Best Disney Animated Movies of the 2000s Ranked

After seemingly finding their groove in the Disney Renaissance in the decade prior, Disney was entering a new era of film for their company. One that ended up being full of experimentalism, risks, and breaking the traditional mold of their storytelling and film concepts, though ultimately to mixed critical and box office success. However, the final result was a combination of films that Disney probably would never have taken a chance on today, with even a few hidden gems on the roster. Below is a Top 10 list of theatrically released films made by Walt Disney Animation Studios in the 2000s.

RELATED: Best Animated Movies Of The 2000s (That Aren’t Pixar)

10. Chicken Little (2005)

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Disney’s first fully computer-animated feature film follows Chicken Little (Zack Braff) after he has been publicly ridiculed by his town and his father. After making a seemingly false claim that “the sky is falling”, which had sent the town into a mass panic, the underdog Chicken Little must save the town from an incoming alien invasion, while also attempting to mend his strained relationship with his father.

This movie tonally fits in with the precedent of “modern” parodying of fairy tales that was popularized by Dreamworks’ Shrek a few years prior. However, this also leaves it tonally dissonant with the rest of Disney’s movie catalog. Complete with a soundtrack of older famous pop songs, and an opening scene mocking the trope of starting a fairy tale with “Once Upon a Time”. This movie is rather tongue-in-cheek with its humor and shows that even Disney can mix it up and create something completely different from their typical formula.


9. Home on the Range (2004)

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Following the news that their home, a small dairy farm named Patch of Heaven, is being sold because the owner is unable to pay off her debt, three cows by the names of Maggie (Roseanne Barr), Grace (Jennifer Tilly), and Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) embark on a journey across the plains to find a way to save the farm. Alongside a wild sheriff’s horse named Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.), they go after the mysterious and threatening cattle rustler, Alameda Slim, to get the bounty reward that will cover the debt owed for the farm.

The writing is sharp enough throughout the film to keep it entertaining, the setting is a fun and stylistic interpretation of the wild West, and the leading cows are charming due to the A-List actresses voicing them (you can never go wrong with Judi Dench). However, there isn’t much within the film’s story or emotional core that will make it a true classic like some others on this list (outside of the psychedelic yodeling cow montage, courtesy of Alameda Slim, of course).

8. Brother Bear (2003)

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After the death of his brother Sitka, Brother Bear tells the story of Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix) as he is transformed into a bear because he upset the spirits by killing the bear who he blames for killing Sitka. Kenai must now travel through the Alaskan wilderness with a young bear cub named Koda (Jamie Suarez) to transform himself back into a human (this is a recurring plot theme in a few of the films on this list).

The animation is grand and eye-catching, and the setting of the Inuit tribe is unique with a warm and cozy atmosphere. However, the film is full of random semi-comedic fluff that struggles to land due to unmemorable side characters, ultimately slowing down its pace and leaving it feeling tonally confused at times. The songs by Phil Collins are one of the more memorable aspects of the film, giving it a similar vibe to 1999’s Tarzan, and the care that Collins put into the soundtrack is evident. Ultimately, it’s good, it’s just not one of the stronger Disney films of the decade.

7. Bolt (2008)

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Working on an action film lot in Hollywood with his owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus), Bolt (John Travolta) is a dog who is unaware that he is an actor because the film studio made him believe that he actually has superpowers and that everything in their TV show is real. Through a series of accidents, Bolt gets separated from Penny and must travel cross-country with Mittens (Susie Essman), a snarky stray alley cat, and Rhino (Mark Walton), an overzealous fanatical hamster, to return to Penny and learn what being a real dog is all about.

This movie pulls at the heartstrings of any animal lover through Bolt coming full circle at the end of the film and realizing what it truly means to be a super-dog for Penny. Also, while the film isn’t a musical, the rendition of “Barking at the Moon” which plays at the end of the movie will make anyone want to drop everything and cuddle their pet. It gives the film a very comforting and quaint atmosphere that emphasizes the story’s emotional themes of love and finding home.

6. Treasure Planet (2002)

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Treasure Planet was the passion project of John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules), who co-wrote, produced, and directed the film, and it shows. As a Sci-Fi adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original adventure novel, Treasure Island, the story follows a teenage Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he embarks on a mission across the galaxy to find the mysterious Treasure Planet with the lost loot of Captain Nathaniel Flint. Treasure Planet is the most expensive traditionally animated film ever made and you can see this extended budget in every aspect of the film. The locations are detailed and sprawling, and the bronze and gold aesthetics are cohesive and original for a space/sci-fi film.

The only thing holding this movie back from being higher on this list is how many of the lead characters lack a strong personality, and the film has overall somewhat messy pacing. The decision to introduce the wacky comedic relief character of B.E.N (Martin Short) so late into the film feels a bit disorienting overall, and honestly, Jim Hawkins feels like a less charming Aladdin in most scenes. However, his complicated relationship with the charismatic cyborg John Silver (Brian Murray) gives the film the heart necessary to make it an easy rewatch nonetheless.

5. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

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Easily the funniest film on this list, The Emperor’s New Groove follows the spoiled and selfish Emperor Kuzco (David Spade) as he is accidentally transformed into a llama (he was supposed to be dead) by his advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt) in an attempt to steal his throne. Now he needs the help of the kind llama herder Pacha (John Goodman) to transform back and reclaim his throne. It is doubtful that the unconventional concept of an Incan emperor being turned into a llama would be greenlit by Disney today, but The Emperor’s New Groove has become a fan favorite and is one of the most quotable animated films of recent decades.

The movie is unafraid of being too off-the-walls with its comedy, which gives it a very charming and self-aware tone. Combined with this, the story finds its heart in the eventual friendship that grows between Pacha and Kuzco, and the two villains Kronk and Yzma keep the conflict light and entertaining. Though the plot doesn’t have as much depth as other Disney movies, this film is a blast to watch time and time again.

4. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

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With a similar feeling to Treasure Planet, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is an ensemble adventure movie that follows linguist Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) as he joins a team of mercenaries to find the lost city of Atlantis. Once there, he finds a still thriving civilization and its warrior princess, Kida (Cree Summer), though in the process they discover a threat that could potentially end life in Atlantis as they know it. Dark and a little gritty, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a strong departure from the traditional animated Disney movies, with its blocky art style and unconventional story leads.

Atlantis succeeds where Treasure Planet fell because of its delightfully nerdy protagonist, Milo Thatch, who is both charmingly awkward yet confident when he needs to be, making his character feel sympathetic and well-rounded. Overall, the colorful and engaging cast and unusual Steampunk aesthetics set this film apart from anything Disney has made before or after it.

3. Meet the Robinsons (2007)

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Even though most people only remember the T-Rex scene from this movie, it is one of the biggest hidden gems on this list. Meet the Robinsons tells the story of Lewis (Jordan Fry), an orphaned science prodigy who meets the charismatic Wilbur Robinson (Wesley Singerman), a confident and wisecracking kid from the future as Wilbur is trying to find the Robinson’s missing time machine that was stolen by The Bowler Hat Guy (Stephen John).

Once in the future, Lewis and Wilbur go on an adventure of self-discovery, while also meeting Wilbur’s quirky and colorful family, and the way that this story comes together to fit perfectly at the end is so emotionally satisfying that you may even shed a few tears. Though its humor may not be as ridiculous as some of the other entries on this list, the subtlety of its jokes, which often pass without fanfare, is even funnier on the second or third re-watch of the film. With its retro-futuristic aesthetic and strong messages about family and belonging, Meet the Robinsons is easily one of the most underrated films of the decade.

2. Princess and the Frog (2009)

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The Princess and the Frog marks both Disney’s first Black princess, as well as their final project in traditional 2-D animation. Based in 1920’s New Orleans, the film follows the hard-working waitress, Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), as she tries to achieve her dream of owning her own restaurant. She happens to meet the Prince of Maldonia, Naveen (Bruno Campos), who has been recently financially cut off from his parents to hopefully motivate him into doing something with his life (besides philandering and goofing around), and the two get turned into frogs by The Shadow Man, Dr. Facilier (Keith David).

Together, they travel through the bayou to find a way to change back into humans. Tiana and Naveen are truly one of the best couples in the Disney Princess lineup as they both drive each other to want to improve and grow as people, balancing each other’s weaknesses well. Along with this, the general backdrop of the bayou is stunning, glittering with golds and greens, and the Mardi Gras setting provides an interesting style unique to the story. Though not underrated in the overall Disney Canon, this movie still doesn’t receive as much attention as it deserves. A sequel series is set to be released on Disney+ in 2023.

1. Lilo & Stitch (2002)

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While also not an underrated movie, Lilo & Stitch truly deserves every bit of praise it has received. After a violence-prone alien, later named Stitch (Chris Sanders), crashes onto the tiny island of Hawaii, he is adopted by the struggling sisters, Lilo (Daveigh Chase) and Nani Pelekai (Tia Carrere), as their new “puppy”. While Stitch is forced to learn what it means to be part of a family, Lilo and Nani are struggling with Child Protective Services who are threatening to take Lilo away.

Every aspect of this film works so perfectly in unison, creating an experience that is both hilarious and heartbreaking (if you say you don’t cry during “Aloha ‘Oe”, you’re lying). Because of how much it cost to make Treasure Planet, which was released in the same year, this film had to be made on a strict budget, but these limitations gave the film its uniquely stylistic photo-painted backdrops. If you had told me that Disney made a movie about a space alien in Hawaii that is adopted by two sisters struggling to stay together despite CPS, and that a majority of the soundtrack is Elvis Presley music? I’d have to see it to believe it, as something like this could only have been made in this very experimental period of Disney’s animation history.

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Bobby Allyn

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