Do you suddenly have a lot of free time at home to watch Disney+ movies, television shows, documentaries, and so forth? Here are our Disney Plus top picks. Rather than simply sharing what has the best scores on Rotten Tomatoes, we’ll share some personal favorites and overlooked gems.
Actually, that’s mostly what the list is. If you’re reading this blog, you’re a Disney fan. You probably don’t need anyone to recommend the Disney animated classics, or anything Star Wars or Marvel. We’ll mostly refrain from pointing out the obvious, with a few exceptions of things that are near and dear to our hearts.
This is also not a comprehensive list because we’re adults without kids who are most definitely not the target audience for a lot of the programming on Disney Plus. (As we’ve said before, HBO is more our speed.) While we enjoy a ton of Disney+ content, we also have huge blindspots. Accordingly, expect a list fueled by 1980s/1990s nostalgia, plus random other stuff on Disney+ that we’ve really enjoyed…
Along those lines, this list is fairly light on Disney+ original programming. Part of that is there’s just been little that has appealed to us. The World According to Jeff Goldblum, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Diary of a Future President, and Forky Asks a Question have all scored decently with critics and audiences, but we couldn’t get into any of them.
That’s all a long-winded way of saying that your mileage may vary with our list of Disney+ favorites. With all of that said, here are the Disney+ television shows, movies, and documentaries that we love…
Waking Sleeping Beauty – The documentary for people who are too lazy to read DisneyWar. This film documents the history of Walt Disney Feature Animation from 1984 to 1994, chronicling the events that precipitated and culminated in the Disney Renaissance. Waking Sleeping Beauty vacillates between brutally honest and Disney fairy tale, and is essential viewing before watching any animated films from the late 1980s or early 1990s. (Seriously though, read DisneyWar. It’s exponentially better than this documentary–which itself is excellent!)
Beauty and the Beast – Perhaps you’ve heard of this one? It’s my favorite Disney animated film of all-time, and is a great immediate follow-up to Waking Sleeping Beauty.
Wall-E – It still boggles my mind that this film got made, as the not so subtle subtext of Wall-E is a vicious critique of companies like Disney and their core demographic. Wall-E was in development before the Pixar acquisition–I cannot fathom Disney green-lighting this masterpiece today.
The Imagineering Story – This Disney+ original documentary about Walt Disney Imagineering is the must-watch for anyone reading this blog. The six episode series chronicles key moments in the design of the parks, from the opening of Disneyland through Shanghai Disneyland and beyond. The best episode is unquestionably “Hit or Miss,” which is far more candid and honest than you’d ever expect–and will disabuse diehard fans of the notion that Disney is infallible. The final two episodes teeter too much into marketing puffery, but it’s still an exceptional docu-series.
Wild Yellowstone – Impressive camera work and technology makes this an intense but not overly-dramatic look at survival in Yellowstone National Park. It borders on being gimmicky and overly flashy, but the counterpoint to that is it’s more likely to keep the attention of kids.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids – The next trio of films is my “Disney-MGM Studios Must-Watch” list. (If Dick Tracy were available on Disney+, it would also make that list.) Not because any of them had an outsize presence in the park, but because they are imbued with that same ethos that guided the original sensibility of the park now known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Watching this trio will give you a pretty good idea of what the park felt like during its first ~5 years.
The Rocketeer – One of the most exciting Disney films for me as a kid. I remember wearing an issue of Disney Adventures dog-eared as I read and re-read the cover story about this exciting new film. At the time, my love was predicated upon the “flying rocketman” element of the film. As an adult, I love the Rocketeer on another level entirely, appreciating the Art Deco stylization, period elements of 1930s Los Angeles, beautiful score & cinematography, and more. This is deserving of cult classic status, and holds up today.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – This ranks up there with Chinatown and L.A. Confidential in terms of film noir crime thrillers. It’s also a relatively true story of Los Angeles, covering topics ranging from the Pacific Electric Railway system conspiracy to political corruption. Truly a masterpiece.
Home Alone – Apropos of our current collective situation, albeit possibly not so much the “alone” part. Also contains some potentially practical advice for security, should things come to that.
