Disney Pixar’s Cars 3 has been in cinemas for a month now, which is long enough for it to build a steady score on infamous review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. It’s currently at a pretty average 68%, faring much better than Cars 2 (see list entry #8), but not quite as good as the first in the franchise, which has a "Certified Fresh" rating of 74%.
Despite Disney being loved by almost everyone, its movies don’t always get a good score on Rotten Tomatoes. But can Rotten Tomatoes really be trusted to tell you how good a film is - or isn’t? Critics often fail to look at a children’s movie through the eyes of a child, and push their tastes onto a simple cartoon made to entertain youngsters. Especially when it comes to a studio so highly regarded as Disney, critics are known to pick fault with a movie just for the sake of it.
So, focusing on just Disney’s animated movies - and not including the Mouse House’s many ill-received direct-to-video sequels - here, ranked from least to most rotten, are the 15 Worst Animated Disney Movies According To Rotten Tomatoes (And Why They're Wrong).
15 Home On The Range (2004) - 54%
Home On The Range tells the story of Maggie the dairy cow, and her adventurous effort to save her farm from foreclosure, and stop a notorious cattle rustler. The film features an all-star (albeit not quite A-List) cast including Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench, Jennifer Tilly, Cuba Gooding Jr., Randy Quaid, and Steve Buscemi.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “Though Home on the Range is likeable and may keep young children diverted, it's one of Disney's more middling titles, with garish visuals and a dull plot.”
Since the early days of Disney, the studio has been releasing Westerns, and Home On The Range is a way to open up the genre to a modern, young audience. It might not be as memorable as some of the studio's’ other releases, but with its slapstick humor and basic animation, it’s perfect for little ones - which, let’s be honest here, is Disney’s target audience. Critics forget that sometimes a movie needs to be just an innocent piece of kids' entertainment, without an unnecessary underlying narrative, and Home On The Range is just that.
14 A Christmas Carol (2009) - 54%
A motion-captured, 3-D CGI movie, A Christmas Carol is very different from what we’re used to seeing from Disney. Starring Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman, the movie retells the traditional Christmas tale, using a lot of original Dickens’ dialogue and details.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “Robert Zemeckis' 3-D animated take on the Dickens classic tries hard, but its dazzling special effects distract from an array of fine performances from Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman.”
To see the film criticized for its stunning visuals is absurd, and complimenting the voice/motion-capture actors’ performances in such a backhanded way is equally ridiculous. The movie was at the forefront of a new technology and film style, and utilized its brilliant cast to tell a classic story, bringing Dickens' work to a new generation of fans, while creeping them out with its child-friendly terror just enough to enforce the work’s original message.
13 A Goofy Movie (1995) - 53%
Mickey Mouse’s best buddy gets his own movie, following on from the Goof Troop TV series. A Goofy Movie follows Goof as he goes through the typical parent struggle of staying close to your offspring when they start to grow up, while remaining his usual accident-prone, awkward self.
Critics said about the movie: “Makes its title character the second banana to a protagonist and a scenario entirely unworthy of him, mired in instantly-dated sops to early-'90s pop culture” and “If they wanted to make a movie about Goofy, then they should have found a better script for him.”
The Goofy Movie is held with pretty high regard by Disney fans. Those “instantly-dated sops to early-'90s pop culture” are actually perfect little nuggets of nostalgia. Who doesn’t love nostalgia?
The best part of the movie though is how it’s grown up with anyone that held it close to their heart in their younger days. First you related with Max as an awkward teen, wanting space from your parents; but now you relate with Goof, either as a parent yourself, or just in the realization of how wrong you were to push your parents away before.
12 Robin Hood (1973) - 52%
Giving another classic tale a Disney makeover, Robin Hood follows the studio’s tradition of humanizing animals, creating adorable characters the whole family will love. It tells a very much Disney-fied version of the Robin hood story, and made some iconic characters.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “One of the weaker Disney adaptations, Robin Hood is cute and colorful but lacks the majesty and excitement of the studio's earlier efforts.”
The movie was released in 1973, but easily stands up against the modern cartoons in terms of animation quality, which is a massive feat in itself. The characters are to this day highly regarded by Disney fans, Robin (the fox)’s heroism and charm, Maid Marion (also a fox)’s sweet innocence, Prince John (a lion)’s pathetic thumb-sucking, and Sir Hiss’ (a snake, obviously) hilarious cowardice.
The movie freshened up an old story and made it more accessible and interesting to so many age groups and generations.
