These old childhood movies are seriously underrated
Remember when your biggest problem was deciding which cartoon to watch on a Saturday morning?
Nothing says nostalgia quite like your favourite childhood movies. Those Saturday mornings spent in the front of the TV downing another bowl of cereal without a care in the world – pure bliss.
While the original Disney films are the first to come to mind when you think of childhood classics, and some of them have enjoyed re-imaginings in recent years, there are plenty of lesser-known cartoon films worth a re-watch. Since I’m a ‘95 baby, this list features predominantly 90s and early 2000 classics, with a few older outliers.
The Iron Giant – 1999
One of my absolute favourites growing up, this movie (featuring the voices Jennifer Aniston and Vince Diesel) always has me in tears at the end. The Iron Giant is set in Rockwell, America during the Cold War and follows a young boy named Hogarth who finds, and forms a bond with, a gigantic metal robot from space. While trying to hide him from the suspicious US government, Hogarth inspires the giant to use his special abilities for good, using my favourite line, “you are who you choose to be”. This flick is worth a re-watch any day of the week!
Fun fact, the Iron Giant had a super cool cameo in Steven Spielberg’s 2018 film Ready Player One.
The Prince Of Egypt – 1998
Based on the Book of Exodus and following the biblical story of Moses, this stunning movie is worth watching for its beautiful soundtrack alone (um hello When You Believe by none other than Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey). It also features an amazing cast, including the voices of Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin and Martin Short.
Oliver & Company – 1988
One of the primary reasons I spent my formative years wanting a kitten, Oliver & Company is about a homeless kitten who is picked up by a gang of streetwise stray dogs for a pretty big adventure on the streets of New York. I’m pretty embarrassed to admit that I only recently cottoned on the fact that this is an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Also, the track Why Should I Worry (below) is one of my all time favourites and is bound to be stuck in your head for a while.
The Swan Princess – 1994
Based on the beloved fable Swan Lake, this is one of the most underrated cartoon films of all time in my opinion. This love story follows Prince Derek and Princess Odette from different kingdoms who are set to be married from a young age. After a rough start, the two grow up and eventually fall in love, before Odette is promptly kidnapped and turned into a swan by the evil sorcerer Rothbart. Adventure, heroics and amazing musical numbers follow. To be 100% honest, the real star of the show is a French frog named JeanBob (voiced by John Cleese) who claims to be a real prince.
The Road to El Dorado – 2000
Set in 1519 Spain, two con artists (and besties) Miguel and Tulio accidentally discover the legendary City of Gold, El Dorado, after smuggling onto conquistador Hernán Cortés’ ship when it travels to the New World. The two are subsequently mistaken for gods by the people of El Dorado, a ruse they choose to keep up when they’re offered a life of luxury, but things get complicated when a rift forms between the two buddies and devious high priest Tzekel-Kan finds out the truth. Also, Elton John lends his voice to this fun soundtrack.
Fun fact, Miguel and I have the exact same hairstyle.
Treasure Planet – 2002
A rare commercial failure for Disney, Treasure Planet is a science fiction adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 adventure novel Treasure Island. The story follows teen Jim Hawkins and a crew of sailors/ pirates uncovering the truth about the legendary Treasure Planet, all while a pretty sweet father/ son type relationship develops between surly young Jim and pirate John Silver. While it’s not considered one of the OG childhood classics, Treasure Planet’s animation was pretty groundbreaking for the time, and it was nominated for the 2002 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Also, shout out to the perfectly angsty song I’m Still Here (by Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik) that features on the soundtrack.
The Rescuers – 1977
The oldest entry to our list, and an obvious addition, The Rescuers follows the Rescue Aid Society, an international mouse organisation headquartered in the United Nations, dedicated to helping abduction victims around the world. It’s better than it sounds, and adventure ensues when mice Bernard and Miss Bianca set out to rescue Penny, an orphan girl in trouble.
Anastasia – 1997
This historic (and visually beautiful) film is a fresh take on the usual princess stories we grew up with. Anastasia is based (loosely) on the true story of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia. The film’s story is based on the modern legend/conspiracy that Anastasia actually escaped the execution of her family in 1918 during the Russian Revolution. In the film an 18-year-old amnesiac orphan named Anya teams up with two con men who wish to take advantage of her likeness to the Grand Duchess, but end up making a pretty startling discovery about who she really is (also she falls in love, duh). I caught the stage version of Anastasia on Broadway in New York and it had me in floods of tears by the end.
Balto – 1995
Did you even have a childhood if you didn’t watch Balto on repeat? Based on the inspiring TRUE story, Balto was a sled dog who helped save children from a diphtheria epidemic in Nome, Alaska in 1925 by leading a sled team transporting vaccines across treacherous terrain. The content matter is fairly serious but it’s made lighter by Balto’s adoptive father, a Russian snow goose, and his two polar bear besties. Also, I literally just found out Balto is voiced by Kevin Bacon and I’m shook.
Cats Don’t Dance – 1997
Centering on Danny, a young cat who follows his passion of performing all the way to Hollywood, Cats Don’t Dance is a story about show business and chasing your dreams, and it has some pretty fantastic musical numbers. Also shout out to the film’s main antagonist, Darla Dimple, psychotic/ adorable child star who represents everything that is wrong with Hollywood.
Titan AE – 2000
This one isn’t necessarily for kids only, but it’s a great story paired with pretty impressive animation for its time. Set in the distant future, around 3028, humanity has made contact with distant planets and alien species, but planet Earth is destroyed by a species called the Drej, leaving humans as refugees. Fifteen years later the son of a deceased scientist realises he has a map revealing the location of the manufactured planet Titan, humanity’s last chance at a new home.
An American Tail – 1986
Get the tissues ready, this sweet story breaks my heart every time. Disaster strikes and separates little mouse Fievel Moskowitz from the rest of his Russian-Jewish family as they arrive in New York City for a new life. A story about emigration, family and new beginnings, there is ultimately a happy ending, but if you say the below scene didn’t get you as a child, you’re lying!
The Great Mouse Detective – 1986
Mice definitely appear on this list more than any other animal…
The Great Mouse Detective is a mystery film, and a nod to Sherlock Holmes, about detective Basil of Baker Street who helps investigate the kidnapping of young mouse Olivia Flaversham’s toymaker father by the evil Professor Ratigan.
Rover Dangerfield – 1991
This sharp comedy follows Rover (based on and voiced by comedian Rodney Dangerfield) a fun-loving dog living in Las Vegas with his showgirl owner Connie. After a series of misfortunes, Rover ends up lost in the countryside where he is picked up by a farmer and his son, and he has to adapt to farm life fairly quickly. It’s not your stereotypical kiddy flick but it’s good fun.
Quest for Camelot – 1998
Offering a unique take on the Legend of King Arthur and the mythical sword Excalibur, Quest for Camelot is about a young woman (named Kayley) who dreams of being one of the Knights of the Round Table, like her late father. When another knight tries to steal Excalibur and kill King Arthur, Kayley has to team up with blind hermit Garrett and a two-headed dragon (named Devon and Cornwall) to save the day. Growing up, it was great to watch a movie led by badass Kayley, as opposed to the usual Disney princess trope.
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