With the debut of Disney+, it’s time to rediscover the old but amazing live-action Disney movies you totally forgot about. Check out our list to refresh your memory.
One of the best parts of Disney+‘s debut has been scrolling through all its titles and excitedly exclaiming, “Oh, I totally forgot about that movie!”
Go on, you know you’ve done it at least a dozen or so times in the last few weeks.
For those of you like me, that might mean searching through everything made in the ’90s to relive what you grew up on as a kid. But what happens if you go a bit further back?
Whether your parents put on one of their favorite movies from when they were a kid or you’re the parent who’s currently enjoying Disney+, there are countless excellent old live-action Disney movies to choose from. Here’s just 12 of the ones you might have forgotten over the years.
The 12 best, old Disney live-action movies
‘Freaky Friday’ (1977)
We’re talking the original Freaky Friday with a (very) young Jodie Foster. The film was based on the book by Mary Rodgers, who also wrote the screenplay. It must have been a success because the story has been adapted more than once since then, most notably (at least to my generation), when Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan did it in 2003.
If you’re not familiar with the premise, it’s pretty simple: a mother and daughter, who are complete opposites, switch bodies and learn more about each other (and themselves!) in the process.
Unlike Freaky Friday, this isn’t the original adaptation of Pollyanna, based on the 1913 novel of the same name by Eleanor H. Porter, but it is Disney’s first (and only) go at the story. This one takes us back a little bit further into the ’60s, but the tale is a classic, to be sure.
Pollyanna is a bright and joyful child, much to the chagrin of her aunt, who’s more worried about appearances and propriety than anything else. As most Disney movies tend to showcase, the child will teach the adult to embrace life and remember what it’s like to have a carefree spirit.
‘The Parent Trap’ (1961)
Pollyanna herself, Hayley Mills, returns a year later to star as twins in the original Parent Trap, which was based on the 1949 novel Lottie and Lisa by Erich Kästner. Once again you may be more familiar with Lindsay Lohan’s version of this tale (or, my personal favorite, Mary-Kate and Ashley’s It Takes Two), but it’s always good to go back to the beginning.
In Parent Trap, Susan and Sharon are identical twins separated at birth. Neither knows the other exists until they end up at the same summer camp, where they hatch a plan to switch places and get their divorced parents back together.
‘Escape to Witch Mountain’ (1975)
I’ll admit that I haven’t rewatched this one since I was a kid, but I distinctly remember being pretty freaked out. Considering this has a G rating, I doubt there’s anything truly spooky here, but kids do have wild imaginations. This film is based off a 1968 novel of the same name by Alexander Key and spawned a sequel in 1978 called Return from Witch Mountain. There was even a Beyond Witch Mountain feature that was meant to be the pilot for a series which was never picked up.
The story is about two orphans with supernatural powers. A greedy millionaire discovers them and wishes to use their powers for his own gain. This franchise clearly had an impact, as the novel was also adapted into a 1995 TV movie called Escape to Witch Mountain, as well as a 2009 film called Race to Witch Mountain, starring The Rock.
‘The Absent-Minded Professor’ (1961)
Some of you may be surprised to learn that Flubber, starring Robin Williams, originated as The Absent-Minded Professor, starring Fred MacMurray. This old Disney live-action movie is a black-and-white film with questionable graphics, but has all the tried-and-true hallmarks of physical comedy.
The Absent-Minded Professor is about, well, and absent-minded professor. He invents something called flying rubber — or Flubber — and antics ensure. If you’re a big fan of the remake, I suggest watching this one to catch all the references in the 1997 film.
‘The Apple Dumpling Gang’ (1975)
Like many of the other movies on this list, The Apple Dumpling Gang spawned a sequel (The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again) and a TV series (Tales of the Apple Dumpling Gang). And, like many of the others here, it was also a book-to-film adaptation, based on a novel of the same name by Jack Bickham.
