When you launch the Disney+ app on whatever device you use, the homepage bombards with Star Wars, Pixar, and Marvel, it’s three most prominent IPs of the past decade. A lot of users are going to gobble up The Mandalorian, rewatch Avengers: Endgame for the hundredth time, or rediscover a lot of the Disney classics from their childhood. Disney+ has a lot of content to choose from and it can be overwhelming in where to begin. A lot of these films were locked in the infamous Disney Vault, unavailable to stream before today. Live-action favorites like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Absent-Minded Professor loved by an older generation can be shared to a newer one. There’s a lot of hidden gems hiding among the heavy-hitters, so I’m here to single out fifteen forgotten and under-appreciated titles to stream that needs the clicks and viewership more than watching Frozen over and over.
THE BLACK HOLE (1979)
I can only imagine families pressing play on The Black Hole only for them to wonder if there is something wrong with their TV as music plays over a black screen. The Black Hole is one of the few (and final) films to include an overture. This signified that Disney was setting the stage for a space opera of grandeur, an event film to capitalize on the intergalactic boom of the 70’s. This film is notable for two reasons: it was the most expensive film produced at the time by the Walt Disney Company (budgeted at 26 million dollars) and the first Disney film to be rated PG (for language).
Is the film worth watching though? Kinda? Released two years after Star Wars, audiences expected something similar in design, but while there are cute robots, The Black Hole is more in the style of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (released in the same month), exploring the vastness of interstellar space and meddling in deep spiritual themes of Heaven and Hell. It was met with meddling reviews, mostly praising the special effects and miniatures and the score by John Barry (of James Bond fame), but was criticized for its slow, chatty melodrama over exciting space battles. It’s a film destined to be remade with the rejuvenation of hard science fiction, but the remake (to be helmed by Tron: Legacy’s Joseph Kosinski) was too dark for Disney’s standards and is still in development limbo.
With a stacked cast of Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, Maximilian Schell, and the late Robert Forster, The Black Hole never got a lasting reputation in Disney’s repertoire, but hopefully the exposure on Disney+ can find a new audience for this underrated film.
DISNEYLAND AROUND THE SEASONS (1966)
For those who watched the first episode of the Disney+ original program, The Imagineering Story, and wanted to continue to scratch their Disney Parks itch, might I direct you to this special episode from the 1960’s Wonderful World of Color anthology titled Disneyland Around the Seasons. Despite its title, this short feature is not about how Disneyland celebrates the seasons with the exception of showcasing its Christmas Fantasy parade at the end. It is about the revolutionary new additions to the park at the start of the decade with Walt Disney guiding you through the opening ceremonies of It’s a Small World, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, New Orleans Square, Primeval World, and the holiday parade.
One must remember in the days before annual passholders, social media, and vlogging in which every new food item and attraction was intensely dissected by the thousands of park fanatics online, a trip to Disneyland was a luxury and the only way to experience it from home was through this anthology series. As Walt grew older, his ambition shifted from the studios to the theme parks in Anaheim and later Florida. He was always a pioneer in developing new groundbreaking technology that would push the boundary of what a theme park can deliver. This feature, in gorgeous technicolor, doesn’t offer mere snippets of Disneyland’s latest attractions, but a full expansive tour featuring the entirety of the “it’s a small world” boat ride, Abraham Lincoln’s dedication speech, and every float and character of the holiday parade. Walt made sure you experienced every detail of his imagination.
This is a must-watch for any Disney park fans who craves to see archival footage of Disneyland and see how much have changed (like seeing one of the Three Little Pigs ride the Storybook Canal Boats!) and revisit the glory days of the park’s yesteryears.
DUCKTALES THE MOVIE: TREASURE OF THE LOST LAMP (1990)
This is a pure nostalgia pick, so bear with me. DuckTales was a huge part of my childhood with its catchy theme song and globe-trotting adventures, so when a full-length feature film was released, it instantly became my favorite movie as a kid. My clamshell VHS of DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp became a regular customer of my VCR in the mid-90’s. I may know this entire film by heart, but hey, who’s asking?
Taking a page from the exotic artifact-hunting escapades of the Indiana Jones franchise, Treasure of the Lost Lamp takes everyone’s favorite capitalist mallard on a rip-roaring crusade to fill his pockets richer by seeking out the lost treasure of Collie Baba (get it?) alongside his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and niece, Webbigail (because why not bring the entire family into perils of uncertain doom?). What follows are giant scorpions, a fast-talking genie, ice cream falling out of the sky, and a wizard who turns into animals. Released in the same year as The Rescuers Down Under (another under-appreciated Disney film), it got lost amidst the beginning of Disney’s dominance with their run of The Little Mermaid through The Lion King, but this exciting and funny film may lack the extravagant musical numbers and cutting-edge animation, but it’s way better than it ever should have been.
MICKEY MOUSE (2012-2018)
Unbeknownst to many, Disney released a whole new collection of Mickey Mouse shorts in the past decade, and good golly, they are amazing. These shorts might be the best version of Mickey to grace a screen since… Fantasia. Yeah, I know. What puts it in the upper echelons of animation is how insane each short is. This isn’t the “oh boy!” mascot promoting the magic and wonder that Disney can offer. This is a frantic Mickey Mouse constantly on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The animation and character designs may be garish at first, but the slick flash animation brings a depth to these classic animated characters never seen before. The shorts harken back to the good ole’ slapstick days when Walt was still animating them, but with a modern twist.
The shorts vary from absurdist humor and dire situations Mickey and the gang get into. They even poke fun at their own IP in several shorts. Some of favorite scenarios include Mickey going into a panic attack why he doesn’t have a hat, Mickey wondering why Donald dresses as a sailor but doesn’t actually sail, to Mickey going on a date with Minnie while wearing wearing a very uncomfortable sweater. The shorts have already been memed on the internet so they’ve already entered that public awareness. The shorts have become the definitive version of the Mouse to the point that Disney is opening an attraction based on the shorts at Walt Disney World and Disneyland called Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Each short is roughly 4 minutes long and can be easily digested while doing housework. It already has won several awards, and now finally Disney+ allows you to understand why.
In the 90’s, Disney populated the multiplex with underdog sports comedies from every corner of the sports world possible. These films such as The Mighty Ducks, The Big Green, and Angels in the Outfield focused on goofball hijinks in their quest for victory. It was until the early 2000’s, Disney shifted to telling more dramatized “true story” underdog tales with Remember the Titans and The Rookie. A few years later in 2004 brought in Miracle, a sports drama about the quintessential underdog moment in sports history: the 1980 Olympics “Miracle on Ice” when the U.S. Men’s Hockey team went on to upset the heavily favored Soviet Union at Lake Placid.
Miracle deserves to be mentioned in the same breath alongside Hoosiers, Rudy, and Rocky in the pantheon of greatest sports movies. All the uplifting sports cliches are present, but director Gavin O’Connor weaves around them with a heavy focus on authenticity in casting and hockey techniques. There’s no “knucklepuck” to be found here. The main staying power of Miracle is the lead performance by Kurt Russell as coach Herb Brooks whose heart and determination carries the entire film. Russell’s career started in the House of Mouse where he was Disney’s top star throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Miracle was his return to Disney for the first time since a voice role in The Fox and the Hound in 1981. His performance as Herb Brooks is one of his all-time bests bringing fiery complexion and motivation. It’s criminal to think that Russell has never been nominated for an Oscar before, because Miracle seems like a sure-fire bet in a rather weak Best Actor year (Jamie Foxx won for Ray). You don’t need to know a lot about hockey to be swept up by this wonderous performance and film.
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