Disney cartoons have been a frequent feature on my movie viewing lists for as long as I can remember. From the older movies of my childhood to the more recent ones I have watched with my own kids, many of them have a special place in my heart. The first animated Disney movie was Snow White and The Seven Dwarves way back in December of 1937. Since then, there have been 57 animated Disney movies and 19 Disney Pixar movies. Over this time many topics have been dealt with, although often these movies cover similar themes.
Fairytale romances and happily ever afters, in particular, are now synonymous with Disney. Animators are known for happily glossing over the original fairytale endings of these classic stories to give a happier outlook. It doesn’t always work however as sometimes those happy endings just stick in our throat.
When it comes to Disney experiments not every ending works out as planned. More recent movies, in particular, have tried to change up the tired formula and the results have been varied. Some Disney movies have truly terrible endings, sometimes ones which undermine the entire rest of the movie, while others are as beautiful as the movies princesses.
In this list, I’ve found 15 of the very worst endings Disney and Pixar animators have to offer us as well as 10 which truly saved their respective movies. Obviously, this article contains movie spoilers, lots of them.
25 Hurt The Movie: Dumbo
The ending of Dumbo is controversial enough that back in 2015 PETA actually campaigned to get it changed in the event of a new remake and frankly I’m inclined to agree. While Dumbo spends the movie becoming more accepted and more famous, at the end of the day he is still trapped in the circus. There’s no beautiful escape or new life of freedom.
Dumbo simply gets designated as the star attraction and gets his own circus car with his mother. This is one ending that I’m still sad about years later. Free Dumbo!
24 Hurt The Movie: Aladdin
I want to start by saying that I am in no way dissing Aladdin. I love this movie and especially the late, great Robin Williams' genie. However I still have a serious issue with the ending. I applaud the choice Aladdin makes to save Genie instead of becoming a prince. What bothers me is what comes next when the sultan just suddenly remembers that he is in control and can change the stupid law. What? Why doesn’t he just do that in the first place and save us all the trouble? Jasmine never wanted to marry a prince anyway.
23 Saved The Movie: Up
Best known for being the most heartbreaking Pixar movie ever, Up will have even the most hardened Disney critic in tears in the first 10 minutes.
Widower Carl ends up an unlikely friend to wilderness scout Russell as they go on an epic adventure. At the end the two eat ice-cream on the kerb, a throwback to a memory of Russell and his absent father which cements Carl’s place as a father figure to Russell.
As if this wasn’t enough we see Carl’s house placed perfectly, exactly where he and Ellie always wanted to be. It’s almost enough to make you cry, again.
22 Hurt The Movie: The Muppets
I know it’s not strictly a cartoon, but it has puppets and this ending annoyed me so much I couldn’t leave it out.
It begins with the muppets failing to hit the fundraising target to save their theatre. Then Kermit makes a fantastic speech about how it doesn’t matter because being together is all they need and they can start again. It makes for a nice ending and a great message. Then the big theatre boss has a change of heart and undermines the entire point Kermit made.
I wish I’d stopped watching it before that underwhelming cliché ending. Just to make it worse: it takes place in the credits, like a bad afterthought.
21 Saved The Movie: Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 is a roller-coaster of a movie. The moment when all the toys are heading towards the incinerator is genuinely frightening. Pixar make up for scaring you however with a poignant and beautiful ending.
As we enter the final moments of the movie we see Andy, the toys owner we’ve known for 3 movies, hand off his toys to his energetic young neighbor. As we see his sad goodbye, we feel bittersweet for those lovable toys as one by one they are passed down to the next generation to be loved and played with once again.
20 Hurt The Movie: Fantasia
Fantasia is an odd movie. There’s no story as such just a series of cartoon segments set to different aspects of classical music. While it’s not to everyones taste some of the segments are quite uplifting and interesting. What I don’t understand however is the last section: named “Night on a Bald Mountain,” it is quite frankly scary.
Featuring darkness, demons, fire and chaos. While the very end of it has a procession of light it’s too little too late. Bring back the Sorcerer’s apprentice I say.
19 Hurt The Movie: Hunchback of Notre Dame
This one is a tricky one because the original ending to The Hunchback of Notre Dame is much darker than the Disney version. While the Happy Ending Fairy has washed over it somewhat, there is still something deeply unsatisfying about the movie’s conclusion.
While Quasimodo saves the girl he loves and becomes welcomed and accepted into society, he never manages to win her heart. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that he’s able to live a normal life now, but it somehow feels very harsh to watch him have to stand back and watch his love marry another man.
