Since it began producing animated feature films in the early 20th century, Disney has become the leading producer of animated content for audiences of all ages. Its movies are beloved far and wide, with fans the world over having very passionate views on what their favorite Disney movie is, who the best Disney princess really is, what the best Disney movie soundtrack is, and so much more.
Still, even the most dedicated of Disney fans may forget about the impressive legacy that these Disney movie classics have in the television world, too. Starting in the early 1990s, everyone's favorite Disney films soon began to pop up on television, too - with TV spin-off series (whether prequels or sequels) dominating much of the Disney Channel's landscape. Recent years have seen a return to this form, too, which we're more than thrilled about. Here, we take a look back at the best Disney animated shows that got their start on the big screen.
10 Legend of Tarzan
The 1999 Disney animated film Tarzan is honestly one of the most overlooked masterpieces that the studio has ever produced. While direct-to-video sequels followed, even the most dedicated Tarzan fans out there may not know about the short-lived Legend of Tarzan animated series that followed the original film's events. From 2001 to 2003, the Legend of Tarzan series aired on ABC and the now defunct UPN.
As a Saturday morning cartoon series, the show was more light-hearted (and full of bizarre adventures) than the often truly emotional and gripping film. While none of the film's primary voice cast carried over to the TV series, the film's main characters did, and an entire array of characters - both animal and human - were added for additional alliances and conflicts.
9 Big Hero 6: The Series
The 2014 animated superhero film Big Hero 6 really hit home for a lot of viewers - not just because of its depiction of the found family that exists among a group of unlikely heroes, but also because of the incredibly emotional backstory. Plus, everyone just absolutely adores Baymax, the puffy white medical assistance robot. Since 2017, an animated series follow-up - titled Big Hero 6: The Series - has been airing on Disney Channel and Disney XD.
The TV series chronicles the ongoing adventures of the newly-formed ragtag team of superheroes. In a truly impressive turn of events, most of the film's primary voice cast - including Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, and Alan Tudyk - have continued on with their roles in the series. As of May 2019, two seasons of the series have aired, and a third season is already in the works.
8 The Emperor's New School
Another frequently-neglected Disney film is the 2000 cult classic The Emperor's New Groove, which was released just as Disney's animated fare began to experience a gradual downturn in quality and box office success. With the likes of comedy talents like David Spade, John Goodman, and Patrick Warburton among its voice cast, as well as Eartha Kitt in the villainous Yzma role, the film still stands the test of time as a truly bizarre adventure with heart and humor both.
Its eventual spin-off series, The Emperor's New School, certainly continues a lot of that trend of bizarre humor, but it decidedly lacks the heart of the original film. The Emperor's New School aired on the Disney Channel from 2006 to 2008 and follows Kuzco as he learns he must attend and graduate from public high school before he can become emperor. The series boasts the return of the entire film cast, except for David Spade, which certainly aids in preserving some of the original humor.
7 Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure
When it was released in 2010, Tangled marked a real return to form for Disney, as it once again embraced the world of Disney princess films that had been its bread and butter for so long. Rapunzel and Flynn's story resonated strongly with many fans all over the world, so it was no surprise when fans began clamoring for a full sequel featuring these characters and their sidekicks. While a feature film has never materialized, fans have been given a real treat in the ongoing animated series Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure, originally known simply as Tangled: The Series.
Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi continue to lend their voices to the now iconic and beloved characters of Rapunzel and Flynn. Over the course of the series' first two seasons, Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure has done an amazing amount of world building, establishing this universe as one truly worth investing in. Arguably the highlight of the series --in addition to more time with the adorable central couple-- has been the shocking journey that Rapunzel and one-time friend Cassandra have gone on.
6 Timon & Pumbaa
The Lion King instantly became one of the most beloved and most successful Disney films of all time when it was released in 1994. It's no surprise, really, that Disney didn't waste any time at all before launching the spin-off animated series focusing on everyone's favorite buddy sidekicks, Timon & Pumbaa, in 1995. For three seasons and just shy of a hundred episodes, Timon & Pumbaa chronicled the adventures of the odd couple that is the warthog and meerkat we've all come to love.
