For every Pinocchio and Peter Pan, there’s a Pete’s Dragon and Darkwing Duck. Some Disney movies and TV shows are only beloved by a few, or have been somewhat lost to time under the House of Mouse’s watch. The imminent arrival of Disney Plus, however, will thrust some of the more overlooked and underappreciated offerings from Disney’s vault back into the limelight, including some of the properties hoovered up by the company's myriad of takeovers in recent years.
If you want a shortcut to the rough diamonds and hidden gems tucked away in the full 600-strong Disney Plus catalogue before the streaming service’s November 12 release date, you could do a lot worse than jotting down these 10 movies and series – each of which will be there on day one.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
One of the more recent entries on this list, Atlantis: The Lost Empire was Disney’s first-ever sci-fi original, and it pulled out all the stops to present a fully-realised world of Atlantis, complete with its own fictional language and beautiful art style. Disney never, ever does things by halves.
Despite flopping at the box-office, Atlantis is a movie that gets better with age. Its ensemble cast bounce off each other with gleeful abandon during the movie’s breezy 96-minute runtime and the plot, centred around the thematic tussle of nature vs. technology, ends in a climactic battle far more entertaining than Avatar’s efforts nearly a decade later. As soon as you fire Disney Plus up, seek this out.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Take the best bits of Mary Poppins and make an entire film out of them – if that was Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ mission statement, it passed with flying colours. The whimsical fantasy starts with a search for a spell and expertly meshes the live-action cast together with bombastic animated sequences. A particular highlight being the final act Locomotion scene, which puts a legion of Nazis firmly in their place with Disney’s trademark blend of magic and wonder.
Another Disney product that was eons ahead of its time, Darkwing Duck took the Duck Tales formula of madcap, kinetic action and added a dash of superhero sauce into the mix. Enter mild-mannered Drake Mallard, by night Darkwing Duck. What followed was a criminally underrated series that wasn’t afraid to poke fun at the genre it so playfully imitated, while also standing tall as one of the best original comic book-style series of the ‘90s. That’s no mean feat.
Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy
Empire of Dreams is a methodical, frequently enlightening look at the original Star Wars trilogy that kickstarted all things a galaxy far, far away. This isn’t just the inside story of the well-known names in the franchise, either. Everyone from the stunt crew, to the makeup team, and beyond gets their due. Neither before or since has there been such a well-measured tribute to the greatest of sci-fi franchises.
Disney sequels, by their very nature, seem almost absurd. How, then, was a follow-up to the utterly unique Fantasia ever supposed to work? Disney almost never retreats to the same well – and hardly ever successfully captures lightning in a bottle the second time around.
Yet, Fantasia 2000 does so successfully. Tucked in-between the iconic Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a smattering of new animated stories set to classical music that work just as well for children who want to be captivated for 90 minutes as those who want a slice of classic Disney animation, just before hand-drawn animation completely went the way of the dodo.
Gargoyles’ premise doesn’t quite do it justice. A group of gargoyles are re-awoken after 1000 years in what is now modern-day New York and, there, they must deal with the changing times as well as looming supernatural threats.
It may sound too silly for some tastes, but skip over this and you’re missing out on a cartoon series that’s almost as dark and brooding as its contemporary, Batman: The Animated Series, while maintaining a throughline of heavy themes and hard-hitting action across its 70-plus episode run.
Pete's Dragon (1977)
No, not the ill-fated 2016 remake. This '70s cult classic contains more character and charm in one dragon’s tooth than the 21st Century ‘reimagining’ has in its entire runtime.
The film centres around Elliott, a sometimes-invisible bumbling dragon that assists Pete to in helping him escape from the brutish Gogans. Along the way there’s a handful of instantly-hummable songs, as well as a surprisingly passable live-action/animation hybrid scenes. It all ends in a bittersweet ending that will leave a lump in your throat long after the credits have rolled.
Before X-Men: The Animated Series and a bunch of other superhero cartoons became a fixture of Saturday morning TV, the Spider-Woman series from 1979 managed to swing ahead and forge its own path.
Surprisingly progressive for its time, the Jessica Drew-led show sometimes featured cameos from Spider-Man and other superheroes, yet Spider-Woman was always the star of the show. It also retains some classic Silver Age campiness and blends it with an often weird, always entertaining look at a character that (hopefully) becomes more prominent in future Marvel properties.
The Black Hole
The last of the great post-Star Wars space blockbusters from its era, The Black Hole may not have been a big box-office hit but deserves to be revisited just for the sheer moxie of its ending alone. No spoilers here, but its use of low-fi special effects and surreal imagery means it rivals 2001: A Space Odyssey for pure strangeness during the final act. It also stars the late Robert Forster, should you want to watch one of his more underappreciated works.
The Great Muppet Caper
It’s no A Muppet Christmas Carol but, hey, what is? The Great Muppet Caper still delivers on all fronts: it’s first and foremost a confidently-directed vehicle for puppet slapstick and too-clever-for-kids running gags, but it’s also a serviceable musical and an opportunity to see some famous faces – such as John Cleese and Diana Rigg – send themselves up all in the name of the typical beloved Muppet mayhem.
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