John’s Disney Movie Countdown: Part 3

We come now to the third and final part of John’s Disney Movie Countdown. Previously I counted down from dinosaurs and lemurs at #54 to an awesome superhero squad at #31 in Part 1, while Part 2 took us from #30 to #13, beginning with a mouse tale in The Rescuers and ending with the dogs of Lady and the Tramp.

The final dozen films has plenty of animals, its fair share of beautiful princesses, as well as cuddly friends and some of the most menacing villains ever animated. What we have left are what I believe to be the finest twelve animated feature length films the Disney Canon has to offer. With these twelve films, we are now entering ‘deserted island’ territory.

(Side note: If you read the first two parts of the countdown and wondered if I’ve caught the Hollywood bug of splitting things up unnecessarily – a la Hobbit and Hunger Games – I’m sorry about that. But I figured this piece would be better broken down into more digestible portions, because let’s be honest, in our internet browsing age, after writing or reading a 1000+ word essay, people start to get antsy.)

So here they are: my Top 12 Disney animated classics.

Group #5: The Best of the Best: Ten True Consensus Masterpieces, and a Couple that Should Be Soon

This group was exceedingly difficult to order from 1 through 12. I mean, even 18 films of the previous group were basically 10 out of 10, 4-star efforts. So when you have ten masterpieces (and a couple that should be soon) and are trying to position them against each other, it makes for tough work, especially with #2-#7, which are almost interchangeable rank-wise. But, like I said before in part 1, I believe I pulled it off, and I am satisfied with where everything shakes out. 

12. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

The film (okay, films) that made Pooh Bear popular in the U.S. is as charming as they come. Pooh is an engrained part of our culture now, and I’m convinced that the world is better for it. It is a great film for little ones, yet it has some sharp wit and enough humor for adults to be pleased with repeat viewings as well.

T-I-Doubleguh-er

11. Tarzan (1999)

Alright, if I had things my way, Tarzan would be classified as a true masterpiece as the closing bookend of the Disney Renaissance, and Disney would be giving it a Diamond Edition release and then throwing it in the vault like the other top-tier canon films. Apparently the rest of the world isn’t in agreement with that notion just yet. But I love this film and cannot think of any flaws to mention. I loved it in 1999, and I loved it just as much, if not more, when I watched it during my project. Tarzan has incredible animation, incredible action, excellent characters, and more. I’m hoping it eventually gets this status generally, but that doesn’t stop it from cracking my personal top tier of Disney animation.Tarzan meets Jane

10. Tangled (2010)

Disney’s 50th feature film also claims a spot in the top 10. Unlike with Tarzan, which I can only hope will achieve true “masterpiece” status, I’m pretty sure that in a few more years from now, Tangled will be making the Disney vault/release/vault rounds. Tangled is terrific fun.

Tangled meaningful music

9. Dumbo (1941) 

Dumbo may be a short film, clocking in at only 64 minutes, but it packs one of the strongest emotional punches of any Disney canon film. It also has one of the best Disney mice not named Mickey.

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8. The Little Mermaid (1989)

I was a bit surprised when I finalized my list and The Little Mermaid cracked the top ten. But the more I think about it, the more I agree with my placement. The music is fantastic, the animation (in and out of the water) is excellent, and the characters are all great. Additionally, The Little Mermaid stands as a very important film for Disney. It is the one that truly brought Disney back. It brought back the Princess, it brought back the fairy tale, and brought back the magic. It is really a magical piece of work.

Ariel

7. Bambi (1942)

I think I said it best in my original post for Bambi: 

“Bambi offers a little of everything: drama, suspense, character growth, romance, and even a little action. Above all, it is a tale about life, and particularly learning how to deal with the curve balls life can throw at you.”

Bambi is a triumph of storytelling, art, and animation. It expertly teaches one of the most basic and important life’s lessons as well. So much so, that basically, if you tell me you don’t like Bambi, then I will start to question A) whether you have actually seen it, or B) whether you actually have a soul.

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Do not be deceived, there is much, MUCH more to Bambi than cute and cuddly animals.

6. Cinderella (1950)

It’s Cinderella, for crying out loud. Your grandparents loved it, your mother and father loved it, and you most likely love it too. This film began the Silver Age of the 1950’s, helped fund Disneyland, and deserves every bit of praise it has garnered throughout the past three generations. This is an easy top-10 choice.

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5. Pinocchio (1940) 

I’m not sure any other film in the Disney Canon is quite as effective at letting the viewer delve into the mind of three main characters like Pinocchio does. Be it the titular marionette, his conscience  Jiminy Cricket, or Geppetto, we know what they are going through, and we know how they feel.

I also don’t know if there is any other Disney film out there that so effectively teaches good, true morals like Pinocchio does. Pinocchio is a standard-bearer in more ways than one.

Pinocchio and Fairy

4. Fantasia (1940) 

They call it the Golden Age of Disney animation for a reason. Four out of the first five Disney Canon films have a place in my top 10, and the fifth isn’t far behind. Fantasia is my favorite of the bunch, and is one of the most unique viewing experiences a person is going to have. While it does require the viewer to forget about traditional 3-act storytelling that he or she is so used to and to delve a little into more abstract and artistic planes, this small sacrifice is well worth it on the other end. As I said in my original post about Fantasia, it is like having your favorite song and favorite painting blended into one synergistic, triumphant whole.