The movie tells the story of three orphans during the California gold rush. When they (literally) strike gold, they are caught between a greedy gambler and two bumbling outlaws, all of whom have an eye on their newfound fortune. Luckily for them (and us!), the members of the Apple Dumpling Gang have big hearts.
‘That Darn Cat!’ (1965)
Once again, Hayley Mills stars in a Disney book-to-film adaptation, though this was her last role for the studio. That Darn Cat! was adapted from the 1963 Undercover Cat novel by Gordon and Mildred Gordon (yes, his name was Gordon Gordon). It was remade in 1997 with Christina Ricci and Doug E. Doug.
This old Disney live-action movie is based around a cat who is essential to solving the case of a bank teller who has been taken hostage. The mischievous cat wreaks havoc throughout the movie, which leads to some pretty hilarious antics and physical comedy.
‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ (1971)
How can you turn down any movie starring Angela Lansbury? It also stars David Tomlinson, who you may recognize as George Banks, which is great because Bedknobs and Broomsticks has that distinctive Mary Poppins feel to it. This movie is also a book-to-film adaptation, based on The Magic Bedknob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons (1943) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947) by Mary Norton.
The story follows three children who were evacuated during the war. They wind up with Eglantine Price, who is learning witchcraft from a correspondence school in the hopes that she’ll be able to help the war effort. Obviously, shenanigans ensue.
‘Swiss Family Robinson’ (1960)
This isn’t the first Swiss Family Robinson adaptation of the 1812 novel by Johann David Wyss, but it is a Disney classic which inspired countless remakes and TV adaptations. Unfortunately, this is one of Disney’s films that seems most to be a product of its time (the trailer alone as a few yikes moments), but no one can argue the influence is had on pop culture.
The movie tells the story of the Robinsons, who were on their way to New Guinea when pirates chased them into a hurricane. They abandon ship and are forced to make a life for themselves on an island, where they’re confronted by all the obstacles nature brings (plus those pesky pirates).
‘The Shaggy Dog’ (1959)
This film is a classic for a lot of reasons, but especially because it was Disney’s first live-action comedy. It was based on the story The Hound of Florence by Felix Salten and also had a successful sequel in The Shaggy D.A. You may be more familiar with the 2006 remake starring Tim Allen, but as with all the other films on this list, it’s always nice to go back and watch the original.
Wilby Daniels, who is misunderstood by his father, wants to get a dog, but his dad, a retired mailman, just can’t understand why. On a trip to a museum, Wilby accidentally curses himself into the body of a sheepdog. Antics ensue, of course, but Wilby also accidentally uncovers a plot to steal government secrets!
‘The Love Bug’ (1969)
You might know the Love Bug by its actual name — Herbie! This movie was based on the 1961 book Car, Boy, Girl by Gordon Buford, which spawned an entire franchise of adaptations. It had several theatrical sequels, plus a television show, and a reboot of sorts in 2005 called Herbie: Fully Loaded, starring Lindsay Lohan.
Herbie is a 1963 Volkswagen racing Beetle with a mind of his own. In the original film, he adopts a racecar driver who was kind to him and the two begin racing together. Of course, Herbie likes to do things his own way, and some truly spectacular and hilarious stunts occur. This is definitely a classic old Disney live-action movie.
I started this list with Jodie Foster, so it seems only fair that I end it with her as well. This movie was based on the novel Christmas at Candleshoe by Michael Innes. Unlike all the other films on this list, Candleshoe seems to be one-of-a-kind, not having any sequels or remakes.
A young Jodie Foster plays an orphan who helps a couple of con men attempt to steal an old woman’s inheritance. However, as she learns more about the woman, her family, and their situation, she decides to do the right thing instead.
Want more old Disney live-action movies?
This list only contains a dozen of some of Disney’s best old live-action films. There’s a ton more where that came from, and they’re all currently available on Disney+. If you search via the “Disney through the Decades” collection, you’ll find a lot more where these came from.
Which are your favorites?