In 1937, the Walt Disney Animation Studios released its first full-length animated feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” The studio continues releasing new films having now reached 60 theatrical releases. They have covered princesses, classical music, fairy tales, literary classics and even video game characters. For this list, I’m going to rank the fully animated films Disney released between 1937 and 1949. It will cover the films that make up Disney’s Golden Age of Animation and its Wartime Era. The only film missing from this list is “Make Mine Music” which isn’t available on Disney+ in the United States. Let’s take a look at my list and remember this is completely subjective.
10. MELODY TIME
This package film from the Wartime Era looked to recreate the magic of “Fantasia” by using contemporary music from the 1940s. There are some nice animated sequences, but, to me, it leaves a lot to be desired.
9. SALUDOS AMIGOS
This is the very first package film to be released during the Wartime Era. It focuses on Walt and a group of executives and animators who toured Latin America during World War II as part of the United States’ “Good Neighbor Policy.” It includes some interesting, animated segments as well as some live action scenes of the tour. The animated shorts were good, but the live action parts were boring. Plus, it’s the shortest Walt Disney Animated Studios feature. It needs more animation and less video of the tour.
The fourth feature-length animated film from Disney is one of the simplest. It tells the story of an elephant with big ears who is an outcast at the circus until he learns to fly. It’s cute. It has its moments, but, as a viewer, it left me wanting more to the story. But, given the financial state of the studio in the 1940s, it makes sense to make a film this simple and cost effective.
This is an adorable film about a baby deer who grows up and has a family. He’s the son of the Great Prince of the Forest and goes on to live with his father after the death of his mother. It has one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the Disney canon when Bambi is looking for his mother after she’s been shot by the hunter. It’s a classic, but I enjoyed other films more.
6. FUN AND FANCY FREE
Another package film from Disney’s Wartime Era, “Fun and Fancy Free” features just two segments. The first about Bongo, a circus bear that ends up falling in love with a bear in the woods, is incredibly cute. The second features Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy as they tell the story of Mickey and the Beanstalk. Both are a lot of fun.
5. THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD
The final package film from Disney’s Wartime Era gives us a look at two classic literary stories. The first half tells the story of the Wind and the Willows as Mr. Toad has become fascinated with motorcars, ends up accused of a crime, convicted, sentenced to prison and then breaks out while Mole and Rat clear his name. It’s the inspiration for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. The second half tells the story of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod Crane must flee Sleepy Hollow after being hunted by the Headless Horseman. It’s a forgotten film, but one that should be revisited.
This film is Disney’s greatest risk since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Seven animated shorts set to classical music. It was Disney’s dream project and while it flopped in the theaters in the 1940s, it found its audience once it could be shown on television and home video release became possible. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Night on Bald Mountain” are two wonderful shorts and the music in those segments is absolutely incredible. It’s a film I hated as a kid but have a greater appreciation for as an adult.
3. THE THREE CABALLEROS
The second package film from Disney’s Wartime Era is also the second film set in Latin America as part of the “Good Neighbor Policy.” It brings back the lovable, Jose Carioca, who first appeared in Saludos Amigos and introduces a new friend in Panchitos Pistolles. It’s the most fun film from this era of Disney Animation in my opinion.
2. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
The first animated film ever released by Disney was called “Disney’s folly” while it was being made. Most thought there wasn’t a market for a full-length animated film. They were wrong. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” went on to be a smashing success and paved the way for the studio that makes great films today. It’s a bit simple, but it was exactly what it needed to be in 1937. It’s the most important animated film of all time, but I like one film from this timeframe a little more.
The second Disney film wasn’t the smashing success that “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was, but I think it told a better, more complex story. It’s a bit episodic, but still tells a great story of how Pinocchio goes from puppet to a real boy and learns a lot along the way. It’s my favorite film from Disney’s Golden Age of Animation and my favorite film from the 1930s-1940s. Plus, it gave us the most iconic song in the Disney canon and when you consider how much Disney is thought to be a princess studio, it’s amazing the song that you hear before every single Disney movie was originally sang by a cricket in a tophat.
That’s my list. There are some great films during this timeframe. There are some hidden gems that people really should check out if they haven’t already. And there are some films that may have been great back then, but just don’t hold up over time. But I want to know how you would rank the films from the 1930s & 40s?