Top 21 Best Disney Movies of Each Year



Top 21 Best Disney Movies of Each Year

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
Narrowing down the best DIsney movies of each year is no easy task. Our countdown includes "Finding Nemo," "Frozen," "Enchanted," and more!

Top 21 Best Disney Movies of Each Year

Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 21 Best Disney Movies of Each Year.

For this list, we’ll be going through 2000 to 2020, singling out the best Disney movie of each year. We’ll be including animated and live-action Disney films, as well as Pixar. However, we’re leaving off MCU and “Star Wars” flicks because that would make it WAY too hard to narrow things down.

What’s your favorite Disney movie of the past 21 years? Let us know in the comments.

2000: “The Emperor’s New Groove”

Originally envisioned as an epic musical take on “The Prince and the Pauper,” this film evolved into a buddy comedy about a peasant and an emperor-turned-llama. While we’ll always be curious about that original version, it’s hard to find fault in the cult classic we got. With fast-paced slapstick and sharp fourth wall breaks, “The Emperor’s New Groove” felt less like a traditional Disney film and more like a Warner Bros. cartoon. Makes sense, seeing how director Mark Dindal also made “Cat’s Don’t Dance.” Released on the heels of several heavy-handed Renaissance pictures, the film received mixed reviews upon release. In hindsight, however, it was a breath of fresh air that allowed Disney animators to get silly and score some of the studio’s biggest laughs.

2001: “Monsters, Inc.”

Speaking of unconventional Disney films,“Atlantis: The Lost Empire” was another one that took time to develop its cult following. “Monsters, Inc.,” meanwhile, was a certified hit coming out of the gate, continuing Pixar’s winning streak. This film pulls back the emerald curtain - or we guess the wooden door - revealing what monsters do when they aren’t frightening children. The explanation that Pixar gives us is inventive and endlessly charming, and at the center is one of animation’s most memorable duos. It’s the dynamic between John Goodman’s Sulley and Billy Crystal’s Mike that made “Monsters, Inc.” an instant classic. It went on to become the highest-grossing animated feature of the year, while “The Princess Diaries” grew into a sleeper hit for Disney.

2002: “Lilo & Stitch”

After the ‘90s Renaissance, Disney Feature Animation’s output became more uneven in the 2000s. “Lilo & Stitch” was definitely a highpoint, however, emerging as one of the studio’s biggest critical and financial successes of the decade. “Lilo & Stitch” stood out from past Disney films with a contemporary setting and blend of sci-fi comedy. The titular pair are, of course, a big part of what made the film so unique. Lilo ranks among the most well-defined protagonists that Disney has ever given us and there isn’t a character in the whole Disney library quite like Stitch. The way that Lilo and her sister Nani cope with the loss of their parents was also a welcome change of pace, creating one of Disney’s most realistic sibling dynamics.

2003: “Finding Nemo”

2003 was an especially strong year for Disney. On the live-action front, they had “Holes,” “Freaky Friday,” and a little movie called “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” In the animation realm, “Brother Bear” took us to the Mountain Where the Northern Lights Touch the Earth, but it was a trip under the sea that elevated animation to new heights. Where many movies come and go from theaters, “Finding Nemo” remained in the domestic Top 10 for eleven weeks, eventually surpassing “The Lion King” as the highest-grossing animated film at the time. The movie kept audiences coming back with its dazzling visuals, lovable characters, and inspirational story. The film will enchant you with its underwater locales while simultaneously turning on the waterworks.

2004: “The Incredibles”

Five movies in, Pixar had already tackled toys, bugs, monsters, and fish, but “The Incredibles” was their first feature to primarily center on humans—albeit superhumans. It was also the first time that the studio handed directorial duties to an outsider, although Brad Bird had more than proven himself with films like “The Iron Giant” and shows like “The Simpsons.” While Bird originally envisioned “The Incredibles” as a 2D feature, his characters and world translated beautifully into the third dimension. Of course, this is one animated film where just as much thought went into the script, if not more. “The Incredibles” works as a spy thriller, a superhero homage, and a family dramedy that’s as hilarious as it is relatable.

2005: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”

C. S. Lewis’ classic fantasy novel had previously been adapted for television on three occasions, but Disney’s version is the definitive journey through the wardrobe. By 2005, the technology available had finally caught up to Lewis’ imagination, making Narnia and its inhabitants roar to life. The special effects, set design, and Oscar-winning makeup effects never overshadow the pitch-perfect casting, though. The four Pevensie siblings all fit the bill, especially young Georgie Henley as Lucy. The two standouts are James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus and Tilda Swinton as the White Witch, who are exactly as we envisioned them reading the source material. As far as high fantasies go, this may be the closest Disney has come to replicating the magic of “The Lord of the Rings.”

