I recently wrote about how my daughter asked me a really tough question, which was: out of all of the Disney movies ever made, which one was my favorite? And, while it took me a while to come up with an answer, one thing that was weirdly on my mind was a bunch of NON-Disney movies.
Now, I don’t mean flicks like The Avengers or Star Wars, which now arguably could be considered Disney movies. What I mean is, there are some cartoons from my youth that I once THOUGHT were Disney movies, but were actually made by other companies. Like, for the love of God, I could have sworn that Titan A.E. was a Disney movie (I was probably getting it confused with the underrated animated film, Treasure Planet, or something).
So here are 7 animated films that I still can’t believe were made by other companies besides Disney.
An American Tail (1986)
“Sooooomewheeeeere ouuuuuut theeeeere…” Trust me, if you’ve ever seen An American Tail, then you know this hit song by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram. It was the theme to one of the most popular movies from my childhood, which I was utterly convinced was a Disney film just like Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Directed by Don Bluth (you’re going to see his name a lot on this list), and distributed by Universal Pictures, An American Tail is about a mouse named Fievel who emigrated from Russia to the United States. But he gets separated from his parents, with the rest of the movie showing as he tries to find them again.
An American Tail was actually my introduction to the concept of immigration, and it was a heartfelt tale that made me wonder when Fievel would eventually meet up with Mickey Mouse, which of course wouldn’t happen since they were from totally different studios. But I was a kid back then, so what do you expect?
It was followed up with the arguably not-as-good Fievel Goes West, and then a few other sequels which I’m just learning about today. Fun fact: Steven Spielberg actually formed his own animation studio Amblimation after the success of this film. So, uh, yeah. There’s that.
The Land Before Time (1988)
Just like An American Tale, I swear I thought The Land Before Time was a Disney movie. So much so that up until about 10 years ago, I truly believed that Littlefoot, Spike, Ducky, Cera, and Petrie WERE Disney characters, and I always wondered why I never saw them in the Disney store that used to be in my mall.
Directed by Don Bluth (again!), The Land Before Time actually shares some similarities with a Disney Animation studios movie from the 2000s, that being Dinosaur. Or really, I should say vice-versa. In The Land Before Time, a young plant eater loses his mother from a T-Rex, and he bands with some other dinosaurs to make it to a land where he can find more of his kind. In Dinosaur, there’s a similar traveling story, so you could probably forgive me for thinking that Disney just made the same movie twice, but with better visuals.
But what really made me think that The Land Before Time was a Disney movie was all the sequels it got. I mean, for those who are too young to remember, The Land Before Time was a mega popular series. So much so that I remember seeing VHS tapes of, like, The Land Before Time V when I was growing up (and now they’re all the way up to 14!). This straight-to-tape sequels thing was a hallmark of Disney movies back in the day, so I really thought that The Land Before Time was a Disney series. Of course, I was wrong.
All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989)
Directed by Don Bluth (AGAIN!), and distributed under United Artists/MGM/UA Communications, All Dogs Go to Heaven was the movie that made me think that Oliver & Company was NOT a Disney movie (it is). Because I accidentally thought that All Dogs Go to Heaven was the Disney movie (it isn’t). On a side note, Oliver & Company still needs a live-action remake since I used to love that movie as a kid.
Anyway, All Dogs Go to Heaven is pretty weird. It’s set in 1939, and about a German Shepherd (voiced by Burt Reynolds) who is MURDERED by his “friend” Carface, only to escape Heaven and come back down to Earth with the intention of revenge. He eventually bands with his old friends and an orphan girl who talks to animals, and ultimately decides to save her rather than continue on his quest for vengeance.
And I am NOT making any of that up. Honestly, it must have been a weird movie like Who Framed Roger Rabbit that made me think that an oddball flick like All Dogs Go to Heaven could have ever come out of Disney, but kids’ movies were different back then. Like, way different.
FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
FernGully: The Last Rainforest has sort of seen a resurgence over the past few years, due to the fact that SOME people like to believe that Avatar is just a rip-off of FernGully. While I don't think it is, there are actually people out there who claimed that James Cameron did steal their ideas to make Avatar, and actually filed a lawsuit against him).
Directed by Bill Kroyer (finally somebody other than Don Bluth!), and distributed by 20th Century Fox, FernGully is about some fairies who learn the hard way that people do in fact exist, and they want to tear down their home, that being the rainforest.
The Avatar parallel probably comes from a human who is shrunken down, and who learns to understand the fairies, which is kind of like how Sam Worthington’s character in Avatar learns the way of the Na’vi, and even becomes one of them.
Once again, this is a case of mistaken identity for me, because even though I was 9-years-old back in 1992, I just assumed that the fairies in FernGully were friends with Tinkerbell. Oh, well. It was a good movie all the same.
By 1995, I was old enough to know the difference between films that were animated by Disney, and films that weren't (this was during the mid-point of the illustrious Disney Renaissance, after all). But by this point, I just didn’t care. In fact, I actually liked that there was an alternative to your Beauty and the Beast's, and The Hunchback of Notre Dames.
And Balto was indeed a nice alternative. Directed by Simon Wells and distributed by Universal, Balto was the (loosely) true story of a sled dog who goes out of his way to deliver medicine to some sick children in Alaska.
I really admire that unlike the Disney movies of the era that were relying on older tales like Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid, Balto was based on a real event. Plus, Balto is just an overall good movie. And, would you believe that it's actually a trilogy? I just learned that, and seriously need to catch up on the sequels.
Directed by Don Bluth (AGAIN!!) and Gary Goldman, 20th Century Fox's Anastasia (which is now owned by Disney, in a strange turn of events), is about an amnesiac who may or may not be the long lost princess of the royal family. The villain is Rasputin (voiced by Christopher Lloyd) as an evil wizard. It's a whole vibe.
Strangely enough, I remember Anastasia the least out of all of the movies on this list, and it’s probably because it felt the most like a Disney movie to me. Honestly, this was about the time when I'd much rather just watch Disney movies over anything else. Well this didn’t last long though, because only a few years later, we’d start getting movies like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, which provided another viable alternative to what Disney was offering at the time.
The Iron Giant (1999)
Last but not least is 1999's The Iron Giant. Directed by Brad Bird (his directorial debut) and distributed by Warner Bros., The Iron Giant is about a boy who finds a giant robot, and wants to do everything in his power to protect it.
1999 was the year when I defected from Disney and decided that maybe I’d prefer my animation elsewhere. It’s not only the fact that I didn’t really like Tarzan at the time (I’ve since changed my tune a little), but more because I really loved The Iron Giant and its Cold War era-story. We’ve since seen The Iron Giant charging into battle in the movie, Ready Player One, which really makes no sense whatsoever given the character, but I guess it made for a pretty cool visual.
And that’s it. How many of these movies have you seen? For more news on all things both Disney and NON-Disney-related, be sure to swing by here often!