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25 Disney Plus movies you should watch at launch

We sifted through the 600-some titles to find the gems

Walt Disney Pictures

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The Twitter thread through The Walt Disney Company used to reveal the streaming launch titles for Disney Plus was a long one, with more than 300 tweets naming movies and TV shows ranging from iconic series like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to Fuzzbucket. Now that the platform has actually launched, it’s all available to watch, and it’s an overwhelming pile of entertainment, including decades of content not just from Disney, Marvel, Pixar, and National Geographic, but from the 20th Century Fox back catalog as well.

To help out, we’ve assembled 25 of the must-see movies streaming now on Disney Plus. From some of Disney’s earliest offerings (Journey to the Center of the Earth) to some of its most recent (Inside Out), this list boils the Disney Plus experience down to the bare necessities.

Dalmatians Pongo, Perdita, and their many puppies watch TV in Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Gather ‘round!
Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

101 Dalmatians (1961)

Walt Disney famously disliked 101 Dalmatians. He wanted his animated films to be validated as art, but art, it turns out, costs a great deal of time and money. After betting big on the elaborate, expensive fantasy films of his studio’s early era, the animators needed to find technology that allowed for faster, more affordable process. They found their solution in Xerox. 101 Dalmatians was an ideal match for the new technology, with its more modern setting and hip art style. For Disney, it was a departure from the clean, luxurious, inky visuals of the past, in favor of something rougher, grungier, and cruder. But then — and even more so now — critics and fans have championed 101 Dalmatians aesthetic. If you look closely, you can see the animators’ penciling, and even the magnetic dust from the Xerox process. The improved definition of modern TVs makes what Disney saw as flaws more visible, but decades later, those flaws give the movie a vitality that can’t be found in many animated films before or after it. —Chris Plante

Mr. Frog holds up a document for his friends to inspect.
“No, they really did cross over The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow!”
Image: Walt Disney Productions

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Why did Disney Animation pair adaptations of a 1900s Scottish children’s novel and an 1800s American ghost story? Because the money made sense. It’s a minor miracle this double bill exists, let alone that it’s so enjoyable. Disney was first pitched an adaptation of The Wind in the Willows in 1938. The film began production in 1941, following the Disney animators’ strike, but along with other projects at the studio, it was hobbled by financial constraints. Over the following years, the project closed and reopened production, but Walt Disney was never fully satisfied with the project, ultimately demanding it shift from a feature-length production to a 25-minute short. Disney’s adaptation of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” saw a similar fate, getting its runtime chopped. With two shorts on hand, and a need to make the most of what had been produced, Disney paired a decade’s worth of animation into one strange release.

Watching the films, none of this behind-the-scenes drama manifests. They’re lively, playful adaptations of childhood classics, full of old-fashioned tunes and moody landscapes, perfect for cool and windy fall days. And even though Mr. Toad didn’t score a full film, he’s honored to this day with precious real estate at Disney theme parks, in the form of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. —CP

A blue, glowing city.
What might life beyond Earth look like?
Walt Disney Pictures

Aliens of the Deep (2005)

In the years following 2009’s Avatar (also now on Disney Plus), James Cameron insisted that sequels to his blockbuster science-fiction film would dive under the sea to explore Pandora’s depths. Fans of the franchise should cue up Aliens of the Deep for a better understanding of where Cameron’s brain is. An avid diver and amateur marine biologist, he has a fair share of documentary films under his belt, and none are more mind-bending than Aliens of the Deep, which blends real-life ocean footage with speculative animation. —Matt Patches

Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) seated in a huge chair, with her young wards and an anthropomorphic bird around her.
Tension in Naboombu.
Photo: Walt Disney Productions

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

Besides the fact that it’s a better Mary Poppins than Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a plain old great time. Angela Lansbury stars as Eglantine Price, a witch-in-training whose pursuit of the last page of a book of witchcraft leads her to the charlatan Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson). To make matters more complicated, she has a trio of children placed in her care as London is evacuated during the Blitz. Equal parts a belated coming-of-age story (Eglantine is struggling with her powers as a witch, and with the era’s gender expectations), an animated adventure (her quest for the page takes her and the kids to the animated world of Naboombu), and a historical-fantasy epic (yes, Eglantine eventually battles Nazis), Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a delight in every respect. —Karen Han

A smug black cat and a startled white dog.
The fact of the matter is that Bolt is a good boy.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Bolt (2008)

A modest success in its day, but still underseen, Bolt may have been just slightly ahead of its time. The story of a deluded TV-star dog that’s been raised to believe he actually has superpowers, Bolt falls somewhere between a comedy, a Marvel-worthy superhero epic, and a Homeward Bound remake featuring an adorable dog, an irascible cat, and an annoying kung-fu hamster trying to find their way home. What felt a little weird and ambitious for a Disney animated movie back in 2008 now feels like a perfect complement to the seemingly infinite wave of superhero movies dominating the multiplexes, but Bolt’s high-concept twists and furry, well-characterized heroes make it stand out. —Tasha Robinson

two alien kids eat ice cream at a parlor bar Walt Disney Pictures

Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)