2006: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”

While the original film is still the franchise’s best outing, “Dead Man’s Chest” is seriously one of Disney’s most underrated sequels. Granted, the film was a massive blockbuster, the biggest of 2006 as a matter of fact. Yet, audiences sometimes take for granted just how funny the one-liners are, how innovative the action is, and how visually interesting the picture can be. The only entry in the “Pirates” series to win an Oscar, you can definitely see why the special effects team brought home the gold. Even years later, we’re still blown away by the motion capture technology behind Davy Jones. With the thrills of “Temple of Doom” and an ending reminiscent of “The Empire Strikes Back,” it’s a follow-up that deserves a lot more love.

2007: “Enchanted”

Given Pixar’s track record, it came as no surprise that “Ratatouille” was another winner, both at the box office and the Academy Awards. “Enchanted” caught us off guard, though, with its self-aware humor and sweet love story. For years, we had been eager for Disney to make another musical fairy tale in the spirit of their animated classics. “Enchanted” delivered with several twists. Although the film is primarily live-action and starts off as a full-blown parody, it comes to embrace Disney’s key ingredients while also evolving tropes that modern viewers might construe as dated. You can certainly see how its balance of satire and sincerity would inspire future princess-centric films, making “Enchanted” a crucial turning point in Disney’s filmography.

2008: “WALL-E”

The dialogue is often the highlight of any Pixar film, hence why the studio keeps accumulating Best Original Screenplay Oscar nominations. This made “WALL-E” an especially risky venture, as the titular character’s vocabulary is only slightly more varied than R2-D2’s. Actually, both robots have sound designer Ben Burtt in common. Pixar has never been one to back down from a challenge, though, and “WALL-E” is a revelation of visual storytelling. We also can’t help but wonder if the film is an all-too-accurate glimpse into our future. Whatever the 29th century holds, “WALL-E” will always be an important cautionary tale about our reliance on corporations and our relationship with the environment. Above all else, however, it’ll always be a charming love story.

2009: “Up”

Two of 2009’s best love stories also happened to be animated films. With “The Princess and the Frog,” Tiana and Prince Naveen continued Disney’s tradition of storybook romances. But the most tear-jerking love story that year was told in a matter of minutes. Yet again, Pixar proved that they don’t need dialogue to make a strong emotional connection, telling Carl and Ellie’s shared life story through animation and letting Michael Giacchino’s musical score do the heavy lifting. Even after Ellie’s gone, she remains a constant presence throughout “Up” as Carl sets out on the adventure they never had. It’s an unforgettable journey full of giant birds, talking dogs, and balloons, but Carl finds that his greatest adventure was the time spent with his true love.

2010: “Toy Story 3”

The 2010s was the decade of nostalgia. Disney would release two animated films this year that celebrated the past while also looking ahead to the future. “Tangled” continued a tradition that started with “Snow White,” but with a modern mindset. “Toy Story 3” took every adult in the audience back to their youth. The film especially resonated with those who were Andy’s age when the first “Toy Story” came out and grew up with these characters. Of course, anyone who had a cherished childhood toy can identify with this touching story. Although the film reminded us why we love this franchise, it also opened our eyes to the importance of change. “Toy Story 3” is both a goodbye and the beginning of a new chapter.

2011: “The Muppets”

This 2011 film is another prime example of nostalgia done right. After Disney acquired the Muppets franchise back in 2004, the characters were mainly regulated to TV specials, commercials, and online vignettes. It wasn’t until they returned to the silver screen that we realized just how much we missed them. While the film pays homage to the original “Muppet Show” and 1979 movie, it never feels stuck in the past. The Muppets grow with the times without aging a day, delivering their signature witty comedy, lots of heart, and the catchiest original songs since “Rainbow Connection.” “Man or Muppet” even won an Academy Award! Whether it was a nostalgic throwback or your introduction to the Muppets, the film is simply impossible to dislike.

2012: “Wreck-It Ralph”

Disney produced it, but “Wreck-It Ralph” could easily be mistaken for a Pixar film. Like “Toy Story,” the film revolves around a world within a world, taking us inside arcade games. Beyond its modern setting, the film’s humor, characters, and themes all felt in sync with the Pixar brand. Pixar, meanwhile, released “Brave” this year, which felt more like a traditional Disney fairy tale. It was great to see both of these studios experiment with different ideas and genres, but Disney had the best results with “Wreck-It Ralph.” In addition to finally giving us a good video game movie, director Rich Moore delivered a poignant story about friendship, self-esteem, and purpose. Funnily enough, Vanellope and fellow princess Merida would meet in “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”

2013: “Frozen”

“Brave” was another turning point for Disney princesses, putting an emphasis on family over romance. “Frozen” took this one step further, though, telling a meaningful tale about sisters. The audience is immediately drawn in by the bond between Anna and Elsa. Even when the two are separated, we always feel the connection between them. It’s that strong connection that drives the narrative, culminating with a wise message about what true love is. Along the way, we’re treated to captivating songs and a winter wonderland of warmth. The film also picked up where “Enchanted” left off, poking fun at the conventions of past Disney movies. Rather than venture into satire territory, though, “Frozen” naturally weaves its self-aware commentary into a story that’s pure Disney magic.