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3. Sleeping Beauty (1959)

“Number 3? Really? No! It has to be number 2! But number 2 should be number 2, too! But what about Sleeping Beauty?”

That’s kind of what goes on in my head with my #2 and #3 favorite Disney films. The debate rages on, and switches depending on which film I saw most recently. I love the Tchaikovsky music in Sleeping Beauty. I love the color. The stunning detail of the backgrounds. The Fairies. Maleficent. The Dragon fight at the end. The overall feel of the film. It is all incredible.

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2. The Lion King (1994)

Even if The Lion King was just 89 minutes of black screen accompanied by its score and songs, it would still probably be in my top 10. I just get the bonus of having a brilliantly animated, powerful and moving tale of responsibility and redemption as well. And to think this was accomplished by Disney’s “B-team” at the time of its creation! I’d say they earned their paycheck on this one.

Hakuna Matata

1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

I know I’m not alone in saying that Beauty and the Beast is my favorite animated film. I also know I’m not alone in saying that Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite movies, period. This film hits all the right notes and is a supreme accomplishment by the team that created it. It may have been very difficult to order the rest of the top 12, but even though the other 11 come close, making Beauty and the Beast my #1 film was not that hard of a decision at all. Quite simply, it is that good.

Dance

Kiss

Well, that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed reading this countdown as much as I have enjoyed creating it. And, as always, your comments are welcome. I’d love to hear what your top Disney film is, as well. Thanks for reading!

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Week 12: Cinderella

Disney Triumphantly Returns to the Full-Length Animated Feature

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Originally Released: 1950

Considering just how famous this movie has become, it is very interesting to know that Walt Disney took a big risk by working on Cinderella and releasing it as a full-length feature. Besides Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, none of his previous full-length animated films was a financial success, and the package films were only moderately successful. Thus, the entire future of Disney’s feature animation hinged on the success of Cinderella. If it failed, Disney would likely have shut down the feature animation studio. Luckily, Cinderella was a big hit with audiences. It was so successful that it gave Disney the cash flow to not only continue production on future animated films, but it also helped progress other parts of the company, including Walt’s endeavor to create Disneyland. Additionally, it began what could be considered a bit of a Disney Renaissance with its films.

Unlike the fairly obscure Disney package films, Cinderella should require no introduction or plot summary. If there is someone who either has not seen it, or who is unfamiliar with the fairy tale in some form, I would be quite surprised. And though there have been other adaptations of the tale, I am willing to bet that when most people think of Cinderella, they think of this version.

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Yet despite this popularity, whenever I am about to watch Cinderella again, for some reason I tend to think that I am not going to enjoy it as much as I would some of the other Disney classics. My reasoning may vary each time this occurs. For example, I may say it is a “girl movie.” Or I may tell myself the story is very thin, or that the mice take up too much of the screen time gathering stuff and getting chased by Lucifer. However, as valid as my excuses may be, once I sit down and simply watch the film, all those negative thoughts just seem to disappear as I get lost in the story, music, and animation. Each viewing of Cinderella exceeds my expectations and I find myself happy to have watched it again.

This time was no exception. I was struck at how well the movie conveyed different emotions, and how much I cared about what happened to Cinderella. I felt bad that her life was awful, and was glad she was able to triumph in the end. The scene with the key was actually suspenseful because the film effectively made me want to root for Cinderella.

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Somewhat related to the first topic is that this time I really noticed the great good shown by some characters (by now we should know that it is very smart to have a mouse for a friend – see Dumbo for another example of this), as well as some truly despicable evil from Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s stepmother. Unlike many Disney villains, she doesn’t have supernatural powers, but her rotten heart more than makes up for it. Lucifer, the cat, doesn’t fall too far behind in this category, either. Both relish seeing Cinderella suffer. There is a clear contrast between good and evil in this film.

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Finally, the music was just as good as ever. It ranged from sweet to silly, but it was always fun and memorable. A good example was the “Sing Sweet Nightingale” part. It starts off silly with the stepsisters skewering the song, but then it transitions to a beautiful rendition accompanied by a gorgeous visual scene involving harmonizing Cinderella reflections in soap bubbles.

Most of the songs got stuck in my head for the next day or so, but I didn’t mind because the songs are great. I didn’t even have a problem when I noticed I was singing “Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boo” to myself. And while I’m on the topic of memorable music, an interesting side note is that Cinderella is the film that started Walt Disney’s music publishing business. Walt knew that the music would be very popular, so he decided that they might as well make the money from it instead giving the profits to someone else. It proved to be a smart move.

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So in the end, while there may be some flaws or something or another to complain about in Cinderella, the magic of the movie to me is that these flaws and complaints quickly go away and are forgotten. It is easy to get pulled into its world, and that’s what the Disney magic is all about. (Oh yeah, and there’s also this).  Cinderella is a top-tier Disney gem.

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These birds got caught in Cinderella's magic spell.

These birds got caught in Cinderella’s magic spell.

If a monocle makes you want to say "indeed," in an English accent, you can probably thank this movie.

If a monocle makes you want to say “indeed,” in an English accent, you can probably thank this movie.