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Top 10 Underrated Live Action Disney Movies

VO: Emily Brayton
We’re always giving credit for the animated Disney films, but what about the live action Disney movies we often forget about? In this countdown we take a look at the Top 10 live action Disney movies that deserve more credit such as Sky High, Bridge to Terabithia, Pete’s Dragon, The Rocketeer, Newsies, Saving Mr. Banks, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, Holes, Hocus Pocus and Enchanted!

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Top 10 Underrated Live Action Disney Movies

Given how crowded the Mouse House is, a few gems are bound to get lost in the shuffle. Welcome to MsMojo and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Underrated Live Action Disney Movies.
For this list, we’re taking a look at Disney’s most underappreciated classics that have little to no animation.

#10: “Sky High” (2005)

This superhero satire had the misfortune of coming out one year after “The Incredibles,” which might’ve caused it to fly under the radar. Nevertheless, it’s high time the film finally got its due. The story centers on the son of two superheroes who apparently has no special powers of his own. Upon attending a high school for heroes in training, he’s labeled as a sidekick. This premise makes leeway for clever sight gags and one-liners. Kurt Russell, Bruce Campbell, and Wonder Woman herself – Lynda Carter also have fun supporting performances. Above all else, “Sky High” enforces a positive message about making the most out of your talents, no matter how small they seem.

#9: “Bridge to Terabithia” (2007)

When the ads for “Bridge to Terabithia” hit, audiences expected a “Narnia” knockoff. The fantasy element here is actually downplayed, however. Rather, the story is more about the friendship between young Jess and Leslie, played by Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb, respectively. Together, the two make a magical realm where they can escape the pressures of reality. Faithful to Katherine Paterson’s original novel, this is a charming family film about growing up, the power of imagination, and death. Without giving too much away, “Bridge to Terabithia” delves into some pretty dark territory, pulling no punches along the way. That’s part of what makes the final product so authentic and meaningful, thus encouraging the audience to confront a difficult life lesson.

#8: “Pete’s Dragon” (1977)

Although this live-action/animation hybrid did fairly well at the box office, it failed to reach the same heights as “Mary Poppins.” Even if it couldn’t contend with everyone’s favorite nanny, it’s still a delightful tale about a boy and his dragon. Full of infectious musical numbers, colorful performances, and impressive special effects for the time, there's more than enough to enjoy here. The highlight of the film has got to be Elliott the Dragon, who’s wonderfully animated and immediately wins the audience over. “Pete’s Dragon” would also inspire a 2016 remake, which put a darker spin on the story. Like its predecessor, this remake hasn’t garnered the biggest following, but hopefully that’ll change over time.

#7: “The Rocketeer” (1991)

This retro-flavored superhero flick is a blast from start to finish. Often described as Disney’s answer to “Indiana Jones,” “The Rocketeer” centers on a young man that stumbles upon a rocket pack in the year 1938. When Nazis and the FBI attempt to acquire the device, our hero must take flight in an adventure full of comedy, romance, and action. While there’s plenty for older audiences to love, “The Rocketeer” is more kid-friendly than “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which is maybe why the film wasn’t the runaway hit Disney was hoping for. Regardless, its cult status might be enough to finally get a sequel off the ground.

#6: “Newsies” (1992)

Although Disney is known for turning out blockbuster after blockbuster, this musical was one of the studio’s most notorious bombs and box office duds. Over the years, though, “Newsies” has gained a loving fan base and inspired a Tony-winning Broadway show. The film would also help launch several high-profile careers. A young Christian Bale took center stage in one of his earliest roles, while Kenny Ortega of “High School Musical” fame made his directorial debut. This historically-rooted story about the Newsboys Strikes of 1899 comes complete with toe-tapping choreography and infectious songs from Alan Menken and Jack Feldman. If you haven’t seen the film yet, remember that it’s never too late to “seize the day.”

#5: “Saving Mr. Banks” (2013)

“Saving Mr. Banks”’ reviews were mostly positive, but that didn’t translate into Oscar gold. The lack of awards is especially disappointing, as this is one of the most unique live-action films Disney has ever made. The film explores the dynamic between Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks, and “Mary Poppins” creator P.L. Travers, played by Emma Thompson. Although Travers is hesitant to sign over the film rights for her creation, Mr. Disney is determined to bring Mary Poppins to the silver screen. While this period piece takes a few creative liberties with historical accuracy, the performances from Thompson and Hanks always ring true. The result is a compelling story about two passionate artists trying to reach a compromise.

#4: “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” (1993)

Even if it wasn’t a blockbuster upon release, this remake of the 1963 film is truly an incredible journey. “Homeward Bound” centers on two dogs and a cat that venture across the wilderness in search of their owners. Although the animals can talk, their non-CGI'd lips never move. However, our furry leads still overflow with personality thanks to the voiceover performances from Don Ameche, Sally Field, and Michael J. Fox. The film doesn’t bombard us with countless pop culture references either. It’s just a good old-fashioned adventure with timeless characters, stunning nature shots, and heart-pounding action. Just remember to bring some tissues, as you’re bound to cry at least once.

#3: “Holes” (2003)

Louis Sachar’s original young adult novel is considered one of the best pieces of literature for kids. Sachar himself penned the screenplay for this adaptation, which keeps the comedy, suspense, and heart of its source material. For some reason, though, people rarely talk about this film. A young Shia LaBeouf stars as Stanley Yelnats IV, a boy who unfortunately winds up at a detention camp for youths called Camp Green Lake. While there, he makes a few friends and uncovers a shocking mystery. With a gripping story that’ll keep you invested every step of the way, this is a buried treasure for audiences of all ages.

#2: “Hocus Pocus” (1993)

When it first came out in 1993, “Hocus Pocus” didn’t make a ton of money. It didn’t get the most favorable reviews from critics either. Yet, that didn’t stop the film from becoming a cult classic that people continue to watch every Halloween. This is one of those goofy comedies that can connect with the kid in all of us. There’s still a lot for adults to admire, from the creativity, the music, to the visuals – all of it simply screams Halloween. On top of that, Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker are flat-out spellbinding as a trio of wicked witches. The film is sure to get you into the Halloween spirit.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

“The BFG” (2016)

“Flight of the Navigator” (1986)

“Into the Woods” (2014)

#1: “Enchanted” (2007)

Featuring a first-rate comedic performance from Amy Adams, “Enchanted” centers on an animated maiden who’s transported to the live-action world. While the story pokes fun at many overused Disney tropes, it also embraces everything we love about this company. The filmmakers offer a modern take on the fairytale formula that feels timely while also being timeless. Although “Enchanted” is primarily live-action, it arguably ushered in a new golden age of Disney animation. You can see much of the film’s humor, sincerity, and self-awareness in the animated features that followed, such as “The Princess and the Frog,” “Tangled,” and “Frozen.” “Enchanted” thus acted as an under-appreciated but significant turning point for the House of Mouse that shouldn’t go overlooked.

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