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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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 37: Tarzan

It’ll Be in My Heart (Always)

Tarzan meets Jane

Originally Released: 1999

I have heard varying opinions about Tarzan. Some like it, some love it, and others can’t stand it. But to me, Tarzan will always be special. It is filled with fast-moving and exhilarating sequences, which were a technical marvel at the time of release and still hold up extremely well today. It has a great soundtrack and score. The film is gorgeous to look at with its lush jungle greens. The animation is top-notch. There are equal measures of action, comedy, and romance in the movie. But beyond all that, there is just something about it that reaches deep into the heart. Tarzan has real substance to it, and it manages to connect on an emotional level (with me, at least).


Take, for instance, the scene where a young Tarzan runs off and covers himself in mud to try to cover up his differences. What follows is a tender moment where Kala, his adopted mother, comes to the rescue and helps Tarzan realize that he is loved, even despite his differences. But even more importantly, she shows him that deep inside, they’re not that different at all. It is a great showcase of the great influence a caring mother can have. Somehow, they always figure out a way to make their children feel better about themselves and about life. Like many real-life mothers, Kala helps Tarzan discover the direction to go in order to reach his true potential.

Sabor vs. Tarzan

Which is exactly what he does. Tarzan learns to use his uniqueness and his mental capabilities to his advantage, and thus more fully adapt to the jungle. He swings on vines and surfs through the trees. He becomes friends with many different types of creatures. Eventually, he uses his intellect and prowess to save Kerchak, the leader of the family, and prove his worth among the gorillas. In this and other action-packed scenes, Tarzan took animation to a whole new level with its “Deep Canvas” technology. It was amazing to see in 1999 and was something that earlier animated films could only dream of accomplishing. It is still impressive today.

Romance in the vines

While on the topic of animated feats, no commentary would be complete without mentioning yet another incredible job by animator Glen Keane, who was responsible for bringing the adult Tarzan to life. I have already mentioned Keane in past posts (he did Ariel, Beast, and the golden eagle Marahute, among others), but he deserves mention yet again. Pretty much everything from Tarzan’s ape-walk and his skateboarding/surfing on the vines and trees, to the more subtle facial expressions, such as his piercing gaze into Jane’s eyes or the look of awe and curiosity when he learns about the whole new world of humans, is, in my opinion, worthy of admiration. If Keane hadn’t already established his legacy in the animator’s hall of fame by this point, his role in Tarzan would further cement his place among the profession’s greatest.


But Tarzan isn’t the only character in the film. Truth is, I like almost all of the characters in this film. Kerchak is a hulking beast who only wants what’s best for his family. Kala is a strong mother figure, as already mentioned. Minnie Driver gives a very funny performance as the quirky-but-lovable Jane. The only character I didn’t care too much for was Rosie O’Donnell’s Terk (…yes, this was back when Rosie was very popular and good friends with Elmo…no, I didn’t care for Terk even back then).

Tarzan Tantor Terk

Musically, the team at Disney ventured intentionally in a new direction. It decided that for Tarzan, it would move away from the Broadway-style musical that had got them through the 1990’s, and instead they opted for a bit of a hybrid style where the songs were still relevant to the plot and pushed the story forward, but were not sung by the characters on-screen. In the case of Tarzan, this strategy worked quite well. To accomplish this, Disney enlisted the talents of pop great Phil Collins. His musical contributions the film netted both Oscar and Golden Globe awards for the original song “You’ll be in My Heart.” He also won a Grammy for best soundtrack album (I purchased the soundtrack back in this time and really enjoyed it – and to this day, if I happen across “You’ll be in My Heart” on the radio, it totally makes my day; I’m a big fan of that song).

I know that some people didn’t appreciate Disney breaking from formula with the music, but I applaud their decision in this particular case. Because, frankly, it just wouldn’t capture the right spirit of the film to have Tarzan burst into song at any given moment. If that were done, it would have been a completely different film, and I think the creators realized that. So ultimately, I’d say they chose wisely.


You know how people ask “who is your favorite Disney princess?” I can only lament that Jane can’t be part of that discussion.

In the end, Tarzan was a film that captured my imagination, fed my appetite for awesome animation, and worked its way into my heart with its themes. It was a feast to my eyes and also to my ears. Finally, it also had a picture-perfect ending with Tarzan, Jane and all his friends swinging through the jungle happily ever after. In short, Tarzan is my kind of movie.

Tarzan Parents


perfect ending

I haven’t put a ton of thought into this, but I would totally put this film on the short list of “Best Final 30 Seconds of a Film Ever.”