I see this question come up a lot in group and boards about Disney. What movies should my kids see before we go to Disney? Of course we want our kids to get the maximum experience out of the trip and that means seeing characters from the screen come to life in the parks. That being said, don’t feel you need to exhaust yourself watching every Disney movie out there, or even every one on this list. But if you find yourself with nothing to do on a rainy day, grab some popcorn with the kids, relax on the couch, and watch one of these classics!
This movie was created by Walt Disney in 1940 and at the time of it’s release it was actually considered a big flop. Watching it now you can understand why. It was definitely ahead of it’s time. What makes it such a great movie to watch before visiting Disney is simple… Mickey Mouse. Mickey is the star and the hero of the movie in his sorcerer garb. Sorcerer Mickey is a classic icon and one you will see in the parks, especially Hollywood Studios. Sorcerer Mickey is featured in the night time show Fantasmic. You can also meet him at Mickey and Minnie Starring in Red Carpet Dream on Commissary Lane.
Released in 1953, Peter Pan was considered a success. Besides the main character of Peter Pan, there’s another important character that debuts in this movie and that you’ll frequently see in the parks… Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell has her own meet and greet and she’s also a main feature of the Happily Ever After show in the Magic Kingdom. There’s also the Peter Pan’s Flight attraction, featuring all the Peter Pan characters and a Peter Pan meet and greet nearby the ride. Captain Hook makes appearances sometimes too. This is a great children’s story of fantasy, flight and imagination, things that embody Disney World.
This one is kind of obvious. Seeing as Cinderella’s Castle is the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom and the symbol of Disney World, it’s helpful that kids see the move to appreciate all that it is. There’s also so many opportunities within Disney World to meet Cinderella and some of her friends. There’s the meet and greet at Princess Fairytale Hall in Magic Kingdom, Cinderella’s Royal Table of course, the character meal at 1900 Park Fair in the Grand Floridian and Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus in Epcot. Cinderella the movie was released in 1950 making Cinderella one of the original princesses of Disney and this movie a classic that shouldn’t be skipped.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Speak of original princesses, we have to talk about the true original (and my personal favorite), Snow White. Released in 1937, Snow White is arguably Walt Disney’s greatest masterpiece. It was his first animated feature film as well as the first ever full-length cel animated feature film. The film grossed $8 million during it’s initial release and when adjusted for inflation is still one of the top 10 box office performers in the United States. The American Film Institute named it the greatest animated film of all time and in 1989 even the U.S. government thru the Library of Congress deemed it “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
I could go on and on about how significant this movie is to Disney, to Walt himself, and the history of Disneyland and Disney World but that could be a whole other blog post in itself. The point is, this movie is part of our history and the cornerstone of Walt Disney’s legacy. At Walt Disney World there are many nods to the movie, the most popular being Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The newest addition is the Storybook Dining at Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge. This character meal features Snow White, Grumpy, Dopey and even the Evil Queen. Other opportunities to meet Snow White are by Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in the Magic Kingdom (occasionally, she’s not there every day), Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus in Epcot, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and also in the Germany Pavilion at Epcot. If you visit Magic Kingdom for a special event such as Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the entire cast of Seven Dwarfs are usually out for a meet and greet but be sure to get in line early because they attract a ton of attention.
The Lion King
This is a must watch specifically for those going to Animal Kingdom. In this park more than any other there’s so many references to the Lion King that without seeing the movie you may miss. And if for no other reason, you must watch this movie for the soundtrack alone which many argue is one of the best ever in the history of Disney Film. My favorite non-nighttime show in Disney is The Festival of the Lion King. Seriously though, I cry happy tears each time I see it. My husband rolls his eyes and I don’t care because it’s the circle of life and it moves us all, darn it! Besides the show, Timon does regular meet and greets in the park and there’s Rafiki’s Planet Watch that will be reopening this year after a major refurbishment. It’s unclear what changes were done but hopefully you’ll still be able to meet Rafiki there. Also, be sure to check out the new Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party that takes place on Discovery Island. Check the times guide or your My Disney Experience app for times in which the party takes place as it changes frequently.
