The 32 greatest Disney movie moments

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Since the release of its 1937 feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney has been synonymous with timeless storytelling and quality craftsmanship. While it’s true that not everything ever made from the studio are seismic hits, there’s no dispute that Disney is a name known worldwide. It’s for good reason. Because for many years, Disney has made movies that have brought families together. Reader, reader of the screen: What Disney movie moments are the fairest to be seen?

Originally sourcing its movies from Grimm fairy tales and European folklore, Disney has since expanded its vast kingdom to tell (and re-tell) stories from all realms, from mythologies and oral histories to even comic books. In celebration of the studio’s own continued story, these are the 32 greatest Disney movie moments of all time. (A quick word: We’re excluding movies from Pixar, because that’s a category all on its own.)

32. Mulan Takes Her Father’s Place (Mulan)


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Simply reading the premise of Disney’s Mulan, loosely based on the Chinese folk heroine, is enough to stir feelings through its themes of family, duty, and honor. But to actually see the moment Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) takes her father’s place in the army and disguises herself as a man is something else. Set against a dramatic thunderstorm, Mulan does what no Disney princess before her had ever done – take up arms – and the resulting scene is an exquisite portrait of heroism and bravery, all coming from love for the people who matter most.

31. The Rocketeer Blasts Off (The Rocketeer)

The Rocketeer

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Before The Avengers assembled under Disney’s vast empire, it had the Rocketeer, an original superhero from creator Dave Stevens. In Joe Johnston’s 1991 film version of Stevens’ comic, The Rocketeer (played by Billy Campbell) takes off into the skies for the first time to rescue a pilot in an air show that’s gone wrong. While the visual effects are comparatively primitive to what’s seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the entire sequence is still a hoot, being an affectionate and nostalgic throwback to the Golden Age of superheroes.

30. Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride (Lilo & Stitch)

Lilo & Stitch

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There’s no better cure for a sour face than a couple of boards and some choice waves. In one of Disney’s few non-musical animated hits Lilo & Stitch, dejected sisters Nani and Lilo have run out of time for Nani to find a job and thus protect Lilo from being taken away into the foster system. As the sun sets, the sisters – plus hunky David, and rabid pet alien Stitch – opt to forget their troubles and hang ten, allowing every wave to take them from the troubles that await on land. Powered by the bubbly platinum-hit song “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride,” this unforgettable scene shows what it means to surf with the ocean rather than to swim against the current.

29. Hellfire (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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Any Disney movie musical is sure to have a killer “villain” song. But Frollo’s song “Hellfire” is like no other. Rooted in the hypocrisy of pious men and inner conflict found in all who are devout in their chosen dogmas, “Hellfire” unveils the true and remarkably human motivations of the villainous Judge Claude Follo (Tony Jay). Haunted by fiery spirits and looming hooded clergy, Frollo sings of his regretful lust for beautiful Esmeralda (voiced by Demi Moore), revealing a man who isn’t hellbent on amassing cosmic powers or dominion over kingdoms. Instead, he’s just a man who wants a woman. And because he can’t have her, then no one can. How frightening, and for many people, how tragically familiar.

28. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Fantasia)


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Truly, almost all of Fantasia qualifies as a great moment for Disney. While classical music was traditionally popular with early 20th century animation, Fantasia was different in that it imagined a more serious tone unlike the slapstick comedy common in more conventional cartoons. But the centerpiece short of Fantasia is also the best and arguably most definitive of Disney’s storytelling magic. We’re talking, of course, about “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” where Mickey Mouse is tasked with a chore by his wizard master Yen Sid and his plan to shortcut the work creates a, ahem, flood of problems. It’s not only beautiful to watch, it’s also funny, cute, and enlightening, with its chief lesson – there’s no substitute for hard work – resonating when Mickey silently and sullenly finally does what he was told to do.

