Disney is at it again as the studio seems to have taken complete ownership of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with it’s animated classics for almost 30 years. This weekend “Coco” will hit theaters from Disney and Pixar, promising to continue the studio’s dominance of one of the most prestigious holiday weekends in Hollywood. The studio has so many Thanksgiving releases to its credit (around 20 when you consider both live action and animated features) that I couldn’t help but look at the best of this extensive selection. In honor of “Coco” however I decided to stick to the animated offerings. These are Disney’s most prolific animated movies that debut on or around the iconic November holiday. Here are the “Top 10 Animated Disney Movies Released for Thanksgiving”.
For this list I was a bit lenient on what could be considered “released for Thanksgiving”. Due to the staying power of animated films at the box office I decided to include any fully animated movies from Disney or any of its affiliated studios released on Thanksgiving weekend (coinciding with the Holiday itself) or on the weekend just before the Thanksgiving holiday as those films would also benefit directly from the holiday movie rush. Any movie released in November outside of those specifications was not considered.
Disney has virtually owned Thanksgiving dating back to the late 1980s and since 1940 in fact 14 different completely animated films have been released on Thanksgiving or the weekend before the holiday to utilize the vacation as a chance to draw in viewers. This trend doesn’t look to stop as Disney has scheduled animated released for the holiday for several years into the foreseeable future. This list is not about what movies made more money, but rather a combination of factors including the legacy the films left behind, their overall quality and their memorability.
Despite being a great Disney film you won’t find “Fantasia”, a pre-Thanksgiving weekend release, on this list due to its inclusion of live action segments between its scenes. Remember, the focus here is on only purely animated films.
What’s your favorite Disney animated movie released for Thanksgiving? Let me know in the comments below and if you’d like to see another potential Disney classic over Thanksgiving weekend you can check out “Coco” and look for my review later this week. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
10. “Oliver & Company”
Released on the pre-Thanksgiving weekend of 1988 “Oliver & Company” is a tragically underappreciated Disney offering that utilized the concepts of the book “Oliver Twist” and adapted them to fit the adventures of an orphaned kitten taken in by a pack of misfit dogs in New York City. While it’s not the most critically acclaimed film in Disney’s animated library, and it lost out to “The Land Before Time” in its opening weekend, it’s the legacy of “Oliver & Company” that earned it the spot on this list. This film was one of the first animated features released by Disney specifically to coincide with Thanksgiving and it’s eventual success in overall box office gross inspired Disney to begin releasing animated features annually, many of which went on to take the Thanksgiving and pre-Thanksgiving release dates this film embraced first. While today it might be hard to argue that “Oliver & Company” is a gem in Disney’s filmography, it was a legacy starter and trendsetter and there’s no better place to start on this list than the one who sparked the theme in the first place.
9. “A Bug’s Life”
You’ll find on this list that Pixar had quite a penchant for capturing the Thanksgiving weekend audience in its early days. Like “Coco” this weekend and several films before it “A Bug’s Life” was released to directly coincide with the holiday and was the second of Pixar’s original three movies to utilize that timing. While today “A Bug’s Life” is often seen as one of Pixar’s weakest entries at the time it was a beloved second movie offered by a studio that was only growing in legitimacy following the release of “Toy Story”. The tale of an inventive ant that leads his brothers and sisters in a battle against tyrannical grasshoppers blew away the competition in 1998 becoming the fifth highest grossing film of that year. Most importantly however, this film was part of the 1990s streak of Disney successes for Thanksgiving, continuing a trend that many other films had established in years prior. It it weren’t for the film’s lack of carryover appreciation as the years have gone by “A Bug’s Life” would probably be higher on this list, but it still deserves respect as it helped Disney continue to hold strong as the reigning ruler of the Thanksgiving box office at the time.
