Childhood classics on Disney+ to share with your kids and grandkids (and new classics they'll share with you)

Mike Natale
·13 min read

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A treasury of classic tales from yesterday and today (Photo: Disney+)
A treasury of classic tales from yesterday and today. (Photo: Disney+)

"I love the nostalgic myself," Walt Disney once said. "I hope we never lose some of the things of the past." 

The famed futurist who wanted to build The City of Tomorrow in the swamplands of Florida nevertheless knew the power of looking back. After all, the first place you walk through in Disneyland is a recreation of his beloved childhood home of Marceline, Missouri, complete with a tiny movie theatre that once played the old Keystone Cop and Exploits of Elaine films that mattered so much to him as a child.

It's natural to want to show the films of your childhood to others, especially kids and grandkids or nieces and nephews. It was a special time, where anything felt possible, and there was so much wonder in the world. When you share the stories that once ignited your imagination, you get to see it again through their eyes. And now thanks to Disney+, you can.

Sign up for Disney+ here.

For over a century, Disney has been a key component of childhood memories, going back to the days of Julius the Cat and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (and that little mouse who drove the steamboat. Pretty sure he had a couple of fans too). 

And while once it was a race against time to get your cherished childhood films on home video before they returned to the 'Disney Vault', now with Disney+, people of all generations can rediscover the films and shows that shaped them. For only $8 a month, you can share cherished childhood classics with the younger ones in your life. And with new and original shows debuting on the service every week, it's just as worthwhile to let those young folks share some of their own childhood with you.

Scroll for some fun 'then and now' double-features you can curate for the next family gathering, exclusively on Disney+:

Perri (1957)

Live the inner-life of a squirrel, like never before (Photo: Disney)
Live the inner life of a squirrel, like never before (Photo: Disney)

Squirrels are a constant presence on the Burbank lot the Walt Disney Company has called home for the last 81 years, so it's no surprise that when the studio wanted to use its True-Life Adventures series to tell a whimsical narrative, they settled on these nimbly little critters full of character. 

Perri, based on Felix Salten's 1938 Perri: The Youth of a Squirrel, is a work of 'docu-fiction', which the company branded as a 'True-Life Fantasy'. Nevertheless, it won the prestigious Golden Bear for Best Documentary at the Berlin Film Festival, in no small part because of how well this charming little film has us rooting for things to work out for an adorable little squirrel. Comprised mostly of nature documentary footage (but for a very surreal squirrel dream sequence), Perri is the perfect way to make kids feel like there are movie stars in their own backyard. And she pairs perfectly with...

Flora & Ulysses (2021)

Do the Avengers have room for a new furry teammate? (Photo: Disney)
Do the Avengers have room for a new furry teammate? (Photo: Disney)

Sure, this story of a super-powered squirrel can't boast a Golden Bear like Perri, but the adorable new feature exclusive to Disney+ truly does have something for everyone. Based on a book by beloved Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo, Flora & Ulysses tells the story of a young girl who loves superheroes, and the super-smart super-powered squirrel who's here to help when she needs him most.

Kids love the film's comic book-inspired story and silly squirrel antics. The adults who watch along find a simple little film that really harkens back to the Disney family comedies of their day, with How I Met Your Mother's Allison Hannigan bringing shades of Sandy Duncan to her role as Flora's overworked mom, and Parks & Recreation's Ben Schwartz as the seeming heir-apparent to the legacy of Disney Legend Dean Jones, as Flora's fun-loving but under-ambitious dad.

Hacksaw (1971)

The simple story of a girl and her horse (Photo: Disney+)
The simple story of a girl and her horse (Photo: Disney+)

One of the true delights of Disney+ is how its rich collection of vintage titles lets you rediscover some hidden gems you'd forgotten all about. One such title is 1971's Hacksaw, originally broadcast over two nights on The Wonderful World of Disney

Now available on Disney+, you can revisit this sweet and simple story of a young girl and the wild stallion only her gentle soul could tame. Co-starring clean-cut Hollywood heartthrob Tab Hunter (a full decade before his raucous turn in John Waters' Polyester), Hacksaw is a quintessential 'horse girl' movie, the kind where even the hokiest lines hit just right if you're along for the ride. 

Black Beauty (2020)

The beloved childhood classic is reimagined for a new generation (Disney+)
The beloved childhood classic is reimagined for a new generation. (Disney+)

If you're looking to follow-up Hacksaw with a more modern story of a girl and the black stallion she bonds with, look no further than the latest retelling of Anna Sewell's immortal classic, Black Beauty

The film, exclusive to Disney+, updates the original 1877 story to the modern day, and most significantly switches the gender of the titular horse so that Academy Award-winner Kate Winslet can provide Black Beauty's heart-wrenching inner monologues for the audience. 

