Disney movies have a special place in our hearts. One that comes alive at every mention of a princess story or an adventure drama and fills us with sweet nostalgia. The music, the characters, the animation, everything transports you back to childhood and radiates comfort. This has become somewhat homogenized as Disney has changed over the years, but at the same time, let’s not forget that our beloved Uncle Walt has tried defying logic and mainstream structures on several occasions. Somewhere deep in Disney’s archives lie projects so gloriously weird and unconventional, that they leave you scratching your heads.
These movies burst with ideas that managed to sneak past censors and critiques. As die-hard fans, we wouldn’t be surprised if you hold the saccharine-padded, feel-good tales close to your memories. But today, let’s pull back the curtain and look at a time when Disney decided to let its freak out and make strange films. By mixing up odd scripts and offbeat characters, the studio has created cinematic anomalies that are nothing short of bewildering.
15 The Watcher in the Woods
It’s not like Disney hasn’t made any horror films at all. The studio has backed many popular franchises and created movies like Don’t Look Under The Bed, and this interesting adaptation of Florence Engel Randall novel, The Watcher in the Woods. It’s one of the rare Disney movies that are actually kind of scary. Released in 1980, the live-action Disney flick centers around a family that has recently moved into an old mansion.
Soon after, their oldest daughter is attacked by ominous visuals, creepy voices, and physical abuse from the house’s owner’s daughter, who mysteriously vanished 30 years ago. While the premise itself is enough to rob you off your sleep for nights, the movie contains eerie choir music and dancing trees to make your nightmares even more creative. Moreover, the slow burn and the unsettling imagery also wins points for making the whole thing weirder.
The Cars movies compose one of the less successful franchises made by Disney. So to have its universe extended not only seems unnecessary but also bizarre. And yet, Disney cooks up this talking aircraft extension in Planes, which was released in 2013. Filled with planes zipping around like people, the story follows Dusty, a crop duster plane, who dreams of competing in and winning the Wings Across the Globe race.
Most of the movie revolves around Dusty and his friends as he practices flying and spinning. Sure, the animation was typically Disney, but the idea of planes with faces delivering cornball puns just seemed weird. Besides, the animated film was destined to be a direct to DVD release, but eventually became a theatrical one.
13 The Spirit of Mickey Mouse
Another one of Disney’s odd entries was this 1998 direct-to-video release. The Spirit of Mickey Mouse added to Mickey’s spirit collection by being an anthology of shorts featuring Mickey Mouse and several other characters. In less than 90 minutes, the film features a story where Mickey and his friends are hosting an event where they set up a device to present popular cartoons to orphaned children.
The cartoons include unseen footage from The Mickey Mouse Club, various physical gags between Mickey and Donald Duck, as well as A Goofy Movie, all of which plays along in choppy, quick fashion. Turns out that the experimental extremes that Disney has gone to may more well-known to young viewers than we though.
12 So Dear to My Heart
From directors Harold Schuster and Hamilton Luske, this 1948 oddity arrives as a well-intentioned but highly absurd animation and live-action hybrid. So Dear to My Heart follows a farm boy named Jeremiah, who dreams of raising lambs but struggles against his own situation.
When he finds a mischievous black lamb left alone, abandoned by its mother, he brings the lamb home, names him Danny, and trains him for the country fair contest. Set in the American Midwest, the movie became one of the earliest to mix live-action with animation, inspiring several future projects who took the same technique. While the movie addressed childhood hopes and hardships, it also felt way ahead of its time in visuals and style.
11 Make Mine Music
Without so much as a connected plot, the early Disney film Make Mine Music becomes a rollercoaster ride of an animated film, with music taking center stage with diminishing results. A compilation of 10 animated shorts, the movie puts together 10 mini-musicals in Disney’s original style.
The musicals bounce between old pop music, Latin, and classical symphonies, with “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met” and “All the Cats Join In” becoming rather well-known. Watching the movie feels like you’re oscillating within a kaleidoscope of tones and styles. We already know that Disney liked to experiment and showcase its versatility. But sometimes, the result comes out to be disorienting and not enchanting.
10 Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis: The Lost Empire is one of those movies that initially bombed at the box office but managed to garner positive reviews and change course over time. With its steampunk setting and designs inspired from comics, the Disney romper took the usual treasure hunt formula and gave it an inventive flip.
Adventurer Milo Thatch has a heart of gold, but when met with a band of explorers, his quest to find the great lost island of Atlantis triumphs all else. The movie had complex world-building as well as decent action sequences. Despite being rich in ambition and crafting a magical landscape of its own, the film clashed with the theatrical release of Shrek. And we all know which among the two ultimately won.
9 Planes: Fire and Rescue
Another Cars spin-off and sequel to the 2013 movie, Planes: Fire and Rescue was Disney’s attempt at reviving an idea that was already lost. But things got only weirder with this follow up, which followed Dusty Crophopper after he’d become quite popular after winning multiple aircraft races. His celebrity status only guaranteed a bright career as Dusty aspired to become a firefighter, for which he trained endlessly.
A quirky character addition is Dusty’s disaster response recruit. His bizarre backstory is the only interesting thing in the movie. As for the dialogue, it retained the same level of cheekiness as the original, feeling like it was inspired from a Saturday morning cartoon. Despite being weird, Planes 2 manages to deliver some inspiring messages. It also has one of the weirdest trailers for a Disney film, an extremely melodramatic and melancholic one that feels so inappropriate for what the film actually is.