The most recent release on this list, “Moana” was last Thanksgiving’s massive hit capturing the world in late 2016 and going on to become a minor phenomenon. In recent years Disney’s goal for keeping the Thanksgiving weekend under its thumb has become even more apparent and “Moana” had lofty expectations set upon it during its holiday release that it met with flying colors, literally and figuratively. The story of a brave girl who sets out on a seafaring adventure to find a demigod and do battle with a volcanic evil was a massive hit financially and commercially and its legacy continues to grow even only a year later. The year before Disney and Pixar failed to shine very brightly with “The Good Dinosaur” over the holiday weekend and it looked like the studio could have slipped in its goal to own the holiday for years to come, but “Moana” put them back on track. What makes “Moana” an intriguing case is that it seems Disney has found an unforeseen nitch for the holiday, female leads, as evident by several recent Thanksgiving successes featuring strong female characters and modern Disney princesses, including other films yet to come on this very list.
7. “Toy Story 2”
In the same way its predecessors dominated the holiday weekend “Toy Story 2” became a phenomenon when it was released just in time for Turkey Day 1999. “Toy Story 2” was the last of Pixar’s movies to be timed with the holiday until “The Good Dinosaur” in 2015 and continued the 90s domination that set Disney up as the owners of Thanksgiving weekend. Continuing the story of the toys from the first film and exploring Woody’s character origins “Toy Story 2” was just as good as the first and cemented a legacy for both Pixar and Disney of creating quality computer animated movies that families could enjoy for the weekend off from school and work with a theatrical animated feature. It was a true masterpiece and it would be the last successful Thanksgiving offering from Disney until our next entry on this list revived the tradition. The only reason its not higher on this list is because the legacies of the films still to come are just a bit more significant to Disney overall in terms of its holiday dominance and “Toy Story 2”, being a sequel and all, had a lot of help from the first film to draw audiences in for a viewing.
Released for Thanksgiving in 2010, “Tangled” is one of the most expensive animated films ever made as it adapted the story of Princess Rapunzel into a Disney tale that continued the studio’s theme of new princesses for a new generation that began with “The Princess and the Frog” the year before. Disney had taken a break from its Thanksgiving tradition leading up to “Tangled”, with only “Bolt” being offered within a week of the holiday in the wake of “Treasure Planet’s” legendary flop in 2002. This film was a big swing for Disney to try and get the weekend back, and it worked. Thanks to the critical and financial success of “Tangled” and the massive popularity of its associated merchandise Disney reclaimed Thanksgiving as theirs and while they had no holiday release in 2011 they have released at least one film in November every year from 2012 on, building on the modern version of its Thanksgiving legacy and several of those films were timed for the holiday specifically. “Tangled” was a massive chance for the studio and it worked, becoming one of the most iconic modern movies in the studio’s library. Thanks to that and its ability to recapture Disney’s Thanksgiving magic it earns a spot here.
5. “The Little Mermaid”
After “Oliver & Company” put Disney on the map as a holiday weekend threat they threw a massive punch at the competition that solidified that threat as fact, a legendary animated feature released just before Thanksgiving of 1989 called “The Little Mermaid”. Viewers flocked to the theater to see the story of a mermaid who makes a deal with an evil sea witch to explore the world of man and thus began the Disney Renaissance, the resurgence of the studio to a new level of legitimacy in more ways that one, and Disney’s stranglehold on Thanksgiving throughout the early 90s. “The Little Mermaid” was the second of five consecutive Thanksgiving releases for Disney in the late 80s and early 90s and it became one of the studio’s most iconic hits almost overnight. Most of all though this movie didn’t just solidify the Thanksgiving weekend as a powerful weekend for Disney, but animated films in general which had seen success at points, but this was a true landmark success story that proved animation as a truly marketable Thanksgiving tradition. Every film that follows on this list owes at least part of its holiday success to “The Little Mermaid”, even if they outshined the classic in the long run.
