Picking out a family movie on Disney+ is a no-brainer when you’re in the mood for action, comedy, or a musical — you’ve got endless options, from Marvel to Disney classics and beyond. But when it comes to a drama, one of the smaller genre collections available on the streamer, you might find yourself a little stumped. We’ve sorted through what Disney+ has to offer and handpicked the best dramas that will have you feeling all the feels, wiping some tears, and full of inspiration.
Disney+ has a variety of great dramas for the whole family, including Pixar tearjerker favorites, historical films, emotional fantasy adventures, and an Oscar-nominated musical. There’s something for every drama lover.
1. Christopher Robin
Credit: Laurie Sparham
In the live-action animation hybrid Christopher Robin, the titular boy is all grown up as a grumpy and beleaguered family man who’s lost his sense of spritely imagination and joy. We meet the older Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) after he returns home from WWII and becomes so consumed by his banking job that he fails to find time for his family. Of course, this means the loving pals of the Hundred Acre Wood must come to the rescue and remind Christopher about the importance of family, love, and living a life of happiness.
This much more mature and melancholy take on a Pooh bear and friends tale — which comes from director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) and a team of writers including Alex Ross Perry (Her Smell), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), and Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures) — is like Hook crossed with It’s A Wonderful Life. It has an emotional weightiness many adults can relate to, and the childlike magical whimsy that’s so inherent to the A. A. Milne characters.
Where to watch: Christopher Robin is streaming on Disney+.
2. Hidden Figures
Credit: Hopper Stone/Levantine/Kobal/Shutterstock
We’ve certainly seen plenty of historical films depicting the heroic white men who’ve gone to space, from Apollo 13 to First Man and beyond. Hidden Figures, which is based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, brings the true and comparatively lesser-known stories of three Black women who played a pivotal role in the Space Race to the big screen.
In the Oscar-nominated film, Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer is Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson, three mathematicians who worked at NASA in 1961 and were instrumental in astronaut John Glenn becoming the first American to orbit Earth. The female engineers, then called “human computers,” rush to crunch numbers and solve equations to ensure safe launch and landing coordinates. But given that this was the early ’60s, the film highlights how Black women at NASA faced workplace discrimination and segregation.
As an educational yet entertaining Hollywoodized history lesson, Hidden Figures is great for a younger audience because of the way it balances its lighthearted and celebratory tone with the heavier realities of racial discrimination and gender inequality. Plus, we get three fantastic performances from Henson, Spencer, and Monáe, who each bring doses of humor, charm, and emotional gravitas to the film.
Where to watch: Hidden Figures is streaming on Disney+.
Three words: Up opening sequence. You, too, are already crying. Undeniably the most heartbreaking 10 minutes in Pixar history — and also one of the most brilliant emotional set-ups to an animated film — the beginning of the Oscar-nominated movie is the reason Up remains a prime example of just how mature, moving, and unforgettable a children’s film can be. We watch an entire love story blossom at the start of the film, from the first day the 10-year-old Carl meets fellow explorer fanatic Ellie, all the way to them getting married and living a life dreaming and saving for their trip to the mysterious Paradise Falls. For those who haven’t seen Up, I won’t spoil what happens, but it’s emotional from the start and propels the elderly Carl on an epic journey to South America with a young Wilderness Explorer named Russell.
What’s long made Pixar so unique as a studio is the way it creatively melds imaginative worlds with relatable emotions rarely explored in children’s films. Up remains a beautiful example of what Pixar does best, leaving you with a mix of laughter, tears, and hope.
How to watch: Up is now streaming on Disney+.
4. Pete’s Dragon
David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon is easily the best among the modern Disney live-action remakes. The 2016 live action/CG hybrid is a gorgeous and deeply moving take on the hokey 1977 musical film, telling the story of an orphaned boy who befriends a fuzzy green dragon.
In this version, which is set in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a forest ranger who never believed the yarns her father (Robert Redford) spun about a dragon living deep in the woods — until she happens upon Pete (Oakes Fegley), an 10-year-old boy who says he’s been living in the woods for years with his dragon best friend. As always, the adults don’t believe the kid, and Pete struggles to get back to his dragon, the sweet and adorable Elliot, before he’s discovered by local hunters.
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What makes Pete Dragon so exceptional is Lowery’s gentle and understated approach that grounds the film’s fantastical elements in relatable emotion. Lowery, who also wrote and directed A Ghost Story and The Green Knight, captures a childlike wonder that, when paired with crisp digital animation and lush cinematography, makes you feel like you’re right there with Pete, riding on a magical dragon among ancient trees.
How to watch: Pete’s Dragon is now streaming on Disney+.
5. Queen of Katwe
Even if you think you’ve already seen every good chess movie (or dramatic series) there is, chances are you’ve missed this one. Queen of Katwe, the underseen drama from director Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding), tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi, an international chess champ from Uganda. Based on the nonfiction book by Tim Crothers, Queen of Katwe is one of the most heartwarming and feel-good chess movies out there.
