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!

Week 16: Sleeping Beauty

Stunningly Beautiful

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Originally Released: 1959

Let me just begin by getting this out of the way: I love Sleeping Beauty. I love the art. I love the music. I love its sense of humor. Maleficent is probably my favorite of all the Disney villains. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. While I consider it impossible to pin down my favorite Disney film of all, Sleeping Beauty is a strong contender for that coveted #1 spot. Some days it actually makes it to the top in my mind.

Knowing that, it should then come as no surprise that this was a highly-anticipated week for my project. It doesn’t take much coaxing to get me to watch Sleeping Beauty. And, unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the movie yet again.

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Let me begin with the art. I did actually learn something new this time around. The look of the film is largely attributable to a man named Eyvind Earle, who I previously did not take the time to learn about. He was a younger artist in the Disney studios, and he did a bit of training under the talented Mary Blair (who I mentioned in previous posts).  Walt Disney was impressed with his art and some of his ideas. In fact, he was so impressed that he made Eyvind the Art Director for the film, and gave him a large amount of authority over the other artists, including the animators. Walt wanted the original concept art style to make it to the final film without being “watered down.” I did not previously know that Eyvind was the source of the distinct look of the film.

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Eyvind personally had a hand in most of the backgrounds. I consider the backgrounds to be masterpieces in Sleeping Beauty. They are bright, colorful, highly stylized, and have incredible detail. This was the second Disney animated film to use a widescreen format, and Eyvind made the most of it. The backgrounds are practically bursting from every corner with intricate details and beautiful work. Everything from the bark of the trees to the small cracks in the stone walls of the castle, and from the townsfolk to table-top items is a sight to behold (as a side note, watching Sleeping Beauty on blu-ray for the first time was an absolute revelation. Before I watched it, my general opinion was “there’s no way an old 2d cartoon will look any better in high definition.” I was wrong, wrong, wrong). This is one film that I can pause virtually anywhere in the film and have an image I would want to hang on my wall. It is that beautiful.

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Look at the large tree. Then look at the two other trees and the bush. Then look at the trees even further off in the distance. The detail never ceases to amaze me.

As much as I’m a fan of the artwork, I am also a fan of the music. The music was adapted from the old ballet version of the story which was composed by Tchaikovsky (of Nutcracker fame), which was a brilliant move by Disney. To me, the Tchaikovsky music adds an extra bit of elegance to this film that separates it from some of the earlier Disney releases. And add to the Tchaikovsky score the perfect casting choices for the voices of Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip, and the result is highly satisfying music in Sleeping Beautywhich complements the art and animation in a great way.

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The art and music alone would be enough to win me over in this film. But it also has memorable characters. The three fairies are vintage, true Disney characters and I love the way they play off of each other. The baking/sewing scene has always been a favorite of mine, with their ineptitude at being mere mortals shining through. There is Phillip, who is the first Disney prince to have any real personality and animation/screen time. And of course, there is the vile Maleficent, voiced by Eleanor Audley, the same woman who did such a great job as Lady Tremaine in CinderellaThere is no real complexity to Maleficent that we know of. She is just pure evil, and is superbly animated, styled, and voiced. Combined, it results in a villain that is not soon forgotten.

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All of these things did not come easily for Disney and his team, nor did they come quickly or cheaply. Sleeping Beauty was in active production for roughly 8 years, and it was an extremely expensive film to produce. It demanded a lot from the animators and artists. But the result was something to marvel at, and it paid off in the end. It really shows in the final product that there was a great amount of hard work that went into making the film what it is. I, for one, am very glad they gave all that effort. If there is any Disney film that deserves to be called “classic,” Sleeping Beauty is it.

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Skumps, Skumps, Skuuuuummmmmps!

Skumps, Skumps, Skuuuuummmmmps!

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