It's a tender retelling of the tale that has captivated children for over a century, with a human cast including Interstellar's Mackenzie Foy, Camelot's Claire Forlani and Game of Thrones' Iain Glen, that will foster in a new generation an admiration for the gentle nobility of horses, just as the original book, or maybe even Hacksaw, once did for you.

DuckTales the Movie: The Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990)

A tale of derring do, bad and good luck tales. Woo-hoo! (Photo: Disney+)
A tale of derring-do, bad and good luck tales. Woo-hoo! (Photo: Disney+)

DuckTales is still cherished by many today for its imaginative adventures and incredibly catchy theme song, making Scrooge McDuck, who had only appeared on screens twice before, into an iconic character of Disney animation. Drawing from decades of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics by Carl Barks and Don Rosa, DuckTales quickly became the crown jewel of the Disney Afternoon syndicated cartoon block, and the massive success encouraged Disney to do the unheard of, and give the show a theatrical film release.

The first feature film produced by Walt Disney Television Animation, this 1990 extension of the beloved series lives on in the hearts of Scrooge enthusiasts for its perfect balance of swashbuckling adventure and kids' show whimsy. Bringing in Hollywood stars like Christopher Lloyd and Rip Taylor to round out the cast, DuckTales the Movie: The Treasure of the Lost Lamp gives Scrooge an adventure as epic as that of Indiana Jones, and rightfully so, since Steven Spielberg has admitted to lifting several scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark (including the famous boulder chase) straight from Uncle Scrooge comics.

Ducktales (2017-2021)

We're pleased to report that life remains like a hurricane here in Duckberg (Photo: Disney+)
We're pleased to report that life remains like a hurricane here in Duckberg. (Photo: Disney+)

You may have heard that kids today have a 'new' DuckTales and scoffed. Look, there have been plenty of TV reboots over the last 10 years to make anyone skeptical that these shows can be anything more than cynical nostalgia plays. But this time, trust the kids who swear by the new adventures of Huey, Dewey, Louie, Webby and of course Scrooge McDuck. 

The new DuckTales did an incredible job over three seasons at not just honoring the legacy of the original series, and paying homage to other shows of the Disney Afternoon-era like Tailspin and Darkwing Duck (also available on Disney+), but finding its own unique voice and building a strong emotional core.

With an all-star cast including Bobby Moynihan, Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, Kate Micucci and a phenomenal lead performance by Doctor Who's David Tennant as the richest Scottish duck in pop culture history, DuckTales is a 'don't miss' delight of modern Disney animation, a must-watch even for those who think they left Scrooge & Co. behind with their Teddy Ruxpin and Popples. All three seasons will be available on Disney+ starting April 30th (seasons 1 & 2 are currently available to stream).

The Story of the Animated Drawing (1955)

Let the face of American animation guide you through its history (Photo: Disney+)
Let the face of American animation guide you through its history. (Photo: Disney+)

If you're a film history fan, particularly animation, there are few artifacts more fascinating on any streaming service than The Story of the Animated Drawing

In this 1955 episode of the TV show then called Disneyland (later to become The Wonderful World of Color and then The Wonderful World of Disney) Walt Disney walks the viewer through the history of animation. And this isn't some perfunctory talk about flip books and well-known facts. Utilizing footage from landmark animated films like J. Stuart Blackton's Humorous Phases of Funny Faces from 1906 and Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur from 1914, the man behind Mickey Mouse draws the map from the earliest animated images straight through to his own entertainment empire.

There are plenty of films about the history of animation, and even other Disney films that tried to convey how drawings come to life, like The Reluctant Dragon (also on Disney+). But what makes The Story of the Animated Drawing stand out is its host's own standing in the timeline of animation. Here, one of the most significant innovators in the medium personally guides you through the history of how it got to where it is. It's like if Elvis had done a lecture on the history of rock and roll, or Tennessee Williams talked you through theatre from the plays of Aristophanes all the way to Mamma Mia. In other words, an essential viewing for animation fans young and young-at-heart.

Into the Unknown: Making Frozen II (2020)

How one of the most-anticipated animated films tried to meet the expectations (Photo: Disney+)
How one of the most-anticipated animated films tried to meet expectations. (Photo: Disney+)

Well, the art and craft of animation has changed quite a lot since 1955, so to followup The Story of the Animated Drawing, you can see how an animated story comes together with this six-part docuseries on the making of one of the highest-grossing animated films of all time, Frozen II

Younger viewers will be enthralled by footage of how their favorite scenes went from storyboards to sound studios to the big screen. Older viewers will feel for the animators who are told the little creature or five-second scene they'd spent months working on wouldn't make the final cut. 

The pressure was on with this much-anticipated sequel, and you certainly feel it in this series that pulls no punches about the intense and exhausting process that goes into crafting the kind of films that define childhoods.

