Family friendly fantasy movies have a long history of big business in Hollywood, and whether the one currently in theaters soars or flops, audiences can be sure there will soon be another to give it a shot. Netflix is trying their hand at the genre with The School For Good And Evil, directed by Paul Feig and based on a series of young adult novels.
One thing fans might have noticed is that The School For Good And Evil, from an aesthetic, tonal, and content perspective, seems similar to a Disney film, and it would be far from the first film to make fans do a double take. Disney is such an influential and recognizable studio that even movies they had no part in will evoke their style perfectly.
A fairy tale based on the legendary Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia, Anastasia was a critical and commercial success, but Fox Animation Studios’ debut is often confused for a Disney product. Perhaps coming out during the Disney Renaissance, and being a fantastical take on Russian history in the way Pocahontas was for Anglo-American history, did the trick.
One could also be forgiven for thinking Anastasia was released by Disney, given that it’s the brainchild of Don Bluth, a former Disney animator who struck out on his own in the 1980s to establish his own studio. To add to the confusion, now that the company owns the Fox catalog, one could now make the argument that Ana has retroactively become a Disney princess.
Charlotte’s Web is a beloved children’s book, and the animated film adaptation also holds a special place in many fans’ hearts, even by those it traumatized by the movie as kids. The story, of a friendly but timid pig whose life is saved by a resourceful spider, was one of the few times Hanna-Barbera production really took a cue from the House of Mouse.
Some similarities between Charlotte’s Web and contemporary Disney fare are in the plot, since semi-anthropomorphic animals put in peril figured in heavily in post-Walt flicks like The Aristocats and The Rescuers. The musical numbers are another, with the songs actually being penned by Mary Poppins alumni Robert and Richard Sherman.
After Mary Poppins was a massive hit for Disney, United Artists saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as their answer to P.L. Travers’ magical nanny. Based on a book by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame, and featuring songs composed by the Sherman Brothers (again), the film may seem like a Disney imitator, but its sheer imagination still makes it a very fun watch.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang follows the Potts family as they go on a series of adventures in a magical car, a very Disney-esque premise. While the movie doesn’t combine live-action and animation like its Disney contemporaries, the costumes and sets are very over-the-top and colorful, lending everything a larger-than-life quality that feels like a storybook come to life.
One of the more recent entries into the “not Disney but should be Disney” subgenre, Come Away combines the mythos of Peter Pan with that of Alice In Wonderland and puts them in a low-key family drama. It’s an interesting idea, but the COVID-19 pandemic ensured the movie was a box office failure.
Not only does Come Away pay homage to stories already adapted by Disney, it serves as the live-action debut for director Brenda Chapman, who originally had the reins on Pixar’s Brave before being replaced by Mark Andrews. While having some visual similarities to Disney, the tone is very different, being much more somber and less action-packed.
A buddy film about an inquisitive boy who befriends a giant robot, The Iron Giant is a modern classic featuring one of the most lovable robot protagonists. Even though the film was produced by Warner Bros., it has a sense of magic and wonder that feels straight out of Disney’s best, so it’s not shocking director Brad Bird became best known for his work with Pixar.
While The Iron Giant‘s release coincided with the tail-end of the Disney Renaissance, it feels more reminiscent of the studios work in the early oughts, when they experimented with sci-fi elements in Atlantis and Treasure Planet. It also feels like something straight out of Disney Parks’ Tomorrowland, particularly in its wondrous portrayal of space and technology.
The 1990s were a good time for animated movies with environmental messages, but Hanna-Barbera’s Once Upon a Forest is one of the more fascinating. The story of three young animals who go on a quest to find a cure for their friend after she inhales toxic fumes, the movie received fixed reviews and didn’t turn a profit, but ’90s kids may remember it for being surprisingly scary.
Once Upon a Forest‘s characters and visual style brings back memories of Disney offerings like The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound, which featured talking animals in an otherwise real world setting. In addition, scenes of a forest devastated by poison gas fit in with Disney’s tradition of sneaking in frightening imagery, going all the way back to the days of Walt.
The timeless tale of the free-spirited Maria bringing new joy to the Von Trapp family, The Sound Of Music was wildly successful in its day, and is often considered one of the best musical films. Not only are the Rodgers and Hammerstein-penned songs memorable, it’s heartwarming to watch a family grow closer, particularly when Captain von Trapp softens up.
Even before Disney’s purchase of 20th Century Fox, The Sound Of Music could’ve been mistaken for a particularly lavish Disney movie, from the presence of Julie Andrews to the wholesome, family-friendly tone. Now that fans can watch it on Disney+, it feels like it’s found the perfect home it never had before.
Like fellow E.B. White novel Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little is a children’s classic that was begging for a (very loose) adaptation. One of the best movies directed by Rob Minkoff (The Lion King), it was a success with both critics and audiences, even spawning a small franchise that continued the titular mouse’s adventures.
Plenty of things link the Columbia released Stuart Little to Disney, beginning with Minkoff being the director of one of the Disney’s Renaissance’s crown jewels. The anthropomorphic animal star and his feline nemeses, in addition to Stuart having to find his family after being kidnapped, also invite comparisons to ’90s Disney films from Homeward Bound to That Darn Cat.
Produced at a time when Disney was finding its feet after Walt’s untimely death, Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory is one of the great odes to imagination that the studio surely wish they made. Despite not being a box office success, the film has built up a sterling reputation, and Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is a cinematic icon.
Beyond the movie being a whimsical family-friendly musical romp, Willy Wonka himself feels like an eccentric riff on Walt Disney. They’re both geniuses in the field, and the factory feels like Wonka’s answer to Disneyland, with each room being its own “land” with a unique purpose, look, and vibe, particularly the iconic chocolate room.
Along with Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Wizard Of Oz may be the movie that most defines the modern family film. Despite initially failing to turn a profit, Dorothy’s adventures in the land of Oz proved too much for viewers to resist, and the movie is still a perennial favorite for a multi-generational audience.
Not only does The Wizard of Oz have lush visuals that give early Disney’s impressive animation a run for their money, there’s a sense of imagination and wonder in exploring every corner of Oz with Dorothy and friends. The Wizard Of Oz, much like Walt’s classics, also doesn’t hesitate to get creepy, with the Wicked Witch of the West being a source of nightmares for many a young fan.
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