Starting with 1950’s Cinderella, the so-called Silver Age of Disney animated films is packed full of iconic entries.
While World War II saw lower budgets and fewer workers, the subsequent Silver Age ushered in big-budget films filled with magical stories and hypnotizing visuals. Lasting from 1950 to 1967, it includes classics such as Peter Pan, Alice In Wonderland, and Lady and the Tramp.
It is pretty hard to rank the films from Disney’s Silver Era because none of them are bad. Clearly, that means that this isn’t a worst-to-best list, but more of a good-to-even-better list!
The ranking here is entirely subjective. I don’t have any fancy point systems, and I’m not basing it on box office performances, either.
So, without further ado: The Silver Age of Disney, ranked! Who will take the no. 1 spot?
8. The Sword In the Stone (1963)
The Sword In the Stone is the least well-known movie of Disney’s Silver Era. I’m not at all surprised when people tell me that they’ve never even seen the 1963 film. If Walt Disney were still alive, he might find that a little disappointing.
Why? Well, Disney first acquired the film rights to the novel back in the 1930s, and there were decades of attempts at developing the movie before production actually ever began. That’s a long time to wind up with a largely-forgotten animated movie. However, the adaptation left out a lot. Like many other Disney adaptations of existing stories, Walt wanted to make it family-friendly, and that meant axing several parts of the original novel.
It wound up receiving mixed reviews. While some found the movie entertaining and characters appealing, others found the story thin and complained that the very English story was too Americanized. Despite all that, the movie did become a box office success. A live-action remake was in the works starting in 2015, but it still hasn’t happened. Sounds like history repeating itself.
7. The Jungle Book (1967)
The Jungle Book was released the year after Walt Disney died of lung cancer, and it was the last animated feature film he was involved in before passing. That certainly makes it significant in the timeline of Walt Disney Studios.
While The Jungle Book is a fun romp with Mowgli and Baloo, it strays from Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 book. Early versions were much more dramatic and sinister in tone, but Walt Disney felt it was too dark for family audiences. He reportedly encouraged his team not to read Kipling’s book and went on to create a light and entertaining movie with happy songs.
Despite being basically the furthest thing from the source material, it’s still a lively and entertaining story full of charismatic characters and catchy songs. It’s exactly what audiences have come to expect from family-friendly Disney animation. That’s likely a big reason that the film was a commercial success. It was made on a budget of $4 million and went on to become the second-highest-grossing animated movie at the time.
6. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
There was a growing interest in widescreen films during this time, so Lady and the Tramp holds the title of the first animated feature film animated in CinemaScope. Unfortunately, the new format led to several criticisms, with The New York Times saying that it “magnifies the animation, so that the flaws and poor foreshortening are more plain.” That same review mentioned that “the artists’ work is below par in this film” Ouch.
Other critics praised the film, though, and it has since become regarded as a classic. You could say it aged like a fine wine (sans those harmful Asian stereotypes). It has gone on to earn $187 million internationally since it came out.
Not to mention, that scene of Lady and Tramp sharing a plate of spaghetti is pretty iconic. It is probably one of the most memorable animated scenes ever!
5. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
Before One Hundred and One Dalmatians, making an animated film involved the process of hand-inking cels. The animators would draw on paper, and then they would pass them along to artists that would trace them with ink and paint onto cels. Cels were then photographed as each individual frame.
As you can imagine, this is labor-intensive and involves a lot of different people, so it’s not the cheapest way to make a full-length film. It became even more expensive with 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, which was designed for 70mm and saw animators working on paper the size of bedsheets.
Following that expensive and ambitious project, Disney needed to cut costs. That’s when they decided to test out new technology and switched to xerography to replace traditional hand-inking. It gave One Hundred and One Dalmatians that sort of sketched look. Despite the film lacking the same quality of hand-inked films, it was still a success at the box office. And to be honest, that new look fits the film itself, thanks to its bold graphics and contemporary setting.
4. Alice In Wonderland (1951)
1951’s Alice In Wonderland is another Silver Agee film that was actually in the works for decades before audiences saw it. Walt Disney first had the idea to make this film based on the books by Lewis Carroll in the 1930s. He revisited the idea in the 1940s, intending to create a film combining live-action and animation. It wasn’t until the late ‘40s that the idea was scrapped for an all-animated movie.
We all know and love Alice nowadays, but did you know that it wasn’t exactly well-received when it was released? With a production budget of $3 million, the film’s initial $2.4 million gross was a loss for the studio. Because of the initial reception, it ended up making the rounds as a television program.
Perhaps Disney was just a little ahead of the times with this one. Starting in the early ‘70s, Alice In Wonderland started picking up in popularity. It even became the most-rented film in some places. The 1974 re-release was much more successful than the initial run, and Disney’s Alice has only grown in popularity since.
See Related: Disney’s Renaissance Age Movies, Ranked
3. Peter Pan (1953)
If there was a single Silver Era Disney movie that spawned the most spin-offs, sequels, and remakes, it’s Peter Pan. And how could it not? Everyone loves Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Wendy, the Lost Boys, and that menacing Captain Hook. That alone speaks to just how great this story is.
When released, critics didn’t like that it wasn’t true to the original play it had been based on, but audiences didn’t seem to mind. The film was a financial success for Disney, pulling in $6 million in the U.S. and Canada during its initial run. Peter Pan has gone on to earn a lifetime domestic gross of $87.4 million, but when adjusted for inflation and including subsequent releases, that number looks more like $427.5 million!
See Related: Sorting Disney Princesses into Their Hogwarts Houses
More recently, the film has come under scrutiny for harmful stereotypes of Native Americans. If you watch it now on Disney+, you’ll notice a warning screen that notes it includes “negative depictions.” Aside from this, though, Peter Pan is definitely a classic Disney film, full of enchanting scenery and wonderful artistic style.
2. Cinderella (1950)
1950’s Cinderella kicked off the Silver Age of Disney with a bang. The animated film was a huge win for the company. Cinderella was Disney’s most successful film since 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It went on to become the highest-grossing film of 1950. It actually saved the entire company, which was facing several million dollars in debt from financial failures in the previous decade.
Critics applauded the animated film. In fact, they even praised it as a masterpiece. Anyone who has ever laid eyes on Cinderella knows it is visually stunning. From the meticulous and charming animation to the catchy music to Cinderella’s iconic princess gown, the whole thing is a quintessential Disney fairytale.
The castle featured in the film has become synonymous with the Walt Disney Company. You will see it every time that Walt Disney Pictures logo flashes at the beginning of a movie. You can even visit Cinderella’s castle at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.
1. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Sleeping Beauty was the second highest-grossing film of 1959, but it didn’t exactly turn a profit. The animated film went over budget, and it failed to make a return on the vast expense of production. It was the most expensive Disney movie at the time–twice as expensive as Peter Pan and Alice In Wonderland.
We can thank Walt Disney’s perfectionism and commitment to making Disney animation superior for the film’s budget problems. Though all that perfection caused Sleeping Beauty to be a financial flop when it was released, it also created a vivid and beautiful animated film. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther (the same guy who hated Lady and the Tramp) noted that “the colors are rich, the sounds are luscious and magic sparkles spurt charmingly from wands.” The exquisite soundtrack features the work of the Graunke Symphony Orchestra and is based on Peter Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Ballet.
Sleeping Beauty has since been preserved in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”