Animated films were once a reminder of childhood and nostalgia. From unique, iconic fairy tales to stories of wildlife, it brought the wonders of imagination to life. Years on, it remains an ever-evolving genre known to connect with the viewers, not only for its ability to entertain and generate nostalgia, but also to present a variety of human and humane emotions through its portrayals.
If you are fascinated with the world of animation, here are a few movies, available on DisneyPlus Hotstar, that you must visit – or revisit – for times when you need some wholesome storylines, a little bit of inspiration, or even something edgier.
The Jungle Book (1967)
Some people grew up with The Jungle Book. Mowgli, Bagheera, Baloo – they don’t quite need an introduction. They are household names. But for the initiated, the film is the story of a child, Mowgli, who is found by Bagheera, a black panther, inside a basket in a jungle based in India. Bagheera saves the child, taking him to a wolf-mom, who raises him along with her cubs. Mowgli grows to be a happy kid, bonding with his jungle-mates, who on the other hand, treat him like their own. However, not all animals are friendly, some prey him too – making the kid’s life lurk in danger. And so, Bagheera and Baloo, the loving sloth bear, must convince him to go back to safety – to the land of humans.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
This is the timeless story of Princess Ariel, a mermaid fascinated with the world of humans. She wants to be free, and discover the land outside of the sea. As she swims to the ocean’s surface with her friends, Flounder the fish and Sebastian the crab, she falls in love with Prince Eric, a man she watches celebrating his birthday on a ship. An accident later, she saves and sings to him, but vanishes before the prince – now enchanted with her voice – can see her. Wanting to find a way to be with Eric, she goes to an evil sea witch, who agrees to transform her into a human for three days in exchange of her voice. She stores it inside a shell, aiming to use it to trick everyone involved. Whether Ariel’s love is enough to conquer all her hurdles forms the crux of the story.
This one’s yet another classic from Disney’s treasure chest. A young, poor boy Aladdin is in love with Princess Jasmine, the princess of Agrabah. However, she isn’t allowed to marry him, for he isn’t royal. Captured by the kingdom’s guards and Jafar, the greedy, royal Vizier, he is commanded to bring a lamp hidden in the Cave of Wonders. He finds it, but soon steals it back, realising that he was going to be abandoned in the cave by the deceitful man. Scared, he rubs the lamp – which, in fact, is magical, and there appears an all-blue Genie, granting him three life-changing wishes. Side poll: How many people can actually think of Aladdin without humming ‘Arabian Nights’?
The Lion King (1994)
Some stories have deep nostalgic value. The Lion King is one of them. The evergreen story focuses on the birth of the lion king Mufasa’s son, Simba. As the young, curious and delightfully mischievous cub grows, he becomes a part of many adventures before coming into his own as the rightful young heir of the throne, previously snatched away from his family after a devastating loss, and a deceit none of them had seen coming. Also, who can ever forget the sound of Nants ingonyama bagithi baba?
Toy Story (1995)
Yet another classic in the list, Toy Story is all things reminiscent of childhood. Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Potato Head, Sheriff Woody, it had it all. Presented from the point of view of a group of toys belonging to a young boy, Andy, it gives a unique perspective of how these seemingly lifeless toys ‘feel’ when competing for the affection of their owner. Starting off as a rivalry between Woody, Andy’s favourite toy, and Buzz, the newest, sparkling addition to his toy collection, the story then shapes into one of close friendship as the two get lost in the real world among a plethora of humans and animals.
Yes, there was a live-action film based on the original that released in 2020. But sometimes, originals should remain what they are – the OGs. Mulan, first released in 1998, was an empowering story of a young girl who enlists in the army as a man in order to protect her father, a former army man too weak to join the forces again, as the enemy, the Huns, invade her land. The film was a big shift from the regular Disney stories, touching upon the problems of patriarchy and gender norms. It presented a protagonist that fought fiercely, was extremely smart and independent, and who broke through the shambles of a far-too-traditional society that confined its women. Also, let’s talk about Asian representation, shall we?
