With the triumph of Frozen and the ever-popular “Let It Go” that we still hear to this day, Disney proved that they were back to form and ready to pump out some real gems.
The Disney Renaissance ended with the release of Tarzan in 1999, which is when Disney fell into a slump that’d last a solid decade. During that time, Disney struggled to captivate audiences with their animated movies to lackluster results.
Save for a few hits—like The Emperor’s New Groove and Lilo & Stitch, which were two examples of what Disney could be when firing on all cylinders—the studio had, for the most part, lost its inspiration.
Then John Lassiter took over animation at Disney and oversaw a revival era that’s still ongoing. This era is lovingly referred to by fans as the Disney Revival Era, which sees Disney regaining its place as one of the world’s best animated movie studios.
Here are our favorite picks for the best Disney Revival Era movies that have been coming out since 2009, ranked to the top.
8. The Princess and The Frog (2009)
The adapted tale of a princess that kisses a frog and turns into a beautiful… frog? The Princess and The Frog wasn’t a straightforward retelling of the classic fairy tale, instead set in New Orleans with some terrifying voodoo themes and a selfish prince.
It was the right call by its filmmakers! The movie was the start of Disney’s revival, and it showed that they still had the magic touch—so long as they had their best people working on the project.
7. Wreck-It-Ralph (2012)
A loving homage to classic video game arcades and the characters that inhabited them, Wreck-It-Ralph follows the eponymous Ralph as he searches a way to stop being “the bad guy” in his own video game.
Ralph’s desperation to show that he can be good almost destroys the entire arcade, but with help from his newfound friends, he learns how to fix everything and even uncovers a conspiracy.
The movie is well-acted and a beautiful film about nostalgia, reminding myself of my own days spent playing arcade games.
6. Tangled (2010)
The long-awaited adaptation of the Rapunzel fairy tale was epic in size and scale, the animation was stunning, and the story ended up delivering a gripping narrative for people of all ages.
When rogue thief Flynn Ryder escapes the palace with the tiara, he runs into a hidden tower, only to find a girl with incredibly long hair. He takes her to see the magic kingdom’s lantern celebration in exchange for his loot back—and they fall in love along their journey.
Disney’s big move into modern computer animation started with the release of Tangled, utilizing new technologies alongside traditional techniques to create a refreshed look to their style. Tangled remains one of Disney’s best efforts to date.
5. Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
The sequel to Wreck-It-Ralph wasn’t only bigger, but seriously better than the original. The first adventure represented a look into the past, where the second looked into the future.
We caught up with Ralph and Vanellope not long after the first film’s conclusion as they take a trip into the internet, which has just been connected in the arcade.
The animation was mesmerizing and the script inventive, showcasing just how strange a place the internet is. Throw in one of the best cameo appearances (all the Disney princesses) and Ralph Breaks the Internet becomes a rare sequel that betters the first film.
4. Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)
The tale of Raya, a young warrior who’s partly responsible for unleashing an evil that almost ends the world, is one of the most visceral that Disney has ever produced.
It’s a story about the corrosive nature of vengeance and how not trusting one another can be fatal to society. When Raya locates Sisu, the last dragon, they endeavor to bring back what is lost and restore balance to a broken world.
Awkwafina’s incredibly goofy and loving performance as Sisu is the film’s heart, along with Kelly Marie Tran who brings an edge to Raya. All in all, the originality of story and beauty of animation both signal that Disney is still going strong in its Revival Era.
3. Frozen (2013)
While movies like Tangled and Wreck-It-Ralph ramped up the Revival Era, Frozen was the milestone that truly nailed it. The adapted story of The Snow Queen, Frozen told the tale of two sisters—Anna and Elsa—who had been driven apart by their parents’ deaths.
Elsa the Snow Queen struggles to contain her powers from the view of the outside world, and upon learning of her sister’s intention to marry a man she just met, she briefly loses her temper and reveals her abilities—to the horror of the onlooking crowd.
The movie made over a billion dollars at the box office and became one of Disney’s lifelong classics, even garnering a sequel in 2019.
2. Zootopia (2016)
Zootopia was more than just a story of a bunny police officer bunny and a wiley fox thief who team up to solve a mystery—it was a clever use of anthropomorphic animals to commentary on society.
Officer Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde’s journey together is one of Disney’s best pairings ever, and the film is a message about everybody doing their best to get along in a world that can be harsh.
Vocal performances by both Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin are outstanding, as is the design of the vast world that’s animated around them. Zootopia became a huge critical and financial success for Disney, with a spin-off series on the way.
1. Moana (2016)
Moana is an endlessly beautiful and rewatchable picture. Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Auli’i Cravalho, Moana tells a tale adapted from the Hawaiian legend of Maui.
Princess Moana yearns to explore the ocean, though she’s forbidden from going beyond the reef surrounding her island. But when the island starts to die, she must go and find the reason why… so she sets out to find Maui and restore the heart of Te Fiti, which Maui stole.
The visuals and script are incredible—as good as any Disney movie has been in many years. Coupled with two phenomenal performances and an ending unlike any other in Disney’s oeuvre, Moana edges out the other Revival Era movies as Disney’s utmost best.