27. Swinging Through the Trees (Tarzan)


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The Disney Renaissance is full of technically dazzling films that made us all go, “You can do that in a cartoon?” In 1999, Disney released Tarzan, based on the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs story with impossibly great music from Phil Collins. Closing off its first act that shows how a baby boy grows up into a man raised by apes, an adult Tarzan swings from vine to vine and “surfs” through the trees high above in an astonishing feat of animated filmmaking. It’s barely 20 seconds long, but it’s still a show-stopper as the culmination of a century’s worth of industry evolution and a tiny bit of computer effects to foreshadow the coming future of the new century.

26. Heigh Ho! (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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Let me guess: You have it stuck in your head now. The introduction of the titular Seven Dwarfs who come to support the beautiful Snow White are memorably introduced inside a jewel mine, picking and clawing out priceless jewels and singing about it with a catchy jingle. What’s most important is how the Seven Dwarfs are individually introduced, not with lyrics that call attention to themselves but simply how they act and behave all throughout. (Dopey, natch, is the heart and soul of the entire thing.) For many, “Heigh Ho!” is how people learned to whistle. 

25. Goodbye, Baymax (Big Hero 6)

Big Hero 6

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Originating as a mighty obscure Marvel Comics title, Big Hero 6 shows how some of that precious Disney touch can create some real magic. In Big Hero 6, teen genius Hiro honors his late brother Tadashi by outfitting his creation, a huggable medical robot assistant named Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit), into a butt-kicking superhero. But at the end of the movie, Baymax offers to sacrifice himself to save Hiro, with his signature question – “Are you satisfied with your care?” – taking on deeper meaning. Credit to Scott Adsit for a remarkably human voiceover performance.

24. The Hair Flip (The Little Mermaid)

The Little Mermaid

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At the dawn of Disney’s rebirth period came The Little Mermaid, setting a new standard of quality for Disney movies. While The Little Mermaid is chock full of amazing moments under the sea – including an all-time great villain song “Poor Unfortunate Souls” – there’s one eight-second bit that has fostered a lifetime of imagination. When a changed Ariel (with two legs) swims to the surface for the first time, she flips her hair back, the glistening of the splashing water indistinguishable from the magic that has totally altered her body. Between the scene’s realistic lighting and overall visual majesty, what you have is a moment that encapsulates how much beauty and magic are inextricably linked.

23. Carrying the Banner (Newsies)


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The opening number of Disney’s pro-union musical Newsies is the platonic ideal for all cinematic musicals. It not only sets the expectations for all of its musical stylings – in this case, jazzy ragtime of the late 1890s – it also tells a story about the daily life of overworked orphans struggling every day under the oppressive thumb of crony capitalism. It’s catchy, it’s lively, the choreography is legitimately impressive, and it never sounds the same for the whole five minutes. A major plus: It has a very young, pre-Batman Christian Bale flexing his talents as a future movie star.

22. Savages! (Pocahontas)


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A thunderous war song underscored by the ways racial prejudice makes barbarians of us all, the “Savages” number in Disney’s Pocahontas lives up to the word “epic” even if the world isn’t at stake. While history rightfully asserts that European colonization has done more harm than good, as far as a Disney movie is concerned, Pocahontas boasts striking visual metaphors that unsubtly suggest how our tribalistic tendencies render us inhuman. Observe how the white settlers are lit red by their raging fire, all whilst singing about the inhuman “red” Indians – and how the Native Americans, painted blue in the pale moonlight, warn about the violence of pale men. We could all benefit from a little introspection.

21. Bette Midler Puts a Spell on You (Hocus Pocus)

Hocus Pocus

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When the spooky season comes along, there’s nothing better than boogying down with three Salem witches. Hocus Pocus is a Halloween classic for all the obvious reasons, but Bette Midler has ensured its timeless quality through her big musical number “I Put a Spell on You,” which actually illustrates her villainy in a clever way. Not only is Winnie eerily adaptable to modern settings, she doesn’t even feel the need to hide exactly what she’s doing: casting a spell over the people. It’s horrifying because the people don’t mind, so long as you know how to put on a good show.