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
This film was quite the unique Disney product. It wasn’t a musical, but ventured towards the action-adventure genre. Inspired by the works of French poet, novelist and playwright Jules Verne, the story revolves around Milo Thatcher, a linguist, who discovers a manuscript with the directions to Atlantis – an island lost in the sea after a deathly tsunami stroke ages ago. His curiosity to discover the long-forgotten empire leads him to join an expedition and unfold the truth behind its disappearance.
In any other day or time, you can’t help but flinch if you imagine a rodent inside your kitchen. But in the powerful, imaginative world of animation, a rodent isn’t harmful – it’s rather a genius. Remy is a rat who thrives on cooking. With a great sense of smell and taste, he has the capability of becoming a MasterChef of his own. He finds his golden chance when he meets a restaurant’s new garbage boy, the kind-hearted Linguini. The man can surprisingly understand and empathize with Remy, and not only that, he also supports a rodent’s dreams of becoming a chef in the human world.
Based in the 29th century, the film is, at its core, a love story. In an Earth left with no humans after years of environmental neglect and never-ending greed, there exists a curious, adorable and lonely robot, Wall-E. He does his job of cleaning and compressing garbage, and is the last of his kind to now exist. In a broken, junk TV he once discovers, he watches forlornly, a movie about two humans in love. His life takes a turn when he meets, and is left completely smitten by the sleek, almost new robot named Eve, sent from another planet to Earth, to probe the existence of life there. With her, Wall-E finds himself on a journey to space, and with that, a series of adventures that could decide his future, as well as his planet’s. Be prepared to shed some tears in this one.
The first Pixar film to get nominated for the Best Picture at the Oscars, Up is that film you cannot watch without a box of tissues handy. Essentially a story of love, loss and finding new meanings, it centres upon an elderly widower, Carl, who wants to fulfil his wife’s last wish of shifting their house to Paradise Falls in South America – a place she always wished to move to, but couldn’t. Now lonely and grumpy, Carl decides to turn his house into a makeshift airship, using thousands of helium balloons to make it fly. Russell, a young boy wanting to earn a merit badge for helping out the elderly, joins him in the ride. What ensues thereafter is a series of misadventures, a beautify odd friendship, and realizations from memoirs left untouched, giving Carl a new outlook towards life.
Based on a fairy-tale for the ages, Tangled is the story of Rapunzel, a beautiful young princess with lustrous, long hair that is both literally and figuratively, magical. Locked in a secluded fortress with nowhere to go, she meets – and eventually falls in love with – Eugene, a naive but kind-hearted thief who tries to steal her crown. Holding it as a leverage, Rapunzel then plans out an adventure, hoping to discover the world outside; a world that had always been hidden from her.
Directed by Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews, this empowering, uplifting film is about Princess Merida, Pixar’s first Disney princess. She is feisty, opinionated and talented, knowing her worth very well. As she is forced to abide by an age-old norm – to get married to a first-born son of one of her father’s allies – she rebels. Not only does she participate in an archery contest with the suitors, she ends up beating them all. But as she runs away, she faces the consequences of a curse that her mother faces the brunt of, making her rethink of a way to save her while creating her own path.
Now who doesn’t find comfort in Frozen? A multiple Oscar-winning film, it was known for its soundtrack (remember Elsa joyously singing Let It Go?), characterizations and screenplay. It’s the story of two loving sisters Elsa and Anna, who grow distant as Elsa’s ever-growing powers of creating ice and snow become harder for her control. Fearing Anna’s safety and her kingdom’s disdain, the elder sister, also the newly-crowned queen, runs away after accidentally unleashing her powers before the court. As she keeps losing control, the land soon becomes frozen. Anna then takes it upon herself to bring her – and the summer – back. Also, watch it for Olaf, the loving snowman.
