13 Best Disney Movies for Toddlers (and what to avoid)

I have a toddler who’s 3 and she loves the Disney movies we’ve shown her. But since I know some are scarier than others, I’ve wondered which Disney movies are best for toddlers?

I decided to review them all, including their Pixar films, and here’s what I’ve figured out:

The best Disney films for toddlers are the G-rated films with minimal violence, such as the Tinkerbelle movies, Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, Frozen, Cars, The Aristocats, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella.

Some G-rated Disney films, however, such as Snow White, Aladdin, or Beauty and the Beast, may be too intense for kids under age 4.

But there’s a lot more to know about Disney movies, how much scary stuff is too much for toddlers, and which Disney movies are best for kids aged 1-4.

So let’s review!

One thing I wondered for years was why do parents always die in Disney films?

Well, I looked into it and wrote an article about it. What really surprised me was the real-life tragedy in Walt Disney’s life that inspired the parent’s deaths in many of the Disney films.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What Disney movies should I show my toddler first?

The best Disney films to show your toddler first include The Jungle Book (1967 version), Finding Nemo, Finding Dory, Frozen, Cars, and Toy Story 2.

Avoid showing toddlers under age 2 any Disney movies as their attention span will not likely sustain the film and some scenes may be too intense. But, the American Academy Of Pediatrics recommends toddlers under age 15 months not be shown any TV at all. (source)

Toddlers love animated movies.

They also love singing characters and talking animals. So right out of the gate that might seem like there’s a lot of great choices for toddlers to watch.

Also, let’s review exactly what ages define the toddler years.

Toddlers are any child between 12 months and 3 years. At that point, they move to the pre-k category. Toddler, of course, referring to the fact that kids wobble and toddle a bit when they are first learning to walk.

The other thing to note is that toddler’s attention spans are fairly short.

So it’s not uncommon for them to get bored and want to do something else long before a movie is done. So for that reason, it’s not usually a great idea to take them to the movie theatre. If you do, finding showtimes close to nap time work best.

That being said, my youngest daughter Layla, currently almost 21 months, sat through all of Toy Story 4 recently and loved it.

The other area where things get dicey is with kid movies that have scary scenes.

Snow White, for instance, scared my older daughters even when they were 5 and 6. The scene in Frozen with Marshmallow, the giant ice monster, used to really scare Layla when she was a little younger. She otherwise LOVES Frozen and is now past being scared.

The Ursula scenes in The Little Mermaid or the bear scenes in Brave could also be too scary for toddlers.

The best first movies for toddlers would be animated, on the short side, have songs, and a minimum of dark or scary things. Here are my suggestions, blending both Disney and Pixar:

  • The Jungle Book (1967 version)
  • Finding Nemo or Finding Dory
  • Cars
  • Toy Story 2
  • Frozen

Is Dumbo appropriate for toddlers?

Dumbo is not ideal for toddlers, either the original version or the remake from 2019. The scenes where Dumbo’s mother is caged can be too intense for younger viewers.  But the original film also has scenes involving intoxication, hallucinations, and racially-insensitive characters.

The original Dumbo film was released by Walt Disney in 1941.

Most parental guides list it for ages 5 or 6, so a little above toddler-age. In the story, of course, Dumbo is made fun of by the other circus animals because of his giant ears. So your toddler may struggle with why everyone is being mean to Dumbo just because he’s different.

Or, if it goes the other way, it could potentially teach your toddler that it’s OK to make fun of people who are different; also not good.

Of course, after his mother starts to beat up the bullies, she’s jailed for much of the film which is also pretty sad.

Then there’s the scene with the pink elephants who accidentally spike Dumbo’s water dish with champagne. The champagne appears to make Dumbo intoxicated and starts to hallucinate.

The hallucinations are also really scary to Dumbo; not exactly toddler material.

Then there are some racial undertones in the 1941 version. While that may have been considered appropriate then, it comes off as inappropriate racial stereotyping by today’s standards.

As an example, there’s a scene where Dumbo meets a group of blackbirds who speak with sort of jive-slang and sing gospel sounding songs; obviously intending them to portray a stereotype of African Americans.