Besides this fact that this movie is just so adorable, it’s a great move to watch before traveling to Disney World because there are attractions in multiple parks that are themed as Finding Nemo. Those attractions in particular are The Seas with Nemo and Friends and Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot and Finding Nemo The Musical at Animal Kingdom. Some would argue there are better choices for this top 10 list but I believe anytime Disney spreads out a movie over multiple attractions like they have with Finding Nemo, there’s definitely some significance there and having your little ones familiar with the characters will make those experiences that much better!
Since we’re talking about attractions spread out over multiple parks, we also have to talk about Toy Story. There are three Toy Story movies now and number 4 will be coming out this year but you don’t need to watch all 3. The attractions in Disney World at this point are truly centered around the first one, and in my opinion, the best one. There’s a whole land with 3 different rides in Hollywood Studios dedicated to Toy Story. In Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom you have Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and a Buss Lightyear meet and greet nearby.
Besides the fact that Disney features Toy Story over multiple parks, Toy Story is such a classic and historical moment for Disney as a whole. It was the first feature film from Pixar and the first feature film to be entirely computer-animated ever. The film made $373 million on it’s opening weekend alone which no other film has ever done. It definitely holds an important part of Disney history which makes it a must watch.
The Little Mermaid
This movie is said to have rescued Disney and brought them back to the forefront of animated films. There’s a ride dedicated to it, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, and you can Meet Ariel at her Grotto right beside it. In Hollywood Studios there’s a whole stage show dedicated to the movie called the Voyage of the Little Meraid. Not to mention Ariel appears at Cinderella’s Royal Table, at Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus in Epcot, and at the Bon Voyage Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno she appears with Prince Eric. Another reason to see and love this movie is the soundtrack. Just like this Lion King, the music is catchy and iconic to Disney.
Beauty and the Beast
There’s not one but two restaurants themed after this classic and beloved film. Be Our Guest Restaurant which is quick service for breakfast and lunch and a table service for dinner (2 credits), and Gaston’s Tavern, a quick service location. There’s also two attractions, Enchanted Tales with Belle which is a must do for anyone with little kids located in the Magic Kingdom, and Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage at Hollywood Studios.
The movie itself was the first animated film to win a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture. Also, this is another soundtrack that has become so imbedded in what is Disney. There are multiple places to meet Belle and other characters from Beauty in the Beast. Gaston makes every day appearances by his tavern in the Magic Kingdom. The Beast does a meet and greet at Be Our Guest during dinner time (you must have a reservation to eat at the restaurant). Belle can be seen at Cinderella’s Royal Table, Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus in Epcot, and the France Pavilion in Epcot.
It doesn’t matter which one exactly though I suggest you watch both newer and older ones and at least be vaguely familiar with the characters and story line. While Star Wars is primarily concentrated in Hollywood Studios only, it’s such a huge part of that park currently and will be an even bigger part of it once the new Star Wars Land Galaxy’s Edge opens later this year. If you’re wondering whether your little ones will enjoy the movies, my daughter is 5 and she enjoys watching them, especially the older films as they’re less technology filled and have an easier to follow story line.
Not only is a whole lane being built for Star Wars right now, there’s also plans to build a Star Wars themed resort. A lot of people still question how “Disney” is Star Wars and that’s a legitimate concern but my feeling is you might as well embrace it either way. The films are brilliant, the characters are iconic, and the whole franchise is going to bring a whole new level to Disney in general as it already has at Hollywood Studios. Star Wars Launch Bay is where you can meet Kylo Ren, Chewbacca and BB8. Also, Star Tours the ride is a must do attraction at Hollywood Studios. With the new land opening there will be at least 2 more attractions, 1 quick service and 1 table service restaurant themed around Star Wars. If you haven’t already, now is the time to see what the hype is all about.
Those are my top picks for must-see movies for you and your kids before you go to Walt Disney World. Let me know which is your favorite and why. Also, let me know if there are some that should be honorable mentions!