Inside Out (2015)
How many times have you looked at a person and thought, ‘I wonder what goes on inside their mind’? This film brings that idea to life, and is a beautifully nuanced take on memories and a subtle one on mental health. When a young girl Riley, moves from her old town in Minnesota to an altogether different life in San Francisco, she goes through a tirade of emotions. Her five essential emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger, go on an overdrive as she struggles to cope and adjust under her new circumstances. Sadness, to Joy’s annoyance, is specifically at work, pretty much numbing the effects of all other emotions. As a result, they get into a fight, and end up getting lost. As they struggle to find their way back, the other emotions loom large in Riley’s head, threatening her to lose herself.
What happens when a blight-stricken island is in need of a hero to save their lives, and bring their ‘heart’ to the right place? A little girl, Moana, is chosen by the ocean itself, to protect her land, and save it from a volcanic demon, whose darkness is now slowly poisoning their land. In the process, she has to find, and convince, an eccentric demigod called Maui to help her find the missing heart of the island’s goddess, Te Fiti, whose heart he had once stolen. An unlikely friendship is forged thereafter, as the demigod and Moana learn and grow with each other amidst a hard battle.
Now who doesn’t like a buddy-cop comedy with animals? The Academy Award-winning Zootopia is hilarious, heart-warming and thrilling, all combined within an hour and a half of runtime. It’s a zootopic world – with no humans and all furry beings co-existing with one another. Rabbit Judy Hopps, a police officer at the Zootopia Police Academy, is looked down upon by her chief for being a small animal. In order to prove her credentials, she sets out to reveal the truth of a criminal conspiracy by teaming up with a street-smart fox con artist, Nick Wilde.
The visually stunning film is deeply humorous as well as a tear-jerker. Made from the perspective of 12-year-old Miguel, an aged Coco’s grandson, it’s a story of music, love, memories and the stories left untold. Miguel believes that he is different from his family, the one that thrives on traditions but has banned music from their roots. Miguel, on the other hand, wants to be a musician. Just like his great grandfather, who left his wife and a young Coco to pursue music. During the Day of the Dead, a festival where the ghosts of the family’s ancestors pay them a visit, he mistakenly gets transported to their world, and must find a way to convince his great grandfather to help him. In this path, he stumbles upon a secret that may change everything – for the better.
Directed by Domee Shi, this Oscar-winning short film is a beautifully-written ode to motherhood. The story is based on an ageing woman, now staying alone with her husband after her son moves out of their house. She is suffering from empty nest syndrome and deeply misses her son, when one day, a steamed bun (baozi) she cooks springs to life. She is taken aback at first but slowly brings herself to care about the baby dumpling, as she starts raising it as her own child.
Isle Of Dogs (2018)
Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion animation venture (after the brilliant Fantastic Mr. Fox) is smartly-written, witty, dark and edgy. It’s not exactly meant for children, but is more for adult consumers. A story about politics amidst an outbreak of ‘canine influenza,’ a disease in danger of becoming contagious for humans, the dictator-like mayor of the city commands for all dogs to be transported to Trash Island – less of an island, more of a dumpster. A group of dogs there, led by Chief, a black dog, form their own pack, trying to revolt the injustices done to them in the island, now known as the Isle Of Dogs. One day, they stumble upon a 12-year-old boy, who travels to the land in search of his long-lost dog, Spots. While the pack decides to help the boy in his tryst, a larger political conspiracy unfolds in the city.
Luca is a delightful coming-of-age story of a scared, young sea monster of the same name, residing deep within the sea. He is curious about the world outside, but is also scared of land monsters his family warns him to stay far, far away from. He then stumbles upon a fellow sea monster, a confident young Alberto Scorfano, and sets out to the somewhat scary, and otherwise colourful new world of humans. Luca and Alberto both turn into young boys when outside of water, and venture into their own adventure of learning to walk, breathe and live anew while hiding their true identities from people who seem to enjoy eating their tribe.