18 Saved The Movie: Brave
One of my favorite movies, Brave follows the journey of Merida, a princess who asks to compete for her own hand in marriage. A princess tale without a prince, this story follows Merida’s journey to change her mother from a bear back into a human. At the end, she not only reunites the tribes and disbands the law of arranged marriages but she also learns of her mistakes and frees her mother and brothers.
The happy ending is not a marriage or even a romantic match but simply a family, reunited and living life happily together.
17 Hurt The Movie: WALL-E
WALL-E is one of the strangest and most divisive Disney Pixar films. Much of the movie is mostly silent and it focuses heavily on the dangers of pollution and global warming. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that its ending is truly bizarre.
After finding a solitary plant growing on earth the people living on a starship named Axiom set off back to earth. While the credits show them all rebuilding it just doesn’t add up with what we saw.
The earth the plant grew on was still full of rubbish and the people hadn’t moved from chairs for years. Where do they suddenly find space for all that junk? Sorry Pixar I’m not buying it.
16 Saved The Movie: Ratatouille
For the entirety of this movie, you have to utterly disregard everything you know and just enjoy the ride. The premise is a rat who can cook helps a bumbling bus boy become a famous chef so it’s not exactly realistic.
At the end of the movie the health inspector closes down the restaurant which is followed throughout the story. While this seems harsh the ending comes full circle as Remy the rat tells of how the bus boy and his chef partner opened a new restaurant.
In the new venue Remy helps in the kitchen, Linguini is back as a bus boy and it has a floor for humans and another for rats. Totally crazy, but in keeping with the entire movie and a really great ending.
15 Hurt The Movie: Beauty and The Beast
I know many of you are really going to hate me for this one, but hear me out. The issue I have is that the whole message of the movie is about loving people not just for their looks but then the Beast turns beautiful at the end undoing it all.
Also what’s with the servants who spent years trapped as furniture now seemingly expected to still stay in that castle they were trapped in for years? What’s up with that?
This is one movie where the live action version is better with the off the cuff “how would you feel about growing a beard?” comment alluding to the fact that Belle fell for a Beast not a chiseled prince.
14 Hurt The Movie: Mulan II
The entire movie centers about three princesses having to all get married to three princes in a different kingdom in order to build an alliance and restore peace to the kingdoms. The newly engaged Mulan and Shang are tasked with escorting them to their new home. Mulan decides the princesses should be allowed to marry for love.
Everything gets very complicated, but at the end the princesses are allowed to marry for love and suddenly Mulan and Shang’s marriage (which was known about from the start of the movie) is the one which unites the kingdoms. This plot has more holes than swiss cheese.
13 Saved The Movie: Incredibles 2
This is one of those rare sequels which manages to match up to the original movie. The first great thing about this story is that it puts mother Elastagirl firmly in the spotlight, leaving Mr Incredible looking after the kids.
After a lengthy adventure which sees all the kids really come into their own the ending is perfectly quirky.
While dropping Violet and her new boyfriend at the cinema, the family sees a crime happening behind them. The boyfriend is quickly ejected from the car and given money to buy popcorn and the family ride off, masks at the ready. A great set up for the next adventure.
12 Hurt The Movie: Hercules
Hercules is a rollercoaster of a Disney movie. Our hero Hercules spends the entire movie fighting to fulfill his destiny, regain his godhood and become a hero. He manages this only to decide that actually he’s good and he’s going to give it all back up again to spend his life on earth with Meg.
While it sounds lovely and romantic, bear in mind that Meg spent over half the movie lying to him and working against him and now he suddenly wants to give up everything to be with her? I’m just saying it may not be the best choice he’s ever made.
11 Saved The Movie: The Lion King
Despite still being scarred by Mufasa’s fate The Lion King, remains a Disney classic and one of my firm favorites.
A story which focuses on the circle of life the ending portrays this beautifully. At the beginning of the movie we saw Simba lifted high on Pride Rock by Rafiki. At the end everything comes full circle.
We see Simba, surrounded by his friends, watching as Rafiki lift his own child high, completing the circle of life. There really is no better Disney movie ending than this one.
10 Hurt The Movie: Lilo and Stitch 2
The ending to this movie just makes no sense. Stitch has a glitch which they cannot fix for the entire movie. He is then seen in a chamber where he actually expires from this glitch. It’s all very sad.
As Lilo is holding him, suddenly with no warning, he magically comes back to life as she cries and is mysteriously absolutely fine.