11 Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) - 49%
Atlantis: The Lost Empire tells the story of Smithsonian cartographer and linguist, Milo Thatch, as he puts his years of research into achieving his dreams of finding the lost city of Atlantis. It was the first sci-fi movie to be released by Disney, and featured the voice-talents of Michael J. Fox, Leonard Nimoy, and Disney-Pixar legend Jim Varney in his final role before his death.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: "Atlantis provides a fast-paced spectacle, but stints on such things as character development and a coherent plot."
Atlantis features some brilliant characters, such as the downright peculiar geologist, Mole Molière; feminism poster-girl/ mechanic, Audrey Ramirez; comedic relief hick/cook, Cookie Farnsworth; and of course the lovable underdog and our hero, Milo Thatch.
The supposedly incoherent plot mixes a less than typical adventure, the wonders of a lost world, and brilliant family and personal values that build not only the characters in the movie, but provide a strong and positive influence on young viewers.
10 Planes: Fire and Rescue (2014) - 44%
The sequel to Planes, and another spin-off to Cars, Planes: Fire And Rescue was received better than its predecessor, despite receiving many negative reviews. After winning the Wings Around The Globe race, Dusty has a gearbox malfunction, and looking like his racing days are behind him, trains as a firefighter to help an in-need airport fight off closure.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “Although it's too flat and formulaic to measure up against the best family-friendly fare, Planes: Fire and Rescue is a passable diversion for much younger viewers.”
The animation - much like Cars, and despite the movie being produced by DisneyToons Studios, not Pixar - is impeccable. It’s by no means the best release by Disney, but the Critics’ Consensus’ cynical “passable diversion…” really means it’s a solid piece of family entertainment, which is what we expect from the Mouse House.
Being produced by a usually direct-to-video off-set of Walt Disney Animation Studios, it was clearly never intended to be a huge blockbuster, but still does well as light entertainment with a positive message.
9 Oliver & Company (1988) - 44%
Another Disney-fied version of classic literature, Oliver & Company sees Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist represented by cute animals. Oliver is a homeless kitten who joins a dog-gang in order to survive the mean streets of mid-80s New York City. A great cast, including songwriting legends Billy Joel and Bette Midler, the movie is one of many of Disney’s musicals.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “Oliver & Company is a decidedly lesser effort in the Disney canon, with lackluster songs, stiff animation, and a thoroughly predictable plot.”
It’s a little ridiculous to say a movie based on a classic novel has a predictable plot - what the movie actually does is introduces its young audience to the fine piece of literature by updating the story, adding talking animals (always guaranteed to attract a kid’s attention), and getting great songs stuck in their heads.
The movie uses both traditional and computer generated animation, putting Disney’s new Computer Animation Production System into use for the first time, again putting them at the forefront of animation technology.
8 Cars 2 (2011) - 39%
Lightning McQueen takes part in the World Grand Prix, taking his buddy Tow Mater along with him. While Lightning focuses on his racing, Mater gets mixed up with some international spies, much to his dismay. Directed by Disney Pixar god John Lasseter, the film features the voice-talents of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, and Eddie Izzard.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “Cars 2 is as visually appealing as any other Pixar production, but all that dazzle can't disguise the rusty storytelling under the hood.”
Cars 2 is Pixar’s take on a spy movie. How can a film that sees everyone’s favorite hillbilly tow truck become a James Bond-like character not be entertaining? This movie is widely regarded as Pixar’s worst release, but still, 39% is a tad harsh.
The animation, as ever with Pixar, is superb, and the film is massively action-packed and entertaining - even it isn’t as thought provoking or emotional as Pixar’s usual movies.
7 Brother Bear (2003) - 38%
In Brother Bear, a young boy is transformed into a bear, in order for him to learn compassion and empathy; seeing through another's eyes, feeling through another's heart, so he can discover the true meaning of brotherhood. A crazy adventure ensues, introducing lovable characters that returned for the film’s direct-to-video sequel.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “Brother Bear is gentle and pleasant if unremarkable Disney fare, with so-so animation and generic plotting.”
The movie features some great characters - the Canadian moose and lover-bear couple are hilarious - and spreads important messages of family values, compassion, and dealing with loss of loved ones.
The movie was the last to be animated in the traditional way at the Disney-MGM (now Hollywood) Feature Animation studio in Florida, and saw the animators take part in life drawing sessions with live bear cubs and outdoor drawing/painting sessions at Fort Wilderness in Florida three times a week for two months, in order to get realistic but still typically-Disney art.
6 Mars Needs Moms (2011) - 37%
The second movie created by ImageMovers Digital - Disney’s joint venture with ImageMovers Studio - following from A Christmas Carol, Mars Needs Moms used computer generated animation along with motion capture. Milo (motion-capture: Seth Green, voice: Seth Dusky) has to save his mom after she is abducted by Martians, so they can extract her bossy ‘momness’ and implant it into robots.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “The cast is solid and it's visually well-crafted, but Mars Needs Moms suffers from a lack of imagination and heart.”