Dinosaurs (1991-1994)

This prehistoric sitcom was pretty hysterical. (Photo: Disney+)
This prehistoric sitcom was pretty hysterical. (Photo: Disney+)

Just as the aforementioned Walt had ambitions beyond Mickey Mouse, the man behind The Muppets had a million ideas before his untimely death in 1990. One that he developed all the way through his final months was a classic family sitcom in the vein of The Honeymooners or Good Times, but cast entirely with dinosaurs.

Requiring incredibly complex animatronics and exhausting full-body puppeteering, the eventual Dinosaurs was, according to actor Stuart Pankin, "the most expensive half-hour TV show". And yet, the weekly adventures of Earl Sinclair, his wife Fran, and their children Robbie, Charlene and the massively merchandised Baby Sinclair drew critical acclaim, won Emmys and gained a devoted audience following. 

Whether you blurt out "I'm the baby, gotta love me" as soon as you see the logo, or just have a fuzzy memory of big rubber dinos romping around a suburban home, the show's striking visuals and surprisingly poignant sociopolitical commentary hold up remarkably well (the episode where Earl learns to accept that his son is a "herbivore" despite the social stigmas in a carnivore society is impressively poignant for 1990). It's a unique piece of television only Jim Henson Productions could create, perfect to share with kids of any age.

Earth to Ned (2020)

An incredible line-up of stars, and not just the ones outside Ned's spaceship (Photo: Disney+)
An incredible lineup of stars, and not just the ones outside Ned's spaceship. (Photo: Disney+)

Through the 90s, even after Jim's passing, Jim Henson Productions was creating televisions shows with incredible creative vigor; imaginative and energetic programs as varied as the beloved children's series Bear in the Big Blue House, the primetime variety show Muppets Tonight and the cult sci-fi series Farscape. But lest you think that singular energy could only exist before the new millennium, get ready, because it's returned in a big way.

Though it hasn't gotten the effusive fanfare of fellow Disney+ originals like WandaVision or The Mandalorian, the incredibly charming Earth to Ned deserves just as much acclaim and admiration. An intergalactic talk show hosted by an intricately puppeteered alien named Ned, the extraterrestrial host's childlike wonder (and childlike tendency for tantrums) plays perfectly to younger viewers, while adults will love it's smart humor and copious pop culture references. Come for the interviews with celebrities like Kevin Smith, Sherri Shepherd and Molly Ringwald; stay for those mischievous alien stowaways the CLODs.

The Incredible Journey (1963)

Just as moving nearly 60 years later (Photo: Disney+)
Just as moving nearly 60 years later. (Photo: Disney+)

A story of animal camaraderie enduring through the harshest conditions, The Incredible Journey is a childhood classic that has lasted for generations. Debuting in 1963, the film was remade for a then-modern audience as Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (also available on Disney+). But while the latter remake gave the film's animal cast celebrity voices, the original film endears itself to viewers with only a single narration from actor Rex Allen (who also narrated all of Disney's classic True-Life Adventure films). Outside of that narration and a few human scenes, the film asks audiences to empathize with wordless real animals trying to find their way home, to the human family they, like all pets, love unconditionally.

Deeply heartfelt, the struggles of of Luath the Labrador Retriever, Bodger the Bull Terrier, and Tao the Siamese cat, and the friends and foes they meet across 250 miles of Canadian wilderness, play perfectly at any age, and its rustic atmosphere and beautiful scenery are still as awe-inspiring on your HD TV as they were in cinemas in 1963. More than just an "animal movie", The Incredible Journey has influenced a wide array of movies since, including partly-inspiring the similar "journey" structure of the Coen Brothers 2013 Cannes Grand Prix winning film Inside Llewyn Davis (which pays tribute to The Incredible Journey by featuring the poster in the background of a pivotal scene).

It's A Dog's Life with Bill Farmer (2020)

There's a dog surfing, what more do you need? (Photo: Disney+)
There's a dog surfing, what more do you need? (Photo: Disney+)

The Incredible Journey is an emotional rollercoaster, so why not follow it up for all your animal-loving loved ones with a show that's purely pleasant. This stealth charmer docuseries that debuted weekly in the summer of 2020 was the perfect soothing salve in those most anxious days of quarantine. 

Hosted by the longtime voice of Disney dogs Goofy and Pluto, It's A Dog's Life with Bill Farmer showcases dogs with incredible talents, from rescue dogs to show dogs, and even every-day service animals who help make life easier for millions of people in need. The 10-episode series is the epitome of TV comfort food, with Farmer's folksy narration offering kid-friendly facts while giving the adults stressed by...pretty much everything, a chance to decompress by watching cute pups do good work. 

So don't wait. For just $8 a month, you can pair these great programs on Disney+ for an afternoon of intergenerational fun, or pour through the many other titles from over 90 years of film and television.

Mix and match to curate your own double, triple, even quadruple features (it's quarantine, we have the time), and start making new memories that will last a lifetime.

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