Straight out of the 1970s’ science-fiction fascination with the paranormal — ESP, telekinesis, and so forth — comes Escape to Witch Mountain, adapted from Alexander Key’s largely forgotten children’s novel of the same name. Orphaned siblings Tony and Tia have lots of adventures trying to defend themselves against people who fear or want to exploit their mysterious mind powers, until it’s revealed that the two precocious kids are real aliens. It’s a strange little movie that still sums up an entire era of Disney filmmaking, where long-forgotten books about kid adventures turned into charmingly weird screen stories. — Susana Polo

A crowd of people crammed into a subway car.
Rhapsody in rush hour.
Walt Disney Pictures

Fantasia 2000 (2000)

Neither of the Fantasia films were outright box-office successes in their times — the 1940 original spent years on the roadshow circuit recouping its costs, while the sequel, the first animated film to play in IMAX, initially didn’t make much impression. But as the years pass, Fantasia 2000 stands out as a last hurrah for Disney’s 2D animation team, and a testament to what the Disney style can produce when pushed in every possible artistic direction. Highlights include the “Rhapsody in Blue” segment, illustrated in the style of Al Hirschfeld’s caricatures; “Pomp and Circumstance,” featuring Donald Duck as Noah contending with the Flood; and the grand finale, a stunning take on Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” that finds Mother Earth succumbing to and surviving natural disaster. —MP

David (Joey Cramer) looks dazed as he sits inside a spaceship.
Wait, this movie is about what?
Walt Disney Pictures

Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Cynical, adult me imagines the boardroom conversations in the wake of E.T. that convinced Disney executives to greenlight this wacky boy-and-his-time-traveling-spaceship movie, but the finished product speaks for itself. The setup is terrifying: one day, 12-year-old David falls into a ravine, and the next minute, he’s walking up to his house eight years later. The gap in years is the result of alien experimentation, which injected David’s brain with a trove of intergalactic star charts. With the help of a spaceship named Max, David ventures through space and time to get back home. The “flight” is whimsical, yet grounded in the terror of the situation. It’s a real movie, one that spoke directly to the young-adult perspective in the 1980s, and should again in the Disney Plus era. —MP

Alex Honnold on a seemingly sheer rock face.
Not for the faint of heart.
National Geographic Documentary Films

Free Solo (2018)

Free Solo, the winner of the 2018 academy award for best documentary, is definitely a movie about rock climbing, but it’s also a movie about love and passion. The scenes of Alex Honnold, the main subject, scaling mountains with nothing to stop him from falling off are dizzying and beautiful. But the movie cares just as much about the quiet parts of climbing. We see Honnold carefully plan every step and handhold he’ll use on his climbs — no move is a guess. But the real brilliance of the documentary comes in the way it handles Honnold as a person, and questions what drives someone to pursue a passion that’s likely to kill them. —Austen Goslin

Five figures gather behind a control panel, watching an outside scene unfold.
The emotions look on.
Walt Disney Pictures

Inside Out (2015)

Frankly, nearly every Pixar movie could be on this list — they’re virtually all classics, for different reasons, thanks to Pixar’s dedication to rich emotions, well-realized characters, and challenging stories. Disney+ is launching with most of Pixar’s animated movies, apart from 2009’s Up and the most recent batch, including Coco, Incredibles 2, and Toy Story 4. But of all Pixar’s impressive output, Inside Out stands out as one of the studio’s most ambitious projects. The story of a young girl’s emotional crisis, as experienced by the anthropomorphized emotions inside her head, Inside Out uses color-coding and subtle visual textures to help tell a tear-jerking story that still ends on a smart, helpful, uplifting note. It’s an encapsulation of everything Pixar’s tried to do since the company first broke into cinema. —TR

Robert Downey Jr. spreading his arms.
[Whispering to date:] That’s Iron Man.
Marvel Studios

Iron Man (2008)

Disney+’s initial slate of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies looked pretty paltry and scattered, but the night before launch, the company suddenly revealed that most of its MCU movies were coming home. With this many of them lined up in one place, and an opportunity to program your own MCU-a-thon, it’s worth going back to the beginning of the MCU with Iron Man, and remembering how many of the franchise’s tics, traits, and stylistic leanings came from this kickoff film. From Robert Downey Jr.’s aggressive snarkery in the lead role to the “with great power comes a whole lot of mixed guilt and glory” messaging, Iron Man now looks like a surprisingly fully fleshed out template for a huge number of the MCU films that followed it. —TR

