Disney movies have been a major part of popular culture for over half a century now. Consisting of eras as vastly different as the Golden Age, the Renaissance, and the First and Second Dark Ages, Disney’s various studios have put out hundreds of films, including animated works, hybrid works, and even some documentaries. Within these varying periods, there are classics that cannot possibly be touched, such as the originals (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Fantasia); Renaissance greats (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King); and even some new entries into the impressive canon (Frozen, Tangled, Moana).
Yet for all these bright and shining stars in Disney’s history, there are scores of movies lingering in the shadows that have been purposefully ignored for years.
Given the sheer volume of films that Disney has made, it’s only natural that, every once in a while, the latest film simply won’t live up to the golden standard that the House of Mouse has developed for itself. Whether the subject matter is too offensive, the animation is uncomfortable to look at, or the storylines are just plain boring, there’s a long list of movies that are better off being forgotten about. We’ve put together some of the worst offenders in this list of 15 Disney Movies That NEVER Should Have Been Made.
15. Hannah Montana: The Movie
Just because something can be made doesn’t mean it should be.
That principle basically sums up the existence of 2009’s Hannah Montana: The Movie. On the one hand, there’s no denying the Disney Channel series that made Miley Cyrus a household name was a great and popular success. Yet on the other hand, just because something is successful and popular…doesn’t mean it’s actually any good, or that there should be money spent on an even bigger version of it.
With a much bigger budget, a well populated list of artists on its soundtrack, and big name stars like Taylor Swift attached to the project, the film had the potential to become something better. Yet even though it performed well at the box office, it holds a 43% on Rotten Tomatoes and, ultimately, “is little more than a formulaic Disney Channel episode stretched thin.”
14. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
If there’s one author who just screams “meant to be adapted into children’s movies,” it’s clearly none other than Victor Hugo.
This is apparently what Disney had in mind when they produced 1996’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Although the movie is visually beautiful and offers quite interesting and sympathetic figures in Quasimodo and Esmeralda, the film is undeniably bogged down by the dark themes typical of Hugo’s works. The nefarious Judge Claude Frollo presents one of Disney’s most truly disturbing villains to date: a fanatical, obsessive, murderous, and completely lecherous old man who desires the much younger Esmeralda.
The combination of darkly sexual implications, open discussions of eternal damnation, imagery indicative of hell, and a bittersweet ending for the film’s hero make this film unlike any other before it…and make it all the better to be avoided by the young children it was apparently meant for.
It’s not as though movies about dinosaurs can’t be great or successful. The wide popularity of the Jurassic Park franchise boldly contradicts that, after all, as does the beloved children’s franchise of 14 and counting, The Land Before Time.
In the case of the 2000 film Dinosaur, however, two things work against it from the very beginning: an uncomfortable early attempt at photo-realistic CGI, and a pretty boring plot filled with really boring characters. The film’s animation style tries to preserve the illusion of a photo-realistic depiction of the great prehistoric creatures, yet more often than not, the dated CGI treads the line of uncanny.
Similarly, while Jurassic Park is populated by engaging and amusing scientists, and the Land Before Time films detail Littlefoot and his motley gang’s adventures, Dinosaur fails to provide characters that are worth getting to know, regardless of whether they’re dinosaur or lemur.
12. Planes: Fire & Rescue
Given how successful Cars and its sequels have been, it was only a matter of time before the franchise branched off to other forms of transportation. In August 2013, Planes was released, signaling the start of a new series. Yet not even a year later, Disney released a sequel to the film, Planes: Fire & Rescue, in July 2014.
Not only was the sequel rushed out far too quickly for potential fans of the new series to even call for one, the sequel failed to build on its already insufficient original. Planes holds a 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, but at least made $239 million off of its $50 million budget. However, Planes: Fire & Rescue only made $151 million off of its likewise $50 million budget, and despite holding a higher 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. No matter how well-animated or engaging a film about talking search and rescue vehicles may be, the audience won’t be there for it if they still feel overexposed from the original film.
11. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
There’s no denying that undertaking the making of a film about a sunken paradise was an ambitious move for Disney, much like Dreamworks’ 2000 film The Road to El Dorado, and particularly during the period that has come to be known as Disney’s Second Dark Age. With 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Disney was clearly hoping to find lost treasure hidden in the depths of the sea. Instead, they found themselves producing something far shallower.
Although Atlantis is beautifully animated, particularly in its depictions of underwater scenes and the people of Atlantis, the film failed to provide any characters worth caring about…or, frankly, remembering. Even if you’ve seen this movie, do you really remember the names of any of the characters in this picture? Or were you just in it for the adventure, too?
10. Home on the Range
Mediocrity is perhaps one of the most unenviable fates for any work of art. At least if a work is hated, it made an impact. However, to be considered mediocre or average means that you didn’t make any lasting mark of any kind. In the case of the 2004 film Home on the Range, the sad reality fits the latter category.
Talking animals is sort of Disney’s specialty, so this film should have been a real get for the studios. Add to it the company’s success with musicals and adventures, and it really makes no sense why this film didn’t work well. In the end, it all comes down to producing iconic characters, something which Range failed to do despite its considerably talented cast of voice actors, including Dame Judi Dench, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Roseanne Barr.
9. Honey, I Blew Up The Kid
Sequels are rarely as good as what came before. This is even truer in the cases where the original story decidedly did not need continuing. And this becomes even clearer in the case of sequels that perfectly replicate the premise of the original, merely from a shifted point of view.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was a fun and quirky film, the right blend of sci-fi and a comedy of errors. It was also a box office and critical success, going on to make over $200 million in profit off its $18 million budget.
Honey, I Blew Up the Kid did not share its fate. It made $76 million off a $40 million budget with a plot that hit many of the same beats as the first. Nothing was new about its story, which merely provided a comedy of errors on a larger scale than the original. It’s understandable, then, why the third film in the series, Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, was released direct to video instead, in order to cut down on any future losses.
8. The Black Cauldron
It’s a well known fact at this point that Disney movies can be pretty traumatic, especially for younger viewers. 1985’s The Black Cauldron, however, might remain one of the most scarring to date. This quasi Arthurian tale was the first Disney animated film to receive a PG rating, and for good reason. Featuring the truly terrifying villain the Horned King, along with witches and communing with the dead, the film is nothing like what you would expect of Disney animated fare.
The shocking content of the film is reflected in its critical and financial performance, as well as its legacy in the industry. Known as “the film that almost killed Disney,” it failed to make back even half of its budget, turning in $21.3 million from a $44 million price tag. It currently sits at 55% on Rotten Tomatoes, with many critiques highlighting its grim tone and bland characters.
7. Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Following in the footsteps of 1964’s Mary Poppins and 1968’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Disney released Bedknobs and Broomsticks in 1971. Much like the previous films, it was a bizarre mix of period piece, fantasy, musical, and adventure. Set during World War II, the film follows the Rawlins children, a street corner con artist, and a self-proclaimed witch as they travel around in pursuit of the ingredients necessary to produce a magical spell to tip the War in England’s favor.
How do they travel? Why, thanks to an enchanted bedknob, of course! Magic umbrellas and flying cars were already taken.
6. Now You See Him, Now You Don’t
One of Disney’s televised films of the 1970s, Now You See Him, Now You Don’t is the second film in a series of films revolving around Kurt Russell’s nerdy hero Dexter Riley. In this installment in the series, Dexter is one of many unlucky chemistry students in fiction, who accidentally stumbles upon the precise potion for invisibility…but lacks the knowledge of how to make it reverse on demand.
Like pretty much every invisibility caper ever, there’s a criminal aspect – a proposed bank robbery that must be thwarted – and, as with all corny science class plots, there’s a competition that must be won in order to receive a cash prize. Topped with Disney’s signature sweetness, the stakes are consistently (and laughably) low. As The New York Times reviewed it at the time, “Now with all due respect to children’s intuition and judgment, may we suggest that they now try the Real McCoy…the original ‘The Invisible Man’ on television? There’s grand, serious fun, kids. Plus—square or not—something to think about.”