Featuring Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella both (at least initially) reprising their roles as the iconic pair, Timon & Pumbaa was allowed to be one of the more outlandish Disney animated series during its run on CBS, the Disney Channel, and Toon Disney. For every adventure that found the duo wandering through their home of the jungle, they were also jetsetting around the world and causing mischief wherever they could.
5 Lilo & Stitch: The Series
If it's not already clear by now, we'll make it clear for you: Disney absolutely loves --and excels at creating-- hilarious duos who have no reason to be together. The 2002 animated film Lilo and Stitch is responsible for the creation of one of the best Disney duos of all time, in the precocious youngster Lilo Pelekai and the alien Experiment 626, otherwise known as Stitch.
Multiple spin-off films and series followed, but the best of them was the 2003 to 2006 series Lilo & Stitch: The Series. Airing on both ABC and Disney Channel, Lilo & Stitch: The Series chronicled the unlikely team's attempts to locate and securely place more and more of alien mastermind scientist Jumba's alien science experiments as they roamed around Hawaii.
4 Disney's Hercules: The Animated Series
The 1997 animated classic Hercules features some of the darkest moments in all of the Disney animated canon, and certainly some of its most intimidating villains in Hades and the Titans. So, when it came time for Disney to franchise the film into an animated series, it made sense, in a way, for the studio not to produce a sequel. Rather than offer a simple prequel series, Disney instead opted for a quasi-midquel, setting the adventures in Disney's Hercules: The Animated Series during Hercules' years of training under his satyr mentor Philoctetes.
One of the more intellectually driven of the Disney animated series, Disney's Hercules featured main characters also taken right out of Greek mythology, including Icarus and Cassandra. Other prominent characters, such as Pygmalion, Paris, Midas, and Orion, appear in "case of the week" format episodes, as the teenage Hercules navigates his new-found heroism.
As hard as it may be to remember at times, the beloved 1990s cartoon series TaleSpin first originated as the 1967 Disney classic The Jungle Book. It's clear, however, that TaleSpin is hardly a cut and dry sequel to the theatrically released Jungle Book, as characters are now able to live human-like lives, fly planes, and --a minor change but worth noting all the same-- wear regular human clothes.
Characters like the lovable slacker bear Baloo; the wild, free-spirited King Louie; and the villainous Shere Khan now appear as a pilot, a nightclub owner, and a cut-throat businessman, respectively. Along with the adorable but mischievous Kit Cloudkicker, the industrious Rebecca Cunningham, and the too-cute-for-words little Molly, the series is full of lively characters on always engaging adventures. Just don't think too hard about its source material and you'll have a great time.
2 The Little Mermaid
To this day, the 1989 Disney Renaissance classic The Little Mermaid remains one of Disney's best and most beloved films of all time. With a winning princess in Ariel and engaging supporting characters in Flounder and Sebastian, the film is a great watch even 30 years later. The same can be said, too, for the 1992 to 1994 animated series Disney's The Little Mermaid, which aired on CBS and the Disney Channel and followed a slightly younger Ariel on her adventures under the sea.
While the film only marginally focused on Ariel's family dynamic, Disney's The Little Mermaid delves more fully into her home life with her father and sisters, as well as her friendships with familiar faces like Flounder, Sebastian, and Scuttle. Not to mention new characters like the merboy Urchin, the deaf and mute mermaid Gabriella, and the adorable little baby whale Spot.
Long before Disney was dreaming of rebooting its wildly successful Aladdin franchise in live-action form, the House of Mouse produced an incredibly successful, innovative, and compelling animated series that ran for nearly a hundred episodes between 1994 and 1995. Simply titled Aladdin as well, the series followed both Aladdin and Jasmine on their adventures as new heroes, working to keep Agrabah safe following their defeat of Jafar.
It also, of course, prominently featured more hijinks from everyone's favorite Genie. But while the film's stars Scott Weinger, Linda Larkin, and Gilbert Gottfried returned to voice their respective characters, Robin Williams was replaced in the role of Genie by Homer Simpson himself, Dan Castallaneta. As good as the series was, it just never felt the same without the real Genie.