effects of Dip. It was also the first time that Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse crossed party lines and appeared onscreen together.
11. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
The film: Based on the Charles Perrault fairytale, while also incorporating music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet of the same name, Sleeping Beauty sees a beautiful young princess named Aurora targeted by a curse from the evil fairy Maleficent. Before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and be consumed by an endless sleep. The only way the curse can be lifted is through the power of true love’s kiss.
Why it’s worth a watch: It’s the most beautiful Disney film ever made, with an animation style modelled after medieval tapestries and illuminated manuscripts. And thanks to the classical touch in the film’s score, the final film feels so elegant and refined - it’s a swoon worthy dream just like the one Aurora sings of, where she’s united with her handsome prince. Add to that, Maleficent’s cackle and haughty air (she only unleashes the curse because she’s offended she wasn’t invited to the christening) makes her an all-time great among the Disney villains.