"Bugs Life," a 1998 film that follows Flik as he saves his colony, strays from the traditional Disney formula (Image via YouTube)
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"Bugs Life," a 1998 film that follows Flik as he saves his colony, strays from the traditional Disney formula (Image via YouTube)

Some of these movies are so under-appreciated that you may not have even heard of them.

When the average person, no matter their age, hears the term “Disney,” a few standard words and phrases come to mind, including: Magic Kingdom—happiest place on Earth—Cinderella’s castle and Mickey Mouse. More specifically, when someone hears “Disney movies,” most people think of the classic princess films: “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” or “Sleeping Beauty.”

People think of the common movies first because they’re advertised the most by Disney. What most people don’t know is that there’s over one hundred fifty Disney films in existence since the debut of their first film in 1937; this number doesn’t even include the movies scheduled to come out in the following years. Scattered throughout the long list of motion pictures produced by the corporation sits a few underrated titles that deserve some more credit for their storyline, theme or influence on the magical world of Disney.

Listed below are five of the numerous movies released by Disney that deserve a little extra recognition.

1. “A Bug’s Life”

The 1998 animated film that follows the journey of an ant doesn’t seem like one to remember. Similar to most Disney pictures, this film showcases the story of an underdog, in this case Flik, as he tries to undo his mistake that ended with his entire colony loosing not only their food supply, but the one they owed to the bully grasshoppers as well. To win the affection of his crush, who happens to be the princess, Flik embarks on a journey to correct his wrongs after his community pushes him away to avoid another disaster.

When he comes back to the colony with a gang of supposed fighters to help the community rebel against the grasshoppers, it turns out the fighters are actually a preforming circus group. While it’s a cliché in most tales that hard work and being true to oneself results is the ultimate reward, the writers and directors had an interesting take on it, with the use of ants as the little guys and the circus group of outcast bugs to symbolize teamwork. The movie should be considered a classic that deserves more air time than the occasional time slot on a “Freeform” Disney marathon weekend.

2. “Cadet Kelly”

Many people know this title, especially young millennials, because the film starred one of the best ‘90s actresses, Hilary Duff. This 2002 Disney Channel original movie embodies the concept of girl power. Duff’s character, Kelly, transferred to a military academy after her mother married the head of the school. While Kelly, like most girls at the academy, tries to impress the campus cutie, she runs into trouble fitting into the stern, routine lifestyle the environment requires.

“Cadet Kelly” (Image via YouTube)

This movie is rare for Disney films, as Kelly finds herself on her own, although she has help along the way from other characters. But in the end, she creates bonds and friendships that allowed her to develop into a strong, independent woman, well, as much of a woman as a fourteen-year-old can be. For once, the young girl wasn’t a damsel in distress, awaiting the prince, or in this case the older boy, to save the day. The film is an overall whole-hearted movie about family, growing up and change, with some laughs added along the way.

3. “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”

Another classic story of the underdog, the 2001 picture follows Milo Thatch as he leads a crew into the lost city of Atlantis. Disney takes an alternative approach to Plato’s theory of the city of Atlantis that sunk into the ocean. Writers created this ancient, mythological civilization living in the hidden city under the control of a crystal. The film portrays the idea of explorers motivated by greed and wealth, willing to destroy what’s left of the Atlantis society for riches. Unlike his selfish acquaintances, Milo believes in restoring the great city and aiding those trapped down there. Mixed in with the story of Milo is that of Princess Kida, who truly deserves a spot on the publicized Disney princess roster; she embodies resilience, independence and never even sings a song while doing so. While the movie isn’t a cinematic masterpiece, the entirety of the plot explores history and tells the classic tale of good vs. evil along with some rebellious characters.

4. “Eloise at the Plaza”

Airing as an episode from “The Wonderful World of Disney,” the 2003 film quickly became a short-lived hit, with a sequel “Eloise at Christmastime.” The movie itself is based on the book series “Eloise” by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight. The film gives off some “Suite Life of Zack and Cody” vibes, as it follows young Eloise who lives at the New York Plaza hotel and causes ruckus to both the staff and the guests.

“Eloise at the Plaza” (Image via YouTube)

She comes up with elaborate schemes, especially for a six-year-old, to rekindle old romances between guests and urge everyone to be happy in their lives, while trying to distract herself from her mother’s absence. The overall best part of the movie is her nanny, played by Julie Andrews. Who doesn’t love Julie Andrews? While the movie sometimes appears unrealistic, as a young girl seems to rule a world renowned hotel, the film still manages to bring viewers back to their childhood in an odd way.

5. “Smart House”

Another Disney Channel original movie, released in 1999, “Smart House” is relevant to today’s society more than some may think. The film is based around a boy who wins a competition to live in a high-tech, self-sufficient house that does everything for the family, including: cooking, cleaning and watching their every move. Throughout a creepy series of events, the house computer, Pat, begins to take on the role of the missing mother figure and soon takes over the house. The movie is a symbol of how too much technology can ultimately be dangerous.

Today’s generation has 24/7 listening speakers, phones and computers, as well as self-driving cars that ride the nation’s streets and only continue to grow in popularity. There’s technology for almost every daily humane action. While there’s no crazy houses controlling your every move, you’re holding a device in your hands right now that you probably can’t live without. Let this ahead-of-its-time Disney movie be a reminder that too much technology isn’t always a good idea and there can be a way to find a perfect balance.

Sure, these movies aren’t the best-of-the-best Disney has to offer, because everyone likes the classics, but the films surely deserve more recognition. Like most motion pictures, each provides a heartfelt story with some distinct differences from the classics that make them one of a kind. These underrated films are a part of what makes the Disney name so well-known and the provider of the best stories.

Writer Profile

Lauren Clohessy

Northern Illinois University

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