We’ve all been influenced by different sorts of media, but as kids it’s always the animated movies that left the biggest impression on us, Disney in particular, but what are the best Disney movies for toddlers?
While a good number of their animations are absolutely stunning, not all of them carry messages that little kids can understand.
The best Disney movies for toddlers are those that convey simple messages, but still mean something.
The best Disney movies will help your toddler develop some positive fundamental characteristics or adopt a healthier, more positive world view in the future, and preferably both!
While any of the animated movies that carry Disney princess names in the title could be your go to, not all of them carry healthy messages, or they simply aren’t based on stories with the happiest of endings in real life.
Stories like The little mermaid, Sleeping beauty, Cinderella, Pocahontas or Beauty and the beast were good choices in the past, but they have aged rather poorly and are now seen in a more negative light than they were when they first came out.
The same could be said for Snow white and the seven dwarfs, but I believe that one is still worth a watch.
You want to look for cartoons and animation that have a lot of catchy tunes, vibrant, eye-popping visuals that’ll get kids to pay attention, and that don’t hide the central message under layers of obscurity.
Luckily, both Disney and Pixar manage to tick all the right boxes when it comes to animation, and have managed to pump out classic after classic.
What are the best ones though? Well, as a dedicated fan of all things Disney and Pixar, I’ve gone through the effort of finding out what the absolute best Disney movies for toddlers are, and which ones you might want to think about avoiding, even though kids might still enjoy these ones regardless!
The 13 Best Disney Movies For Toddlers
1. The Lion King
While some may view the Lion King as just a cartoon, it’s honestly one of the defining pieces of cinema in the 90’s.
Not only did it have a compelling story about a young heir named Simba, who was born into a great animal kingdom that he was destined to rule, it also had an element of tragedy as well as light hearted comedy, delivering an emotionally driven story that moved millions.
It’s a movie that teaches us about the circle of life, how nothing truly lasts forever and how some can be born into circumstances less fortunate than others.
It showed us how even those who seemingly have everything can have it all stripped away from them in an instant.
But, it also teaches us that we shouldn’t dwell on the bad times or let them define us.
Or, how the movie would put it, “Hakuna Matata”, or “No worries, for the rest of your days”, which teaches kids to enjoy the life they currently have without worrying too much about the ‘what if’s.
The best part about it is that it’s all told through the viewpoint of jungle animals and done in a very approachable and kid friendly manner, without resorting to crude storytelling elements.
It’s one of my personal favorites, a movie that I showed to my kids when they were just a year old, and one that I’ll never hesitate to let them watch again thanks to its absolute storytelling perfection.
2. The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh
While not striking as close to my heart as some others on this list, as I wasn’t around when this animated movie first aired, it’s still a lovely depiction of friendship in a children’s movie, and a good candidate for the best Disney movie for toddlers.
This is truly a piece of Disney history, when they were in their animating prime and pioneering technology that would be used as the standard for animation by generations to come.
This film follows the adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and a young boy, Christopher Robin, ending in a final farewell between Winnie and Christopher as they reminisce over some of their greatest moments, and promising to always stay friends.
Winnie even ends up promising that he’ll always be there when Christopher needs him, a symbol of true friendship.
That’s exactly what this nice, family friendly movie was trying to teach kids back then – how the beauty of friendship transcends boundaries like distance, which is especially relevant today as a lot of people have friends scattered all over the world.
3. Toy Story
Speaking of great hits of the 90s, Toy Story should be on every list of Disney classics.
Following the adventures of Woody the cowboy and Buzz Lightyear the astronaut, two toys belonging to a boy named Andy who get into all kinds of wild antics that see them travel across their town and tackle lots of relevant problems.
The idea of the toys being living beings with emotions and thinking capacities like our own, is a profound one.
The toys also treat the actual humans in their universe as Gods and rulers.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the thing the toys fear most is being discarded.
It’s essentially like being exiled from one’s home or being sentenced to a life of forgotten solitude
But, the movies still end up teaching us a lot of important lessons along the way.
There are four of them as of now, so it only goes to show just how popular the franchise has become.
What they teach us is that it doesn’t matter what packaging we came in, what kind of purpose we serve, or how many cool kung-fu moves or extra accessories we have, we’re all in this life together.
We’re all the same, and it’s up to us to work together to achieve things that a single person can’t, to show that we’re all worthy of the same praise and that nobody is beneath anyone else.
Again, this is all shown in a manner that your little ones can properly digest, without having to think too hard to wrap their brains around it.