Four bugs entertain a young boy.
Creepy and cute!
Walt Disney Pictures

James and the Giant Peach (1996)

Ignore the stiff live-action bookends on this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1961 kids’ classic — the heart of the film is in the stop-motion action that makes up the bulk of the story, as an abused boy meets up with a group of friendly giant insects and rides a giant peach to a better life. Yes, this underseen film is just as weird as that sounds. Directed by Henry Selick (the actual stop-motion genius behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, though Tim Burton got most of the credit), James and the Giant Peach is alternately sweet and extremely strange, a kind of upbeat nightmare of a film suitable for fans of Selick’s other notable feature, Coraline. —TR

A giant lizard looms over four terrified figures.
Big boy.
20th Century Fox

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

A prize from Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, this spectacle is emblematic of everything Hollywood was throwing at the wall to wow audiences of the 1950s. But the twist is that it’s actually good! A little schlocky and with tons of set pieces and special effects, the movie loosely adapts the Jules Verne story for maximum thrills. Forget the CG bee chase from the modern Journey remake starring The Rock — riding giant mushrooms across underground rivers is where it’s at. Pair Journey with Disney’s own 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for a old-school-adventure double feature. —MP

lilo and stitch dance a hulu with a line of other girls in grass skirts
Lilo, Stitch, and friends show off their moves.
Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Lilo and Stitch (2002)

Lilo and Stitch suffers what I like to call the “Minion Problem.” Because Stitch is so damn cute, the market is oversaturated with Stitch merchandise and spinoffs emphasizing Stitch over any other element of the story. Amid the Stitch-mania, it’s easy to forget what made the original movie so special. Lilo and Stitch isn’t just about a cute alien. It’s about a cute but vicious alien criminal who crash-lands in Hawaii, befriends a sad, socially awkward girl and the older sister raising her, and learns how to care about something besides destruction. It’s part science-fiction comedy, part heart-wrenching family drama about social services, childhood bullying, and Hawaiian culture. With lush watercolor backgrounds and distinctive character design, Lilo and Stitch is also a visual delight worth revisiting. —Petrana Radulovic

Russell raises his arms in a cheer amidst a group of hockey players.
I cheer, you cheer, we all cheer for Kurt Russell.
Walt Disney Pictures

Miracle (2004)

Kurt Russell, who made a name for himself in his late teen years with Disney films like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, and The Strongest Man in the World, teamed back up with the studio to play real-life hockey coach Herb Brooks in this genuinely rousing sports drama. Under Brooks’ supervision, the U.S. men’s hockey team took on the Soviets in a pivotal match during the 1980 Winter Olympics. The U.S. team were the underdogs. How do you think it went? Even if you know, expect some icy tears rolling down your face by the end of Miracle. —MP

The Muppets underneath a rainbow.
I would die for each and every one of these Muppets.
The Jim Henson Company

The Muppet Movie (1979)

The very first theater outing for Jim Henson’s Muppets is a perfect distillation of what makes them so magical to begin with. A musical road comedy film that sees Kermit the Frog heading off to Hollywood and gathering Muppets along the way, the film boasts cameos from the likes of Mel Brooks, Orson Welles, and Telly Savalas. More importantly, it features the debut of the classic song “Rainbow Connection,” which has since been used to warm hearts and wring tears all over the world. —KH

Identical twins Sharon McKendrick and Susan Evers (Hayley Mills).
Two identical strangers. (Like Three Identical Strangers, get it?)
Walt Disney Productions

The Parent Trap (1961)

If you only know the Lindsay Lohan remake, give the original Parent Trap a shot. It follows the basic premise, but with even more wait-how’d-they-do-that? actor-blending. Hayley Mills stars as both Sharon and Susan, long-lost sisters who discover each other at camp and plot to get their estranged parents back together. Only 15 at the time, Mills carves out two distinct characters for the “twins,” and more than earns her place as one of Disney’s legendary actresses. —MP

Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his crew.
The beginning of a beautiful trilogy.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the kind of movie you could watch a million times before getting bored. Director Gore Verbinski (The Ring, Rango) has always had a flair for the weird, wonderful, and horrific, and it’s clearly on display in a movie that only bears a passing resemblance to the theme-park ride that inspired it. The tale of pirates reckoning with an ancient curse is a rip-roaring romp, and a surprisingly scary one, as the undead take center stage. Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, and Geoffrey Rush make up the main cast, engaging in varying degrees of piracy. —KH

Tiana and the de-frogged prince share a smooch.
True love’s kiss.
Walt Disney Pictures

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Disney’s last true traditionally animated film deserved more fanfare. Featuring the studio’s first black princess, The Princess and the Frog is full of infectious music, gorgeous renderings of the Louisiana bayou, and a message about remembering what’s really important. Plus it puts a new spin on the usual Disney princess routine, with a heroine who starts out not as a sheltered, fragile noble, but as a tough working woman who knows how to take care of herself. Also notable — a Disney princess movie where two women are positioned as best friends instead of hateful rivals! Why is that a rare thing? —PR