20. A Walk in Central Park (Enchanted)


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Before Disney developed a nasty habit of remaking all of its animated musicals into live-action movies, it satirized itself with that very idea with the 2007 hit musical Enchanted. Featuring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey, the movie affectionately pokes fun at Disney movie conventions, including spontaneous musical numbers with elaborate choreography. While “That’s How You Know” is a great song on its own, it gets a boost of entertainment from a flummoxed Robert (Dempsey), lost as to how everyone in Central Park knows how to sing in key and dance on cue.

19. Old Yeller Gets Rabies (Old Yeller)

Old Yeller

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Early Disney really had a thing for killing animals, didn’t it? As iconic as Bambi and The Lion King, Old Yeller is best remembered for the close friendship between teenage boy Travis (Tommy Kirk) and his dog, a Black Mouth Cur named Old Yeller, only for that friendship to end in painful tragedy. When Old Yeller develops rabies and becomes a hostile dog who horrifically snarls at the sight of any human, Travis included, it’s up to Travis to put him down. The movie is another example of Disney showing the ruthlessness of nature, and that even the best of bonds can be broken.

18. Talking About Bruno/Meeting Bruno (Encanto)


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Family shame mixes with Colombian melodies in one of the most memorable and mesmerizing Disney numbers of the 2020s. In the 2021 film Encanto, Maribel (Stephanie Beatriz) learns more about her estranged uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), a future-teller who is talked about only in hushed whispers. While the number, ludicrously catchy and groovy as it is, does an excellent job of setting Bruno up as another mystical Disney villain, the truth hits hard when Maribel actually meets him and discovers he’s just a man who wants to be part of his family. With its metaphors of mental illness and the ways families drown out their guilt with careless cruelty, Bruno ensures Encanto is more than just another run of the mill Disney movie musical.

17. Light Cycles (Tron)


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In a strange and exceptionally rare instance of outdated visual effects looking better with age, there is the 1982 sci-fi epic Tron. Directed by Steven Lisberger and featuring then-cutting-edge CGI, Tron takes place inside a virtual world where video game developer Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is transported into an arcade game and must physically compete in games – including a deadly light cycle race. Simultaneously the most 1980s-looking sequence imaginable and still ahead of its time, Tron made us all wish we could get on light cycles ourselves and ride to victory – or doom.

16. When You Wish Upon a Star (Pinnochio)


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Kicking off the Disney classic Pinnochio is the song that has quite literally defined Disney itself, functioning as the company’s signature theme motif for decades. At the start of Pinnochio, the credits are scored to colorful strings and an angelic choir before the deep voice of Cliff Edwards who sings to us: “When you wish upon a star/makes no difference who you are/anything your heart desires, will come to you.” It’s a sweet and sentimental idea that makes us want to believe that magic could be real, especially at times when we need to believe in it the most.

15. Bambi Survives (Bambi)


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Bambi was and is one of Disney’s greatest movies for a reason. Aside from its stunning storybook design and animation, its themes of love, death, and the uncontrollable chaos of the outside world are universally instructive to viewers too young to actually grasp what it means to lose somebody. While the moment Bambi dies is iconic to the point of spawning endless parodies, it’s still an important moment for the Disney canon in demonstrating how children’s entertainment doesn’t have to be devoid of meaning.

14. Elsa Lets It Go (Frozen)


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Sincere apologies to parents whose shell-shocked memories of Frozen fever we’ve just thawed out, but there’s no arguing the sheer impact that “Let It Go” had once upon a time. In the seismic 2013 Disney classic, Princess Elsa declares her individuality away from the suffocating glares of Arendelle by going to where they could never, ever bother her. Besides the fact that “Let It Go” is a stone cold karaoke banger, Elsa’s signature number is a true spectacle to behold, with gorgeous imagery centered around the instantaneous rise of Elsa’s private castle of ice.