Jumba attempts the feeble explanation that Lilo revived him with her love. Then they all do a happy hula dance. However even my young kids weren’t buying this explanation. Could do better Disney.
9 Hurt The Movie: The Princess and The Frog
This is actually one of those movies where I genuinely cannot decide if I love or hate the ending.
At the beginning of the movie Tiana’s dream is to own the finest restaurant in New Orleans. After a kiss from a prince who has been turned into a frog she ends up as a frog as well. The movie follows their journey as they fall in love before being turned back to human form. At the end they both own and are working in a restaurant.
While it is Tiana’s dream, it just feels somewhat lacking for a Disney princess fairytale ending. She marries the prince then still ends up on her feet serving all day? It just feels off somehow.
8 Saved The Movie: Frozen
Despite a deep seated hatred of the song Let It Go, I actually love this movie. The fact it focuses on a sibling relationship rather than a romantic one is the main thing I really enjoyed. It also has the most lovable reindeer ever.
However, it is the ending of Frozen where the best plot decision was made. When Anna is freezing and only love can save her it would have been so predictable for Sven to go and kiss her. It was almost expected. Instead however it is Elsa’s love for her sister which saves her. Perfect.
7 Hurt The Movie: Monsters Inc
Monsters Inc is a great movie, but the ending? I really hated it.
The entire premise of the movie is that monsters are scary and power their world by the screams of kids. At the end they discover that laughter is actually more powerful than fear and the monsters set about entertaining children instead.
I’m sorry Pixar, but I’m not believing that these kids all just suddenly accept that the spooky monsters are now harmful comedians. Some weird looking creature coming out of your closet is never going to be funny in my eyes.
6 Saved The Movie: Pocahontas
This is one of the not so happy ending’s but one of Disney’s most poignant and beautiful. At the end of Pocahontas, she must send John Smith back to his own home to recover from his wounds as she chooses to stay with her tribe.
The final scene where she waves to him from the top of the cliff is a real tearjerker. As the ship departs petals flow in the wind from her to him. It’s all very beautiful, despite them being parted. A very fitting ending to a Disney classic.
5 Hurt The Movie: Bambi
Bambi, the movie that traumatized a generation. The whole film is depressing in general, what with the whole Bambi’s mother situation. However, it’s the ending that just finishes off the sadness for me.
Bambi, having had an absent father for most of his childhood, appears to be repeating the cycle. The movie shows him standing in his position as Great Prince of The Forest, but seemingly at a distance from his own family. Did they not learn anything from all that tragedy? Apparently not.
4 Hurt The Movie: Chicken Little
Chicken Little is a quirky and odd movie. The main problem I have with it is the fate of Foxy Loxy.
At the beginning of the movie, she is feisty, opinionated, and somewhat of a bully. During the movie she gets zapped and turned into a dumb, girly, and meek character.
At the end, it’s offered to change her back, but those around her decide that Foxy Loxy is better off stupid and compliant, rather than back to her old self. Harsh. Surely she could learn a lesson about not being a bully without being left as a shell of her former self forever?
3 Saved The Movie: Tangled
At the end of Tangled, a newly short haired Rapunzel finally gets to meet her mother and father for the first time. The most beautiful thing about this scene is that there are virtually no words spoken at all. As soon as they see each other they simply embrace.
An upbeat epilogue then tells us what happens including to some of the more quirky people we met along the way. This round up is perfect and at the end they get married. It’s so cliche that it's unreal, but this happy ending I can really get onboard with.
2 Hurt The Movie: The Good Dinosaur
The issue with The Good Dinosaur is that the entire movie is quite underwhelming and the ending is no different.
The movie sees dinosaur and human form an unlikely alliance as they try to find their way home. At the end after sending Spot to live with the humans Arlo returns home and puts his foot print on the silo next to his parents.
Yes it’s a full circle ending, but it just feels very bland and super predictable, much like the rest of the movie.
1 Saved The Movie: Meet The Robinsons
Meet The Robinsons is one of the most underrated Disney animations ever made in my opinion. Following an orphan boy named Lewis who loves to invent, the film has time travel, sabotage, crazy inventions and people meeting their future selves. What’s not to love?
At the end, Lewis leaves the orphanage to join his new foster family, keen scientists who give him his own workshop. As we see the workshop fill up with inventions an overlay shows us that the movie’s mantra, keep moving forward, is from a quote by Walt Disney himself. A great way to finish a great movie.