5. The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes
While its previously discussed sequel deals with the familiar trope of invisibility in a remarkably corny way, 1969’s The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes instead tackles a less familiar sci-fi concept in a far cheesier way: the idea of a human computer. Dexter Riley doesn’t gain the ability to make himself invisible in this plot; instead, thanks to an electric shock, he gains the super-processing skills of a computer.
Perhaps a play on Peter Parker’s spider bite, the film juggles college student drama, a cohort of nefarious gamblers, a quiz show plot, a kidnapping, and countless other cheesy over the top dramatics all with the guarantee of resolution before the two hour runtime comes to an end. While the movie certainly helped to put Kurt Russell on the map, it’s perhaps for the best that this computer be left back in the ’60s where he belongs.
4. Jungle 2 Jungle
With the success of Toy Story, Home Improvement, and The Santa Clause, Tim Allen was a hot commodity in the 1990s in terms of making money hand over fist for studios. He clearly seemed a natural fit for the leading man in one of Disney’s more ambitious ’90s films, an adaptation of the French film Un indien dans la ville (Little Indian, Big City). Disney’s adaptation, Jungle 2 Jungle, follows Tim Allen’s straitlaced businessman as he tries to “civilize” a son he never knew about, who had grown up with his mother in a tribe in Venezuela.
Beyond the clearly offensive plot of “civilization,” the film falls flat in every possible register, with characters who are wholly unsympathetic and frequently ridiculous. Critical responses to the film indicate much of the same: it has a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a series of particularly unforgiving reviews bemoaning the fact that it is simply just not worth forcing yourself to sit through.
3. My Favorite Martian
Revivals, reboots, and remakes are all the rage nowadays, but back in 1999, Disney attempted to remake a once beloved sitcom for the big screen. My Favorite Martian originally ran for 107 episodes from 1963-1966 and followed the adventures of an alien forced to pass as a human. Hilarity naturally ensued.
In Disney’s film adaptation, the premise is mostly the same, barring a change in career for the alien’s human companion. Martian also boasted sizable comedic star power with the likes of Jeff Daniels, Christopher Lloyd, and Wallace Shawn in major roles. However, none of the studio or star power can make up for a poor script and an over-reliance on shoddy special effects. Rotten Tomatoes currently has the film rated at a 12%. Even worse, in its time at the box office, the film failed to make back its budget, returning $36.8 million against a budget of $65 million.
2. The Country Bears
While Disney is definitely renowned for its movies and commercial success, it is also undeniably famous for its many rides and attractions at Disneyland and Disney World. It makes sense that Disney has therefore tried to capitalize on the success of both by producing movies inspired by the themes of certain rides. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise clearly shows that this can be a smart move.
The 2002 film The Country Bears, however, was a decidedly misguided attempt at starting this adaptation pattern.
No matter how popular The Country Bear Jamboree attraction at the Magic Kingdom may be, and no matter how cute the puppet lead Beary Barrington is, nothing can make up for this paper thin plot and cheesy story-telling. The 30% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as the $18 million it made on a $35 million budget, only further highlight its failure.
1. Song of the South
There’s no way of sugarcoating it: 1946’s Song of the South is one of the most, if not the most offensive feature film in Disney’s film catalog. The film is set after the Civil War, yet depicts African Americans as though they are slaves, fully embodying the “Magical Negro” and mammy stereotypes. The Oscar-winning song “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” portrays Uncle Remus as an impossibly carefree individual, even in the South after the Civil War.
This comes before even considering the Br’er Rabbit adventures. The characters’ dialects are all incredibly offensive, speaking pidgin English clearly meant to evoke the racist portrayals of slaves. Particularly offensive is the episode of “Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby,” which features an all black creature made of tar meant to trick Br’er Rabbit. As a result of the trick, Br’er Rabbit becomes enmeshed in the tar himself, looking every bit like a rabbit in blackface.
Song of the South was released in 1946, yet its message seems hopelessly dated to a century before. It’s therefore no surprise at all that Disney themselves have refused to release the film in any way.
What other Disney movies do you find unbearable? Let us know in the comments!
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