The first Toy Story is a family movie classic, as are the sequels, so be sure to include this on your “must watch with my kids” list.
While arguably one of the more controversial entries on this list, Aladdin is still a movie that remains a classic in Disney history.
It tells the compelling story of a flawed main character who grows and learns from his mistakes, and also a princess who manages to escape the oppressive traditions of her own kingdom.
The aspect of the Aladdin movies that kids are sure to remember the most fondly is Genie, portrayed by the late Robin Williams, who brought so much life into both his character and the entirety of the series with his incredible performance.
It’d probably be way lower on people’s lists without him.
That said, the movie teaches us to never lie to get what we want, because it’ll only come back to bite us later.
That even if we could have our wishes come true, it is what we end up doing with them that makes us the person that we are.
It is our actions that are important, not our wealth or possessions.
It also teaches us about breaking stereotypes through Jasmine, who isn’t just a damsel in distress, but a strong woman that takes the initiative.
She decides her own fate, despite the vizier’s obsession with the throne and the desire to use the princess to obtain it.
While it is an adaptation of the classic 1001 Arabian nights, the story is so popular that it transcended the medium of animation and has since been developed into a Broadway musical and even has a live-action remake.
One of the newer entries in Disney’s cinematic repertoire, it has nonetheless become a modern classic and is likely to remain one of the best Disney movies for toddlers for many years to come.
It follows the story of Anna and Elsa, two sisters that grew up inseparable, but because of the magical powers that Elsa possesses, an accident happens that almost costs Anna her life, which causes their parents to panic.
That said, Elsa was traumatized by the event, so much so that she locked herself up in her room and didn’t want to come out, but Anna doesn’t give up on her.
It’s this message that the movie wants to drive home, the importance of the family bond, or in this case the bond between siblings.
Sure, siblings get up to all sorts of shenanigans, and more often than not a simple game may end up in an accident where one of them goes a bit too far and the other gets hurt, but it’s almost never intentional and siblings should always remember that.
They shouldn’t let little feuds come in between the friendship they’ve already established.
It should remain iron-clad as there’s nobody out there who cares about you more than your family does.
The movie shows this really well with the introduction of Anna’s temporary love interest, who has sinister ulterior motives, and it’s her sisterly bond with Elsa that ends up saving the day and helps everything end happily ever after.
I haven’t gotten around to watching part 2 yet, so I can’t testify on it, so please bear with me, mammas.
I don’t want to recommend anything that I haven’t personally seen.
Another 20th century classic, this one goes all the way back to the early 40s.
While it has a similar message regarding the circle of life as the lion king, it also ends up teaching kids about the dangers of human influence on animal habitats and their population.
It shows the negatives of hunting through the eyes of a young doe and his animal friends, and the loss of his mother and the fire that follows.
It also focuses on the tragic loss that haunts the young deer in his early life, resulting in trauma that stifles his development and causes him to learn things at a much slower pace than he otherwise would have.
But, much like Simba, he eventually learns how to overcome his trauma thanks to his friends, and learns that loss is a natural part of life.
Once he learns that, the weight is lifted from his shoulders and he ends up living a happy and fulfilling life afterwards.
There’s also the important lesson that Bambi’s friend Thumper teaches kids with one of the most famous Disney quotes; to keep quiet if you have nothing good to say about a person, as you’ll bring nothing but grief to both parties.
In modern times, the destructive nature of man in this movie also gives an important message to kids about how the environment should be cherished and not destroyed, something that was less appreciated in the past, but is now particularly relevant.
So, if you want a rich and complex experience that’s still digestible for young children, then give Bambi a go with your own Bambinos!
This is a very recent movie from Disney, that adds a dash of the mystical to a classic tale of love and friendship, as well as introducing another female heroine into Disney’s ever expanding roster, Moana.
The movie teaches us that living in a bubble, while safe, isn’t always the healthiest option.
It’s good to step out of your comfort zone no matter how scary it might seem, and to explore the wide world around you and experience all the things it has to offer.
If we never leave the small habitat we’ve grown accustomed to, we won’t get to experience anything new and will end up living a rather boring life.
Moana decides to take that crucial step forward, one that most of the other villagers avoid, for the sake of protecting them and realizing her dreams of sailing across the deep blue ocean.
It also helps teach people a lesson in humility and owning up to one’s mistakes through the character of Maui, something the man learns to accept throughout this animated film.
The storyline of Mulan broke new ground when it originally aired by showing that a female protagonist could be just as compelling as a male one, and it did so without diminishing the importance of either gender.