Despite being incredibly well animated, and praised for such, along with the only other release from ImageMovers Digital, Mars Needs Moms wasn’t greatly received by critics. It’s a fairly unknown Disney flick, but still complies with the important family values the company bases itself on.
Unlike many of Disney’s movies, though, this one aims itself at older children. Mars Needs Moms reiterates typical Disney messages and ideologies to children who might be starting to rebel from the normal cutesy characters in Disney movies, and gives them someone to relate to in Milo.
5 Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers (2004) - 36%
An adaptation of the great Three Musketeers story, we see the three best pals Mickey, Donald and Goofy tell the tale in their classic slapstick, underdog style.
Critics said about the movie: “The animation has a Saturday morning look to it, with an overall brighter, yellower cast, and the film feels like a cartoon short that's been put on the rack and stretched until it qualified as a "full-length feature." “Unfortunately, the result is only so-so.”
Produced by DisneyToons Studios, and released direct-to-video, The Three Musketeers was never meant to be received as a multi-million dollar blockbuster. It’s a feature length Mickey Mouse cartoon, full of classic and memorable moments, reiterating the age-old "don’t give up on your dreams" Disney message on top of Donald’s pure rage, Goofy’s stupidity, and Mickey’s bashfulness.
If it was so bad, why would it have been the first direct-to-video movie to have its own world in a Kingdom Hearts game (Country of the Musketeers, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance)?!
4 Chicken Little (2005) - 36%
A young chicken is convinced the sky is falling in this retelling of the old Henny Penny fable. Chicken Little is mocked for his beliefs, but it turns out he wasn’t far from being right as aliens threaten to invade their world.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “Disney expends more effort in the technical presentation than in crafting an original storyline.”
Considering it’s the first fully CG animated movie (Pixar movies weren’t produced by Disney), the animation is brilliant, and despite what the critics have to say, the story by no means suffered for the sake of the animation.
While it isn’t a unique story (it’s not even unique for Disney - they released a short version of Chicken Little in 1943), it does what Disney does best: reimagines an old story - in this case an old fable - to spread its positive message to new fans. Not every storyline has to be original, and Chicken Little deserves more credit than it’s gotten.
Dealing with bullying, parent trouble and fear, the lead character is relatable for little kids, being a youngster himself, and that’s something we don’t always get in Disney movies.
3 Valiant (2005) - 31%
Valiant tells the story of a group of war pigeons who must survive the regime of the evil Von Talon during World War II. The movie features the voices of highly-regarded British actors Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, Jim Broadbent, and Tim Curry.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “Valiant has a good collection of voice talents, but the story is strictly by-the-numbers.”
Valiant was called a "good old-fashioned war movie" by its lead voice actor, and was inspired by the true story of hundreds of pigeons helping soldiers in World War II. Kids might not understand this, but adults will, and Disney is great at making stories that entertain many generations in one sitting.
Considering its small budget compared to other CGI films, Valiant looks great, and the well-chosen voice cast tell the story in a very British way, while still making room for kid-friendly silliness that can be enjoyed the world over.
2 Planes (2012) - 25%
A spin-off to Disney Pixar’s Cars franchise, Planes was produced by DisneyToons Studios, and directed by Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios' chief creative officer John Lasseter. The film was originally to be released direct-to-video, but was instead given a theatrical release.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “Planes has enough bright colors, goofy voices, and slick animation to distract some young viewers for 92 minutes -- and probably sell plenty of toys in the bargain -- but on nearly every other level, it's a Disney disappointment.”
The critics are right about the positives: it’s bright, silly, and well animated. Traveling the world - the movie’s Around The Globe race takes place in Germany, India, Nepal and China - and inspiring viewers with Dusty’s "never give up" attitude; it’s a great influence on kids of all ages.
While the plot is very similar to Cars, and it might not be the most memorable movie in Disney’s history, the movie succeeds as a piece of family-friendly entertainment.
1 The Wild (2006) - 20%
Hearing his father’s stories of the wild, Ryan the young lion dreams of escaping Central Park Zoo and getting to see the great wide open. But when he accidentally gets shipped to Africa, he must be rescued by his zoo friends, as he learns the wild isn’t so great after all.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says: “With a rehashed plot and unimpressive animation, there's nothing wild about The Wild.”
There’s no denying the striking similarities between The Wild and DreamWork’s Madagascar, released the previous year. But as we’ve said above, plots don’t have to be original to be entertaining. It’s funny, action-packed, and has some hilarious adult jokes to keep parents and big kids entertained. What more do you want from a Disney animated movie?
Do you have love for any of these "rotten" Disney movies? Let us know in the comments!