13. A Whole New World (Aladdin)


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Don’t you dare close your eyes. One of the most unstoppable duet songs ever from Disney maestro Alan Menken, Jasmine (whose singing voice belongs to the incomparable Lea Salonga) and Aladdin’s breathtaking magic carpet ride around the world is a soaring sequence that just feels like the way falling in love with someone feels. It feels like flying, and there’s nothing else like it on Earth. With its sweeping lyricism and utterly romantic atmosphere, this scene takes you over, sideways, and under — to a dazzling new place you never knew.

12. Next Stop: Neverland (Peter Pan)

Peter Pan

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See enough Disney movies and you’ll begin to spot the same recurring ideas: orphaned animals, true love’s kiss, and of course, the magic of flying. In Peter Pan, Wendy and the kids are sprinkled with fairy dust by Peter Pan and take on the ability to fly. All they need to do is think happy thoughts. (Now wouldn’t that be nice for the rest of us?) While the scene may not impress modern audiences who are used to more technically sophisticated sequences, the scene is pure, quintessential Disney magic that is still timeless after all this time.

11. A Pirate’s Arrival (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl)

Pirates of the Caribbean

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There has simply never been another character like Captain Jack Sparrow, before or since. Played by Johnny Depp, this sun-kissed, rum-drunk rock star buccaneer makes his first appearance in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie fully-formed, wearing in his baggy eyes a lifetime of adventures. While Captain Jack is a sorrowful case of a good thing getting spoiled, there is still something ineffable in his debut appearance. May we all learn to disembark sinking ships with such nonchalance.

10. The “Bear” Necessities (The Jungle Book)

The Jungle Book

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You don’t get “Hakuna Matata” without learning about the bare necessities. In The Jungle Book, Mowlgi learns from the effortlessly chill Baloo (voiced by Phil Harris) the secret to living a full life: by having little complications in it. Though Baloo is literally teaching Mowgli how to survive off of Earth’s natural offerings, the song has a bigger meaning in instructing younger viewers how to have a more zen-like approach to modern living. Before Marie Kondo, before minimalist trends on TikTok, there was a dancing big bear who showed us how to look under the rocks and glance at the fancy ants.

9. Spaghetti Dinner for Two (Lady and the Tramp)

The Lady and the Tramp

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It’s so iconic and ubiquitous, but it still hasn’t lost its power. In the unforgettable dinner at Tony’s, Tramp takes Lady out for a candlelit Italian dinner, where they share an accidental smooch over spaghetti. Keep in mind the scene is entirely animated in the old school hand-drawn Disney style; from the dogs’ expressive, cherubic faces to the intimate warmth of a back alley dinner, everything about this moment just feels alive, pulsing with the thrill of budding romance.

8. A Tale as Old as Time (Beauty and the Beast)

Beauty and the Beast

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Putting aside any stray vibes of Stockholm syndrome, the ballroom scene between beautiful Belle and the beastly, well, Beast is still a Disney moment for the ages. As “Beauty and the Beast” is sung by the incomparable Angela Lansbury, Belle and Beast spin and twirl in an ornate golden ballroom, which is rendered by primitive, but no less impressive CGI. As a mixture of Diseny’s traditional animation and cutting-edge new disciplines, Beauty and the Beast shows that even tales as old as time can still find new ways to be told.

7. Colors of the Wind (Pocahontas)


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Arguably one of the most beautiful Disney musical numbers of all time, “Colors of the Wind” – sung by Judy Kuhn, as the singing voice of Pocahontas – tells multiple stories all at once. While primarily a lecture about nature preservation from Pocahontas’ point-of-view to John Smith, who is but a visitor to her homeland, the song slowly expands on a macro-scale to feel like a passionate plea from all to think more carefully about our relationship to this ancient and beautiful Earth. As Pocahontas puts it in the song: You can own the Earth, and still all you’ll own is Earth until you actually understand what it means to be one with it.