It’s a story that tells us we shouldn’t adhere to gender stereotypes, and we should follow our own hearts and remain steadfast in our desire instead, no matter how hard it may end up being.
As well as these important messages, this modern classic animated movie ended up paving the way for a whole new world of female protagonists, and one of my favorite heroines in all of Disney and Pixar media, Merida, in particular.
9. The Incredibles
This is another series that’s close to my heart, and qualifies as one of the best Disney movies for toddlers by a wide margin.
Not only is it a family friendly animated movie, but it also teaches us about the importance of spending time with family, all told through the life of a bunch of superheroes who, incidentally, are family.
The heroes aren’t shown as perfect, but rather people like us, with flaws, vices and needs when in private, all while having to maintain their heroic image in public.
It shows young kids and parents alike that they should ask their family members for help first when problems arise, and to rely on one another to solve them because you’re not likely to get better help at short notice than what you get from your loved ones.
The 2nd movie only helps to emphasize that, while also adding another important message, which is that any member of the family, no matter how small, can contribute in a positive manner.
It’s a neat piece of modern cinema, and I recommend every parent watch it with their kids to learn a lesson or two, because this is much more than just a simple kids movie.
10. Finding Nemo/Dory
Disney does some of their best work in animated films that star animals in the main role, and these two movies are no exception.
The first instalment shows the tragedy of loss in the lives of two clownfish, Marlin and his son Nemo.
It also shows the importance of family, with Marlin never giving up until he has made sure his son is safe and sound.
His amazing adventure to find his lost son is why the movie ended up being a classic.
The other message it delivers is to never give up and always keep moving toward your goal no matter how far it may seem, because a little progress is better than none at all!
11. Peter Pan
Speaking of old family classics, Peter Pan and his Neverland adventure is definitely one to remember.
While it’s a movie that’s definitely showing its age, its lessons are still relevant to this day.
One such lesson is that kids should cherish their childhoods, and that they shouldn’t be in a rush to grow up, because once they do there’s no going back.
It encourages them to try new things and experience what life has to offer while they have the freedom to do so.
The emphasis on childlike wonder and freedom is evident, and it’s one of the many reasons why it remains a classic movie in every parent’s library.
This is an entry that many of you may not have expected to see on this list, but is there for a good reason.
It’s a movie that shows the effects of mistreatment of the environment, and how our world would end up looking if we continue mistreating it.
It has an important environmental message that helps teach our kids to take better care of the planet, not repeat the mistakes prior generations made, and to attempt to save and restore rather than use and destroy.
A difficult task, to be sure, but one that can’t be accomplished if the environmental problems we are facing are left ignored.
This is a movie that came as a welcome surprise to me and has taught not just my kids, but me as well, a valuable lesson, which is to always keep an open mind.
Who would’ve thought that a wannabe chef interacting with a rat, and learning that he has a natural gift for cooking, would teach me such a valuable lesson?
The story is told in such an intriguing and unique way, too.
I’m not a huge fan of rats, but both my kids and I have definitely changed our views after watching it, and have learned to not judge a book by its cover, no matter who or what we are interacting with.
The 7 Disney Movies That You Might Want To Skip
While the best Disney movies for toddlers keep their messages simple and concise, while remaining powerful and portraying them in a captivating manner, there are some that sadly end up falling short of that, and aren’t as educational as you’d like them to be.
Mind you, that doesn’t make them bad necessarily, just don’t expect to learn any profound moral lessons from them either.
1. The Little Mermaid
This is one of the best examples of animated films whose plot didn’t age well.
This is because it depicts Ariel, a young girl desperate to garner the attention of a prince.
So much so, that she ends up sacrificing her voice for a chance to be with him, something that might have been alright at the time, but is no longer acceptable, as women like us have started gaining more of a defined voice.
It’s not ideal because it shows the antiquated idea of a woman sacrificing everything for love, and while it might seem sweet, it’s not really a healthy way of going about things and might give young kids a skewed image of what love really is.
Not to mention that the story it’s based on has a rather tragic ending as well.
They might not pick up on it at first, but they could recall it later, so maybe think twice before playing this one on movie night.
Another example of outdated norms and rather despicable behavior is Cinderella.
As many of you likely know the story already, you might also recognize some of its major problems.
The first, most obvious one is the abuse suffered by Cinderella on a daily basis at the hands of her stepsisters and stepmother.
Something like that shouldn’t be shown to young kids at a young age.
The other problem is the idea of waiting on your prince Charming.
