1. The Flight of the Dragons
Quietly released on video in 1982, The Flight of the Dragons was mostly unknown until 1986 when it aired as an ABC Saturday Night Movie. The voice talent was unparalleled (Jon Ritter and a pre-Mufasa James Earl Jones) and the animation was surprisingly crisp and stylish for the early ’80s. Lots of kids caught snippets of it on TV, wondered what the hell they were seeing, then forgot about it.
2. The Black Cauldron
The Black Cauldron is as famous for being Disney’s first PG-rated cartoon as it was for how hard it bombed at the box office. Made for a then staggering $44 million, it only grossed half its budget in return. It was also super scary—several scenes had to be cut for fear they might traumatize children, and legends persist of horrifying footage still existing somewhere.
3. DuckTales: Treasure of the Lost Lamp
DuckTales was produced by DisneyToon studios, which mostly focused on direct-to-video sequels to animated hits, but also originally intended to release smaller, lower-budget theatrical fare. They only managed to eke out two originals—DuckTales and A Goofy Movie, before switching gears toward solely producing animated sequels. After DuckTales tanked in theaters, plans for further DuckTales movies were scrapped—though many elements from the film were recycled into Aladdin two years later.
4. A Goofy Movie
For certain 90s kids, A Goofy Movie was nothing short of a revelation. Honestly, it shouldn’t have worked—Goofy has a teenage son? And he’s played by DJ’s rich boyfriend Nelson from Full House? Sounds ridiculous, but it all worked (despite what some critics thought). Powerline was the greatest pop star since Michael Jackson, and Roxanne the dog was somehow super hot and made you feel weird about it.
5. Rock and Rule
Rock and Rule is a rock musical that takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States populated by mutant humanoids, because apparently anything went in the 1980s. The movie fizzled at the box office, but repeated airings on HBO and Showtime turned it into a cult classic.
6. We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story
We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story was that movie you saw after Thanksgiving dinner in 1993, but you were so drugged up on tryptophan that you forgot it existed—and that’s probably for the better. The movie was sort of garbage, but it also harkens back to a sweeter age when everyone was releasing traditionally animated films, whereas nowadays hand-drawn animation is all but extinct (ayyyyyyy, dinosaur puns).
7. The Pagemaster
Remember how white-hot popular Macauley Culkin was in the early ’90s? Then he had a string of spectacular flops: The Nutcracker, Getting Even With Dad, Richie Rich, and this, The Pagemaster. The concept had merit (Macauley Culkin turns into a cartoon, and Whoopi Goldberg plays a book or something) but the end result was surprisingly dark and dreary. And then Macauley disappeared for nine years before returning as a gay, drug addicted murderer in Party Monster. So… yeah.
Ralph Bakshi was a sort of underground god in the ’70s and ’80s, producing a series of very adult cartoons. Wizards was Bakshi’s first fantasy film, a departure from the gritty fare he’d become known for. It achieved a certain cult legacy in limited release, and when it was released on VHS 13 years later, it turned into a sort of compelling oddity for ’90s kids—one of those weird cartoons you’d see on the shelf at Blockbuster next to Beauty and the Beast, get your mom to rent for you, and then wonder what’s up with all the Nazi iconography.
9. The Lord of the Rings
Growing up in the midwest is tough. There’s a solid three weeks in the winter where it’s simply too cold to go to recess, so a lot of schools would stick kids in the auditorium and show them movies on the projector in 30-minute chunks. Chances are one of those movies was the 1978 version of The Lord of the Rings, a stylish and gloomy depiction of Middle-earth that triggered a hundred nightmares in the minds of schoolchildren everywhere.
10. The Last Unicorn
The Last Unicorn was a strange and lovely movie that gave us completely unrealistic expectations about hair. And while it was technically an American production, it served as many kids’ first foray into anime. The animation was outsourced to Japanese studio Topcraft, whose animators would later go on to form the famed Studio Ghibli.
11. Cool World
Another Bakshi film, Cool World was like Roger Rabbit on coke. Released a few years after Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cool World wound up in a few too many family living rooms, purchased by parents who thought it would be an interesting followup to the former. They were wrong. Cool World was super sexual, really strange, but it featured a young Brad Pitt, so it wasn’t a total loss.
12. FernGully: The Last Rainforest
What animated movie best represents the ’90s? The Lion King? Nah. Aladdin? Of course not. It’s Fern Gully, the movie about ugly fairies who save trees. It oozed ’90s-ocity. There was a too-tan guy with a mullet, it had a strong message about saving the environment, and Robin Williams played a wisecracking sidekick a full six months before his turn as Genie. And best of all, the villain Hexxus was and oddly sexual in a way only ’90s cartoon baddies can be (Jafar, anyone? Ursula? Rasputin from Anastasia? OK, maybe not Rasputin).
13. Once Upon a Forest
Watch the trailer above, and you’ll see why audiences steered clear of this one. Once Upon a Forest came out at a time when studios thought they could throw a bunch of plucky animals into a feature and make money off it, but this one proved that wasn’t the case. It starred a pre-fame Elisabeth Moss as a badger named Michelle (really? Michelle?) who gets terminally ill off chemical fumes and needs a magical herb to save her life. Yawn.
14. The Secret of NIMH
The Secret of Nimh was one of those movies that made you hate yourself for being human. When it’s revealed that NIMH stands for “National Institute of Mental Health” and that the cute rats in the movie are actually the victims of scientific testing, the ensuing guilt was basically life-ruining for the children who watched it. But hey, this was the ’80s, and traumatizing kids was en vogue.
If Rockadoodle didn’t awaken your sexuality, then you weren’t human. If you didn’t want to, ahem, rock that doodle, something was wrong with you. It was an unfortunate flop in theaters, proving that the world just wasn’t ready for a super hot cartoon rooster.
16. Watership Down
…actually, let’s forget this one. It’s too traumatizing. Don’t look for it on YouTube. Just stop. Don’t do it. You’ll regret it.