6. A Spoonful of Sugar (Mary Poppins)

Mary Poppins

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Just because you have to do something doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun along the way. In Mary Poppins, the impossibly beautiful Julie Andrews instructs the two children she babysits to take responsibility and clean their room. But she shows them how to do it with a smile, for a spoonful of sugar really helps the medicine go down. Props to Andrews for making this scene as wonderful as it is, whose upbeat energy perfectly matches the uptempo sound.

5. A Fairy Godmother’s Makeover (Cinderella)


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It’s a trope that has come to define Disney’s storybook fantasies, and it still works because it’s still so powerful to believe in. In Cinderella, the poor orphaned Disney princess laments missing out on the ball, only for her fairy godmother to come to a last-minute rescue. Not only is the moment Cinderella “puts on” her dress still a feat of technical filmmaking, but everything about screams timeless elegance. Plus, who wouldn’t want to ride into the hottest part of the year in a tricked-out pumpkin ride? It’s a moment that defines “belle of the ball.”

4. Slaying the Dragon (Sleeping Beauty)

Sleeping Beauty

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To anyone who thinks that old Disney movies are stuffy and boring and lacking action, think again. Prince Philip’s daring confrontation against Maleficent – in her fearsome form as a fire-breathing dragon – is still an exciting climactic match-up, and deeply formative for all RPGs and Soulsborne boss battles. Powered by George Bruns’ score and illuminated by swirling fires and thorny black branches, the climax of Sleeping Beauty is still one of the greatest ever.

3. True Love’s Kiss (Snow White)

Snow White

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Here’s something to remember for pub trivia: The first instance of “true love’s kiss” in a Disney movie was 1938’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. While a handful of other Disney princesses get smooched to break whatever curse ails them, Snow White was the first, with her kiss from Prince Charming ending the Wicked Queen’s spell. Beautifully animated for the screen through rotoscope technique, this moment from Snow White has undeniably resonated across generations. 

2. “And Then… I Got In” (Tron: Legacy)

Tron: Legacy

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Epic and ominous all at once, the opening of Tron: Legacy (the 2010 sequel to the 1982 original Tron) is awe-inspiring as it is spine-chilling. It’s not scary, but suggestive of worlds within worlds, of realities man can create and still be totally ignorant to its existence. Beyond that, the arresting use of contrasting colors – pitch black and neon pale blue – showed how anything old can be new again, and how “retro” is a fluid concept ready for redefinition. We haven’t even touched on Jeff Bridges’ slick narration that economically breaks down the story of the original Tron, nor the iconic soundtrack of Daft Punk as they effectively inspired the rebirth of synthwave. There’s no introduction to a Disney movie quite like Tron: Legacy, and that’s because it stands alone.

1. The Circle of Life (The Lion King)

The Lion King

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The Lion King is such a towering masterwork of the Disney library, you could write out a whole list of great moments from just the one movie alone. But narrowing things down to just one, there’s no debate over the movie’s prologue and epilogue, which is beautifully and simply put as “The Circle of Life.” Kicking off the movie on an arresting high note – with Zulu vocals sung by Lebo M – the sequence is a stunning blend of animation and wildlife documentary, as Africa’s kingdom of animals (more or less) behave exactly as they do in the wild. Punctuated by the motif of a rising sun, which casts a beautiful golden layer of sheen on all it touches, the sequence lives up to the word “majestic.” How fitting, for the birth of a new king.

Eric Francisco

Eric Francisco is a freelance entertainment journalist and graduate of Rutgers University. If a movie or TV show has superheroes, spaceships, kung fu, or John Cena, he's your guy to make sense of it. A former senior writer at Inverse, his byline has also appeared at Vulture, The Daily Beast, Observer, and The Mary Sue. You can find him screaming at Devils hockey games or dodging enemy fire in Call of Duty: Warzone.