Sure, it’s what most toy lines for girls are built upon; young princesses waiting for a prince to come and whisk them away from their problems instead of trying to deal with them on their own.
It’s a rather undesirable mentality to be teaching young girls in this day and age, and is a principle reason why I enjoy the newer, less traditional Disney princesses.
Ones who deliver a message of individuality and equality between both boys and girls, instead of separating them based on some arbitrary stereotype.
3. Beauty And The Beast
While this is the touching story of a young village girl getting through to the cold heart of a cursed nobleman on the surface, beauty and the beast isn’t actually as heartwarming as one would initially think.
Behind all of his pomp and glamour, Beast acts rather possessively toward Belle, and even gets to a point where he simply starts buying her favor by showering her with gifts.
It’s a notion which she doesn’t seem to mind, forgoing all of the characteristics which made her unique.
While it does take a bit longer to digest, in the end it all boils down to the fact that it isn’t something that you want to be teaching your kids.
None of them, regardless of gender, should feel that they have to change the person of their affection to get through to them.
This is something that people need to figure out on their own because everyone around them will only end up feeling miserable for getting caught up in it otherwise.
4. Sleeping Beauty
This is a story that presents the idea of prince Charming coming to rescue a princess who has been enchanted into a magical sleep.
The romantic nature of the story and the overcoming of adversity might seem appealing to a young girl who aspires to be a princess, but the subtext behind it is still rather undesirable nowadays.
The fact that Aurora doesn’t really have a choice in the matter of who she marries, or rather, who her true love is, might end up being overlooked in favor of this archaic “true love” business, but it’s a theme that’s grown to be especially gruesome in modern times.
If there’s one thing that can be pulled out from this, it’s that consent is a very important aspect of today’s society, and this movie does a very poor showing of it.
If anything, the most compelling and realistic character is the villain herself, Maleficent, which is why a lot of the current generation of kids have started sympathizing with her instead.
While not the biggest offender on this list, it’s still an animated movie that inadvertently ends up butchering the role of the female character, despite her being a supporting one.
While normally witty and independent, Meg loses these qualities once her love for Herc blossoms and she decides to throw her aspirations away in favor of love.
The movie itself is great, mind you, and it teaches us to be content with who we are and that happiness is really what matters.
However, this one glaring flaw is what stops it from being among the best Disney movies for toddlers, at least in my eyes.
6. Monsters inc.
Next up is Monsters inc. Mind you, there are many more entries worth watching on Disney’s vast filmography, but it’d take me days to include all of them, and most of them carry similar messages anyway!
That said, Monsters inc. is special in this regard because it helps teach tolerance and understanding through the story of a young child, who is initially afraid of the monstrous main cast, before slowly warming up to them.
It’s this idea that people aren’t always what they seem to be on the surface that is prevalent in the movie, and even the scariest of monsters may end up turning out to be big softies in the end.
The importance of taking a brief moment to peer beneath the harsh exterior of a potentially scary thing, only to find out that it isn’t as bad as it first seems, will serve them greatly.
That’s not just while judging other people’s characters either, but also when dealing with their own fears, an important theme in Monsters inc.
That said, some parents did express concern that the idea of monsters might be a bit too scary for children, and, while this isn’t enough to tarnish an otherwise great movie, you might want to think twice before playing it for your child.
Finally, we come to Brave. While it’s a movie that carries a similar message to Mulan, it’s not just one of the best Disney movies for toddlers, but for parents as well.
It not only helps teach us that tradition can be stifling to young children, and that gender stereotypes are a thing of the past, but also the importance of family and taking responsibility for one’s actions.
It’s a beautiful and compelling story in it’s own right, a fairy tale without an actual book tied to it, and an animated film I’ll always be sure to suggest every once in a while for movie night, no matter how many groans I get from my husband and my kids for doing so.
While it is one of my favorite movies, some of the language and scenes with the bears might be a bit too much for some kids.
Parental guidance is advised.
The best Disney movies for toddlers and preschoolers can beexcellent early educational materials to have on hand for relaying important life lessons to your kids in an entertaining and non-lecturing manner.
These movies, and even some TV shows for kids, all play an important role in how a child learns and accepts some truths about the world around her, as well as how she goes about her life in the future and chooses new friends.
There’s also something in them for us adults to pick up and learn, too, and the best part is that none of them are boring to watch, so you can enjoy them alongside your little ones.
So, don’t exclude TV as an added way of teaching your kids some fundamentals, weave it in with your other methods and you will see just how successful the mix is.
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