2014: “Maleficent”

We know we said no MCU movies, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give the animated “Big Hero 6” a shout-out. Just as Disney distributed a slew of Marvel movies in the 2010s, this was also the era of their live-action remakes. While the results have been mixed, we’ve gotten a few gems like “Cinderella,” which came out in 2015. “Maleficent” stands out from the others for a few reasons. For starters, it wasn’t just a shot-for-shot retelling of the 1959 classic, “Sleeping Beauty.” Taking a page from “Wicked,” the film shifts the focus to the so-called Mistress of Evil with Angelina Jolie exquisitely cast in the role. The change may have divided critics, but “Maleficent” became an audience favorite, winning the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie.

2015: “Inside Out”

Pixar had already given emotions to toys, cars, and robots. So, it was only a matter of time until they made a movie about emotions incarnate. Taking place in the head of eleven-year-old Riley, “Inside Out” revolves around her core emotions, primarily Joy and Sadness. This setup allows the filmmakers to let their imaginations run wild like never before. Just as the human mind is multifaceted, “Inside Out” works on more than one level. While kids can identify with the basic feelings taking center stage, adults can pick up on the more layered jokes, concepts, and morals. No matter the age group, the film reminds us that you’re never too old for a good cry. On that note, have a box of tissues nearby.

2016: “Moana”

Disney Animation once again proved that they can do it all in 2016, balancing the old and the new. With “Zootopia,” they turned in a timely allegory for prejudice, profiling, and acceptance. With “Moana,” Ron Clements and John Musker of “The Little Mermaid” returned to the sea for another animated musical. Instead of adapting an established fairy tale, however, the two drew inspiration from Polynesian mythology and culture to tell an original story. “Moana” is a timeless tale executed with cutting-edge technology, giving personality to the ocean and hand-drawn tattoos. Meanwhile, Auliʻi Cravalho and the Rock breathe life into Moana and Maui. With a songwriting team that includes Lin-Manuel Miranda, the music possesses a distinctive sound that calls to your thirst for open sea adventure.

2017: “Coco”

Death has been a staple of Disney movies ever since Bambi lost his mother. In “Coco,” Pixar explores life after death through a Día de Muertos lens. Although there comes a time when everybody must pass, “Coco” leaves us with a comforting notion. As long as we remember our loved ones, their spirits will live on forever. There are many ways for a person to immortalize their memory, but music is a universal language that speaks to all generations. The song “Remember Me” plays an essential role in this film, encouraging people to listen closely to the lyrics, as well as each other. You may find a deeper meaning than you did before. All you need to do is open your ears, mind, and heart.

2018: “Mary Poppins Returns”

54 years later, Disney broke out the umbrella for another magical musical. Julie Andrews doesn’t return, but Emily Blunt shines as a Mary Poppins that’s all her own. While the performers all bring something fresh to the table, the filmmakers take meticulous steps to lovingly recreate the spirit of the original classic. They do so with toe-tapping songs, a dazzling animated segment, and Dick Van Dyke in a clever cameo. In addition to “Mary Poppins,” this sequel also possesses echoes of “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” with a trip to the beautiful briny, a creative action climax, and Angela Lansbury. Although it’s hard to top the original classic, watching “Mary Poppins Returns” feels like finding something you’ve long misplaced.

2019: “Frozen II”

On the animation front, Disney hasn’t always had the best reputation for sequels. “Frozen II” isn’t a phoned-in straight-to-video affair, however, but rather a darker second chapter that expands upon the character development, worldbuilding, and themes of the first. While it’s debatable if it’s better than the original, you can see how far the animation has come in just six years. The film notably won an Annie Award for its Animated Effects. Once again, the film’s soundtrack burrows its way into your head, guaranteeing you’ll break out simging “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself” on occasion. With a message of self-love at its core, the “Frozen” franchise is maturing well with its audience and we can only hope “Frozen III” is on the way.

2020: “Soul”

Pixar has always asked profound questions about our existence, but “Soul” digs especially deep. The film is about the meaning of life, the will to live, and how just one soul can make all the difference. That all sounds very heavy-handed and “Soul” does indeed go to some powerful places. At the same time, the film is rich with the comedy, charm, and creativity we’ve come to associate with Pixar. While kids will love it, this is another Pixar film that’ll arguably appeal even more to adults. For any middle-aged person who feels unfulfilled, “Soul” serves as an important reminder that whatever happens, your life matters. So, make the most of every last moment you have on Earth.