Nyong’o smiles.
Lupita Nyong’o as Phiona’s mother.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Queen of Katwe (2016)

Disney’s underdog chess-champion story Queen of Katwe is the rare American film about Africa that doesn’t feel like it was made by patronizing tourists. Based on the life of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, the film explores the slums of Uganda in an often frank and frightening way, as a young girl learns to play chess and finds the power in strategy, logic, and victory — a power she otherwise lacks. Director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake) has personal roots in Uganda, and shoots it with a cozy familiarity, hitting the usual beats for a sports drama, but also avoiding a lot of familiar clichés. It’s a family-friendly film without the usual cloying, coddling overtones of family films — instead, it deals openly with the pains of poverty, and of Mutesi stepping onto a larger world stage, knowing she’s probably going back to the slums once the big competitions that define her childhood are over. And yet this is a triumphant, feed-good film, suitable for getting people to fist-pump joyously over a chess win. —TR

Dorothy, with the Scarecrow and a pumpkin-headed man, reaches out towards a horned, green creature.
The characters from The Wizard of Oz you remember and love, except more grotesque.
Walt Disney Pictures

Return to Oz (1985)

This movie is deeply fucked up. Picking up with Dorothy Gale in electrotherapy, where she’s been since her time spent in Oz, the movie is basically the Terminator 2 of whimsical childhood adventures. When another evil force threatens the magical land, Dorothy teams up with Scarecrow, Jack Pumpkinhead, portly automaton Tik Tok, and a flying bed with a talking moose head (his name’s Gump) to save the day. Renowned film editor and sound designer Walter Murch directed this frightening sequel, which I’m so pleased to say will be able to freak the next generation of youngsters out on streaming. —MP

Alan Arkin affixing a jetpack to Billy Campbell’s back.
Helping the Rocketeer take flight.
Walt Disney Pictures

The Rocketeer (1991)

Before directing Captain America: The First Avenger, Joe Johnston helmed this comic-book adaptation about a stunt pilot whose discovery of a prototype jet pack turns him into a Nazi-fighting superhero. Billy Campbell plays Cliff as an Indiana Jones descendent, while Timothy Dalton goes full mustache-twirling as the movie’s villain. The art deco style and composer James Horner’s brassy score complete the pastiche for the movie, which found a cult following years after coming and going from theaters. In other news: Disney finally made an animated sequel following a young girl rocketeer! —MP

The assembled sandlot baseball team.
You came to the wrong neighborhood.
20th Century Fox

The Sandlot (1993)

The Sandlot is my favorite sports film because its creators understand what sports actually are for the majority of kids: an excuse to hang out. Sure, some kids care about winning and losing. A few kids dream of going pro. But for most of us, meeting up with friends to play baseball, soccer, or even Mario Kart had little to do with the final score. We played because it was a chance to get away from our parents, to talk trash, to catch up on the neighborhood gossip, and to flex our deep-cut knowledge of meaningless trivia. The Sandlot is a classic because so much of the film focuses on time spent off the field. It’s not a movie about baseball players, it’s a movie about kids who happen to play baseball. —CP

Clu addresses an army of digital soldiers.
Digi-Jeff Bridges and his army.
Walt Disney Studios

Tron: Legacy (2010)

Tron: Legacy is a masterpiece, at least to my mind. It’s a hugely ambitious piece that practically builds an entire skyscraper on the foundation laid by the first Tron (1982), updating the look of the Grid and its mythos in accordance with how much time passed between the two movies. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has gone missing, and it’s through a chance message that his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund), who has been struggling with his father’s abrupt disappearance and the company he left behind, ends up being pulled into the Grid. Sam also winds up in the middle of an attempted coup against Flynn that defies the typical categorizations of heroes and villains, brings into question the nature of artificial intelligence, and places some of the blame for the chaos on human hubris. Plus, the entire score is by Daft Punk. —KH

Bob Hoskins angrily confronts an animated rabbit.
Enemies becoming friends.
Buena Vista Pictures

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Heartfelt, hilarious, horrifying, hectic — Who Framed Roger Rabbit falls into all of the above categories. Hardboiled private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) hates the living animated characters called toons, but soon winds up having to help the most famous toon of all, Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer), as they navigate a conspiracy that seems to threaten all of Toontown. Part traditional noir gumshoe movie, part technological experiment, and part wacky comedy, Roger Rabbit sticks the landing in all three categories. As real people interact with cartoons — in Los Angeles as well as the completely animated Toontown — Who Framed Roger Rabbit establishes itself as a major work of art even before its clever plot and snappy dialogue are taken into account. —KH

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