Muppet Christmas Carol– If we’re opening the door on Christmas programming, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all-time favorite Muppet Christmas Carol. Might as well drown our sorrows in some holiday wholesomeness. (And ice cream.)
The Muppets – While we’re on the topic, we could recommend nearly all things Muppets. One we’d encourage you not to overlook is the most recent series on ABC, which was cancelled after only one season. It starts out a bit too cynical and reality television-esque, but found its footing after the first few episodes and turned into something quirky, almost like a Muppet-y version of 30 Rock.
Boy Meets World – A delightful mix of 1990s nostalgia and family-friendly fare with occasionally poignant messages. Perfect comfort food television for putting on in the background or as a reprieve from the non-stop negative news.
Pete’s Dragon – If the criterion for Disney live action remakes is “the degree to which it improved upon the original” then Pete’s Dragon is far and away the best one. We’d love to see more like this, and fewer attempts to cash-in on the popularity of animated masterpieces. After all, some smart creative dude once said, “you can’t top pigs with pigs.”
Ratatouille – Everything about Ratatouille is brilliant. It’s at once a love letter to Paris, an inspiring story about the pursuit of excellence, and so much more.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers – I’d like to think that this show can be appreciated on multiple levels–after all, Chip and Dale are stand-ins for Magnum P.I. and Indiana Jones–but perhaps that’s just my nostalgia. For my money, this was the best show on Disney Afternoon.
Inside Out – Pixar’s most emotional film, arguably in more ways than the obvious. This is one of my top 10 films of the last decade, and no other Disney movies made that list. (Oddly enough, the end credit segment with cats is what has stuck with me the most–why can’t we have more ‘cats doing cat things’ movies?!)
Moana – Sarah’s favorite Disney animated film. The music really sticks with you, and makes this such an enjoyable movie.
Country Bears – You might think I’m biased towards this critically-panned, commercially-unsuccessful film because it features two things I love: Christopher Walken and the Country Bears. I am not. This is utterly unwatchable. Including Country Bears is very much my transparent attempt to juice the stats in the hopes that Disney will see tons of people tuning in, and will make a live action Country Bear Christmas movie as a result of its newfound cult popularity.
The Mandalorian – This is bound to be an unpopular opinion, but I think the Mandalorian is overrated. Its surprise character is undeniably cute, but the show leans too heavily on Baby Yoda. The supporting cast does a great job and the visuals are gorgeous, and those together with the ultimate payoff in the final two episodes makes the build-up worth it. At times getting there feels like an uneven slog, with a dull main character.
John Carter – Everyone has their own “criminally underrated” Disney movie that could’ve been a smash commercial success if it were just marketed or edited differently. This is ours. It won’t be available on Disney+ until May 2020, but we love it so much it’s making the list now.
The Good Dinosaur – This is basically a quirky movie about dinosaurs set in a Thomas Moran painting. What’s not to love? Well…a lot, as it turns out. It’s definitely a minor entry into Pixar’s formidable catalog, but it’s fun, gorgeous, and worth a watch.
Apollo: Missions to the Moon – At a time like this, an inspiring true story of American ingenuity and innovation can provide just the morale boost that is needed. This is a good, albeit uneven, look at Project Apollo.
Classic Animated Shorts – Literally all of them. Highlights include Pluto’s Christmas Tree,Boat Builders, the Art of Skiing, and How to Swim. These are each only a few minutes long, but are beautifully animated, full of gags, and containing tremendous heart and emotion.
Tron: Legacy – I’ll level with you: I’m not a huge fan of the original Tron. I get why it’s beloved by so many, but it does nothing for me. Tron: Legacy is by no means great, but it’s a slicky-produced popcorn flick with a beautiful aesthetic and great soundtrack. For us, it’s a ton of fun and infinitely more “watchable” than the original. (Sorry?)
I know there are dozens of additional titles we’re leaving off the list, but this is more than enough to get started. Who knows–maybe you’ll have suggestions of things we should watch, and in fitting Disney fashion, we’ll follow this list up with a sequel or live action remake!
What do you think of our list of the “best” things to watch on Disney+? Any non-obvious movies or shows you’d recommend? Underrated or overlooked gems? Overrated content that you would not recommend? Agree or disagree with any of our picks? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!