The lead bird is named “Jim Crow“, and of course named after Thomas Dartmouth Rice, who popularized the name Jim Crow and entertaining people while dressed in blackface.

The famed Jim Crow laws are, of course, the segregation laws that dominated the southern states until the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960s ended that practice.

So all in all, the original Dumbo is NOT appropriate for toddlers.

What age is Dumbo 2019 suitable for?

The Dumbo remake of 2019 is rated PG and is not suitable for viewers under age 7. While some of the questionable content from the original Dumbo film is not in the new version, the film does feature minor incidents of nudity and profanity in addition to scenes too intense for younger viewers.

For example, the pink elephants are in the new version, but there’s no drunk Dumbo or hallucinations.

They also cut the song “Song of the Roustabouts” which was considered the most racist part of the original film. That original scene depicts black characters hammering railroad ties while putting up circus tents and calling each other “hairy apes”.

Now the biggest downside for me is that it’s a Tim Burton film and his films always have a darker, twisted undertone; even his kid films.

I’m also of the opinion that most Tim Burton films look cool but lack substance and good character development. But that’s a little off-topic and best left for another blog.

The bad news for Tim is that Rotten Tomatoes only gives it between 46%-51% for their critics and audience opinion.

The film is rated PG which vaguely means, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, “Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents urged to give “parental guidance”. May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.”

Lastly, the IMDB parents guide shows:

  • Sex & nudity – 2 instances
  • Profanity – 2 instances
  • Frightening scenes – 2 instances

So I would not recommend the new Dumbo for toddlers either.

Does Dumbo 2019 have a happy ending?

The ending of the Dumbo remake from 2019 does have a much happier ending compared to the original film. Instead of remaining captive in the circus, the circus performers help Dumbo and his mother escape into the wild.

The 2019 film’s production coincided with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus deciding to no longer use elephants in their circuses.

So there was a lot of pressure on Burton and Disney from PETA and other organizations to follow suit in the movie.

In the original Dumbo, once the circus owner sees Dumbo flying, he’s no longer seen as a freak, but as a potentially huge source of revenue. So his mom is let out of her cage and is reunited with Dumbo, and they move to first class on the circus train.

Dumbo is a hero purely because of his ability to make the circus money and none of the animals that mocked him before apologize.

Not technically an unhappy ending at all, but certainly not exactly ideal either.

In the new film, however, and this is a huge spoiler alert, the ending is completely different. Also, the circus owners that want to profit from him are portrayed in a more sinister and villainous light.

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Is Moana suitable for a three-year-old?

Moana is rated PG, however, most parents will find it appropriate for a three-year-old. The PG rating comes from some intense scenes involving scary sea creatures. There is also some implied, but not fully vocalized profanity.

Overall, it’s a great movie and I have no real qualms with it. But there are some scenes that would be considered frightening for young kids. 

There’s also a scene where Maui cuts off a sea creature’s arm and then the arm grows back.

Language-wise, you hear most of the phrase “son of a bitch”, and while the phrase gets cut off at the end, the whole phrase is clearly implied. There’s also a very scary lava monster as well.

Overall IMDB notes it has 6 “frightening & intense scenes” and the opening scene with Maui is scary as well before we learn that he’s friendly.

Ultimately while some parental guides I saw, say the film isn’t appropriate for kids 8 and younger, I would say it’s probably fine for 4 and above.

So Moana is questionable for toddlers. But I will say we watch it with my toddler and she loves it.

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What age is appropriate for Lion King?

The original Lion King movie is appropriate for ages 3 and higher due to its G-rating, despite a few intense scenes such as the death of Mufasa. The Lion King remake from 2019 is rated PG, and not appropriate for viewers under age 6 due to more graphic scenes of animals fighting and being killed.

So, first off, we need to talk about both the original Lion King (rated G) or the 2019 version (rated PG).

The animated version from 1994 is a Disney classic. While Mufasa, Simba’s dad, does get killed in the opening scene, it’s sad, not gory.  Scar and the hyenas are a little scary.

But much of the film is fun, light-hearted, and often centered around the hilarious antics of Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat and warthog duo that sing “Hakuna Matata“.

I would absolutely say the original Lion King is totally appropriate for all ages, including toddlers.