The back end of the five films I discussed above, “Aladdin” was yet another massive success story in a long line of Disney Renaissance entries that made their debut on Thanksgiving weekend. The studio’s take on the classic rags to riches story set in the Middle East, “Aladdin” makes its way onto this list mostly because it served as a solid bookend to five years of Thanksgiving domination before the studio took a couple years off from holding tight to the holiday. While “The Little Mermaid” began a modern legacy, “Aladdin” has arguably become more iconic and celebrated over the years and has more longevity to its credit. It was the most financially successful Thanksgiving release for Disney in its overall run (including re-releases) until “Tangled” neared $600 million in 2010 and today it’s till one of the most successful modern Disney animated features on record. “Aladdin” is now an iconic animated feature and still stands as one of Disney’s most successful fully animated classics and it made its triumphant debut for Thanksgiving of 1992.
3. “Beauty and the Beast”
While it might not be the highest earning Thanksgiving release no best of Disney countdown would ever be complete without this Oscar nominated classic that continues to stand as one of the most iconic animated movies ever, Disney or otherwise. The original animated version made its debut for Thanksgiving of 1991 and the rest, as they say, is history. A story of a young woman imprisoned by a beast cursed until he finds true love, “Beauty and the Beast” became the first ever animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and resulted in a billion dollar live action remake earlier this year. There’s not much to say that typical Disney fans don’t already know to justify why this film deserves this spot on this list. Its success permanently cemented Thanksgiving weekend as a potential blockbuster holiday after “The Little Mermaid” made it a plausible moneymaking weekend two years earlier. Only two films truly matched “Beauty and the Beast” in terms of Thanksgiving success and iconic status in the long run and the first is more on the modern side.
After “Tangled” reestablished Thanksgiving as a major opportunity for Disney, another iconic animated feature solidified it once again in 2013. In the same way that “Beauty and the Beast” make Disney an undeniable Thanksgiving winner after “The Little Mermaid’s” success, “Frozen” built on the timing of “Tangled” to become a bigger hit and make Disney the unquestioned ruler of the holiday once again. There’s no denying the iconic status of “Frozen”, a musical film about two sisters facing love and one’s wintery powers. The film became an instant success with over a billion dollars in revenue since its Thanksgiving premier. Today it’s one of the highest grossing movies ever and helped solidify a new era for Disney animation as the studio officially became a true threat with its own computer animated films outside of subsidiary Pixar. Since Frozen in 2013 only 2014 lacked a Thanksgiving release in November with “Big Hero 6” in the first week of the month instead of the holiday weekend. “Frozen’s” legacy continues today and in two years it will look to dominate the holiday weekend again as “Frozen 2” has been slated for a Thanksgiving 2019 release. It could have easily been #1 on this list, but for me though one film stands supreme, a film that not only continued Disney’s 90s domination of the holiday weekend but redefined animation forever.
1. “Toy Story”
It didn’t make as much as others on this list, but “Toy Story” is possibly the most important, iconic, and memorable Thanksgiving release ever in Disney’s library because not only did it recapture the magic of the Thanksgiving weekend box office, many entries in this list, including “Tangled” and “Frozen”, may not have been possible without it’s redefining approach to animation. The first feature length release by the juggernaut that is Pixar, “Toy Story” continued the tradition Disney set with a 1995 Thanksgiving premier and also started an early trend for Pixar whose first three films all debuted for Thanksgiving. “Toy Story” was the first fully computer animated film ever and is one of the few movies with a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “Toy Story” became legendary in so many ways, spawning two equally iconic sequels, the legacy of a new studio, a totally new style of animation that is now standard, and helped Disney continue its Thanksgiving domination easily after the five-film Thanksgiving run came to an end a few years earlier. Most of all however, “Toy Story” proved without a doubt that the Thanksgiving weekend wasn’t just a fluke weekend where Disney found a nitch. This was a unique film that took chances and it paid off, kicking off a much beloved trilogy and being named one of the greatest animated movies of all time above even many on this very countdown. In terms of overall cultural impact, significance to the medium, and establishing Disney and Pixar as truly unquestionable threats during the holiday weekend “Toy Story” takes the top spot above all others in this top ten.