From a one-man project to a four-season Nickelodeon cartoon to a promising Disney flick, Jim Jinkins’ quirky creation has seen various transformations. While the TV series carried a lot of heart and humor, the 1991 movie hovered between creepy territory and cutesy charm. But that’s entirely because of the plot. In Doug, our titular hero is planning to sign up for the school dance with Patti. His mission seems achievable, but a strange detour from his daily humdrum leads to unexpected outcomes.
From talks with his animated friend Skeeter to full-on musical numbers, the film dances between being impressive and slow. If you are someone who grew up watching the Nick series as a kid, the movie may seem nostalgic. But at the end of the day, it veers away from the original.
7 The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars
Based on the 1988 novella of the same name and sequel to the cult classic toon and a film that came before, The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars is Disney’s absurd attempt at fashioning something new. In the direct-to-video musical, the human owners of Toaster, Calculator, and Faucet had welcomed a baby into the house. However, when the baby is kidnapped by aliens, the appliances try to figure out a way to go to the Red Planet.
The thought of household instruments fixing up a rocket is loony enough, but sending this hapless crew on a poorly animated science-fiction adventure is just outright ridiculous. Disney’s keen kid-friendly radar may have thought that a Martian mission would appeal to the audience, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.
6 The Happiest Millionaire
Taking notes from the actual story of Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, this 1967 musical movie starred Fred MacMurray as the eccentric, somewhat hilarious Texan millionaire. The Happiest Millionaire follows John Lawless, played by Tommy Steele, who is an Irish immigrant working for Biddle as his butler. Although disapproving of his methods and mannerisms, John gets used to the job and considers Biddle’s family as his own.
The movie may seem normal on the outside, but it contains a manic tone and visuals that feel more trippy than heartwarming. It was the last musical that Disney produced while Walt Disney was still alive, and yet it missed the magic that the rest of the movies hold.
Carrying an interesting and mildly entertaining concept created by Disney in 1976, Gus is the story of Andy Petrovic, a Yugoslavian farm boy who is obsessed with soccer but isn’t really good at the sport. Once, when he accidentally watches his beloved mule, Gus, kick the ball and score a goal, Andy begins playing with him and training him to run around when he says so.
The news of Andy and his soccer-playing mule spreads far enough for the coach of a failing Californian football team to hear. Before you know it, Gus is playing for the NFL as a field goal kicker. If this much information isn’t weird enough, the movie is filled with insane scenes featuring the mule and his antics. If Disney was trying to deliver a screwball comedy, suffice it to say, Gus doesn’t go in the direction we hoped.
4 Meet the Deedles
Paul Walker and Steve Van Wormer star in this absurd-live action 1998 Disney misfire. Directed by Disney’s long-time stuntman Steve Boyum, the movie follows two adrenaline-seeking surfer dude siblings, Paul and Stew, who get distracted by a lieutenant working at the Yellowstone National Park. To impress her, they pose as rookie rangers and eventually get embroiled in ridiculous misadventures involving prairie dogs and old rangers seeking revenge.
Beyond the weird plot, the movie implies various stereotypes and dances along the lines of controversies that wouldn’t sit well with family audiences. In a way, Meet the Deedles can be considered a combination of Wayne’s World and Home Alone, which makes it sound slightly more appealing than it is.
3 Rookie of the Year
Back in the ‘90s, there were a large amount of sports comedies centered around kids. While The Mighty Ducks stole most of the limelight, Rookie of the Year found a small audience despite being downright unintelligent, though fairly watchable. Released in 1993, the movie saw 12-year-old Henry bouncing back from a broken arm with superhuman abilities – in this case, pitching a fastball at 100 MPH.
He joins the Cubs as an amazing prodigy, winning hearts and earning high scores for the team. While the movie’s heart was at promoting a never-say-never spirit, the far-fetched plot twisted the laws of physics beyond comprehension. Some kids may have stared in awe at the wonder, while others laughed at the absurdity. Maybe if the premise had received an animated treatment, the film could have been saved.
2 Return to Oz
The 1985 sequel to a long-standing classic, Return to Oz features Dorothy in Kansas, but she’s stuck in a psychiatric facility after her aunt calls her delusional. After being rescued by a girl, she is back in the Land of Oz, experiencing hallucinatory visions that are sure to confuse and displease the viewers. As if The Wizard of Oz wasn’t dark enough, this one features themes of orphanages and mind control that feel more grim than heartwarming.
The weirdest character of all is Mombi, the dark-haired deranged sorceress. Creator Walter Murch must have envisioned the film to be a tribute to the inaugural film, which is a commendable ambition. But when it comes to tone and sets and cinematography, the movie is simply… odd.
1 The Shaggy D.A.
Think Air Bud is ridiculous? Meet this bizarre franchise, perhaps at its silliest in the sequel to 1959’s The Shaggy Dog, the 1976 film The Shaggy D.A. The movie follows that meek lawyer Wilby Daniels, who arrives home to find that he has been robbed. He decides to run for the position of District Attorney against the corrupt John Slade.
However, things do not go as he planned after the return of the Borgia Ring, which can turn people into dogs. Disney tries to blend whimsical themes as well as political drama in a creative fashion, and the film almost feels like a Watergate satire. But the whole premise gets lost in Wilby repeatedly trying to turn into a sheepdog. Overall choppy and weird, The Shaggy D.A. is one of Disney’s most hypnotically weird but ultimately skippable movies.
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