The new Lion King, however, as I mentioned, is PG.

While it is technically animated, it’s all CGI, so it looks like real animals (just ones that talk and sing). The film technically tells the same story, but the fact that it looks real gives it an altogether different feel.

The parental guide on IMDB notes mostly “violence and gore”.

Specifically, those scenes are:

  • Scar (the bad guy) slashing open and eating a gazelle
  • A lion’s bloody chin following a meal
  • Scar throwing Mufasa to his death
  • Fighting lions clawing and biting other animals

As I said, technically those scenes are in the original, but looking realistic due to the CGI makes the scenes more intense.

Personally, I think no younger than 6 for the new version of the Lion King; definitely not toddlers.

One thing I wondered for years was why do parents always die in Disney films? Well, I looked into it and wrote an article about it. 

What really surprised me was the real-life tragedy in Walt Disney’s life that inspired the parent’s deaths in many of the Disney films.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is Tangled good for toddlers?

Tangled is appropriate for toddlers. This film, which tells the story of Rapunzel, is rated PG due to the frequent use of frying pans as a weapon, and a few slightly scary characters. But the addition of a cuddly chameleon named Pascal and heartfelt songs will endear this film to most toddlers.

My whole family, including my toddler, loves Tangled!

Many movie review sites list it for ages 5 and up, and it is rated PG for the cartoon-ish violence with frying pans. In most cases, the violence is on par with Looney Tunes slapstick than it is scary.

My toddler also loves the songs and Pascal the chameleon who constantly changes colors.

Mother Gothel is a little scary-looking, especially when she ages, and of course, she isn’t really Rapunzel’s mother but, in fact, a kidnapper.

The only other thing of possible concern is the Snuggly Duckling tavern where lots of rowdy men are drinking steins of what I assume is beer.

But most of the movie, storylines, and scenes are not done in an overtly scary or adult manner. Honestly, the adult content that is there is so subtle it will go right over any kid’s head.

So I vote yes for Tangled!

What Disney movies are appropriate for a 2-year-old?

Here are my toddler’s 13 favorite Disney films, including Pixar films too. All G-rated except where noted:

  1. The Lion King (original version)
  2. Tinkerbelle movies (any of them)
  3. Frozen and Frozen 2 (rated PG – consider fast-forwarding the scenes with Marshmallow the ice monster in the original)
  4. Finding Nemo and Finding Dory (Finding Dory is PG, but not Finding Nemo)
  5. Cars (all of them)
  6. The Aristocats 
  7. Tangled (rated PG)
  8. Wreck-It Ralph & Ralph Breaks the Internet (rated PG)
  9. Toy Story (more 2-4 than 1)
  10. The Little Mermaid (all 3 films)
  11. Cinderella (all 3 films)
  12. Moana (rated PG)
  13. Zootopia (rated PG)

But let’s also review the best known G-rated Disney films not mentioned above:

  • The Jungle Book (1967 version)
  • Beauty and the Beast (original version)
  • Aladdin (original version)
  • Snow White
  • Peter Pan
  • The Princess and the Frog
  • Mulan
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Pocahontas
  • Winnie the Pooh

From that list, I would definitely eliminate Snow White as the witch/queen are scary, and probably Mulan and Pocahontas for the fight scenes.

I would also use caution with The Little Mermaid (Ursula is scary), Aladdin (the Cave of Wonders is a bit intense), and Beauty and the Beast (the beast is scary).

I do think some of the films that are PG (like Frozen) are probably fine too, especially on the older end of the toddler spectrum.

10 Animated Movies That Are Made For Parents, Not Kids

Did I cover all you wanted to know about the best Disney movies for toddlers?

In this article, we took a look at some of my favorite films; Disney movies!

And we paired that up with toddlers, which is also something I’m an expert on. We reviewed why some Disney films are better than others for toddlers and which ones to avoid.

Ultimately we answered the question of which Disney movies are best for toddlers.

What’s your favorite Disney film?

One thing I wondered for years was why do parents always die in Disney films?

Well, I looked into it and wrote an article about it. What really surprised me was the real-life tragedy in Walt Disney’s life that inspired the parent’s deaths in many of the Disney films.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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