Best Disney Direct-to-Video Animated Movies - VRGyani News and Media

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Monday, August 23, 2021

Best Disney Direct-to-Video Animated Movies

Direct-to-video Disney movies have earned themselves a less-than-stellar reputation, and for solid reasons. The sequel that kicked off the trend, The Return of Jafar, still ranks among the studio's worst efforts, as do many of the direct-to-video animated films that followed.

For families wanting new Disney content that didn't require an expensive theater outing, direct-to-video animated movies could seem like a solid solution. However, even as it traded theatrical windows for spots on the Blockbuster shelf, Disney was cutting costs in key areas. In 2005, Animation World Network reported that The Return of Jafar cost between $3 and $5 million to make, putting it well below the $28 million it took to bring the first Aladdin to life. The film's cheap quality is noticeable from the get-go, and very little is able to distract viewers from the marked drop in value and effort.

Here, though, we've managed to separate the good from the bad in an attempt to salvage Disney's direct-to-video legacy. Some of these picks are obvious. Others will probably have you screaming for my immediate firing. Regardless of your feelings about them, though, every entry on this list rises above “cheapquel” status and ranks among the best direct-to-video efforts Disney ever released.

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The Lion King 1 ½

The Lion King 1 ½ is easily one of Disney's most inspired direct-to-video efforts. Not only is it genuinely hilarious, but it also captures the essence of Timon and Pumbaa's friendship with such heart and grace that it's tough not to like this film. Honestly, it's the only entry on this list that has staying power remotely comparable to the original.

With a stellar voice cast, gorgeous animation, plenty of hysterical, hyena-centric jabs (“What do you call a hyena with half a brain? Gifted!”), and a takeaway you don't have to think too deeply about, The Lion King 1 ½ is a movie best enjoyed with zero expectations. The “underpromise, overdeliver” concept absolutely applies here. Not only is it compulsively watchable, but it also expands the Lion King series in an unexpected way and has a blast doing it. The movie would have set the bar absurdly high for direct-to-video Disney, but the worst was already behind it at that point.

Aladdin and the King of Thieves

Aladdin and the King of Thieves may have made it onto the list, but that doesn't for a second mean it's worth watching more than once or twice. It's a direct sequel to Return of Jafar, which rightly raises eyebrows and inspires immediate skepticism. Aladdin and the King of Thieves can only marginally be called a movie, but there are glimpses of a more enjoyable experience here.

The film centers around Aladdin's wholly unnecessary — but surprisingly sweet — reunion with his long-lost father, Cassim (John Rhys-Davies). While it never truly comes into its own, King of Thieves boasts a plot with plenty of twists and turns and satisfying cartoon action, all serving to close out Aladdin's story in beautifully serviceable fashion.

One of its greatest assets, of course, is Robin Williams, who returns as Genie after an absence from Return of Jafar. Williams elevated the character and made him one of the original Aladdin's most charming elements. He takes King of Thieves to heights it couldn't have reached without him, even if his role isn't quite as memorable this time around.

Kronk's New Groove

Kronk is the only Emperor's New Groove character with a story even remotely worthy of a spin-off. Still, this is a sequel/spin-off that doesn't at all need to exist, but we're glad it does.

Patrick Warburton is as likable as ever, and his misadventures are completely and unapologetically innocuous in every way they can be. His good-natured henchman was one of the standouts in the original, if only because he served as a hilarious foil for Yzma. Now, we get to see Kronk pursuing his dreams. The result? Cuteness, hilarity, and chipmunks.

As far as harmless diversions go, Kronk's New Groove is truly the cream of the crop. Coasting on the appeal of its lovable oaf of a protagonist, this sequel is one of Disney's strongest because it doesn't take itself seriously and demands that we don't, either.

The Lion King II: Simba's Pride

The Lion King II: Simba's Pride is probably Disney's most ambitious direct-to-video effort, which actually ends up helping it. Disney refused to disclose the production costs, but given its predecessor's runaway success, it's safe to assume that the studio pulled out all the stops for the sequel. While the story feels bigger and more consequential, it lacks the magic and weight of the original in some key areas.

Its biggest misstep is its handling of its baddies. It's impossible to replicate the menace that Scar (Jeremy Irons) so effortlessly exuded, and the weakest moments in Simba's Pride are the ones that try to replace Scar with bigger villains. Scar had ambition. Purpose. Here, his followers simply want revenge.

The Lion King II: Simba's Pride is far better than it has any right to be, and while it doesn't touch the quality of the original, it comes closer than many thought possible.

An Extremely Goofy Movie

An Extremely Goofy Movie tries hard to make us care about Goofy's relationship with his son Max. For the most part, it succeeds. There's some clumsiness in the comedy department, but thankfully the focus seems to be more on heart than humor.

What's remarkable about An Extremely Goofy Movie is how acutely sad it so often is. The filmmakers excel at involving us in this father/son relationship, and by the time the credits roll, it's difficult not to feel attached to these two characters. Going into the film, I had no idea I was going to enjoy it as much as I did. In fact, I was kind of trying to hate it. I had a disdain for pointless sequels, but An Extremely Goofy Movie combatted that irrational hatred with a quality I didn't expect.

If that doesn't earn it a place on this list, I'm not sure what does.

Tarzan II

It's kind of incredible that Tarzan II is as watchable as it is, because everything about it screams “forgettable money grab.” The original Tarzan told us everything we needed to know about the vine-swingin' hero's childhood, immediately making the idea of a story centered entirely on young Tarzan a tough one to get behind.

But Tarzan II is more fun than its marketing led us to believe. Its cutesy plot will likely only appeal to young children, but the difference between Tarzan II and other direct-to-video Disney movies is that it knows what it is and works within those parameters. That's special, and it puts Tarzan II a cut above so much of what came before and what would come after.

Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers

Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers harkens back to the Disney shorts of yesteryear, when Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy constantly found themselves in hilarious situations that only the visionaries at the Mouse House could cook up. From pitting the three heroes against the enormous Pete to subjecting them to outrageous physical comedy, this standalone adventure brings back classic elements and updates them for a new generation of fans.

Surprisingly, The Three Musketeers actually turns fairly dark relatively quickly. As the story barrels toward its climax, Pete locks Mickey in a dungeon and leaves him for dead. It seems writers Evan Spiliotopoulos and David M. Evans wanted to make Pete as despicable as possible, and if that was their intent, they accomplished their goal.

The film is barely longer than an hour, which to me just means it's honoring the limits of its appeal. There seems to be a shortage of self-awareness in the runtime department these days, making The Three Musketeers something of a rarity.

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