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Newcomer Madina Nalwanga makes her acting debut as Phiona, a 10-year-old girl from Katwe, Uganda, who discovers and falls in love with chess, thanks to a local youth sports coach named Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). With Robert’s guidance, Phiona and her team travel to tournaments where she quickly becomes a reigning champ.
But Queen of Katwe isn’t merely a sports drama; Nair’s film showcases Phiona’s life of poverty in Katwe, and the extreme socio-economic disparity the young girl experiences when she begins traveling internationally and meeting players from wealthier, more privileged backgrounds. Thanks to Nair’s direction and powerful performances from Oyelowo, Nalwanga, and Lupita Nyong’o (who plays Phiona’s mother), the film avoids a typically saccharine, Disney-esque tone in favor of an earnest and truly uplifting story.
Where to watch: Queen of Katwe is streaming on Disney+.
6. Toy Story 3
You may not necessarily think of drama when the Toy Story films come to mind, but the third film in the classic Pixar franchise is as emotional as they get. There is simply nothing more heartbreaking than watching Andy, all grown up as a teenager, go off to college and leave Woody, Buzz, and the gang behind. Then, there’s the sheer agony of watching the toys escape a garbage truck and reckon with (they assume) being thrown away so carelessly by their owner. And then there’s the devastating incinerator scene, which I like to call Peak Sobbing Pixar Cinema.
Toy Story 3 is one of those rare-but-perfect sequels that knows how to deepen the emotional landscape of a beloved children’s story rather than replicate the same beats we’ve already seen. There’s still plenty of goofy Toy Story humor and Pixar cleverness, but at its heart Toy Story 3 is the emotional core of the series that honors the importance childhood toys hold, no matter our age.
How to watch: Toy Story 3 is now streaming on Disney+.
Credit: Jasin Boland/Disney
Disney’s live-action remake of the animated favorite Mulan isn’t wildly different from the 1998 original, but it does add a much more dramatic and action-centric spin on the legendary tale of the Chinese warrior. In director Niki Caro’s version, we still follow the story of Hua Mulan (Yifei Liu), a courageous young woman and exceptionally skilled fighter who’s pressured into following the cultural and gender conventions of arranged marriage. However, to save her elderly injured father (Tzi Ma) from going to battle to defend the Emperor (Jet Li), Mulan disguises herself as a man and sneaks away to become a trained soldier instead.
In this iteration, we don’t get any catchy songs, wisecracks from a talking dragon, or even the traces of a love story. Instead, Caro focuses on the sacrifices and heroism of a female warrior. With highly stylized action sequences, the addition of a new female villain — Gong Li’s shapeshifting witch — and a more serious tone than the original movie, this Mulan is moreso a story about strong and misunderstood female characters.
Where to watch: Mulan is streaming on Disney+.
8. The Lion King
No list of the best Disney dramas would be complete without the one and only The Lion King. I don’t care if you and your family have seen it once or a dozen times; there’s no such thing as watching the 1994 classic too often. The sweetness of Simba and Nala’s reunion, the silly humor of Timon and Pumba, the terror of Scar, the anxiety of the stampede, and of course the king of all Disney animated tearjerkers, Mufasa’s death.
When I think about animated movies that made me feel things as a kid, The Lion King immediately comes to mind. But what makes its crushing story of loss and grief so palpable as a kid is the brightness and carefree joy it offers in its musical numbers. Your family may be weeping over Mufasa, but soon enough that circle of life will turn again, and you’ll be singing along to “Hakuna Matata” together with big goofy smiles.
How to watch: The Lion King is now streaming on Disney+.
9. West Side Story
Any family that’s a fan of Broadway musicals will enjoy Steven Spielberg’s dazzling take on West Side Story, which takes place in the Upper West Side neighborhood of Manhattan. Maria (Rachel Zegler), a Puerto Rican girl, falls for Tony (Ansel Elgort), a white boy and former head of the Jets gang. The Jets and the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks are in constant battle, and their rivalry is the reason the lovestruck Tony and Maria can never be together.
This version of the star-crossed romance has many of the classic Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim songs, but most notably it corrects one of the major flaws of the 1961 Best Picture winner by casting actual people of color. Though there is certainly still some criticism to be had towards the film, the latest West Side Story shines primarily thanks to the performances of its Latinx cast, including Ariana DeBose, who won an Oscar for her performance as the radiant Anita.
How to watch: West Side Story is now streaming on Disney+.
Family curses and buried treasure are quintessential elements to any good kid’s tale. We all grow up wanting to believe some hidden treasure is waiting for us to discover it, and if things are going wrong, it’s not hard to want to blame it all on an age-old curse. Such is the story of Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf) in Holes, a teenage boy from a family who’s been cursed for years. After he’s accused of stealing a pair of shoes, Stanley is sent to a strange desert-version of juvie where young boys are punished by being forced to dig holes all day to “build character.” But Stanley, or Caveman as he’s eventually dubbed, discovers the real reason for all the digging when he finds a chest of gold, a treasure that links his family to a tragic history.
Holes, adapted from the YA book of the same name, is a rare young adult adventure story that blends thrills with emotional stakes and comedy. And it’s also a boatload of pure fun.
How to watch: Holes is now streaming on Disney+.